Interconnect ED

'Only connect...' E.M Forster

Tag: connection (page 1 of 2)

Play’s the thing – part three

‘Most men have always wanted as much as they could get;
and possession has always blunted the fine edge of their altruism.’
~Katherine Fullerton Gerould

 

It took longer to make it stronger‘ was a phrase used in the last blog post in this series to indicate the value of engaging students in the construction of a Player Charter for a school Minecraft server. The time to refine the Charter worked to galvanise interest in creating not only a safe space for others to build and play but it also highlighted humanistic ideals of respect and fairness. The lengthy research project my partner teacher and I conducted concluded that game based learning spaces were ideal for developing skills in collaboration, connection, negotiation and creativity. With our school’s executive on board too, we were ready to open the ports to players.

We were all set to open the server to a core  trial group of 10 plus our senior school mentors who had worked with us for 18 months. The wider Minecraft Community at school were excited. Our enthusiasm was electric. The spawn point was ready to welcome the new year 5 students into its light filled hall. The orientation dungeon was filled with traps and treasure. The parent and student signed copies of the Charter were speedily returned to us. We opened the Server…and it all went ‘wrong’.

This blog post recounts some painful lessons on how our idealism came to grief as well as how we are building the community , block by block and quest by quest through employing Acronyms, highlighting Altruism and opening up to Adventure.


Lesson 1: The need for Acronyms

What follows is a simulated, but accurate in tone, transcript of our first few sessions with the girls. Imagine players dispersed about the room, engaged solely with their screens. When reading the script, please adopt a nasal righteously indignant whining voice – the kind that often is used when reciting the pre (and post) teen mantra of ‘It’s not fair!’. Alternate that with a frustrated shouting and you have the general sense of these early sessions.

PLAYERS run to a table, ignoring each other and login.
A few minutes later...
PLAYER 1: Who took my emerald! I stole that from an NPC village! Give it back!
PLAYER 2: I need food. Fooood!
PLAYER 3: builds a house quietly by herself
PLAYER 4: Zombie! Zombie! Zombie!
PLAYER 1: Don't go into my house. That's for me and (name omitted) only!
PLAYER 2: Food! Food! Who has beef? Gimme food!I'm on one health!
PLAYER 3: crafts tools by herself and hides them in a buried chest.
PLAYER 4: Aaah! Creeper! 

Creeper explodes *Boom*

What were we expecting – immediate harmonious collaboration? Recalling the words of a Head of School I respected and valued deeply, this was an important F.A.I.L – a First Attempt In Learning how to create an effective play space. Rather than become dispirited: or worse, authoritarian, we employed two techniques that also involved acronyms to shift the discourse and encourage connection.

Acronym 1 : AAA or Triple A

To encourage connection with each other before connecting with the play space, we established a quick but effective protocol before logging in. Students, mentors and staff sit together in a circle and we go around responding to three brief prompts.

  • What’s been AVERAGE today? (by that we mean ‘dull’, ‘irritating’, ‘boring’ or ‘meh‘ over the course of the school day.) Curiously, this often prompts comments of agreement, clarification or even elaboration. Sometimes laughter.
  • What’s been AWESOME? (Usually they say ‘Coming to Minecraft!’ so we allow elaborations and brief comments on the successes and joys of the day.)
  • What’s on the AGENDA? (By this we mean what do you want to achieve today? Build? Explore? Collaborate? Craft?) WE’ve seen this inspire others who might lack an idea on how to proceed or even instigate a cooperative build.

Acronym 2: T.H.I.N.K

THINK

To encourage rather than enforce more ‘connecting’ or compassionate communication, we have another acronym that we are beginning to share more widely in the school context as a means of shifting the way we talk, type and text.

By referring to THINK before, during and after positive and problematic communication to draw attention to how the communication ‘feels’. How did you know that person griefed your build? What evidence do you have? How does it feel when someone inspires us to be better at something? How does it feel to hear kind words about your builds? Did someone help you to craft something and how was that for you? How was that for the helper? By highlighting our communication with meta-language, we are experiencing a significant tonal shift in our communication whilst we are playing. Also, drawing attention back to the Chat feature really reduces some of the more problematic discourse.

This is the sort of communication we are getting now.

