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Category: Digital Citizenship

The art of iMagineering

“It is an awesome thing to comprehend the magnitude of the fact that what a human being dreams and imagines can be realized. The power of that truth needs to be directed toward our creation of a future
that is worthy of true human value and the world civilization.”
~ Vanna Bonta

For some years I have wanted to begin synthesizing the years of material I’ve gathered on approaches to Digital Citizenship. Believe me, I’ve a lot of resources fattening up my Diigo site and Google Drive.

To start I had to erase the whole notion of being a ‘citizen.’ I mean, what ten-year old kid wants to be a ‘good citizen’?  The whole concept of citizenship addressed in most of the resources tends to be about averting problems, establishing polite norms and generally homogenising young people’s online lives so that they fit nicely within safe, controlled and regulated boundaries.  What kids want is something altogether less anodyne – they are generally aware of the problems but its the possibilities that excite them. They want to be powerful and creative. They want to belong but also to be increasingly independent. They seek to connect and explore by themselves or with others of like minds. True, they want to be safe from harm, but not safe from the experience of an online life that includes solving problems.  Basically they want to be awe-some, not the-same.

How do I know this? What report did I get this from? Did I read danah boyd’s book ‘It’s Complicated.“? Well, I just ask them. Most days. ‘What do you want from life?’ is a question to ask kids often, even if they don’t answer. Often I just watch the kids creating in Minecraft and see just how much they revel in being not what school says they should be.

I also asked my ten year old self who, in his infinite wisdom, wanted to be Spider-Man. Despite his superhero status, Peter Parker was not a good normal citizen. Back in the 1970s he had radioactive blood, drove a lurid beach buggy around Manhattan, looked better in tights than I did then (and for that matter, do now) and did ‘whatever a spider can‘. But Spider-Man helped people without conforming to someone else’s idea of how to do it. That’s my ideal of a good citizen.

The challenge for educators is now does one honour the wishes of the young as well as uphold the requirements of curriculum and legislation. Hence, a reinvention of Digital Citizenship as a new area of curriculum that I call iMagineering.

What follows is an outline written for young people as an introduction to an online course called iMagineers – Creating Digital Futures, part of a series blending resources and bringing new ideas into the mix. Going beyond conforming, an iMagineer creates, imagines, solves problems and knows who they are.

Thanks to Wolfberry at Deviant Art for the wonderful images.

What is an iMagineer?

The name of this online course  comes to us by playing with words. Think about the word ‘iMagineer’, what does it conjure up for you? Go on, think about it before you automatically scroll down. Take some time to reflect on the word.

Here are some thoughts about the name iMagineer below. Once you’ve had a good think about it, scroll down.

C

Circuit by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is an engineer

An Engineer is someone who designs and makes things. Dictionary.com defines an engineer as ‘a person trained and skilled in the design, construction, and use of engines or machines, or in any of various branches of engineering’

Engineers usually have a lot of training and have excellent practical skills that they can use to solve problems, create inventions and make life easier or safer for other people. There have been many successful male and female engineers who have made our lives better.

Would you like to be an engineer?

G

Guardian of the Gate by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is a Mage

A Mage is another name for a magician (can you see a bit of the word mage in magician?) or sorcerer or wizard or enchanter or enchantress. These are men or women who use magic to make change in the world.

The word mage is an old one that comes to us from the Latin word magus. A Mage weilds great power and, like an engineer, needs to undergo a lot of training so they get their spells just right. Sometimes magicians go ‘bad’ and do terrible things. Sometimes they use their powers for good and help people.

If you were a mage, would you use your powers to help people or to hurt them?

 

imagemaker

Then and Now by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is an Image maker

An image is harder to explain. An image is a likeness of a person, place or thing. It has the appearance of something or someone but is not actually that thing or person. An image represents something. A photograph of you at Disneyland is neither actually you or is it Disneyland (that would be silly!) but it does represent the fact that you went there and (hopefully) had an awesome time.

Even words are images. Think about it. The word DOG is not actually a dog, is it? If you say the word even the sound of the word is not the same as the letters DEE OH GEE. The letters are images that represent three separate sounds ‘duh oh guh’. But even those sounds are not what a dog is, are they?

Let’s get back to images and the internet. An image is often used to represent us on the internet. This is usually called an Avatar or an Icon. (More on Avatars in a later sesh.) This picture or GIF is not you, though it may look a bit like you. It is not you, but it is you as far as others are concerned. The image you present to the world on the internet says a lot about you and your interests.

