Posts Tagged ‘youth’

The Five Gifts of Sharing

May 6, 2010

Human paper cutouts holding hands (sharing illustration).Everything You Need To Know About the Future of Education You Learned in Preschool

Sharing. In preschool, our teachers wouldn’t shut up about it. The rest of our school careers, it’s like they never learned it themselves. Think about it. In grade school, high school, even in college, what happened to all that great content you produced? That “Where the Wild Things Are” diorama? That coming-of-age introduction to film screenplay? That term paper on electoral reform? Very likely, three things:

1. Your teacher reviewed it, thoroughly if he or she possessed the motivation or time, less than thoroughly if he or she didn’t.

2. Your teacher assigned a grade to it, and, sometimes but not always, provided written or verbal comments.

3. You paid more attention to the grade than the comments and filed the assignment away to gather actual or virtual dust — or simply trashed it.

With the Web all but eliminating the production and distribution costs of content sharing, education is becoming more participatory, but not to the extent it could be or should be, according to members of the “The Future of Learning is the Web” panel at last week’s FutureWeb conference in Raleigh, N.C. Even many e-learning programs, they said, are little more than traditional lessons dressed up in online clothes. The trick, panelist Tony O’Driscoll, professor of the practice of business administration at Duke University, said, is to go from using technology as an engine for automating the classroom to using technology as a network for liberating learning.

The trick is to go from using technology as an engine for automating the classroom to using technology as a network for liberating learning.

— Tony O’Driscoll, professor of the practice of business administration, Duke University

O’Driscoll and his four panelmates, also Duke University professors, argued that sharing the educational process on blogs, social media, discussion forums, crowdsourcing sites and elsewhere online benefits students, teachers and society alike.

  • Sharing’s first gift is motivation. When students know their work is potentially being judged by their peers, experts or even just anonymous Internet users, they take their work up a notch. The extra eyes likewise motivate teachers to maximize the quality and relevancy of their assignments.
  • Sharing’s second gift is feedback. Constructive criticism affords students a chance to improve their work before turning it in. Praise in the form of a comment, repost or adaptation validates their scholarship in a way an arbitrary letter grade never could. Meanwhile, if students aren’t reacting the way teachers expected, teachers can see this and call an audible.
  • Sharing’s third gift is understanding. The public and even other educators often dismiss divergent teaching approaches as lacking earnestness or structure. Why tell critics your allegedly easy class is actually challenging when you can show them by posting the final exam question online, as panelist Mark Anthony Neal, black popular culture professor, recently did?
  • Sharing’s fourth gift is what O’Driscoll called “double-loop learning.” External audiences absorb students’ knowledge and respond in kind with their own, which students fold back into their work. This cycle additionally addresses what panelists criticized as academia’s lack of urgency.
  • Sharing’s fifth gift is efficiency. Rather than over-extending themselves trying to become an instant expert in something they’re not, teachers can outsource the job to the real experts. The organizing power of online networks further frees up teachers to teach — and, critically, the panelists said, to provide context for the deluge of information modern students must manage. This benefit applies to organizing people — think about those hundred-plus-student freshman classes at public universities — as well as information.

Given that education has long been a pet interest of mine, that many from my family work in or have worked in education and that I used to cover education as a newspaper reporter, I found this panel especially engaging. There’s a fourth reason, however, that it spoke to me so. And that is how closely the changes taking place in education resemble the changes taking place in my own industry: news. In both education and journalism, the process is becoming a product. In each industry, successful practitioners will leverage this new process-product to improve the traditional product.

Neal, author of the NewBlackMan website, and O’Driscoll, co-author of “Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration,” spoke alongside Duke colleagues professor of interdisciplinary studies Cathy Davidson, the panel chairwoman and writer of the widely circulated blog post “How to Crowdsource Grading;” professor of history and romance studies Laurent DuBois, a French colonialism expert who also blogs about the politics of soccer; and associate professor Negar Mottahedeh, best known for organizing the Axis of Evil and Twitter film festivals and for her commentary on last summer’s Iranian election protests. Video from the panel is available on the conference’s YouTube channel.

BONUS: Noteworthy links mentioned by the panelists:

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They’ll Assume You’re a Social Media Expert. Prove Them Right.

October 21, 2009

In no other marketing arena are messages born, spread and adapted as quickly as they are in social media. Reputations can be bolstered or broken in a few clicks.

To whom do firms turn to navigate this volatile landscape? Very often, young people.

In Elon University’s School of Communications, nearly every summer internship student this year reported completing social media-related tasks such as creating Facebook and Twitter accounts or blogging.

Young people, it’s assumed, know social media. That they at least have a better grasp of it than their older colleagues is generally a safe bet. The median age of a Facebook user is 26, a MySpace user 27 and a Twitter user 31, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But what exactly do young people know? Do they know how to monitor what customers are saying and exploit opportunities and put out fires? Or do they just know how to post mundane status updates and write clever captions?

The Elon interns, who had already been blogging and studying reputation management in their classes, were better positioned than most. The communication school’s internship director wrote to faculty and staff that in many cases supervisors were impressed enough by students’ skill level to extend to them opportunities not offered to other interns.