PLAYER 1: Does anyone have any spare iron?
PLAYER 4: Sure, I've got some. How much?
PLAYER 2: I've been farming. Anyone want wheat?
PLAYER 3: Hey, you dropped your boots. Here they are. drops boots
PLAYER 4: Zombie! Zombie Zombie!
PLAYER 3: uses bow and arrow to kill the zombie for PLAYER 4
PLAYER 4: Thanks!
PLAYER 1: Let's start making shops. Who wants a cake?
ALL PLAYERS: ENDERMAN! Aaargh!


Lesson 2: Valuing Altruism

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 3.14.33 PM

We build connections with sharing our stories as well as sharing our resources but the fact is, do most Minecraft players value sharing? Do they build for the common good or for their own sense of achievement? Are these mutually exclusive?

To encourage greater interconnection and foster a community spirit we have our Schoology Group where images of our builds, discussions about potential design challenges and the posting of entertaining Youtube videos occurs. But we also have the fantastic customisable Game Engine, 3D Gamelab in which we have crafted a series of quests that celebrates individuals efforts but pays even greater emphasis on actions for the good of others.

Got Your BackPlayers level up by completing community quests and personal ones, though the points awarded are clearly skewed towards altruistic endeavours. As a rule of thumb – if it helps more people its worth more points.  As students progress from DREAMER through multiple levels including CREATOR, MASTER CRAFTER, SUPER HERO and eventually SOURCE OF ALL KNOWLEDGE they gain in-world gear and increased abilities. (We are still ironing out the rewards at each level but I’m sure all the Super Heroes want to be able to fly!)

By adding value to altruism we are hearing very different ideas from the players – Can we earn points for creating shops? She saved me from that skeleton, she should be rewarded. Have you seen the farm we made, its awesome!  (Badges from symb.ly)

 

Lesson 3: Opening up to Adventure

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 3.44.43 PM

The players by this point had structures in place for them to choose their own direction  and work alongside others. We had protocols to assist in refining our communication, yet they lacked a common goal. As it turned out, their excursion to the 1850s Gold Mines of Ballarat, Victoria prompted an interaction between myself and one of the year 5 girls who wondered if she could use Minecraft to make a model of something she saw. This prompted our first design challenge.

Chaos reigned again until the design teams met with the senior mentors armed with large sticky notes and pens. Designs were drawn up and discussions were had. IT was fascinating to watch the shoddily unsymmetrical builds get revamped after only twenty minutes of face-to-face discussion and drawing.

After three weeks and multiple sessions, including some lunchtimes, the students constructed a number of intriguing designs. Again it must be noted that our Minecraft server is set to Survival (at their request) in order to provide greater challenge and reflect the reality that not all resources are infinitely available.  They needed to survive the nights, go on scouting parties to gather resources and keep each other live during that time. At the end of this period the students walked us through the designs, some of which were incomplete. This video (sadly unedited, so if you have a spare 23 minutes you may find them well spent by watching this) was recorded to show to the Year 5 teachers who were unable to attend but were keen to see what was possible.

The winning design recreated the aptly named Victory archway in Ballarat (shown below) which they constructed in sandstone. The team who constructed this was rewarded with 50 XP each and a full set of diamond armour.

Victory Arch, Ballarat.

Victory Arch, Ballarat.


Play’s the Thing – Endgame

We are still learning what is possible with Minecraft. We continue to explore the shifting boundaries of freedom and control when creating play spaces for young people. Thankfully we have the experience and insight of our senior school mentors to assist with not only the technical aspects of running a server, but also the broader vision for its implementation.  Thanks to them we have a Player Charter to guide the members towards forging a creative and collaborative community that values altruistic endeavour as well as self-expression. By sharing protocols such as the AAA and THINK acronyms, we are bringing awareness to the very building blocks of community – the content and tone of communication. Through inventing contexts for play in consultation with the players, we ensure their commitment provide opportunties to celebrate their ingenuity.

What is ahead for us? Look out for some pixel art galleries or our Machinema challenge where teams are given generic dialogue and select a genre of film to recreate – props, sets, skins and all! Or the UN-tervention challenge where rather than being raided, an NPC village needs to be repaired, maintained and defended from hordes of zombies.

