Week 11: Youth Networks

In the Brennan, Monroy-Hernández, and Resnik reading, Scratch made me think of other online environments in which my kids have been able to create as well as learn collaborative problem solving skills.  Spore was mentioned in the article, and that was a favorite a few years back in our house that allowed for creation of a unique species that would then develop and evolve into a society.  The current house favorite is Minecraft, a game that allows users to build structures using blocks, sort of like Legos.  My kids are quite addicted to this game and I see that it allows them to be extremely creative in building their castles, as my 8 year old daughter shows me the many farm animals that dwell in the living room of her castle or the special pool on the rooftop.  This is learning in a creative way, even if it isn’t in a formal classroom environment.  I remember having to design a house in 6th grade using pieces of cardboard, but in this game mode, users can be far more creative.  When my kids run into problems in Minecraft, they help each other, call a friend, or even go online for answers.  They are working through their problems socially, even if to them it is just a game.  To me, this is the scientific method in action, as they identify a problem, experiment, see results, and repeat as necessary.  I try not to phrase it in that way to my kids though, because then it would no longer be fun!  There is a special site dedicated to more formal educational use of the game as well for any of you that are interested:  http://minecraftedu.com/page/resources.

When my kids were younger, Webkinz was popular, which allowed them to build rooms for the virtual animals they adopted.  They could plant a garden to supply food and had to care for the animals as needed.  Anyone remember having to take care of a pretend baby as an assignment in a home economics class?  This game really teaches them those same types of skills at a young age—although still a far cry from an actual screaming baby!

In the Zywica, Richards, and Gomez reading, I understand the importance of a closed social networking site in some situations (especially in K-12 education), but this is not always available.  In using the groups feature in Facebook, you don’t have to be friends with someone (and share personal information), to participate in the group.  I have used groups in Facebook for student clubs, and since students are typically on these sites frequently, it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to share information and work together.  We have planned entire club presentations and events through Facebook, but I am not friends with any of the students (nor would they probably want to be friends with me!).  In the reading, it was also described that use of Remix World spiked over the winter vacation, which is a nice feature of a site that can continue through an extended span of time and is not linked to the end of a school year or term.  In my use with Facebook for student clubs, I often see posts from students who have graduated but still want to be a part of the learning community and share their experiences in the workforce or in furthering their education.  If I were to use a Learning Management System for the same purpose, the site would close at the end of the semester and there would not be the ability to collaborate further.  Who knows how long we will continue to benefit from the connections we make with each other if we are able to maintain them well after the formal learning environment has ended?

7 thoughts on “Week 11: Youth Networks

  1. Phil

    @Melissa – I hear you on your reservations concerning MOOCs. To be sure, the proverbial jury is still very much “out” on this development. My reading on MOOCs to-date seems to suggest that those students who register for MOOCs aren’t necessarily looking for one-on-one opportunities with professors (or at least it’s not one of their high priorities). On the other hand, those students who do place it as a priority may more likely pursue a traditional college path where the majority of their classes happen in face-to-face contexts. Even though my undergrad experience long preceded the MOOC phenomenon, I knew that I preferred a small college environment because access to faculty was important to me.

  2. Justin Montgomery

    Before my school upgraded their technology infrastructure to include eBackpack, and now My Big Campus, I resorted to Facebook. I created a professional page for my math classes. Communicating with my students on a website the students were already using gave me an unprecedented ability to reach my students with course-related information. All posts and discussions on the page went immediately to students’ newsfeeds. Even if students were using Facebook for personal, social interaction, they would now be aware of course activity and would chime in.

  3. Melissa Glenn Post author

    Shelby-I wonder if the site about educational applications of Minecraft will be helpful to you since you already have students interested! I know if you were my kids’ teacher, they would find that very interesting and engaging! They love when games are used as part of a lesson, but my husband and I have created a highly gaming orientated home!

  4. Melissa Glenn Post author

    @Phil I’m wondering, however, how MOOCs can help students to make those personal connections that are so crucial. In using Facebook for a student club, a student can ask a question of one of the professors in the club for help with an upper level course or for career advice. They can ask questions about other courses their peers are taking at a transfer school. The massive part of MOOCs is what worries me as it doesn’t allow for those types of personal connections that students can carry with them for long periods of time. I still have connections to some of my professors from 10-15 years ago and I value those personal connections.

  5. Phil

    I often see posts from students who have graduated but still want to be a part of the learning community and share their experiences in the workforce or in furthering their education. Wow, that’s great! At the same time, it underscores an unfortunate reality how the formal, established structure of Learning Management Systems can constrain learning. As most of us I’m sure have heard quite often, learning is a lifelong endeavor. Of course, such an aphorism is facilitated tremendously with the massive number of digital tools available to us. While the students you describe in your post may represent a minority, I think it nevertheless ties into or hints at the success of MOOCs, Badges, and other sorts of informal learning occurring on the Web. As we’ve seen in some of our readings, it seems as though there is a community for nearly every sort of hobby or interest (e.g., cars, sewing, photography, gardening)., and these communities tend to be quite adept and talented at finding the “good stuff” – a/k/a curating the better resources from the not-so-great.

  6. Cheryl Burris

    You mentioned Webkinz and that made me think of Farmville. Although I did not play it, I remember a lot of my former kids engaged in it and the community that developed within my classroom community.

  7. Shelby Nelson

    You state in your blog post: “They are working through their problems socially, even if to them it is just a game.” I find this to be a very powerful thing that absolutely holds truth and value. I see this happening with some of my students. Funny that you mention Minecraft.. I had my students create their own Wordle’s towards the end of this past school year that described themselves (things they like, places they like to visit, favorites, etc.). This was a very open-ended activity and 3 of the boys in my class listed Minecraft as one of their hobbies. I then asked them questions about it trying to find out more details. They could talk about it for hours if I continued to ask them questions. It is powerful because not only do they love it, but they don’t even realize that they are learning. Now back to your quote about working through their problems.. I’ve also witnessed this in the classroom. I actually tell my students during center time to try to seek out the answer to their question before coming to me. At first, I told my students to do this because I was getting interrupted often during my core reading block with small groups. After watching students find answers to their own problems in unique ways, I found value to that advice other than just being independent and trying to stop the interruptions.

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