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New Futures Summer Youth Group @I Workshop Week 2

This week at the Summer Youth @I workshop we discussed identities on the web, freedom of expression rights and responsibilities, and means to protect ones privacy rights. We closed the conversation reviewing the implications of sharing sensitive media with others.

In Monday’s session we started by discussing the spectrum of tools and web content available to teens. The many ways that people use the web, and in particular their use of Facebook as a virtual journal that serves to share our individual perspectives and interests. The discussion centered on the need to control the message. Facebook’s platform allows us the virtual equivalent of the commons bulletin board. We can quickly exchange information with our circle of friends. Yet, we seldom consider the repercussions of our posts, the impact it has on others, and the need to be sensitive to the audience we are communicating with.

Our discussion on the rights of expression encoded into the constitution of the United States, and the responsibilities we have to use this right effectively, led me to bring up the story of Pandora’s Box. Once the message is out, it is difficult to control its impact. The group was slightly familiar with the story, and their curiosity about the creation myth allowed me to set up an exercise for them to conduct further research and self-directed discovery online.

Today’s (Wednesday) session began with a review of their findings. As I revisited some of the questions I had previously proposed to encause their research, I realized how excited they responded to the challenge. We talked about how Pandora’s story was a creation myth similar to the story of Adam and Eve; their realization that the original text referred to a container (jar) and not a box; that a later translation had misrepresented the object; that the evils of the world were entrusted in both stories in the form of the Tree of Knowledge and the Pithos; that the curiosity of women had caused them to break their compact to men; and, how these early stories affected how women were perceived throughout history.

Our discussion then moved to consider the importance of semantics and terms in searching for information. I proposed how significant English had been to the development of programming languages and the structure of the web. Millions of developers in nations across the globe have trained in English so that they could participate in the medium, and this meant they had easy access to knowledge across borders.

They were challenged to consider the volume of information that was produced daily and available to them on media sites like YouTube, which is why understanding how to narrow down search results was so important.

Once it was clear they understood they had a role to play in the virtual conversation, and that they needed to adopt new ways to navigate the vast knowledge space, we moved the discussion to consider what types of information were acceptable or inappropriate.

We went over a few recent tragic stories about what happened to some unfortunate teens and adults who shared too much information; and, discussed how easy it was to break the law or even destroy relationships with friends.

The conversation today closed with a discussion of the rise of sexting messages, and their effects on relationships and the community at large. We had come back full circle to the issue of trust, and how easy it was to trust a friend with sensitive images of oneself or others. I offered that it was best that they refrain from revealing too much information or sharing revealing certain images or videos of themselves, given how easy it was for even best friends to react in a way that compromised their privacy.

I was relieved in how comfortably they asked questions, and I got the sense they were now feeling much more empowered to manage the narrative of their lives arising through their social media posts.

I think Pandora’s story served its purpose quite well. ;P

New Futures Summer Youth Group @I Workshop Week 1

The introductory session to the Summer digital literacy workshop series with New Futures at Woodridge was structured to expose the youth group to the architecture of the world wide web, the modalities by with we access it, the history behind the internet and the evolution of access devices. After an initial overview of these topics on information access–including a poll on how many had library cards, and meeting the newer members of the group, we closed the session with an open interaction to prepare the group to select specific topics to explore during the 5 week workshop. Each participant was also assigned an information search goal that related to the upcoming Thursday field trip to the Seattle Storm game at Key Arena.

The session started with an overview of how information affects how we interact. I discussed the evolution of communication devices, telegraph to personal computing devices, explaining how Sears started selling watches to build the greatest mail-order catalog; and, how today’s website commerce options have eliminated the need for printing costs.

The new members of the group included a couple of savvy 14 year olds boys and three very astute and observing 17 year old girls. These new members both helped and affected the dynamic of the group. They weighed in when the younger participants deviated from topic or interrupted the discussion. They also brought a new optimism, absorbing the information being passed in the brief lectures; and, participating enthusiastically in later discussions to assign tasks for our next workshop sessions.

I tailored the narrative of how information flows on the web by appealing to their movie interests, taking a cue from the introductory session last week. Yet, I soon discovered my presumption in thinking they’d seen recent movies. And, by recent, I mean those released within the past 10 years. No hands went up when I asked who’d seen The Matrix or Tron. Perhaps two had seen Transformers. For someone as myself who seldom goes to premiers at the movie plex, I was dumbfounded. Lucky for me, our trusty youth Program Manager (yPM) came to the rescue, sharing details about how animatronics had made each of these movies unique. Just for fun, we allowed ourselves a chance to relax watching a video of Matrix on YouTube (“this is The Lobby scene”). The yPM led in a discussion of the use of multi-directional cams that allowed these shots. I added how it all started with Bruce Lee and Hong Kong movies. They seemed to take a moment for a brain scatter in all of this, taking it all in but also not able to put it all together because they had not seen these movies. Even moreso, they had very little understanding yet of the movie making process. Note to self: let them watch a video on live performance or even the making of El Laberinto del Fauno–not that I am recommending they go beyond the director’s notes on how the movie was engendered. ;P

I suppose that’s when we found ourselves off track. The time left allowed us to continue the discovery process by having them take on an information lookup task in the next 48 hours that related to their field trip to the Storm game. Some were assigned to simply find out what the team’s URL was, while others were asked to research Sue Bird’s college contributions, or find out who was the top scorer in an NBA game, or the athlete who had competed in professional football, basketball and baseball in his career. Others were asked to explore the history of Seattle Center, when The Needle was built, or find directions to Key Arena. They very enthusiastically were begging for a task by the very end, even the younger ones who for the most part had remained quiet during the earlier phases of the session.

