Read, Think, Participate

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A Response to Participatory Culture in a Networked Era

I recently picked up Jenkins, Ito and boyd’s Participatory Culture in a Networked Era again. I initially started during #DigiWriMo, but as is often the case, I got distracted. However, I picked it up again in part due to my work around online communities. It is a rather unique book, marrying conversational tone with a sense of rigour provided via the addition of references and the removal of any tedious repetition. As danah boyd explains in a post on her blog:

The book is written as a conversation and it was the product of a conversation. Except we removed all of the umms and uhhs and other annoying utterances and edited it in an attempt to make the conversation make sense for someone who is trying to understand the social and cultural contexts of participation through and by media.

This made it quite easy to follow along as a reader, but not necessarily easy to summarise. It would be easy to reduce the book to a few themes, such as equity, control, public good, youth and activism. However, this seems to miss so much.

Participatory Culture is best considered as a collection of thoughts that you could easily pick up in pieces or come back to again and again. So rather than an overview, a better approach is to simply share some of my entry points. To participate in my own way, I have collected some of the more poignant quotes and adapted the Visible Thinking protocol ‘See-Think-Wonder’ to add my own thoughts and wonders.


All young people have agency and voice, but not everyone has the opportunity to connect this agency and voice to a broader public stage and to sites of power. This is where I think participatory and network culture has the potential to address some of this inequity.- Mimi Ito

This response reminds me of Nick Jackson’s argument that it is not student voice which is at stake, rather our focus should be on providing the opportunities for student action. I am left wondering what chances students get to connect beyond the classroom and what opportunities are being left untapped?

Networks are more than simply clusters of individuals; they are enterprises formed around shared goals and values; they require us to learn to work together to help others achieve their ambitions, even as we extract value from the community towards our own ends.- danah boyd

So often the focus of developing networks is where communities are located and the possibilities offered by the technology. I wonder how we go about refocusing attention on the why, rather than the what? The goals and values, rather the specific outcomes and achievements?

The more diverse the contributions, the richer the solutions the community will develop around common problems and concerns.- Henry Jenkins

David Weinberger suggests that, “the smartest person in the room is the room.” While Cathy Davidson talks about collaboration by difference, with a focus on diversity. I wonder how we go about actively fostering such ‘smarter’ spaces which encapsulate differences in a meaningful manner in order to develop richer solutions?

Part of what we collectively struggle with is the need to unpack what people think about youth and technology versus what we are able to see through our research.- danah boyd

There is so much discussion about research at the moment and what this might mean for educators. I have lost count the amount of people I have shared danah boyd’s It’s Complicated with, sadly they often take note, but continue on responding to teens as usual. I wonder then how we open a space for critical dialogue about technology in general?

For some adults, the phrase “digital immigrant” functions as a kind of learned helplessness: “I shouldn’t be expected to learn how to use this new technology because I wasn’t born in the right generation.”- Henry Jenkins

I think that there are dangers to many of the labels that applied when grappling with technology. One of the things that I took away from Doug Belshaw’s book on Digital Literacies was the importance of defining as a community the various terms and concepts which we use. I wonder what other edu-phrases are in desperate need re-evaluation?

Many young people are actively looking to participate in public, but they don’t necessarily want to be public (Marwick and boyd 2014b). That subtle difference is important because it means that they spend a lot of time making content available, even while the meaning is rendered invisible.- danah boyd

This was one of those lingering take-aways that I took from boyd’s other book, It’s Complicated. It can be easy to misconstrue the desire to live life out in the public means that today’s youth do not care for privacy. I wonder if inviting adults into the digital classroom compromises this? Something pointed out to me by Eric Jensen.

How do kids get into deep verticals in communities that reinforce expertise and are challenge- and inquiry-driven? How do they develop technical literacy and skills in social networks, in status and reputation-building?- Mimi Ito

The idea of ‘deep verticals’ really caught my attention. This is often the challenge made to dynamic spaces, such as Twitter, that they are often shallow. I wonder if the focus needs to be the connections and if maybe going ‘deep’ occurs when such inquiry moves across platforms?