Postscript

This series has drawn its title from Hamlet’s words ‘The play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”  from Act II, Scene 2. Perhaps we can be permitted a slight modification of this quote for use in the context of Minecraft. For in this kind of creative, reflective ‘play’ we may in fact, ‘build’ the conscience – the altruistic, self-reflective faculty – of the kings, queens and leaders of the future.

Or we could just go to the Nether and hack into some zombie pigmen. Up to them I suppose.

 

Slow

“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
~ Moliere

Play’s the thing – part two

“It is not enough to have a good pickaxe; the main thing is to use it well.” ~ Rene Minecartes

 

The quote above, posted by ChowderBowl on the Minecraft Forums, is a reminder that its not just tools that make us effective agents in the world, we need to develop skills in any particular field, be it in the social domain, academic arena or crafting Minecraft Redstone into complex circuits (or deadly traps) that is truly of greater value. We can extrapolate from this that no matter what educational technology tools your school invests in – one to one iPads, IWBs or access to applications like Prezi – its not having them that makes the learning significant but the way in which they are employed that is important. But even more than this, we need to use these skills within authentic contexts for specific purposes for specific audiences. And who better to set those than the students themselves?

In the first part of the ‘Play’s the Thing’ post you read summaries of research about the value of games and a personal recount of how we got our Minecraft server off the ground. In this post, you’ll see the firm foundation we built by constructing a student lead ‘Player Charter’ that firmly places the centre of activity (and the pickaxes) in the hands of the students.

Building the Charter

One of the attractions of Minecraft is that you can build and unbuild things. The relative anonymity that playing on a shared server means that one could be tempted to destroy other people’s constructions. From experience of interventions with students who have had their hard work damaged, it is clear that guidelines were needed – not rules per se, because anyone who has been a child knows that rules engender fleeting bouts of both fear and rebellion in sometimes equal measure – no, we needed something more than a list of commandments to which to adhere. What we needed was a Charter. Being a signatory on the Charter for Compassion gave insights into the structure and purpose behind such documents. A Charter is “…a document, issued by a sovereign or state, outlining the conditions under which a corporation, colony, city, or other corporate body is organized, and defining its rights and privileges.” (Dictionary.com) Our Minecraft server was to be, in essence, a ‘colony’ of the school. The students made it abundantly clear that our server was not something that exists outside and therefore had separate codes of conduct, yet neither was it a tool for school work alone. It was its own entity yet informed by the best aspects of our school community – respect being our only school rule. Therefore, seeing the Minecraft group as a colony served us well in defining further aspects of our Charter.

2012-12-11_16.38.08

The spawnpoint designed by students before we opened the world

 

To start it all off we shared the definition of a Charter with the students and broke it down into its components. The Charter needed to –

  • outline what our group believes is its purpose for existing – what we aim to do or be
  • state what are our structures and roles eg – jobs and leadership positions. Who can join?
  • describe our rights and responsibilities as members (this might include the sorts of acceptable and awesome behaviours)
  • define what sorts of behaviours are not acceptable and what happens should they occur?
  • explain how we govern ourselves and make decisions including how we change the Charter.

From this we began over several months (yes months! It took longer to make it stronger) to build our shared understanding of our purpose and core reasons for existing before we would make the server open to younger students and the wider school community. (We wrote drafts on Primary Pad and published them on our Schoology Group – an online community for our students.) We knew that if we were to lay these foundations with a shared sense of ownership, we had the potential to circumvent the difficulties we had observed on other Minecraft servers. We took the premise of Minecraft as the source and the students experience of navigating the tricky waters of interactions, ownership and compliance in external servers.

The Finished Charter

Firstly, Minecraft is a permissive space that encourages you to find things out for yourself – it does not come with a handy volume of Do’s and Don’ts to constrain behaviour. This permissiveness and openness if reflected in the details of the Charter.

Our Minecraft Community exists to

  • provide its members with a space to create, collaborate and innovate.
  • play and enjoy social time together
  • provide opportunities for students to design personal and collaborative projects
  • provide opportunities for leadership and mentoring

The group is not about leveraging Minecraft for educational outcomes UNLESS the students choose so to do. Our seniors were particularly clear that this was to be a safe space not solely an educational space. A lot of trust was gained in agreeing to this and it has been interesting to see the commitment our young leaders have shown to supporting the younger players as a result. From the outset the leaders understand that Minecraft is both social and private – it is about creating but also about engaging in discussion.