What do your avatars say about you?

calabash_child_by_wolfberry_j-d51nadz

Calabash Child by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is a person first and foremost

Sometimes when we read posts on the internet we can forget that an actual person typed it. That person might be any age, nationality, or gender. They might be a child, teacher or parent. That person may practice the same religion as you or a different one. They may have no religion at all. That person may have hobbies, dreams, pets, family and friends.

That minecraft toon or animate GIF you see online represents a living breathing person who wants to be liked, wants to be creative, wants to connect, has good days and bad days. Sometimes they are at their best. Sometimes they are at their worst. But regardless of what they type on their keyboard and send off into cyberspace, that person is a person with feelings. They are growing up, shaping their character a bit like how a character earns experience points in games. Every little action helps shape our character. They are learning, like you, how to create their identity. They are levelling up in life.

When we put ‘i’ at the front of the word like you see in iTunes and iPad and iPod we are not saying that we all have to like Apple products or copy them. Instead we are using a small ‘i’ a the front of the word to mean that an iMagineer is a person first – a being with feelings, dreams, desires, plans etc like you, even if the details are different. If you think about someone online as being a person not just a pixels, you can begin to imagine a better way to act towards them. We are all people first before we are an engineer or a mage or even an image.

Also, think about this – someone somewhere might be looking at your avatar or icon or profile picture. Would you like them to think of you as an ‘i’ as a thinking, feeling, individual person? I bet you do. If so, how would you like them to treat you?

C

Cables by Wolfberry

An iMagineer imagines

This might seem obvious to you, but imagination is an essential skill for an imagineer. Now, whilst it can be a lot of fun to imagine fluffy pink unicorns dancing on rainbows, other than making us all laugh and feel warm and fuzzy ( good things in themselves, mind you) this kind of imagination does not really help us solve problems and create a better future for ourselves and others.

The kind of imagination an iMagineer uses is a kind of superpower that looks a lot like daydreaming. In using this power iMagineers bring into their minds and hearts a possible future or a solution to a problem. They make it up. It may not work. It may not even be right, but they let it exist just in the mind for a time. This special kind of imagination needs an attitude that says, ‘We can solve this. Nothing is impossible right now in this moment.’

An imagineer is someone who, at least for a time, imagines a place online where we are all about to use our skills well, encourage others to be the best they can be and we always stay true to what is the best in us. Imagineers imagine ways to stop bullies online and offline and provide support to all involved.

iMagineers are prepared for problems because they have imagined them and also imagined possible solutions. (For the record, these solitions might involve fluffy pink unicorns dancing on rainbows.)

Imagineers do not allow unnecessary fear, anxiety, Common Core standards or ICT General Capabilities to stop them exploring and imagining. The greatest enemy to imagination is a ‘YES BUT…’ attitude. Imagineers thrive in a ‘YES AND…’ environment where nothing is blocked – a least at the beginning.

Your thoughts on iMagineering?

Opening the door

“The world is full of people who have never, since childhood,
met and open doorway with an open mind.” 
~ E.B White

 

To navigate the complexities of living in a digital world is no easy task, particularly when dealing with children and young people in these spaces. Regulatory bodies and government organisations charged with policing their small annex of the internet rightly emphasise safety and protection but, from experience, young people are not overly fussed with being safe – more often than not they just want to explore. Exploration by its very nature is a potentially risky business and, like all risks has pitfalls and great rewards. Parents are unsurprisingly anxious about the safety of their children and look to educators for guidance and sometimes for someone to blame. Parents are conservative (for the most part) when it comes to their children using technology, whilst at the same time infesting their family’s lives with it in one form or another. So, when parents come to me for my thoughts on Cyber Safety/Digital Citizenship, the message I share is this.

A computer is not a book – it’s a door.

A computer is a doorway. photo by Steven Caldwell

A computer is a doorway. photo by Steven Caldwell

When many of us started with this new-fangled thing called a computer it was a glorified typewriter. Later, with the advent of the internet, it became a powerful tool for connecting via email and for accessing information of varying degrees of veracity on things called web-pages – pages as in pages of a book. Social media has added even more ways to publish the chronicle of our lives but, when you talk to young people as I do computer are more than expensive books for writing in and for reading.

If you think of computers and tablet devices more as doorways than books and you have a different paradigm that clarifies a parent’s role. Whereas books are static – its you, the text and the author’s skill/intent meeting – new devices allow apps and the internet to take children and young people to new worlds where they meet and interact with friends, relatives and ‘randoms’. I mean, we rarely use the term ‘web page’ these days, mostly they are referred to as web sites – sites, as in locations or places we visit. On websites or MMORPGs or shared servers children and young people meet, play, chat, find out, post things and create a world for themselves. It’s this sense of young people doing things by themselves that generally strokes fear in the hearts of parents, but need it?

