Random Thoughts

Speaking their digital language

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David Warlick posted about an e-mail he received from Scott Mooney:

In the room were 20 or so 19-20 year-olds, most with their own laptops, mobile phones, iPods, living in the world that we talk about all the time. During my talk, I brought up the present and future of modern tools, such as Web 2.0 and virtual worlds. I thought their eyes would light up, like I was now talking their language. In reality, you could hear a pin drop in that room. I was confused, so I asked if anyone in the room had blogged. No one. I asked if anyone knew what a wiki was. No one. I asked if anyone knew what Second Life was. No one.

Our digital language is Web 2.0. But to our students these are not web 2.0 tools…it’s just the web.

I love listening in on student conversations to hear about the latest and greatest things in their lives.

Don’t ask students if they know what Web 2.0 is. Ask them if they know Facebook. Which is web 2.0 but they do not need to label it that, no they just call it what it is. Web 2.0 is a label that we use to describe these tools not their label. There label is “cool!”

Second Life is an interesting one. I wonder what the average age of people in Second Life is? I would venture to say that other than University students who have to go there because their university is in world that the average age is closer to 30 rather than 20.

Why is this? Second Life is only different from their games and connected gaming consoles in the fact that there is nothing you are trying to complete. Don’t ask 19 and 20 year olds if they know of Second Life. Ask them if they know of Halo 3, Sims, Grand Turismo or any Xbox 360 Live game in which you connect with others around the world and either play with them or against them. Ask them if they know of World of Warcraft. There is no reason for them to know of Second Life. We like Second Life because it doesn’t have a gaming aspect…they don’t know about it because it doesn’t.

Is it really that strange that many 19 and 20 year olds don’t blog? Of course they blog…they just don’t see it as blogging. Not the way we in education or in the blogosphere see it. No, instead ask them how many of them post to their Facebook or Myspace page daily. How many of them write on another person’s wall (a.k.a. leave comments). No, they don’t blog the way we blog…blogging is too structured too linear. I have a hard time with Facebook; to crazy, too much stuff happening…they can’t get enough of it. I asked some 11th graders (16-17 year olds) how often they e-mail. Their responses were anywhere from once a week to, “I just empty my spam”. Of course they don’t e-mail. Facebook has a built in messaging system.

This past week I had a parent stop me in the hallway. They wanted to thank me for the presentation I gave to parents during conferences called “A guide to your digital child.” As part of the presentation, I tell parents to go home sit down with their high schooler and have their child help them start a Facebook page and then let them teach you how it works.

This parent did just that, and she wanted to thank me. No longer does her daughter close the Facebook window when she walks by the computer. The secret is out. In fact, the mom said that she often asks her daughter what she is doing and her daughter responds, “Writing on ???’s wall”.

“I know what that means now.”

Yes, it is a language we need to learn. This mother now has access to her daughter and according to her, she’s now a “cool mom” because she has a Facebook page.

Our (meaning all of ours in education) kids are great kids! They are willing to share if we are willing to learn. They are willing to teach if we are willing to listen. We have to remember to speak their language. It’s not Web 2.0, blogging, or wikis. It’s just life. Life in a digital age.

[tags]digital language[/tags]

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


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  2. Corrie Bergeron Reply

    Dang. Just when I thought I had me sea legs, here comes a rouge wave.

  3. I had a similar experience this week in the classroom. Kids were talking up a storm about “Bebo this” and “Bebo that.” So of course I figured the kids would perform really well if I had them make some comments on a blog post. I gave them a fairly detailed explanation of how to comment – mainly the logistics of it. We got into the lab and the kids were pretty lost.

    Your post here clears up a lot for me. The kids were commenting in a “facebook-ian” way rather than the academic approach I use and see online.

    So do I try to teach academic commenting so they can see the difference between wall posts on Facebook and intellectual discourse? Is it fair to impose my adult version of commenting/blogging to them?

  4. Matt,

    I think it is fair to impose…a better word might be to teacher them our adult way of commenting. What we need to do is not take them into the lab and expect them to comment our adult way. You’re 100% right, they know and comment in facebook….the facebook way. For most of them commenting on a standard blog is new, it is different and it is a skill that if we want them to do it we will have to teach. They are not going to come to school knowing how to comment our way.

    What I suggest is allowing them the freedom to do both. If it’s part of your class that they comment. Allow some of the comments to be “facebook-ian” and expect others to be “adult like” while you do this I would also have the students compare the two styles. Talk about them and analyze them. They are both correct styles for their genre of commenting. What we need to teach students is the different “languages of the web.” Just like you talk to your buddy differently than you talk to your parents and teachers. So it is in the online world as well. You comment differently on a wall, than you do in IM chat, than you do on a blog. Knowing these different languages are new literacy skills we need to be teaching. We teach students to write different genres…we should be teaching them to comment in them as well.

    Thanks for the conversation,


  5. I have had the kids look at the word Web 2.0. You are right that that don’t really care about the terminology they just use the tool. However, it is interesting when we start discussing and looking at how rapidly things are changing and how tools are being replaced as we speak.

    When I surveyed my intro tech kids many do not use email at all other than to create accounts. Most IM or keep in touch through Facebook. My daughter is in her first year of university and it became quickly apparent to me that I needed to create a Facebook account to really keep in touch with her. As she said If I loose her as a friend I would have no one writing on my wall!

    I do see formal blogging however. I see some kids that need a bit more than just the wall and use applications like notes to write a bit more extensively about personal experiences. They also like the way they can tag friends to the notes post and involve friends in the conversation.

    Your idea of an analysis of writing styles is a great one. Looking at an IM or SMS, Facebook(wall vrs note), or blog commenting then analyzing the differences in writing styles would help them better understand what to use, when and why. Thanks

  6. Jeff,

    I enjoyed this for its practicality. Bridging the semanticgap between students and parents is important.
    My question to you is about the availability of the resources you for the “digital child presentation. I would like to present something along those lines in my district. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Cheers.

  7. Jeff, much of what you mention is important for educators and parents to see and understand. Unfortunately, many educators do not see the power of the tools. Instead, they see them as something that is getting in the way of “real” learning. As an administrator with teenagers in my house, the idea of email is strange. We communicate through text instead of phoning. They don’t blog – as you mention – but they do write, many of them have very great stories posted somewhere on the net. Being someone who wants to play more WoW but doesn’t have time, SL is boring unless I can find someone to chat with right away. Too many “things” running around trying to have sex. In WoW and Halo and …., there’s nothing like that.

    I like your commentary on how youth “just use – they don’t name” while older people need to name – create categories in which things fit. So, for many educators and adults, Facebook is a social toy when, for the youth – it is their email and communication system. Many adults don’t see that it can fit into many “categories” and be used for a multitude of things.

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  10. I’ve been using many of the web sites that my son has gotten interested in over the years. I’ve been through Neopets, and more recently Runescape. For a couple of years, I maintained a Xanga page when my then eighth graders wanted to teach me to blog. On the whole, my current students don’t really understand why anyone would want to blog. They don’t use email much. Some do use MySpace but fewer now than in the last few years.

    It is important for parents to get involved in the students digital world. It’s also up to us as their teachers to teach more formal skills.

    I walked in on a conversation between our algebra teacher and one of her students. The student said she didn’t know what job would be interesting when she grew up. I mentioned that maybe the job she’ll have when she grows up isn’t even invented yet. She was surprised to think of that. We’re just doing the best we can to prepare the students for more formal business communication in the future…whatever that is.

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