On social media: Bridges bring the heroes in while fences make more villains

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Gangs and Violence Awareness project


“There’s a term sometimes used for a gangbanger who stirs up trouble online: Facebook driller. He rolls out of bed in the morning, rubs his eyes, picks up his phone. Then he gets on Facebook and starts insulting some person he barely knows, someone in a rival crew. It’s so much easier to do online than face-to-face. Soon someone else takes a screenshot of the post and starts passing it around. It’s one thing to get cursed out in front of four or five guys, but online the whole neighborhood can see it—the whole city, even. So the target has to retaliate just to save face…It’s an arms race, escalated by the projections of power made on the web every day.”

Social media has done me well as a professional.  Social media, however, has now been conclusively tied to petty violence and gang activity in Chicago and other major cities across the United States.  Does that mean, though, that what we thought of as a limitless bridge is now collapsing and giving way to fences?

Wired’s article “Public Enemies: Social Media Is Fueling Gang Wars in Chicago” has me thinking about technology and relationships in education.

This evening on Facebook, I ran across Public Enemies: Social Media Is Fueling Gang Wars in Chicago by Ben Austen.  As I read that “If we live in an era of openness, no segment of the population is more surprisingly open than 21st-century gang members, as they simultaneously document and roil the streets of America’s toughest neighborhoods” I recoil in reflections back to my own experience in the classroom teaching our six-week-long unit on gangs and violence awareness.  The recoil comes from deep-down pride that I had in leveraging social media for the teaching of teens.  And those larger-than-curriculum learning experiences (that used social media for good) now I suspect have to carry further weight to prove their legitimacy as a benefit to learners.

I’ve invested a lot of time as an educator in this blog series about a project I know had kids thinking about more than literature or the use of digital tools to communicate a message.  They were thinking about an audience that they knew is suffering, because they saw that suffering around their geographical and online spaces.   Students that never participated the rest of the year had some of the most honest and moving stories to tell when given the opportunity to talk about how to keep kids out of danger’s and gangs’ ways.  And, just about a year away from that project, I know that my transient students who were constantly back and forth from Chicago are endangered in their online spaces if they are perceived wrongly.  (Gangs put up fences online, too, according to this article, and you better not get caught on the wrong side of them.)

Slightly brighten that dark, ominous fear that I have now for my former students with all of the reminiscent excitement about bringing an expert to testify to the changing dynamics of gang behavior or bringing another to speak to students to the good that can be done as a community organizer and you can see that a broader spectrum appears.  Social media can be used for more than just a data set for “predictive policing” by the Chicago PD.  We have a role to connect the heroes to our learners rather than ignorantly let them get swallowed up on one side of the fence of a community or the other.  By not putting social media on the table in our schools as part of the discourse, we are tabling many of these issues for cliques to handle later…on the streets or in our hallways.

Are the bridges collapsing and giving way to fences?  Not yet.  But nevertheless I’m disheartened by articles like these that paint social media in such poor light and ignore the fact that policing online communities and using in-person community outreach efforts alone will not be enough.  Austen’s hint that “defusing minor beefs and giving kids skills to regulate their socio-emotional behavior is highly labor-intensive but effective” gives me hope that someone will catch on to this line and say: “Yes, we need to build better relationships” and “Maybe we need to be teaching what personal identity means” and, perhaps most important in context of this article, “Yes, we need to do the hard work to build a school’s digital citizenship program”.  I strongly believe education is the best hope for many children struggling with fences around them.  And, in this case, I think education can be doing something to change a community.  My fear is that we instead will build up a fence to try to encapsulate this issue and ignore it much like we try to ignore other things on social media.

I may sleep restlessly tonight knowing that I missed that one kid’s mutterings of students rapping to gang-related lyrics.  (Could I have talked him out of it?)  I know some of the formerly indecipherable codes in the rap videos that students pulled up on their laptops now proclaimed part of their home-block allegiances…those fences they saw becoming more steeled and vicious.  Nevertheless, as an educator, I care for their futures.

We still need a bridge to bring them back.


Ning in education: presenting as a first-generation digital native

Last week, I presented a session on Nings in education at the DeICE Engage mini conference.  I made the same presentation twice (check out the materials under the Extras menu above).  Fortunately (since it was my first time presenting at a professional development conference) I did not feel intimidated by the number of attendees.  (Maybe that has something to do with all of that Speech experience…)

As I wandered my way through my introduction in the second session, I began to tell my colleagues about why I had an interest in social networking.  I said I’m interested because I grew up with this long list of tools/networks.  I had seen MySpace pages as a kid; I had jumped on facebook as soon as I was accepted into college; I watched as social networks were leveraged by people my age to coordinate protests in the Middle East.  And after all of this reflection on what I’ve watched, experienced or learned from these tools, then it slipped:  “So, really, I’m a first-generation digital native.”  From the back of my head: and you’re among the first to take steps into the realm of educational technology with that background knowledge/perspective.

I kept spilling out more words that I simultaneously feared but also embraced as part of my identity: “I am one of the first coming out of the institutions of higher learning who can leverage a network to find information rather than keep everything I need to know to just myself.”  My intelligence lies in how I keep a mental Rolodex rather than writing my own encyclopedia.  And I have a pressing instinct to share. There was really something big in this “Ah-ha!” moment, but I feared this self-analysis because of the way my audience would accept it.  And also how quickly it all spilled out without much reflection on the matter as I was preparing the presentation.