Just think about it: when children venture outside the door for the first time their earliest steps are taken holding a parent’s hand. Later, on play equipment carefully constructed for some small risk but maximum fun, parents establish boundaries and then sit by the side with a coffee, watching intently well within earshot. Parents allow their offspring to climb, to fall, to run, to test the boundaries, to ask questions and to help pick themselves up when they fall over. (Well, certain kinds of parents anyway.) In other words, they supervise not control the experience. They allow the child to shape themselves in the world. (Of course, some parents put the coffee aside and swing on the swings themselves but that’s a very special kind of parent who chooses to do that.)

So too, computers are doorways to a wider world and just as you would not let your child venture unsupervised on play equipment or out onto the street, parents are at their best when they are on being on standby rather than occupying stand over tactics. Practically, this means establishing boundaries, being with the child, seeing what they are doing, where they are ‘going’ but not monitoring their every move. It is crucial for children to begin to discover their own boundaries, rather than rely solely on those imposed upon them. Be warned, the short term gain of ‘controlling their lives’ becomes a long term ‘loss of trust’ as they age. Are you as parents willing to risk that?

So instead, have conversations. Play the games with them. Keep the technology in the family room not the bedroom, thus indicating clearly that what you do with the device is part of the family. Ask about the friends they are chatting to on Skype or Facetime but don’t intrude. Ask to be taught how to do something not out of a desire to spy but to celebrate awesomeness in general. Just as parents can’t play on the equipment for them, let children develop their own curiosity and power to explore, knowing that you are there to share their adventures rather than to inhibit their curiosity or worse, drive it underground.

When you see computers as a doorway to the world, your family has the possibility of going on a journey together.

 

The School of (Web 2) Morrow

‘I am reluctant to decide by myself what is important for you to learn because I believe that the most important aspect in learning is to choose what is worth learning. If I alone make that choice, every day I would be reserving the most important part of learning for myself.’ Dr Marshall Rosenberg – Life Enriching Education p 81


Visit to the Elisabeth Morrow School – September 27, 2010

In an affluent wooded suburb of New Jersey only a short car ride from the towers of New York City, is the Morrow mansion. Since 1930 it has been known as the Elisabeth Morrow School. The ancestral home of the Morrow family is now at the centre of a complex of specially outfitted school buildings that cater to the needs of 460 co-education students aged from 3 – 14.

It is a remarkable school in many ways. The facilities are outstanding, despite the necessity to adapt a sprawling ‘country house’ into assorted classrooms and offices. Their experiential science space is a notable highlight – it invites play and personal inquiry across multiple scientific domains. Not least of the reasons the school is remarkable is that it bases its entire philosophy on four keystone concepts that it terms ‘The Four Cs’

Consideration

  • consider other people’s feelings
  • help others when needed
  • invite others to join activities

Cooperation

  • work together as a team
  • practise self control
  • follow directions

Courtesy

  • Be kind
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated
  • Have good manners

Compassion

  • Be tolerant of small annoyances
  • Accept apologies
  • Be understanding of other’s feelings and needs

Learning from the wise

Marianne Malmstrom (aka Knowclue) is a technology teacher committed to engaging students in dialogue between these Four Cs and access to emerging social technologies. (I have written about her before in a previous blog entry.) She empowers her class to use safe and proactive practices online. Her method is simple – let the young people share what they already know and deeply value their contributions. In essence, she impeccably models the Four Cs in her interactions with young people.

At the time of my visit the school year had only recently commenced, so there was still much to learn about the students’ Internet use. Marianne surveys the class’s opinion and experience: on this occasion, she allowed me to frame the questions. Whilst the questions themselves, based around their online identities and eCitizenship, produced some interesting responses, it was a rare unplanned discussion that gave us a startling insight into young people’s attitude to online safety at school and at home.

As we were conducting the survey, it struck me that these students had no idea who I was or, for that matter, could I be trusted. I interrupted the survey and asked them, ‘How do you know you can trust me?’ They were initially troubled (one student said, ‘Oh, you are creeping me out!’) but then increasingly engaged as they explained why they felt I could be trusted. I scribed their responses in a diagram so that I, a visual learner, could best understand the data. This is a more refined version of the same diagram.

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 9.21.47 AM

The students identified that they possessed specific Knowledge about online safety, Skills with the tools and, most originally, ‘Wit’ which I took to mean cleverness, humour and a sense of perspective. I suggested, and they agreed, that they also had the benefit of Experience. In turn, they knew that their teacher also possessed Knowledge, Skill, Experience and Wit which informed her choices. This understanding was then extended to the school. In summary, the students could trust me because all these factors would have filtered out anyone undesirable from entering the environment.

