Student Voices and Technology

I’ve been reading and writing a bit lately on how new technologies have been changing how kids communicate, learn, and think in ways that adults often do not understand. This often leads to a new digital divide, this time between younger and older generations. There are some interesting twists and turns to this story:

  • many kids are going online because their physical environments are increasingly limited by adults. Therefore, socializing, forming social groups, and identity formation of teenagers is being moved online, hence the popularity of sites like MySpace and Xanga. dana boyd (a graduate student at UC Berkeley social media researcher at Yahoo! Research Berkeley) and has done some fascinating work in this area. Her thoughts and ideas can be found at the Corante blog as well as her personal blog Apophenia. She is one of few scholars who seem to have some real insights into the online world of teenagers (outside of teenagers, of course).
  • Parents and schools often don’t know how to deal with kids being online, and their first reaction tends to be ban and punish, rather than learn and educate (isn’t that education’s job??). Parents and schools do need resources to help them with this.
  • Technology does create safety issues and can be a distraction to learning, mostly because it makes deeper-rooted problems such as youth alienation and bullying more visible to a larger audience. The medium itself is often not at fault, it merely plays its designed role, that of messenger.
  • Fear of MySpace and predators tends to be overblown. See this recent report from Dr. Larry Rosen at CSU Dominguez Hills. In a nutshell, he concludes that the fear of MySpace is misplaced, BUT parents should pay more attention to what their kids are doing online, set clear limits, and communicate with their children about their Internet experiences. As Henry Jenkins from MIT has said, new technologies tend to be disruptive because older generations don’t know how to deal with them because they are new and different, while kids tend to be early adopters.
  • In their crusade to control teenage use of the Internet, many schools are now creating policies that hold kids responsible for what they do and post on the Internet outside of school, which has raised many an eyebrow among civil rights activists.

It seems that the solution to many of these issues does not lie in technology per se. Rather, real conversations between adults and kids, as well as trust building seem to be keys. To me, a lot of the fear and distrust on the part of schools and parents comes from a lack of understanding of new technologies. This is an age-old problem, and not one that was created by websites like MySpace.

So how can we make student voices heard, and I mean really heard? I’ve been pondering this question since I started reading Shultz and Cook-Sather’s In our own words: Students’ perspectives on school. While their effort is noteworthy, unfortunately the student voices tend to be lost

  • in the overbearing voices of the adult authors, who organized the chapters, wrote the context for the stories, and provided “captions” to each student’s piece of writing (which takes away from the student voice).
  • because of the medium used. It seems to me that student voices today should be heard using today’s media, and a hardcover book doesn’t really seem to fit the bill here.

Interesting stuff. It sure raises more questions than it answers….

Technorati tags: myspace, internet, teenagers, technology, socialsoftware


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