The members in our community are

  • ONLY students and teachers

This was unanimously agreed to though the students were intrigued by the opportunity of engaging in shared projects with other schools at some point. We have potential links to schools in Tasmania and New Jersey but would be keen to establish further links.

I agree to

  • Contribute to collaborative projects
  • work together when necessary and also play alone when required
  • encourage players to be the best they can be
  • be respectful at all times
  • participate in face-to-face meetings to make decisions
  • be imaginative with solving problems
  • share resources with other players

Our Charter recognises the need for opportunities to be together but also to pursue personal projects. Already, in the time we have been playing (only a handful of weeks) we have seen students design their own personal ‘houses’ whilst collaborating on farms, storehouses, resource gathering and construction of a historically accurate village based on the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1860s. Playing in Survival mode means that if there is no food, there is no hope of fulfilling your desires. More people farming means more food for all which, in turn, means more time for creating either together or alone. They are still learning that kind words while playing encourage others to come to your aid when in need.

And one thing we have learned is that players need to have facetime in order to connect with each other. These essential meetings to check in on the day begin with three questions – What’s been average? What’s been awesome? What’s on your agenda? These are the 3As that briefly allow is to meet, share and plan for what we are to achieve in that session.

I will not-

  • Demolish other people’s builds (Grief) without expressed permission. I understand that if this occurs I will need to explain my actions to senior members of the group and make necessary repairs.
  • Share the server address to any non-school players including family and friends outside of the school community.
  • let participating interfere with my friendships, classwork or homework.

The first two points are obvious, dealing as they do wit respect and safety. This last point has been particularly important and was inserted by teachers only after discussion with parents and the students. Curiously enough, the students understood that Minecraft was a distraction from other requirements that needed to be managed carefully.

I understand

  • That I may gain status and privileges if I engage positively with the activities set out within the Minecraft Community.
  • That I may be removed from the Community if I am seriously in breach of the Player Charter

It is here that the conversation with the players continues. What, for them, would constitute status, rewards and privileges? They set the boundaries and the prizes too with imaginative input from teachers.

Conclusion

It’s taken nearly two years but it has been worth it as the beginning builds have shown. More than that, the way plays share and encourage others is reward enough for us as educators.

It is at this point that we enter the realm of game mechanics. The Charter sets up the purposes and community values but what we needed is some way to encourage further interdependence and collaboration. How were we to engender and support the Minecraft players, the community, to galvanise itself around student lead projects and reward them appropriately? This is where we turned to 3D Gamelab and the next blog in this series.

Our 3D Gamelab game engine

Our 3D Gamelab game engine

An attitude of gratitude

Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture.  ~Kak Sri

 

A few weeks ago MLC School was energised by the presence of two powerful thinkers, Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett who came to introduce staff and students to The Design Thinking Process as a means of re-envisaging learning. The men from NOTOSH did much more than that in the short time they were with us. Through a number of reflective practices, collaborative activities and robust discussions we reshaped aspects of what we used to term ‘curriculum’ and isolated a number of areas that we believed needed radical rethinking. We each pledged to work towards changing just one area for the better. I like a challenge, so I chose one that appeared in many places and in many guises over the two days – even in the workshops themselves. See the picture below to know what I want to work on.

I've pledged to address the pace of life at MLC

Anywhere. Anytime… All the time?

At MLC School we are proud to be a school that is embracing the ‘Learn Anywhere, Anytime‘ philosophy that is enabled by our innovations with online learning, virtual spaces, mobile devices and immersive experiences. We are risk-takers and future-makers. But this can lead to a ‘Anywhere. Anytime. All-the-time!‘ approach that favours stimulation over reflection, consolidation or even down time. When do we stop, turn off the email, stop updating our online units and rest the mind? Sometimes everything is just too fast, too connected to others and not to our own state of being. The drive to be connected all the time means that we can lose an awareness of our own needs and sometimes even what we value most. On a most basic level I am troubled by how many teachers who revel in the use of IT (including myself) complain of poor sleeping habits, primarily due to late nights updating online resources. What impact does an unrested mind have on professional practice and personal lives?