We then turned to look at the home environment to see if there was any difference in their perception of safety.

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 9.24.06 AM

This diagram had less layers, more components and more ‘holes’ as one student put it. Firstly, the students identified differences between Face to Face (F2F) friends they also meet online and purely online friends (their ‘Peeps’) which was revealing. Interestingly, they cited Gaming Friends (World of Warcraft Guilds were mentioned specifically) as a separate category. Membership to these groups, it must be said, s not mutually exclusive. Siblings, they noted, had differing degrees of understanding about online safety practices due to age and education. Parents seemed to monitor their Internet use less than teachers did at than school. The lack of connection, as indicated by the orange highlighted gaps in the model, is indicative of the lack of communication or even exposure to the various aspects of a student’s online presence. Do parents or siblings know to what extent a child participates online? Is there open discussion and sharing? For that matter, do teens invite such interest from family members?

My reflections on this diagram are in accord with the recommendations put forward by Susan McLean in Australia. Four of her five top tips for safety online relate specifically to the whole family being united in discussing, knowing and planning for how the Internet is to be part of their communal and private lives.  (see previous Blog post Generation Next – the Next Menace.)

I then asked the students to tell me the questions they should have been asked in the survey. Their questions were insightful and reflected their need for guidance and support. Here are their unedited questions –

  • Do you think school should be involved in social networking?
  • Have you ever been in a fight on a computer?
  • Should some Internet content be prohibited?
  • Is it easier to chat with people online than with friends F2F?
  • How old or what sex are the people who IM or text?
  • Is it safe to friend anyone on FB or social networking sites?
  • Where would you go if you have a problem online?
  • Would you say stuff online that you wouldn’t say in person?
  • When you post something bad about other people do you think about your future when you post something bad? Do you consider the consequences of your actions?
  • Do you save your chats or do you delete them?
  • Has someone in a chat ever changed your emotion, for example made you sad?

These questions prompted the following interchange between  myself and a student that is worth reporting.

Mr Caldwell: Young people don’t really need teachers at all; they just know so much anyway. Young people like you, you are so wise –‘

Student: ‘So, then, why do we go to school?’

Mr Caldwell:To help…so we can help you see your own wisdom.’

Student: ‘Oh!’ *realization dawns and the student smiles*

What an amazing opportunity to hear the voice of young people and learn from their wisdom!

Conclusions and Recommendations

 

In a world in which children and young people are increasingly part of global online communities, a school’s Student Code of Conduct is being rewritten to reflect that shift from a purely school based environment. The Four Cs at Elisabeth Morrow School are increasingly becoming the ‘portable property’ of each student wherever they travel – whether in the physical or virtual world.  Whilst the reality of the Four Cs implementation is clearly apparent in the technology rich classrooms, the written policies have yet to catch up but are on the revision agenda.

Elisabeth Morrow’s Four Cs could be a global template for building positive connections online. For this to occur, however, schools may need to revise student Codes of Conduct to reflect the undeniable fact that students have existing online identities with associated behaviours. The Internet is no longer just an electronic library – a respository of facts. The internet is now an interlinked series of Places of Participation that encourage the creation of online identities through which one can gain and add information an any number of ways.

This brings us to the issue of control and security. At Elisabeth Morrow, the students feel safe and supported but want the opportunity to explore further. We need to respect that request. In order to enact the Four Cs fully we need to be understanding of the fact that young people need to take risks and that they need to make mistakes, but do so in a supportive environment. This shows consideration for their adolescent need to push boundaries. That said, no one would argue for putting young people in significant risk: I am not an advocate for no filtering of internet content; that would be akin to putting your child in the drivers seat of a Ferrari without a seat belt, license or driving lessons and handing them the keys. Instead, Marianne Malmstrom and I argue that if we do not engage students in active discourse around controversial content we are not making them more secure, rather we are enfeebling their ability to make informed choices apart from adult intervention.

I would suggest that schools take a more relaxed approach with regard to network administrators blocking Internet content but at the same time, increase the implementation of programs that empower students to critically evaluate content and engage in more proactive self-monitoring. This is a trend that is emerging at Elisabeth Morrow and, as such, is setting a standard in the United States.

Lastly, if students were to enact the Four Cs online they will be, in turn, adding to the societal norms of online spaces. By keeping them out we deny knowledgeable, skilful, experienced and witty young people the opportunity to challenge the existing paradigms. Were young people to bring the Four Cs to bear in online spaces with commitment and consistency, we may, in time, have a very different Internet. This would be the lasting legacy of the true School of Tomorrow.

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