That surprised me, in retrospect: how disquieting still these younger kids were during the sessions. I am used to my own children as being very hyperactive. About three of the younger boys had been clearly bored, based on their physical demeanor; yet, they never bothered to speak up, or try to disrupt. Based on some other recent engagements in the Latino community in Highline, I wonder if this is an extension of some kids who are still adapting to English. It begs the question whether the problem was that they were yet not used to hearing English in their daily lives as much as the teenagers in the group who seemed more readily adapted to group interaction in English–sidenote: I did ask in the beginning of the session whether they preferred English or Spanish, and the session was conducted in English.

It could also be the case that the initial narrative on information, media, sharing, etc. was just not the kind of topics they would be asked to discuss. I do guide them in a much simplified speaking manner, to be sure, even as we sprinkle in such topics as the 1st amendment and the responsibilities of the freedom of expression. But, as media savvy as this generation might be, I can admit that I went in prejudiced thinking they may not be as digitally savvy as the youth in other parts of King County or the State of Washington; but, there was plenty of evidence in their input to the conversation that they could certainly appreciate information sharing topics in the most popular social media platforms just as much. And, sure enough, they schooled me on their use of Facebook, taught me new uses for the word “swag”, and along the way showed more positive attitudes that reflected a desire to learn about how to mediate their online time.

So, talking about media creation in this session SORT of worked. Putting them to task to research their field trip to the basketball game was SPOT ON! This workshop continues as a work in progress. Probably best to leave organization and categorization for later dates, and let them play and share intuitively. The beauty of our approach is that we can weave in a new narrative as our days in Summer workshop progress.

Tomorrow’s session revolves on them reporting back about the Storm et al, and starting to pair up in teams to work on short-term information seeking exercises in the upcoming weeks. The next three sessions will be open, focusing on discovering more about the group’s information seeking inclinations are, observing their personal information spectrums.

This was a very refreshing session for us all! Everyone got to participate, took on an assignment, and seemed eager to continue the narrative on what it is exactly that people do with information. ;P

New Futures Summer Youth Group @I Workshop Week 0 Introductions

This is the story of a semi-structured process, facilitating an introduction to digital information resources to Latino youth in Burien, WA, over the course of five weeks in the Summer of 2012. A set of topics has been selected for each week; yet, discussions and hands-on information seeking and media sharing sessions are allowed to flow as the participants learn about information structures and their own unrealized information needs.

Before the workshop is kicked off, we held an introductory session to meet informally and talk about the program we had structured for this youth community. After an initial set of discussions about my background, their current interests, and the importance of information tools in every day life, we closed the session with an exercise in relational semantics.

The session proceeded with a semi-structured interview of each in attendance, intended to discover their names, age, school, personal interests and general use of digital resources. The reactions from the group were varied. I realized early on that the younger participants (12-14 years of age) had a harder time understanding where I was going with the project. The older group, about 70 percent of the audience of eight in the initial session, seemed to respond more favorably to the discussion on how leveraging and sharing information can change your situation in life–which is how I had structured the intro session.

We discussed boundaries for our conversations, and established that I would soon enough serve mostly as a guide. The intent throughout was in letting them reveal their individual interests to eventually put them to task in creating portfolios of their findings about topic they were clearly passionate about. What was critical was to understand the many unrealized needs they harbored.

For the most part, they subscribe to YouTube, Facebook and at least one mentioned Google and Tumblr. After an initial lecture on how gold and information contrast as limitless resources, we dove into media topics: music videos, vehicles, clothing, gossip, movies… one had recently seen Titanic, but while she didn’t like the movie much, she was a big fan of Twilight. The oldest, a 16 year old boy, wanted to learn how to edit videos. I later was told by the youth Program Manager that he often hung out breakdancing with friends in the community center courtyard, and would often film their sessions. So, part of the discussion was centered on narrative control, and context, and the message that was built into movies. I told them about the work that goes into making a blockbuster. The girl who didn’t like the Titanic movie did know that it wasn’t supposed to sink. I explained the design on the triple hull. We wrapped discussing the importance of storyboarding and setting up a message to be told through media; and, when I brought up James Cameron’s work, they were much surprised to learn that Avatar took 12 years to be finished because of shortcomings in the existing technology when the idea for the movie came to him. Throughout, my emphasis was on establishing for the group a connection between goals and the underlying information that had to be structured to carry out the movies, recordings, etc.

We had a restrospection of the session before dismissal, and they reported that their favorite part of the session had been the semantic relationship exercise we spent the last 15 minutes on, where we started talking about the triangle as a symbol for change in mathematics and built a relational diagram to include delta as a hydrography term or the name of an airline, among others.

What did NOT work was too much lecturing on the importance of information. What DID work well was to teach them to appreciate information and the value of planning using information resources by engaging them in a discussion of their own interests. The topical information gathered will be helpful in re-structuring the agile approach of future sessions. I intend to reduce or even eliminate some of the information value college-level concepts that I dared to raise during the session. They about fell asleep on me!

Being able to develop a narrative that is compelling to the younger ones in the group, and creating a set of rules for discussion, will be key to future sessions. This is a group that is not used to structure and disciplined consideration of the information at hand, and not expected to. Some of  the discussions had several of them talking at once, or wanting to change the subject through distraction and off-handed commentary. There are considerations to be had for the differences in age, maturity, and, dare I say, audacity (from the older members).

They are young! These are perceptions and attitudes to be expected. In the introductory session to #nfSYG-@I next Monday, we’ll start discussing what is the web, how we access it, safety on the web and your rights and responsibilities under the 1st amendment. They might be young, but they showed exceptional potential today and were very forthcoming. I think they will be able to handle the content, if simplified into a participatory approach.

This workshops is already showing signs that it is going to be so much more than a research project!