Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Networks are Power - Part 1: The Kids

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by Sean Wheeler

All across the country our education systems are being forced to consider the significance of social-media as it relates to how, when, and if our students engage in a more networked learning community.  Questions of access to equipment, the use of firewall software, and the safety or danger of the digital environments now available are being considered in school board meetings, professional development programs, Acceptable Use Policy debates, and here in the digital environment itself.  Labor Unions are wrestling with issues as far ranging as teacher online conduct, definitions of class time and size, as well as when the work day begins and ends within an online structure that doesn't recognize the difference between 9 a.m. on Thursday and 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.  Parents rightly worry about bullying, their child's digital footprint, and the whole notion of what happens when young people gather together online largely out of the view of any adult guidance.  The emergence of networked social-media and digital learning is a disruptive force in the way we in education have always gone about our business.  Unfortunately, during all of this discussion and concern, a significant component of the rise of social-networks is being largely ignored.  The networks, themselves, are power.  And it is the power of these networks that will most likely settle most of the debate in the years to come.  Over the next few days I'm going to be posting about leveraging the power of social networks to help kids, teachers, and administrators.

Part 1:  The Kids

What if each of my students could leave my classroom at the end of the year with a Twitter following that included thought-leaders in the students' chosen field of endeavor?  What if the 15 year old aspiring doctor in my classroom here in Cleveland could be networked with the amazing doctors and thinkers right down the road at the Cleveland Clinic?  What if my aspiring chef could trade recipe suggestions with Michael Symon via a direct message?  Why isn't the young man who spends hours writing songs in his basement connected with the CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  It is beginning to become clear to me that all of these connections are a click away and do not require a field-trip form, any kind of academic pedigree, or even an expensive computer.  Part of the mission of our schools should be to help students begin to build a network of responsible and interested professionals that could assist these young people on their path towards meaningful work and lives.  What is the true cost of the connections that our firewalls prohibit?  How will we look years from now when we recognize that we failed to make very easy connections between those who want to learn and those that could teach them?

I had a young poet, Chania, read me something between classes today that brought home how little we sometimes do to help bring her talent and aspiration into contact with those who could help develop and support her as a poet.  Chania is working at her craft in the cracks of our education system, and though I can help her learn a bit more about delivery and word choice, I honestly don't know the many poets that are out there and willing to listen and nurture a young and eager voice emerging on the poetry scene.  So today I've decided that my first goal is to help Chania build a social-network of poets that will connect her with live readings, poetry blogs, and the publishing scene.   And after I help Chania, I'm going to start to explore ways in which all of my students can begin to build powerful networks that   engage my students in the conversations relevant to their career interests.  It's becoming increasingly clear that this is a way that I can work as a teacher to help my kids achieve the dreams that have gone unheard for too long in my classroom.


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