So how does one, amidst all this creative energy find space to stop, to rest, to reflect and to open the heart? Well, I just share what works for me and the millions of others around the planet- we meditate. So, in addition to the much-loved ministry of the school’s reverends, I have been offering meditation classes on and off since 2008. This year these sessions became weekly and increasingly well attended. Last term, many teachers, executive staff members and some senior students attended the early morning sessions whilst this term, up to 20 middle and senior school girls have been meditating in our new retreat space. They report increased levels of calm and reduced busyness of the mind. More needs to be done to support creativity with receptivity in order to alleviate the stresses supported by the Culture of Quick

Reflection in a time of change

This week I was invited by our new Principal to lead a reflection/meditation following on from her feedback session on our school’s new Master planning process. Being sensitive to the impact all the changes have had on staff, and the diminishing energy levels we face towards the end of a school year, the session was devoted to developing gratitude and kindness towards ourselves and the school community.

We shared what was on our minds, what we were feeling and what our needs were. Responses were recorded on different coloured paper and then  randomly distributed. Its a curious experience to have one’s own personal responses shared by another. It can soften attachment to one’s own problems and open up to a more empathic response.

Some of our needs were for-

  • reassurance
  • strong coffee
  • rest and sleep
  • a personal assistant
  • to go

Inspiration and perspective

To help us move into a more reflective mode, we watched the startling TEDxSF presentation by Louie Schwatzberg in which he invites us through stunning time-lapse photography and the reflections borne from youth and age to reflect on how much we have to be grateful for. You can see the ten minute presentation below.

Taking the cue from Schwatzberg’s words, ‘We protect what we fall in love with‘, the participants were challenged to open their hearts not to the wonders of nature on the scale put forward in the presentation but in our own school context. Meditating after wards, we called to mind those in the school who have supported us, both those we know well and those perhaps who we are not so close to. We recalled moments of connection with these people and brought appreciative ‘eye’ to bear on them, wishing for their welfare, imaginatively expressing our gratitude. This was extended to even the challenging people in the workplace and, most significantly, ourselves – what within ourselves and our lives are we most grateful for?

The same reflection task with the coloured paper was repeated after the meditation and the changes in emotional states and mental preoccupations were significant. Many were moved to think of their families and loved ones and the prevailing emotional state was one of calm. The final reflection was subtly altered from ‘What do you need?‘ to ‘What you can give?‘ The results are worth repeating. What can you give?

  • attention
  • happiness and joy
  • passion
  • smiles and hugs
  • care
  • a gift of my time

Cleary, it was a rewarding experience for the participants. An attitude of gratitude takes time to develop and when it does, time is what it want to offer others. It’s ironic that we often feel we lack time to achieve our aims but when we take time, our perspective shifts so we want to share even more time with others! Our self-orientation is reduced and the heart is opened to the needs of others. We feel calm, centred willing to act from that space.

I look forward to offering more sessions of this kind.

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat

This is a Vimeo video of the recent Churchill Chat for the NSW Fellows.

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat from Steven Caldwell on Vimeo.

Virtual World’s Best Practice in Education conference – reflections

Below you will find a brief overview of some sessions I attended at the VWBPE 2011 conference. One highlight not mentioned in the Voicethread was Botgirl’s discussion of how we construct identity in online spaces. Whilst I found the cheesy ‘reveal’ that Botgirl was actually a man, ‘hir’ comments were extremely intriguing and I hope to look into that in more detail later.

So, below you will find a brief summation of some of the conference including an audio of a pre-presentation discussion I had with Marianne Malmstrom (aka Knowclue) about our session together. Whilst I was not altogether pleased with how our sessions went, I think this conversation captured the essential elements we wished to convey.

Voicethread postcard from America

This is a Voicethread that looks at both the work and the play I experienced during the Churchill Fellowship.

Nothing to fear but fear itself

The teenager seems to have replaced the Communist as the appropriate target for public controversy and foreboding.

~Edgar Friedenberg, The Vanishing Adolescent


 

Anne CollierWherever I have travelled in the US, one name has frequently been cited with regard to online safety and global citizenship- Anne Collier. A journalist by profession, Anne is a ‘Truth- teller’ who’s work through NetFamilyNews.org and ConnectSafely.org, is cited by those who seek a more reasoned, less sensational voice in this highly charged domain. 