I know that I will eventually run into educators who hold to education as being some sort of pouring of traditional knowledge into minds.  Graduating from my undergrad, I walked into a field that was rapidly moving more towards skills rather than content knowledge.  (My first job asked me to build and execute interventions that would help prop students up in their reading skills.)  Of course, I was prepared to expect that students learn through many different intelligences, but I had never considered that an entire generation would be seen as almost entirely subscribing to what they could learn from their connections to their peers and hopefully knowledgeable experts and visionaries (rather than manipulative, self-interested leaders with an agenda).

I can say that it’s a spectacular balancing act of deciding where I want to fall in my philosophy or approach to education: do we still need knowledge (in the case of my brother, a hard-working aerospace engineer / “rocket scientist”).   Without his book knowledge, science and mathematics would never evolve or show where our collective knowledge has not taken us so far.

Or do we need to prepare kids to keep up with others/competitors who constantly accelerate themselves because of their networks and technology.  There is no doubt in my mind that there is an expected benefit to speed in American culture, but with much of our knowledge then being only temporary, how long-lasting of a meaningful impact will an intelligence based on borrowing collective knowledge have?

While the presentation itself went well (I had lots to offer and spoke toward the interests of my attendees), I am left wondering a lot about what type of education or intelligence will serve students best.  And the bias from what I grew up with in the world…

With all of that boiling on the back burner, I have to send a some big shout-outs to some of my guides through this process:

facelift: new media and changing purposes

Now that Speech season is over (well, sorta until we go to Nationals…) and major gradschool projects are out of the way, I’ve had some time to nurture my online presence(s).  I have made a lot of new connections to trailblazers in education and educational technology through Twitter; my PLN has truly witnessed growth that I would never have seen had I not gone to ICE 2011.  It’s been a so far inspiring venture to see how quickly one person/connection becomes a node for other people to follow (or for other followers!).  I can attribute so much of my own knowledge/growth this semester to Twitter that it has become one of my go-to topics to bring up during discussions in my human resource development and program development classes.  (Seriously, PLNs, social media and Steve Hargadon have  come up in just about everything I wrote so far this semester.)

Now that I’ve got a few new “toys”, it’s time to decide where I want my information delivered or broadcast.  I used to only turn to English Companion Ning (ECN) to expand my knowledge base, but I now see ECN as a problem-solving network for me rather than a trends-delivering medium.  I still contribute my thoughts and ideas to the discussions on ECN, but I have found more new ideas, tools and news from Twitter thanks to the shared interests of people I follow.  For me, Facebook will remain purely social, with my Twitter streaming in (just for those friends that haven’t ventured into making education connections there).  I imagine all of that added activity/traffic will force some to stop following me, but I have also had a while recently to think about how dedicated I am to education, both professionally and personally.

I revamped the blog to serve a few needs I anticipate as I try to make a splash in the edtech world.  I needed a new theme that took advantage of new WordPress features.  So far, I’ve come to really like the WordPress CMS.  There is a lot more customizability now that they have programmed in more menu, hierarchy and widget management options.  Twitter needed to make an appearance here, especially to broadcast some of my quick-hit thoughts, reactions or contributions to online discussions.  I added a space for my growing resources and ideas.  I hope to start posting some of my lesson plans, job aids and reflections from gradschool.  Stay tuned.

breast cancer, facebook and Big Brother

So, while I am sitting reading a bunch of suggestive “I like it on…” statuses on my facebook feed, I discover the source of the highly sexualized meme phenomenon.  I was particularly interested in my search because I found no evidence suggesting an organization was behind this; thus, there is no one responsible for the “awareness”/education.

Now, I am all for effective attention getters, but mind you that I purposefully chose the word, “effective”.  Sure, the phenomenon had me searching for whether or not there was an iPhone hack (because I mostly saw these posted through mobile devices).  People can share all they want as long as they understand their audience.  To me, there is a definite understanding of the audience in some of what this campaign is trying to achieve.  However, I am not “educated” any more than I was before I started tracking down the phenomenon.  (Sorry, you rose my interest only for dismissal.)  Like I said, I found no organizations whose websites I could surf.  I was not lead down the path to further education.  Just look at the homepage: http://www.nbcam.org/.  Rather, I just got a lot of commentary of the further sexualization of the breast cancer awareness campaign.  I’m left wondering where did this originate and why is there no forwarding to the real cause/awareness sites?  If anything, the meme phenomenon deviates a little too far from the intended goal.

There is more to be said about the phenomenon because people may not understand the breadth of their audience.  Enter: youropenbook.org.  In your next browser tab, you now see that this meme phenomenon is encouraging hundreds of (mostly) women to publicly identify their sexual (dare I say) “preferences”.  When I was skimming through all those posts, I was shocked at how many were faces of kids that would be the same age of kids I am teaching in high school.

Enter: facebook/BigBrother.  While I tried to post the openbook findings as a PSA to my own feed/network (which will never include any of my students), facebook immediately marked my youropenbook.org links as spam and refused to allow me to post them.

(How ironic, facebook, you don’t want us to share what you’re sharing about us?)

When I tried to tweet them through, my statuses were also removed within three minutes (even though they are renamed through a URL shortener!).

So, long story short:

I am a little shocked at the shock meme campaign itself: is there not a level at which this should also bounce back to, say, a major organization for breast cancer awareness?

Also, facebook could be evil.  Just sayin’.