This is a Vimeo video of the recent Churchill Chat for the NSW Fellows.
This is a Voicethread that looks at both the work and the play I experienced during the Churchill Fellowship.
On Friday 10 September I attended the Generation Next conference at the University of New South Wales, ostensibly for the session on Cyberbullying delivered by Susan McLean. The day was aimed at teachers, youth workers and health care professionals who work with children and young people, with the intent of bringing us all up to date on recent data and developments. Though there were some brief instances of how to lead young people forward, for the most part, the day was an exploration of the dark places that some, and I emphasise some, young people inhabit.
What follows are some brief notes on some of the sessions; key points, personal observations and questions that arose.
The learned and entertaining Dr Manocha defined what he called ‘A Crisis of Consciousness’ citing research into growing rates of mental illness which he attempted to argue was due to rapid societal change. He argued that contemporary consumerist, permissive culture emphasises an ‘Anything, Anytime, Anywhere’ values system that young people are not cognitively or emotionally mature enough to negotiate or critique effectively. He put forward the argument that the social/cultural environment was one that added extra stressors to the lives of young people – peer pressure, bullying, increased sexualisation and violence that was adversely affecting their mental health.
In what could have been a series of Motherhood statements on why drugs are bad, Paul Dillon gave an impressively balanced presentation that aimed at clarifying some of our misconceptions about drug usage in the country, misconceptions that are manipulated by the media in order to create an environment of fear. What was most striking was the way in which he inverted statistics in his graphs to highlight the number of students who are successfully NOT taking drugs. These he uses in schools to validate the choices the majority of young people are taking in abstaining. He also clarified the issue of caffeine in our culture and in energy drinks. Apparently there is more in our morning freshly ground coffees than in the most common brands.
In a brief but affecting recount of his life journey, Tom spoke of being burdened by excessive anxiety and the steps he took to manage it. A young role-model to everyone who can empathise with intense feelings of unhappiness despite evidence to the contrary.
In response to the previous speakers, Lyn commented that if we look at the risk factors to young people alone, we might ignore the outcomes that are fine and lose the opportunity to bolster strengths where they already exist. Her main argument was based around what builds resilience in young people – what are the tipping points and the turning points. She defined resiience as-
The Resilience Donut is a Visual Aid to assist people of any age to take a diagnostic review of their life and ascertain areas of strength and weakness in the support structures. She has defined 7 Key Factors.
Whereas one might expect to focus on the deficits, the approach is to bolster and further develop the strengths – to look at what is actually working for the child already. Children at risk are those who have three or more factors under threat so lets look to that which is already strong and support it to be even stronger.
As expected, Susan McLean have us a ‘Reds Under the Bed’ presentation on the nasty, evil dangers of technology that many had apparently not heard before. For someone familiar with the territory of fear covered by media commentators, it was a great disappointment to have nothing new shared with us. It is true what she says, we are on public display when we use technology so we need to have a comprehensive curriculum that addresses cybersafety but not, in my opinion, one that solely focusses on the negative impacts of social technologies.
She shared some useful, if disturbing statistics –
Susan presented some potentially useful strategies to protect young people online-
Lastly, she suggests that parents implement five Top Tips
Susan’s voice is an important one but her fear based rhetoric, loud as it is, does not address the fundamental need to present alternative ways to connect online. Her approach is only part of the solution. The only positively worded remark she made in her presentation was this, ‘Your school must embrace cyberspace as the valuable tool it is not the problem that it may become.’ And even that is framed in the negative! So, how exactly is it a valuable tool to create connections rather than destroy them? This is, I suppose, what my Churchill Fellowship is based upon.
Whilst much of the conference was stimulating, challenging and occasionally disturbing, I left the day with the overall impression that the attitude of the presenters was that the best way to support and serve youth was for them to be whisked back to the past where they would obviously be much happier. There, through our discerning rose-coloured glasses, there are no bullies – it is a place of peace and joy – the supportive village atmosphere is experienced by all. Back in the magical land of ‘Then’, children had manners and knew to look you in the eye when they were speaking to you. And most important of all, there was no evil child molesting Internet lurking the the bedrooms of our precious Innocents.
With the noteable exception of Paul Dillon and Lyn Worsley, the predominant discourse was one of Fear. Ironically, Generation Next was a timewarp where the 30+ audience ‘s nostalgia for an idealised childhood (which many may never have actually experienced) was emphatically affirmed by graphs, data, irritatingly diverse Powerpoint slideshow transitions and empassioned quotes from grieving mothers. We were encouraged to pack great reams of Fear into our sample bags that were already stuffed with stress balls and pens. Yearning for security is based on a fallacy – there is no ultimate state of security because life is an intricate web of conditions that shift and change with alarming regularity. Helen Keller communicated the dangers of security far more effectively than I.
I thank the Generation Next team for presenting their view of the future… sorry, ‘A’ future where we react from fear of what might become. I prefer to select a different future, a ‘daring adventure’ in which we invest attention in building upon positive connections of today that may support a more collaborative future.
Are you willing to take the risk with me?