 

Anne served on the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, formed by 49 state attorneys general at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society as well as participating in various advisory boards, attending international conferences, and co-chairing the Obama Administration’s Online Safety and Technology Working Group , which sent its report to the US Congress last June.

 

It was a delight to meet with Anne and encounter a voice that actively challenges perceptions that parents and schools have about the safety of young people online.

 

This posting will blend Anne’s understanding of this issue with my own musings on the subjects of fear, youth voice and the label ‘digital natives’.

 

The origins of Fear

It is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of schools in America adopt a fear-based, protective attitude towards young people’s use of the internet given the origins of legislation pertaining to it.

 

Anne recounted the origins of Federal legislation dating back to the 1990s when the internet was still in its Web 1.0 infancy. Whilst initially the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children made use of the internet to find displaced kids, this set the scene for framing children and young people as potential victims: not an auspicious start. From the get-go, young people online was perceived as something risky.

 

Having interactions of young people with the internet already associated with Law enforcement and the Department of Justice predisposed the response taken by those bodies. Thus police began giving presentations to parents that demonstrated, in real-time, the predatory nature of some chat rooms by entering the spaces as a fictional student. These experiences served to alarm parents. To this day such presentations emphasizing the potential risks, threats and legal ramifications are still being delivered to students, staff and parents. In such instances the most egregious acts against children are revealed, skewing the public perception further.

 

Fear was later enshrined in legislation. The amusing, if aggressively titled, Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) was meant to cause schools to block or seriously restrict access to social networking websites rather than “predators,” actually. This bill was not based on sound evidence linking instances of child molestation and/or grooming behaviours to social networks. Not the least controversial aspect of the bill was the emotive and misleading title. Worryingly, if one spoke in opposition of the bill one was perceived to be somehow in support of predators.

 

Thankfully the bill did not pass. But children still seem to be seen by policymakers only as potential victims and passive consumers online rather than agents of their own and others’ well-being in online community.

 

Next up: The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act. The parameters of this Act were to inhibit the creation and distribution of child pornography, to protect young people from online predators once more and to remove the possibility of commercial exploitation of youth. Once again, young people were framed as passive, innocent, defenseless victims.

 

(3) with the explosive growth of trendy chat rooms and social networking websites, it is becoming more and more difficult to monitor and protect minors from those with devious intentions, particularly when children are away from parental supervision. Section 202 12-16

 

Anne was a consultant on the formation of this bill and watched as it was passed from the Senate to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for further discussion. Thus, the Senate believed that the care and safety of young people, now perceived as some form of commodity, also belonged to the Department of Commerce rather than solely to the Department of Justice. This lead to conflict between the two departments with the boycotting of reports and a vying for control over who actually ‘owned’ online safety.

 

If we add to this confusion over jurisdiction the prevailing culture of fear maintained by the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, it is perhaps unsurprising that little was actually achieved in the arena of online safety and digital citizenship for over eight years.

 

The limitations of Fear

Clearly, the mainstream perception was and still is that fear is a useful tool; the understanding being that, if you scare parents and children then you will ‘scare them straight’ into becoming model citizens. Well, as we all know, that censorious approach has always been an effective deterrent against young people experimenting with drugs, engaging in underage drinking and promiscuity.

 

Fear does the exact opposite of what we actually need which is to generate a culture of reasoned discussion and debate. What fear does is scare parents and administrators into closing down access based on fear of what might happen. (In an increasingly litigious culture, fear is seen as a guardian against possibly crippling legal payouts. My observation, not Anne’s.)

 

Fear-based reactions remove the very resources young people’s need to help them make informed decisions. Safe, loving and informed adults are removed from the equation, replacing them with frightened reactionaries who shut off avenues for discussion. Thus, young people are left to go underground and rely on their peers to negotiate the complexities of online cultures, putting them at greater risk. As Quentin Crisp, a renowned victim of perceived fear put it, ‘The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time.  They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.’

 

The discrediting of Fear

The fear-dominated discourse is being challenged as the findings of comprehensive studies question many of the assumptions held by parents and school administrators. Anne mentioned two significant reports published in recent years with which she was involved that have attempted to dispel misconceptions.

