Yesterday’s “challenge” was seeing if I could spend a couple of hours with a group of 11th year students outside of Vancouver and engage them not only in a conversation about the tools but about the significance of what the tools allow them to do in terms of building networks. And I have to say that I was really pleased with the result, not so much because it felt good to be back in a classroom again, and not so much because I  think I had them pretty interested throughout (they actually came back on time from a five minute break.) The best part for me is that I got to pick their brains about social tools and their practice. And guess what? I learned a lot.

I learned that this group of kids, at least, is not one that I will worry about in terms of keeping themselves safe online. And I also learned that that is due in some part to the school’s efforts to teach them that but more that they have learned how to do that from each other. Every one of the 25 or so of them had a Facebook or MySpace site or both, but the vast majority was Facebook. When I asked them why it was that Facebook seemed less prone to suggestive pictures and profanity and other not so wonderful content, the answer was simple: you’re representing yourself there, not some anonymous, made up code name like on MySpace. And you want to use your real name because that’s how the people you want to find you can, and it’s how you find them (What a concept.) And what about those that you don’t want to find you? You simply don’t let them in the door.

I also learned that most of them don’t create and publish too much content on the Web other than the stuff they share on their social network page. But it was interesting to hear the experiences of those that did. One girl has created a number of videos and posted them to YouTube. She is the president of the GLOW club at the high school (“Gay, Lesbian or Whatever”…I so love that name), and one video she made was about “Gay Bashing”. It’s been viewed over 2,000 times, and we pulled it up and watched it in “class.” Good stuff. Now, you can imagine what the 39 comments on the video are like, and when I started scrolling them on screen I quickly went back to the top of the page. She talked about how the comments made her feel, that many of them were creepy, that she was surprised by the level of anger and hatred, and that it times, it scared her. But she relied on her friends for support, and overall, she felt empowered by her ability to create and publish her movies. It was really, really interesting.

And while there were a lot of other takeaways for me, I also learned that they didn’t really understand the potential of networks in terms of their own learning. Not that I expected them to. But I think I was able to get them thinking hard about that concept thanks in large part to a Tweet I put up asking people there to say hi and talk about what the network meant to them. The result was amazing, I think. Now I know that Twitter isn’t necessarily the best manifestation of a learning network, and I gave them other examples from my own practice that hopefully shone a light on the depth that is possible. (I video Skyped-in the always gracious John Pederson to give us his network answer “in person.”) But from an immediacy standpoint, Twitter is hard to beat. And these responses drove home some pretty important points. That learning continues after school. That we can learn with people around the world. That when we connect to people who share our passions, it’s motivating and sustaining.

At the end of the two hours, I was really sad it was over. I asked (halfway begged) them to make me a part of their networks, because I need some young folk in my learning community. Not sure if they’ll let me know how things roll out for them, but for one day, at least, I hope they learned as much as I did.

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