But what about those without any formal training? Young people who on their face seem social media savvy may in fact be practicing some very bad habits. Friending everyone and their brother regardless of their character merely to increase their own perceived popularity. Posting embarrassing photos of themselves and their friends without regard for what potential employers may think. Not the kind of quality control you want in the business world.

Furthermore, behind the technology bells and whistles, strong social media marketing comes down to strong writing. And, while the opposite argument is also made, there is concern among educators that electronic communication’s carefree spelling, lax punctuation and grammar and acronym shortcuts degrade writing quality, also according to Pew.

Students or young workers may read this and get defensive. “We can write.” “We can and do use social media responsibly.” And I hope they do call me out. Because, what an opportunity. If you know social media tasks are probably going to be part of your next job — or are part of your job now, why not do a little homework and learn how to use social media to grow a brand, not just grow your friend count? You’ll differentiate yourself from your peers and just might get that promotion a bit sooner.

Social media blog Mashable’s How To section is a good starting point. It’s a gold mine of concise primers, some geared toward general social media literacy, but many also geared toward business applications.

Saving Legacy Media From Itself

September 28, 2009

rescueWhile startups were embracing — and by virtue, defining — the world of new media, traditional news organizations were mindlessly singing “We’ve got to hold on to what we got.” No wonder they’re now livin’ on a prayer.

According to a here-and-now, keep-the-stockholders-happy mindset, their behavior made sense. Newspapers, the poster children for distressed legacy media, were making double-digit profit margins unheard of in virtually any other industry. Why innovate when the model you dominate and built your company around continues to reliably pull in cash?

(Plenty of newspapers are still making money, by the way, many still at margins a retailer would sell his soul for. They can’t keep pace with Wall Street’s expectations, however, and many of their parent companies are swimming in debt.)

It’s human nature, and, therefore, market nature, to go against one’s long-term self-interest — choosing the cheeseburger over the salad, sub-prime loans over ones borrowers can actually pay back — until a misbehavior affects short-term well-being: The cheeseburger eater’s daily routine is turned upside down as he recovers from a heart attack. The lender is knee deep in defaults and its name and assets aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Climate change is an extremely high-stakes area in which society consistently ignores its long-term self-interest. However, China, which famously had to shut down factories during the Olympics so competitors could, well, breathe, has begun to view environmental recklessness as a threat to its immediate economic health.

If China can come around, legacy media can. And it by and large has. Some companies, though, enticed by the Web’s broad reach, are stretching the push model they should be abandoning.

Though many dress as if they’re poor, journalists don’t make for the most sympathetic charity cases. They regularly rank somewhere around lawyers on lists of least liked professions. Be that as it may, democratic societies need strong, active news organizations to function. Ask Thomas Jefferson.  To that end, industry leaders, policy makers and concerned citizens can be taking action toward a sunnier journalistic future:

  • Produce and widely share information, like the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next reports, that shows why old models are failing and suggests what new models might work.
  • Publicly recognize innovative efforts. The Pulitzer Prize Board’s decision to accept entires made up entirely of Web content is one example of this.
  • Give intelligent feedback. Cancel your print subscription? Tell the paper why. Have an opinion, good or bad, about the paper’s Web site? Share it.
  • Join the dialogue about alternative models, such as U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin’s proposal to grant public-TV-like nonprofit status to certain newspapers.
  • Support independent organizations like Poynter that foster innovation. Publicly shame companies that pass off a disproportionate share of their profit to shareholders instead of reinvesting it in their journalism.
  • Encourage young people to become newspaper literate. Print, online, whatever — just get them reading!

Kids These Days: A Window to Tomorrow

September 7, 2009

computerchildForecasting the future conjures up images of peering into a crystal ball. Or, perhaps, Conan O’Brien’s “In the Year 3000” sketches. And sometimes carefully considered research isn’t any more reliable. Indeed, from time to time, the innovators themselves get it comically wrong. Western Union’s president said the “telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” Thomas Edison said “the phonograph has no commercial value at all.”

As bright minds squint to try to bring the future into focus, they often overlook that the future, in a way, is just down the street. The attitudes that will shape that mysterious future are on display every day at the neighborhood elementary school.

A classmate of mine recently joked that today’s children are born knowing how to use a computer. They nearly are. Early this decade, more than two-thirds of preschoolers were using computers, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report. The proportion is likely even greater now.

A fifth-grader I mentored last school year already had his own e-mail address and YouTube account. So did many of his classmates. Technologically, his generation is light years ahead of where mine was at that age. And that’s what tends to get the attention. “Kids and their gadgets these days,” one adult might remark to another. 

Less appreciated, however, is the communication literacy this engenders. From the earliest age, children are consumers — and, increasingly, creators — of media. They do not know the definition of online communities theory or uses and gratifications theory, but they are applying each. By the time they reach high school, they have a more sophisticated relationship with media than adults probably give them credit for.

A few of my peers, one of whom is studying the use of interactive gaming as a learning tool, will meet some of these young minds over the course of their research. Anyone interested in the future, however, owes it to himself to visit a classroom. Today’s students can be great teachers.