 

At the request of the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking, comprising of 49 state Attorneys General, the Enhancing Safety and Online Technologies  Report (2008) was commissioned. Written by the Internet Safety Technical Task force, comprising of leaders from social network sites (including Facebook), academics, technology developers, teachers, internet service providers and consumer advocacy organizations, the report was published by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

 

The Task force accomplished a comprehensive literature review and examined data from numerous rigorous studies. The report deals a serious blow to the rhetoric of fear and to the framing of young people as innocent victims of adult manipulation.

 

The Literature Review shows that the risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline, and that as they get older, minors themselves contribute to some of the problems.” page 4

 

The report goes on to explore some significant points.

More studies need to be done around the area of sexual predation of minors by adults and of minors by minors (this latter area is understudied and “not part of most conversations about online safety”)

Bullying and harassment are most common forms of negative interaction both online and offline.

The internet increases the availability of questionable material such as pornography but does not automatically increase exposure.

Young people are not equally at risk online – “The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.”

Young people themselves can contribute to the construction of unsafe environments.

 

The report makes three key recommendations, none of which involved banning access or censorship, rather they advocate greater exposure and evaluation of online tools.

 

1.All stakeholders in online communities need to share responsibility for protecting young people online.

2.More training in risk assessment and online safety practices needs to be developed for all who work with young people.

3.Parents and caregivers need to educate themselves about the internet and evaluate the use of tools in their own family context.

 

What is radical about this report is that it acknowledges the role young people themselves play in creating risky online cultures. For the first time young people are acknowledged as active agents in this arena.  Also, the wording of point three is particularly relevant. Parents and caregivers are not asked to be educated but rather ‘educate themselves’ thus framing them also as active agents in dispelling misconceptions.

 

The second report, published in June 2010, Youth Safety on a Living Internet – report of the online safety and technology working group, from the Online Safety & Technology Working Group, evaluated existing online safety practices/resources promoted by the telecommunications industry and the education sector. Anne was the Co-chair of this working group made up of child-safety advocates, government officials, representatives from various internet and telecommunications industries, educators, and civil liberties groups.

 

One of the key understandings raised in this report is that-

 

…thanks to the growing body of youth-online-risk research, we are now able to seek solutions as a society which are fact-based, not fear-based, but also that minors themselves – mainly pre-teens and teens (though the tech-literacy age is going down) – have a role to play in improving their own safety online and that of their peers.

 

The sub-committee on Internet Safety Education also made some powerful recommendations as part of the report.

         “nationwide education in digital citizenship and media literacy as the cornerstone of Internet safety.”

         Avoid scare tactics and promote the social-norms approach to risk prevention.

         Promote instruction in digital media literacy and computer security in pre-K-12 education nationwide.

         Create a Digital Literacy Corps for schools and communities nationwide.

         Encourage full, safe use of digital media in schools’ regular instruction and professional development in their use as a high priority for educators nationwide

         Respect young people’s expertise and get them involved in risk-prevention education. (my emphasis)

 

As comprehensive, informative and myth-busting as these reports were, they were controversial and received considerable criticism. Even the review of peer-reviewed research in the ISTTF report was attacked. Attempts were made to discredit the findings. It appears views which challenge the status quo are themselves challenged.

 

The most significant aspect of both these reports, aside from taking a less reactionary approach and presenting a reasoned response to the issues, is that young people themselves are considered part of the problem itself and also part of the solution. Young people were now seen as stakeholders in their own right who were not only to be protected but also respected.

 

The alternative to Fear – Respect for Youth

Young people today are not just adults in training.

 

The Macarthur Foundation recently invested fifty million dollars and three years to do both quantitative and qualitative ethnographic research on youth culture in the Digital Youth Project. The extensive research acknowledged a new sociology of youth. The book Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out – kids living and Learning with New Media drew on the findings of the Digital Youth Project and makes it abundantly clear that there is a lot we need to do to earn the respect of young people.

 

They have their own cultures and societal norms in online spaces. As such there is an imperative to respect what they have to offer and to hear their voices on matters that concern them in a meaningful, consequential way. We can’t unreservedly impose our expectations upon young people any longer.

 

Sadly, Anne believes that in all her travels, talking to students, presenting to parents and administrators, attending conferences, consulting and chairing working groups she is yet to find a forum that is deeply respectful of youth. There are organizations that do enlist student voice – Inspire USA, Reachout.org, Childnet International, Common Sense Media, and Global Kids being some groups that actively seek out young people’s opinions on matters that concern them but none that respect the wisdom, experiences and inquiries of youth in ways that give them leadership in the field of online safety/digital citizenship.