Our response at the school level has been to declare certain social media or participatory culture practices off limits, to ban use of Facebook or YouTube, rather than to provide trained adults who can offer guidance in how to use social media safely, creatively, constructively, and ethically.- Henry Jenkins

It feels like we spend so much time talking about the way in which youth use technology, yet when it comes to supporting them in a meaningful way the room goes silent. Alexandra Samuel touches on this in regards to parenting, but I think that it is just as pertinent for teachers. I wonder if, like Annie Hartnett, the answer is giving space, but also being there for support when needs be?

Too often, in today’s schools, a student’s writing ends up on the teacher’s desk and sits there waiting a grade. Rather, we should think about literacy as involving the capacity to engage with networked publics, to share what you write, and to receive feedback from some kind of larger community.- Henry Jenkins

This comes back to the Jackson’s point about action, as well as Belshaw’s essential elements, in particular the constructive use of tools. I wonder with all the focus on feedback why there is not more focus on authentic audiences and spaces?

So we always have to ask who gains and who loses? What’s at stake? What are the risks? What are the benefits?- Henry Jenkins

Jenkins touches on an important point, that everything has its positives and negatives. Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad provides a useful tool for representing these varying points of view. I wonder what is overlooked by continually focusing on supposed gains and overlooking inherent biases?

Just as we don’t want corporate agents making decisions for us about what constitutes valuable participation, we should be cautious about imposing our own outside perspectives on what makes these sites meaningful to their young participants.- Henry Jenkins

I recently got into a conversation with a colleague about the use of spaces, such as Twitter. He wisely questioned whether we, “should really care how online spaces exist? Pluralist view would be that they can exist in any shape or form and that people should be able to gravitate to the place for what ever the purpose may be.” I wonder if the push to conform to someone else’s rules and expectations is any different for adult participants?

We really need everyday folk to step up and take on responsibilities in public life, whether it is by blogging, organizing, or funding.- Mimi Ito

I feel that one of the developmental steps when it comes to blogging is the act of supporting others with their journey. This maybe adding a comment or sharing a post on. Clive Thompson argues that the hardest thing is often the cognitive shift of opening up your writing to just ten readers. A million is easy. I wonder how many people, young and old, are held back by fear of this unknown?

People participate through and within communities: participatory culture requires us to move beyond a focus on individualized personal expression; it is about an ethos of “doing it together” in addition to “doing it yourself.” Many of the cases we often use to illustrate the concept fall short of these ideals.- boyd, Jenkins and Ito

This balance between doing it together and for yourself reminds me of the notion of #ittakesavillage. I wonder what is needed in order to work towards such an ideal?

The technologies do not themselves make culture participatory. People do. And they do so by imagining – and working to achieve – new ways of connecting, coordinating, collaborating, and creating.- boyd, Jenkins and Ito

So often when we talk about participation, we are consumed by the technologies. However, platforms will come and go, it is the people that will remain. As Ben Werdmuller explains, “The supposition that Facebook is its software is completely wrong. Facebook is its network. You could build a new open source platform today that had every single feature on Facebook — although it would be quite an undertaking — but you still wouldn’t have the same effect. The thing that makes Facebook special is that everyone is already on it.” I wonder how we can empower people to utilise their collective power to take back control of the spaces that they exist in.


So there are my thoughts, what about you? How are you engaged in participatory culture? As always, comments welcome.

 


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Technology in Education, It’s Complicated


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There are many wicked questions in education, such as what is the role of the learner? Or the teacher? What strategies should we use? What are the essential learning outcomes? How do we engage with stack holders and the wider community? Each problem involves grappling with contradictory knowledge and opinions involved, the economic challenges and the interconnected nature. So many of these problems though are engrained in how we integrate technology within education.

A popular solution in regards to integrating technology seems to be the TPACK framework. It consists of seven different knowledge areas focusing on the relationships between technology, pedagogy and content. However, it can be argued that it creates more confusion than clarify. For example, Richard Olsen points out that, “separating technical/digital literacy from traditional literacy offers nothing”. The issue is that the framework sees things that are not necessarily so as somehow being in isolation, such as Pedagogical Knowledge and Technological Pedagogical Knowledge, as well as Content Knowledge and Technological Cotent Knowledge. The question then remains, what part does technology play?

