danah boyd just posted a “request for brain-fodder” from her readers, and I played along by posting the below (or trying to – maybe it’s being moderated, maybe it was spammed, maybe some cyber-Cerberus ate it on the banks of the thread). It’s a question I’ve been turning over for a while now, and enough of us have jumped into collaborative classroom projects now to share our reflections on the question I asked danah.
Let me preface this by saying that I think Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis deserve monumental statues on Cyber-Main Street for their pioneering work in the Flat Classroom Projects. They sparked my own plunge into the 1001 Flat World Tales and Project Global Cooling. So I’m not dissing anything here, but rather critically reflecting on our own assumptions about our students’ psycho-social developmental readiness to catch the buzz we’ve all caught from this so-spiked digital koolaid.
As I say below, in horribly confused prose, danah’s presentation of her research on teen networking practices made me question whether teens are as impressed by the potential of global collaboration as we (rightly) are. I’ve gone through two of them now, and am fairly certain that once the unit was over, so were any connections that those teens made with other teens flung wide around the globe during that unit.
Faceless Flat, Huggable Round?
And that leaves me wondering if local collaboration – within a school (and my, does that hurt Mr. Unschooly to say), or a comfortably snug geographic zone like a town or city – might be more engaging for the students. Face to face is possible across town, and less so around the globe – and face to face seems, if I get danah right, to matter more to teens. The world may indeed be flattening, but round may have its own excitement for them.
Another anti-koolaid factor for teens might be that generally, they’re too busy with schoolwork to have developed any passionate, intrinsically compelling causes to collaborate about. Beyond schoolwork and school society, neither their identities nor their concerns extend. So . . . . you know, “Collaborate about what? Why? Don’t you realize the football game is Friday and the prom is Saturday?”
I’ll only add that part of all of these reflections involve the levels of engagement I saw in two different types of collaboration I’ve done in the past two years: one was global (wiki workshop here, anthology of best stories here), but the other was within the school-building. That second one involved all the students in world history – five classes shared between another teacher and me, meeting at different times, but all working on historical fiction set in the French Revolution on a wiki, all linking to the characters’ diaries created by their friends, all creating encounters of their own characters and their friends’ characters in a wildly promiscuous way. My takeaway, when I compare, is that the collaboration that had the most zing to me was obviously the global collaboration: come on, my students in Seoul were writing with students in Colorado and Hawaii. But my students? They were way more zapped (in teacherspeak, I mean “engaged”) by the work confined to the fourth floor of our high school.
It makes me want to pull out my “Child Development” textbook from my education classes for more input.
But in the meantime, I’ll ask you for input too: Here’s the question for this Open Thread:
If you have led students through a global collaboration project, are you aware of any permanent change in your students’ networked lives? Have they sustained any of the relationships formed then? Have they used the experience to start their own independent collaborations? Or have they climbed back out of the rabbit hole and resumed teen life as usual?
I really hope some of you – and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, especially you students out there – will throw some observations in comments letting me know your thoughts. My Korean student population may be anomaly, for all I know.
If they’re not an anomaly, though, it bears asking: with all the incredible labor that goes into teacher design, planning across time-zones, and managing of these projects (not to mention the same demands the students have to face when participating in them) – if local is more developmentally appropriate, just think of all the crows’ feet and raccoon eyes we escape by scaling things down to local size.
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I embedded danah’s presentation in a footnote to my post last week about getting students to learn the story of history, but here it is again. She starts around the 8 minute mark, wearing the wool cap.
Here’s the comment I left her, but I won’t hate you if you stop reading here. I said it all above.
Okay, this k-12 educator who drank the “global collaboration” edu-koolaid a couple years ago will bite:
I saw your preso on YouTube (where, Berkman? Berkeley? I forget), and your summary of your research on teen practice online supported a creeping suspicion from my own experience that teens just aren’t yet psychologically developed enough to “get” the power of global networking. Their maturity levels – and thus their online practices – are still local and somewhat narcissistic. So while their teachers expect all sorts of vistas to expand in their students’ understandings, the students are pretty uninterested in the fact that they’re doing project work with other students a pole away, and far more interested in working online with their schoolmates in a classroom down the hall.
So: a) Do you think “flat classroom” projects (global collaborations) in high school assume a psycho-social developmental level that teens largely lack, and thus might be a largely wasted effort on the part of their teachers (who do grasp the significance of the shifts)?
b) At what age do you think such experiences will enhance education?
Sheesh, this feels as woolly as my grey matter right now. Hope it makes sense.