 

Like the young audiences such adults are attempting to reach, Anne is bored by a rhetoric that seeks to inform rather than consult. I added that young people want and need to learn just not to be taught while it happens. Developmentally, adolescents are moving away from investing in adult figures of authority or at the very least questioning the decisions made by them. Ironically, this is the very time that adults frequently offer more feedback and make greater demands. Informed, authoritative voices of ‘cybersafety experts’ make it clear what has to be done to young people, for young people but not alongside young people.

 

When it comes to the ubiquitous ‘cybersafety’ lectures made by law enforcement or so-called online safety experts, Anne says that they may as well be carpenters given the way they are brought in to ‘fix’ a problem. This attitude is fundamentally disrespectful to young people. It says that we are the wise ones and your experience does not matter, in fact, you are broken in some capacity. Is it any wonder that they stop listening to us and go underground? In the words of the newspaper columnist Judith Martin, “Chaperones don’t enforce morality; they force immorality to be discreet.”

 

One significant way we can listen to and respect the positive choices made by the vast majority of young people is to take a different slant on data. In five New Jersey schools that were recently studied, Anne noted the findings of researchers from Hobart and William Smith in New York State that when there was a notable decrease in the perception of the frequency and instances of bullying, the number of actual instances of bullying went down. Why? The schools made concerted efforts to celebrate the positive data: the high percentages of students who were maintaining societal norms rather than over emphasizing those who transgressed.

 

It is to the voice of social imperative that young people turn. This social urgency is a necessity in young people – it is what starts them on pushing boundaries and refining the ability to assess risks effectively. Both of these are essential in developing independence.

 

Where is the opportunity to allow young people to meet their social needs and provide a forum/community of inquiry around safety and global citizenship? Instead we have teachers, politicians, journalists and businesses applying their value sets, their societal norms to young people without consultation. There is a need for us to step back and for the young to step up.

 

Learning to respect our elders.

We may be chronologically older, but in terms of experience in online spaces, young people are our elders.

 

The term ‘digital natives’ is one usually applied to describe the generation brought up alongside the internet. I personally dislike the term ‘digital native’. It is reminiscent of another meaning of the word ‘native’ that was once associated with patriarchal colonialism. Young people are not ‘natives’ who need to be saved from danger through re-education and tempted to conform by the offer of shiny beads in the forms of access, privileges and liberties.

 

Some time ago I coined the term ‘Simmigrant’ – a conflation of Simulated and Immigrant – to describe the experience of we now stand in relation to the online world. The internet is a new territory for us to discover and inhabit. First Generation Simmigrants – children and young people – came to this ‘country’ earlier, sometimes by themselves with a more courageous, pioneering attitude. Why did they leave their ‘homeland’ of traditional community and education? Perhaps they left for the adventure of exploring new ground? Perhaps they wanted to go where they felt kinship? Perhaps they wanted to find out what it felt like to be creatively free or perhaps, just perhaps we in the ‘old country’ failed to inspire them anymore. Perhaps if we actually asked them we might discover the truth and find out what more they need?

 

To do that we also need to travel, to become Second Generation Simmigrants or risk widening the divide between our two worlds

We won’t travel from the ‘old country’ without both unnecessary and essential baggage. In our suitcases we bring the ability to think critically, to reflect, to question and also a larger historical perspective that they could not easily carry. Our elders also don’t travel light either- in their luggage is stowed innovation, creativity, enthusiasm, innocence, experience, wit and a great deal of skill.

 

Anne believes that we are at a pivotal time in history when we have the opportunity to help free the wisdom in young people, to help unpack their suitcases and fully belong. To do that we must empower young people to connect to themselves more deeply, to learn to respect themselves and others in a way that builds upon the communities they are constructing. We need to provide our elders with opportunities to document their digital lives so that we may learn just who they are and what they have achieved. For this to occur we must give access to the very tools they enable this history to be recorded otherwise they will do it all on their own without the benefits collaborating with us would bring.

 

In order to begin our journey, we must give up fear-based reactions and promote a culture of mutual respect.

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