There are many who argue that technology plays a central role in all that we do. The latest message coming from Greg Whitby, who suggests that technology offers the potential to extend our perspective beyond our own limits, offering the potential to deepen learning. The question though is how far do we take this? Where does social media and other such technology belong in schools? There are those such as Jason Markey who share about using hashtags and a shared Twitter account to model best practice. While there are also those, such as George Couros and Dean Shareski  who warn against ‘edu-fying’ every new application, like Snapchat. Eric Jensen touches on this dilemma wondering if schools should provide students with a safe space away from the external pressures of parents and the world wide web. In addition to this, students have a tendency to simply move onto the next best thing. For although technology may offer the potential to deepen learning, it can also turn students off too.

In the end, I am not sure the exact place of technology? Is it a class Twitter account open to the world or is it a closed off space like Edmodo which allows for some sort of security? Is it allowing students to bring into school whatever device they like or is it banning all smartphones and wearable devices? Maybe the reality is that the answer is different for every school and context. What I do know is that Danah Boyd’s book, It’s Complicated, is more important than ever. Not because she necessarily provides all the answers – who does? – but that she paints a picture of technology and the challenges of today.

The reality is that we all have a choice to make and that choice has consequences. So, what are you doing and what consequences is it having? I would love to know. Please share.


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Influences and Inspiration – A Reflection on a Year of Blogging

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I have spoken elsewhere about how I have become a connected educator. However, I have not necessarily spoken about those who have had an ongoing influence on me. +Cameron Paterson talks about finding someone who scares you to drive you, but I feel that it is more important to find some who inspires you and drives you forward. Sometimes such moments can be intimidating or awe inspiring. They provide us with a choice, we can either say that is too hard and baulk at the challenge or say that although it is a lot of work, with a bit more effort and endeavour I could achieve that too.
 
Although ‘influence and inspiration’ exists outside of gender, I am inspired by a tweet from +Julie Bytheway to be more equitable. So I have decided to split my list between two five men and five women. So in no particular order, here are ten people who have made an impact on my journey and my first year of blogging …

+danah boyd

I can’t remember the list I found, but Boyd was one of the first people I started following when I got on Twitter. I would read her posts and relish the different perspectives which she provided. Boyd’s work has helped me realise that there are different ways of seeing teens and internet, as was documented in her fantastic book It’s Complicated, which I reviewed here.

+Peter DeWitt

DeWitt completely changed the way I saw Twitter and being a connected educator. Although I had connected with many other teachers, DeWitt was the first leader who I connected with. I had grown up surrounded by some great leaders, however they did not always share so openly and honestly. I can’t even remember how I came upon DeWitt’s blog, but it soon became a staple of my digital diet. Even when talking about tales and topics with little direct influence on my own day to day happenings, it is his endeavour to always keep the conversation going is what I aspire to the most and keeps me coming back.

Jason Borton

Although I had engaged with various school leaders from abroad both directly, as in the case with +Peter DeWitt, but also through such spaces as Connected Principals, Borton was the first ‘local’ principal who really changed the way I saw things at home. (Bit ironic how in a global world Canberra and Melbourne become local.) Whether it be questioning homework, reporting and whole school enabling, he has engaged with all those big topics on both Twitter and through his blog that from my experience many leaders baulk at. It was actually through Borton that I came upon Edutweetoz and the +TER Podcast, two other priceless points of perspective and great ambassadors for more empowered voices in education.

+Jenny Ashby

As I have discussed elsewhere, Jenny was very much the start of my connected journey. I am always inspired by how much she manages to achieve. Whether this be her podcasts (RU Connected or AU2AZ) or here involvement in such projects as Skype Around the World in 24 Hours and Slide2Learn. What amazes me the most about Jenny is that it would be so easy for her not to be involved in many of these things, distance to travel or quality of internet connection. However, from my experiences with Ashby, she often seems to find some reason to be involved, rather than an excuse not to be. Great mindset.