As if there wasn’t enough for me to do at the moment, what with preparations for heading off on the Churchill Fellowship, I’m now enrolled in an Elearning course jointly run by my school and Lisa Dawley from Boise State University. Actually, its pretty intriguing stuff and immensely useful (not to mention pertinent to my research) but the timing is putrid. And there is aso the risk of me running away in terror at the thought of more articles to read. I mean, I can only change my thinking just so much in a short period of time!
Anyway, kvetching and anxiety aside, I’ve had time to explore Edutopia’s ‘The Brave New Breakthrough of Online Learning’ and ‘Going Virtual – Unique needs and Challenges of K-12 Online Teachers.’ and found much of interest. The first online resource makes a clear case for the necessity, validity and effectiveness of online courses whether they are delivered in entirely virtual schools or supplementary programs in ‘bricks & mortar’ schools. A wake-up call was the reminder that teachers both in physical and virtual schools need a significant paradigm shift from thinking about ‘what you are going to teach and how’ to a model that has its focus on what the kids are or are not learning. Teachers know this. We try this. We forget this. Well, I do from time to time. So, some questions arise from this –
The greatest challenges raised are how do we promote collaboration and also supply emotional support at a distance?
‘Going Virtual’ raised more questions, not the least of which being the fact that the conclusions are drawn from a relatively small set of sample data in which not all respondents answered every item. Virtual world learning is personally very appealing – I’ve been doing it for over 4 years in Quest Atlantis with some degree of success however, there are legitimate concerns about student’s time management and the integrity of assessment.
The following additional questions arose from my reading of the report. They are of interest to the content of my Churchill Fellowship proposal.
So there are my questions (in italics above) Anyone able to help me with them?
Below you will read the research abstract/overview of my Churchill Fellowship project.
I would be most grateful for any of your thoughts, suggestions, answers, questions etc.
If you’ve experienced ways of addressing these concerns, I would love to read them.
iCare: Supporting young Australians to develop positive values in online communities.
Do Australian teens exhibit positive values when they are online? Can they recognisethe value of compassion as citizens of online spaces and equate that to citizenship in their world context?
This project will consolidate the author’s knowledge of Non-Violent Communication and transfer it to virtual spaces occupied by students in Australia and abroad. The author will construct learning sequences which model and affirm positive, compassionate interactions. By creating engaging ‘playable fictions’, students will be exposed to the value of reflection, empathy and consideration of others’ needs. Students will also confront the consequences of inappropriate or non-empathic interactions in a safe context.
The Fellowship will allow the author to work as leader of the team of programmers, curriculum experts and researchers to expedite the development of the project’s activities.
‘Connectivity’ is a significant buzzword. Governments tempt us with ‘ high speed broadband connections’ as if somehow this will make all our dreams come true and our anxieties vanish. Our kids will, apparently, learn more quickly and, perhaps, the safe future we wish for them might magically appear. But connectivity is more than about the speed of your broadband – its not speed that matters but the quality of that connection between individuals and groups.
Connections between students sometimes as illusory as the body types their avatars depict. Just because you ‘Friend’ someone does that make them your friend? Yes, they have Facebook and Twitter (Does anyone use MySpace anymore?) and can fill in fields about their likes, dislikes and interests but just how much Narcissism is good for anyone? It certainly wasn’t much good for Narcissus. Social Networking, ironically, is more about defining, marketing and celebrating Self than it is about finding other people that one can truly connect with.
By ‘connect’ I don’t mean the “I like this, do you?” discourse that you find in the social networks young people inhabit. That is as sophisticated as many a playground conversation. Like the cardgame Snap, in playground chats kids throw down their opinions and memories for others to affirm or reject. The topic under discussion is rarely the object up for scrutiny, rather it is the speaker and their status that is foremost – at least in the speaker’s mind. It is similar online, kids post pictures for others to comment upon, seeking affirmation to prove their worth. It’s no surprise that some social commentators are calling this the iGeneration.
These sorts of interactions are relatively innocuous, but it can be far worse. Young people can be dangerously mean to each other. Last year alone ACMA’s (Australian Communications and Media Authority) helpline was the recipient of 600 calls from kids who had suicidal thoughts following instances of cyberbullying. Susan McClean, a cybersafety activist, says that the ‘Internet is the new toilet door’ and that now, due to emerging social technologies, the bully follows you into the privacy of your own bedroom. In the case of 17 year old Allem Halkic (as reported on Four Corners) such repeated bullying contributed to his suicide.
So, are we to be techno luddites and ban the ‘evils’ of the Internet? Is Facebook this decade’s ‘Reefer Madness’, ‘Communism’ or ‘Teen Pregnancy’? Look, even if we tried, kids would find a way to get what they want as did some of us when we were their age. And they are already there whether we know it or not. KZero, a consulting group who researches/monitor’s Virtual Worlds indicates that, worldwide, 57 million kids under 10 are exploring virtual worlds already. That number leaps to 155 million for young people aged 10-20. ACMA’s data is closer to home and just as interesting, if not quite so large. Of young people aged 14-17 –
Just what delightful places are our kids exploring? Well, 19 million (worldwide) are learning the deep significance of fashion choices on one’s level of ‘Hotness’ in a place called ‘Barbie Girls.’ This is just one of the hundreds of corporate sponsored virtual worlds opening their portals to kids.
My questions are –
These questions have guided the formulation of my Churchill Fellowship proposal called ‘iCare’. More on that, next time.
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