March 08, 2007

Social media's impact on children and their impact on the workplace of 2020

  Peter Kellner (YouGov) & George Osborne MP 
  Originally uploaded by Edublogger.

I had eight minutes to provide a 'provocation' about how social media impacts on the bit of society I am most interested in: education and children. I provoked, got plenty of nods and plenty of shakes of the head, too. Unfortunately, in the question and answer session, the shakers failed to push me on what they didn't believe/like/care to like. Hopefully some of them will find some answers here and some might even provoke me back. Peter Kellner (pictured) chaired particularly well and managed to get some good questions out of the audience, but depressingly few about our most important asset: our children.

2007 marks an important stage in education. It's the first time that 16 year olds entering the job market have been brought up entirely in the era of the internet. Five year olds heading into primary school have been brought up entirely in the age of one click publishing. Meanwhile, UK Local Authorities are busy creating 2020 visions which, while well-meaning in purpose, serve only to miss out an entire generation. I argued that the changes have happened already, that we are unlikely to be able to control change and the way children are in the 21st Century, and that we should instead start to think about the attitudes we have towards increased connectivity and parents', teachers' and Governments' roles in finding the balance between control and anarchy.

There are four factors that I tackled:

1. Social identity - kids have the need to feel valued, to have their place. In their peer groups this exists to a greater or lesser degree. In school it can exist, given the right circumstances and given ever improving personalisation of our education programmes. However, the greatest manifestation of this desire to be valued, and the ultimate quenching of that thirst, takes place online.

2. Online identity - kids' online spaces, whether they are IM, Bebo homepages, websites, forums or photo sharing sites, give them the opportunity to be who they want to be, to have headspace to present the image they want - it is real, very real. Most networks are face-to-face at some point, too. It's not that online communication replaces face-to-face, it's in addition and compliments face-to-face interaction.

I said (slightly glibly) that I'd rather my kid spent 200 mins a night of interaction in front of the computer instead of 200 minutes passiveness in front of the telly. To be honest, what I think or what the elderly gent who saw me at the end thinks, doesn't matter. The kids are doing this, will be doing this and it's down to parents and teachers to consider their roles in understanding and directing this 'play' rather than criticising it. And what is interaction in front of the computer? Creating stories in the online game Myst, playing sports games and working up a sweat with the Wii, working out a homework problem with a mate on IM?

3. Schooling identity - the need for an audience is not satisfied, "excessive self-esteem" in online communities is probably making up for a lack of it elsewhere. Powering down mentally and technologically as they enter the classroom, some teach clicks and buttons instead of the responsibilities and opportunities this connected online world can bring to the students.

But how, in this particular moment, can teachers teach it and students learn it when neither understands it fully? It's not that young people aren't interested in engaging with politics - it's that they don't know how (protesters in the street are told to go back to school by the First Minister). It's not that our learned elders hate new technology and the fact that kids spend so long on the computer, it's that they don't understand or know what is being done in that period. The ability of humans to make sense of information and synthesise it quickly will become the most valuable skill of the next five years. The digital divide is not hardware, it's understanding (not knowledge). It's knowing how to collaborate, how to come up with new ideas and applications, how to synthesise.

4. What of work identity? - There is a lack of value attached to online non-establishment resources. Deprofessionalisation of 'social' work (blog is secondary to edited peer reviewed content). Qualifications are commodities and worth less than ever. When you're sitting there getting something that's no longer going to guarantee a job *that* is the divide. Creatives: music, art, drama, dance... first to go when money's tight, but perhaps where the most value for our future employment lies.

By ignoring these four factors we will incur huge problems. The first is that we end up stuck in the vicious circle of uncreativity: groupthink.

Also, we still ply old things in new ways: intelligence = IQ, Mensa. Knowledge of stuff, concentration on 'usefulness' of learning. Dance is not useful so we don't study it obligatorily at school, concentrating on one thing at a time is seen as a virtue when learning how to cope with many streams of information and prioritise from them is more useful. Our understanding of concentration is based on an understanding of the brain which is in itself out of date. By analysing living brains instead of cutting up dead ones we have come to understand the unused potential of much of our brains. Schools reinforce this continued untapped potential.

Nevertheless, attempts are made to do new things new ways: ScotEdupedia allows the real experts - teachers - to write what the education system, pedagogy and all things learning is about. They will hopefully seize the opportunity and carry out the task with more thoroughness, more speed and perhaps a little more messiness than any group of centrally assembled experts will muster. We are also attempting to frame the User Generated Content of teachers, making their YouTube and blog material more accessible to those new to the medium. By doing so, we can help add value to their already strong examples of interesting pedagogy and lobbying for potential curriculum change (this service gets launched in the next month by LTS).

But attitudes take longer to change than technology: some public organisations have a 48 hour turnaround for replying to complaints via email but will not reply on a blog to criticism. Why? Perhaps because by publishing a response for all to see the organisation is held down to doing something about the problem. The change in attitude here is that users' views count. How good is public service at that?

Perhaps the public service needs to think less about catching up technologically and think more about innovating in the next stage - thinking?

Update: The RSA have posted audio from the first part and this second part of the conference.


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Too many salient and impressive points here to comment on individually... as a whole (and coming from a public sector corporate background myself), I agree changing and inspiring (not leading) public debate on this issue would be a good start for many institutions.

Don't think it will happen until a fundemental shift in attitude and understanding that the power which they once weilded is only noticeable in the bureacracy which they are left administering.

True power comes from inspiring people not controlling them.

Rant over...



Hmm. I wonder just *how* elderly the gent was...

for the current review of the ICT curriculum south of the border.

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Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

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