+Doug Belshaw

I came upon Belshaw via his phenomenal work around digital literacies. However, what stands out the most to me is his sharing and giving back. People tell me that I write a lot, then I ask them if they follow Doug’s work. In addition to this, he is always pushing the envelope, question and critiquing, innovating for tomorrow, rather than living for today. Take for example his recent push to take back ownership of his data by self-hosting his own email. Although this may seem an impossible task, many great changes in history have been started by a lone nut who takes a stand.

+Richard Olsen

If ever I want a different perspective on something, I often go to Olsen. He always finds something that I have missed or puts a different spin on things. As I have stated elsewhere, a part of me lives for such critical engagement. Really though, what I respect most about Olsen is that instead of simply writing things off, ignoring them, carrying his own conversation, he puts in the time and effort to fuel the wildfire of learning and keep the conversation going.

+Pernille Ripp

Ripp has been a constant inspiration ever since i got online. Unlike many who perpetuate change from the top down, Ripp is a great example of what is possible from the bottom up. One of her greatest attributes is her openness and honesty. Although it can be easy to consider Ripp as taking ‘risks’ and going beyond the perceived status quo, what she has taught me is that in some respect we are all risk takers, whether we like it or not. That we are all making a choice. I think that what makes some people like Ripp empowering and important is that they own the choices and decisions. I must admit that I spent the first few years as a teacher thinking that it wasn’t my roll or right to make big decisions, I thought that was the role of those above to feed down ‘best practise’. However, when those answers never arrived I realised that change starts with me today in my classroom and that there is no time to wait.

+Amy Burvall 

Like Belshaw, Burvall’s ability to seemingly achieve so much is a constant reminder that there is always something more I could be doing. In addition to her awesome amount of sharing online, she has also influenced the way I consider the assessment of art and creativity. She has also introduced me to the potential of some amazing applications, such as Mozilla Popcorn and Paper53. To me, Burvall demonstrates that there is no limit to engagement with and through digital literacies, instead the only limit is ourselves.

Inquire Within

I am not sure exactly when I came upon +Edna Sackson‘s group blog, Inquire Within, however it has become an important part of my growth in regards to teaching and learning. Having had a mixed past when it comes to inquiry, something I have discussed elsewhere, Inquire Within has brushed away so many misconceptions. I think that my greatest fault was to think that inquiry could actually be defined, rather than be what it actually is, a myriad of combinations which form to make different pedagogical cocktails. During my time following the site, I have come upon so many great posts and awesome ideas there, such as +Bianca Hewes ‘Managing the Mushy Middle’ and Kath Murdoch’s ‘How do Inquiry Teachers Teach?’ Along with Ripp’s blog, Inquire Within is often one of the first sites that I recommend to other teachers in regards to teaching and learning.

+Ed Tech Crew

When I think of influences, I find it hard to go beyond the +Ed Tech Crew. Whether it be guests on the program, such as +Ian Guest and +Alec Couros, the community curation in the Diigo group or the dialogue and discussion between +Darrel Branson and +Tony Richards, there is so much sharing that occurs. I have lost count of the thoughts and ideas that have taken seed via the +Ed Tech Crew. In addition to this, I have also been lucky enough to share my thoughts of Melbourne Google in Education Summit 2013, as well as my thoughts on leading ICT and where we have come in regards to technology in education. It was sad to hear that the +Ed Tech Crew would actually be going into hiatus. However, it is also a recognition that it takes a village.

The Word ‘I’ Refers To …

It is good to recognise our influences in life. However, one of the problems with such a practise is that there will always be someone missed or overlooked. I was really taken by Jack Welch’s statement that “nearly everything I have done has been accomplished with other people” as quoted in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. In some vague attempt to recongise some of these ‘other people’ I have listed all the people who I have mentioned through my many blogs over the last year: +John Moravec +Kevin Miklasz +Troy MONCUR +Tom Whitby +Andrew Williamson +Joe Mazza +Peter Kent +Rich Lambert +Corrie Barclay +John Pearce +Deb Hicks +Seth Godin +Ian Guest +Suan Yeo +Jim Sill +Chris Betcher +Anthony Speranza +Mike Reading +Jason Markey +George Couros +David Truss +Tom March +Vicki Davis +Ben Gallagher +Rebecca Davies +Anne Mirtschin +Adam Bellow +stephen heppell +David Tuffley +Tony Sinanis +Dan Rockwell +Alf Galea +Mel Cashen +Matt Esterman +Darrel Branson +Ashley Proud +Ryan Tate +Roland Gesthuizen +Aubrey Daniels International +Catherine Gatt +Celia Coffa +Kynan Robinson +Mark O’Meara +Lois Smethurst +Darren Murphy +Mark Barnes +Chris Wejr +Doug Belshaw +Miguel Guhlin +TER Podcast +Bianca Hewes +Luis López-Cano +John Spencer +Tom Panarese +Edna Sackson +David Zyngier +Cameron Malcher +Mariana Funes +dave cormier +Dick Faber +Ewan McIntosh +Darryn Swaby +David Price +Alan Thwaites +Stephen Harris +Corey Aylen +Simon Crook +Nick Jackson +Simon Ensor +maureen maher +Keith Hamon +John Thomas +Margo Edgar +Jan Molloy +Kim Yeomans +John Bennett +Will Richardson +Bec Spink +Sam Irwin +Corinne Campbell +Rick Kayler-Thomson +Adam Lavars +Heather Bailie +Dean Shareski +Stephen Collis +Michelle Hostrup +Starr Sackstein +Charles Arthur +Craig Kemp +David Weinberger +Eric Jensen and +Katelyn Fraser. Although extensive, these are simply people whose thoughts and ideas I have been conscious of, emerged from the noise. For as +Keith Hamon recently suggested in an interesting post on authorship, “while I can find sources for all of my ideas, I’m not sure that they are my sources, but I am sure that it doesn’t matter.”

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Cybersafety – What’s the Message?

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A few years ago when I lived in country Victoria I had the privilege of working with my Koori kids alongside the local police to restore old bikes. The purpose of the exercise was to not only show the students that they could achieve something, but also to build relationships between police and the wider population. It therefore made me sad when funding for the program was pulled, to me I thought that it was a priceless experience to have the police involved in a proactive situation, rather than be lumped into the reactive situation that they are endlessly placed in. However, today when a local officer came to speak to the students I was left thinking that maybe not all attempts at proactive interactions with students are helpful. Sometimes, I believe, using a uniform to add creditials actually compromises the message.
 
Although I agreed with many of the arguments made, such as the point that the person you are online is the person that you are in real life, nothing is ever 100% safe and secure online and for five seconds of fame is it really worth publishing material online that maybe offensive or get us into strife. I really question the ‘fear’ approach. With a whole lot of stories about baby monitors being hacked, sex offenders with 200+ aliases and a generation of youths who are unemployable due to their cyber footprint.
 
As much as the threat that the fear approach may convince some to heed and think again, there will be others who will simply big themselves in deeper. Others who will search for other ways. Others who will develop a false facade that doesn’t help anyone. See for example Charles Arthur’s interview with Jake Davis for the Guardian as a case study of someone who went too far. What then are we doing for those people?
 
Coupled with fear is an oft outdated approach to technology. Fine I can understand the purpose of using a nickname, not befriending ‘strangers’ and questioning how much personal data you share online. However, I question the usefulness of suggesting that students should have ‘tech free weekends’. For you don’t really need to be on social media, it won’t kill you, you will survive. In addition to this, students were told that they really must share their passwords with their parents, that it is some sort of right.
 
Now that maybe true, it maybe a right for parents to dictate the rules that occur underneath their roof. However, here I am reminded of +danah boyd‘s message in her fantastic book, It’s Complicated, that for many teens it is one thing to share their passwords with parents, but it is another to have them logging in and snooping around. “Some teens see privacy as a right, but many more see privacy as a matter of trust. Thus, when their parents choose to snoop or lurk or read their online posts, these teens see it as a signal of distrust.” The reality is that friendship and a relationship with a son or daughter is not a right, it is something earnt.
 
In addition to this, I was left confused by the suggestion that students really need to spend more time with friends in real life. Returning again to Boyd, I think we sadly miss the place of social media in the lives of teens. Out of all the different messages presented in her book, the one that struck me the most was why so many teens flock to the virtual. Boyd explains that this is because in the past where teens may have hung out at the drive-in or the skating rink, many of these spaces have been robbed from them due to fear of the unknown, fear of what might happen.
 
Fine there is a place for the police to inform students about cybersafety and tips for dealing with it, such as don’t respond, block the person, change your privacy settings, collect all evidence and share with someone you can trust. While coupled with this, provide some explanation of the legal consequences to online actions. Is there limit to what should be said? As I have described elsewhere, I believe many educators would benefit from reading Boyd’s book for there is a lot being left unsaid in this discussion.
 
As it was suggested in the presentation that it is not about not getting caught, but about being a better person online. Are we really helping them do that when we continually strip teens of any sense of agency and deny the realities of their lives? What are your experiences with cybersafety? How have you tried to reach out to the students in your care?

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Common Sense That Is Not Always So Common – A Review of Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated

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Voltaire once suggested that, “common sense is not so common.” So to can +danah boyd‘s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens be seen as an attempt to reposition the debate about teenagers and the supposed scurvy of life in an online world. Boyd sets out to dispel many of the negative and dystopian views that so often fill the news. As she moves from one case study to another, I was left with many aha moments, particular while reading about fear and privacy. Having grown up with the practise of placing the desktop computer in a public space, it had never really occurred to me some of the deeper consequences of such actions. That is not to say that such approaches are wrong, but like every choice, everything comes with a cost. At its heart, the book puts forward many of the issues and arguments that are too often overlooked in mainstream education.
The reality is, living in a networked world is complicated for as Boyd states, it is both the same as, but also different from yesterday. For example, many teens cling to online networks as a social space to belong and just be. Like the drive-in of yesteryear, it is the structured unstructured environment where they can just hangout. However, online spaces are also considerably different to drive-ins though, for unlike the physical world, many of the actions and consequences in a digital world leave a trace and are forever ongoing for others to see.
 
I entered this book not quite sure what to expect. A part of me thought that Boyd would magically provide a breadth of tools and techniques for addressing the supposed dyer state teens on social media. Yet what I was left with was a series of thoughts and reflections about my own world. Boyd shone a spotlight on such issues as the supposed equality online, as well as the media fear mongering associated with addiction and sexual predators. However, the question that I was left wondering about the most was what are the consequences of the ongoing divide now occurring in all facets of life between those whose lives are increasingly embroiled with the online world and those whose aren’t – what Connaway, White, Lanclos, Browning, Le Cornu and Hood have termed as digital ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’.
 
It’s Complicated does not provide the panacea, that magical cure for all the social ills suffered by teens today (and yesterday and tomorrow) who live in a digital world. The reason that it doesn’t provide this is because it can’t, such a thing does not and cannot exist. Instead the book provides what America anthropologist Clifford Geertz described as a ‘thick description‘. A thorough account that not only provides a description of behaviour from a wide range of different points of view, but also an interpretation as to the context that produced such actions. As Boyd herself has stated,

I wrote this book so that more people will step back, listen, and appreciate the lives of today’s teenagers. I want to start a conversation so that we can think about the society that we’re creating.

The purpose therefore is not to provide an answer to societies ills, but instead to provoke dialogue and debate at both the micro and macro level, whether this be teachers in a staffroom or politicians producing policy.
 
Although Boyd’s book is written for adults about teens usually in America, in many respects it is a book that uses teens to confront adults from anywhere about many of the issues that we so often leave silent. I think that challenge that we have is to discuss these matters and from there create a more reasoned approach to the matter. For as I have spoken about elsewhere, it takes a village to find a solution and hopefully together we can create a better world for everyone.

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