To quote from the post I've just written over on the project blog.
How are youth workers using online social networking tools themselves and in a professional context? And what is the role of youth work in supporting young people's interaction with online social networking?
Those are two of the questions we're hoping to get a little closer to answering through this online survey.
If you are a Youth Worker in England and you can spare up to 25 minutes of your time, then please do head over and complete the survey online before the 21st January 2008.
Your answers will inform a series of focus groups and action research projects running between February and April, and will feed directly into the final project report due in mid 2008.
I'm collaborating on the research project with Pete Cranston and just through our initial conversations and early background reading, a wealth of fascinating sub-questions about how youth work interacts with online social networking have been thrown up. So I'm hopefuly that through the survey we'll soon start to see the outlines of some answers emerging – although I'm sure as many questions will be raised as answered!
We're targetting the survey at 22 specific local authorities, but other youth work professionals from England are very much welcome and encouraged to complete the survey also.
I've been asked by Participation Works to put together a series of pages on 'Technologies for Youth Participation' – so I'm looking out for all manor of technologies and tools that can be used to engage young people effectively in decision making and creating change.
And how different is a 36 year old from a 45 year old?
You will probably agree with me that the difference in the first case is a lot more significant than that in the second.
So how come the 36 year old and 45 year old are likely to find themselves getting their own age brackets on many surveys (are you aged: 25 – 35?, 36 – 45?, 46 – 55? etc.) when the 6 year old and 15 year old will most likely find themelves lumped together a in the 0 – 19 bracket?
Ok. Here are some possible reasons:
Reason #1: Relevance . We don't generally get 6 year olds to fill in surveys. And indeed, if your survey is about insurance product choice then I would suggest you're right to avoid burdening a child with questions about attitudes towards fiscal risk.
However – if you survey is about some relatively universal experience without a legal limit on who might be participating in it – like, for example, spending time in a community space, accessing the internet or feeling save (or not) crossing the road – then perhaps you should be including the 6 year old and certainly the 15 year old, in your survey.
Reason #2:Limited sample. We may suceed in surveying the 6 year old and the 15 year old, (and the 7 through 14 year olds) but we just don't manage to survey all that many of them compared to, for example, the number of 25 – 34 year olds we survey. So we put the 0 – 19 year olds together in a big category to give us a statistically significant group.
Reason #3: Skills. Carrying out a survey with children and young people can require specific skills and training that many researchers may lack.
Reason #4: Consent and ethics. There may be questions around the capacity of children and young people to give informed consent to taking part in a survey, and about whether the survey will raise questions on issues children should be protected from thinking about.
Do the reasons cut it?
Not really. Reason #1, 'Relevance', is important. It should tell us that as soon as a survey significantly covers issues that are relevant to young people they should be included in the survey data. Issues #2, 3 & 4 are ones we can and should work around.
Why does it matter?
Without including children and young people in the surveys and datasets being used by policy makers and practioners to make decisions on a day-to-day basis, we make children and young people 'statistically invisible'. And that can have a big (quite possibly very negative) impact on decisions made that affect children and young people's lives.
Engaging effectively and honestly with the social web involves listening a lot more than you speak; reading a lot more than you write.
One of the first tools I introduce to clients interested in exploring social media is some form of RSS reader. An RSS reader is a tool to agregate conversations and information from across the social web into one place – making it easier to listen as a foundation for engaging.
Recently, my reader of choice (for those starting out) has been NetVibes. So, here is the next in my series of one page guides – this time looking at NetVibes.
The guide is Creative Commons licenced, so you are welcome to use it in your own work, and to adapt it (Word copy attached below) to contextualise it for different audiences or groups.
For example: In the original copy of this guide I wrote for a client I created a customised NetVibes tab with a range of tools they might find useful and provided a TinyURL link to this as the first step of getting started, instead of pointing people straight to the front page of NetVibes. That way, users could immediately see how NetVibes was relevant to them, instead of first encountering the standard NetVibes modules and tools which are set up for a very different audience.
I'd love to hear about any use you make of this guide.
Given it's Open Space flavour the Digital Media Literacy Summit on Thursday (8th Nov) at the Channel 4 building in London didn't exactly come up with a set of clear action points for building digital media literacy, but it did offer some key insights that can help us on the way.
That said, if the event was a Summit, then participants had climbed to it from many different directions, and I suspect in fact all we have done so far is to move towards a basecamp where we need to consolidate, take stock, and then climp the real peak.
Building the basecamp
I was tasked with capturing interviews with the key speakers at the event, and young reporters from MediaSnackers were roaming the event capturing vox pop interviews with delegates. All the videos are available on the Policy Unplugged website, but below I've tried to weave together a summary of the voices I heard and the threads of conversation that ran throughout the day.
Links in Bold point to the short ( < 3 mins) video interviews with speakers from the Summit that I was tasked to capture on the day.
Paragraphs/sentences in italics show where I'm adding my own commentary or analysis to this summary rather than reflecting on the words of others.
The importance of access was a key concern. This arose both in terms of accessing the equipment to connect to the digital media world (as this interview with delegates by MediaSnackers Yaz and Clare shows), and in terms of being able to access social media and digital media spaces in schools and learning environments without being subject to locked-down internet access with blocks on anything interactive.
Controlling content access continued to crop up as a theme – without, it seemed, a clear argument during the day to analyse the role 'intelligent blocking' software has to play in building media literacy. (Without that argument, it might seem blocking just puts off the need for certain 'tough' forms of digital media literacy). It may be that a connected, but arguably separate, debate about internet safety was finding itself tangled up in the day's proceedings.
Whereas Ewan identifies schools as the key location for building digital media literacy, I spoke to Raemmel and Furqan in this vox-pop interview to highlight the role of Youth Work in supporting young people to develop the skills to safely navigate the social aspects of digital media in a world of social networks.
As the event moved from presentations to an open space format, it was clear that there were a lot of questions still to answer. Including:
Is digital media literacy really a new cannon? How much does the technology change things?
The accessiblity of the digital realm to those with learning disabilities was the subject of one open space group, and others tackled the question of digital media literacy for older people. The need for an inclusive digital media literacy agenda was certainly felt.
An ongoing conversation
As I said in opening, this wasn't a summit that lead to a shared conclusion. It launched conversations threads that now need to be tracked forward and woven together.
The inputs were not only in the open space discussions and in speeches from the platform, but were being shared through the blogosphere as live blogs and have been shared in blog posts since (this one amongst them). A quick blog search today turns up a great live-blogged sumamry from Ewan, addressing questions of age and access, and a reflective summary of the day from social media strategist Katie Lips. I'm sure there is more to come…
The Policy Unplugged site where these videos are hosted has been a little intermittent. You can find all of the videos on this youtube channel or using the player below
It continues to suprise me how often different standards are uncritically applied to young people and to adults. The justification for the difference is assumed, but never articulated.
In his speech at the Digital Media Literacy Summit today James Purnell, MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, robustly argued that government shouldn't attempt to censor access to digital media – but quickly noted and praised not long after work going on to develop and certify software that allows parents to block young people's access to 'harmful material'.
I'm not going to go as far as the child liberationists to argue that media censorship for children and young people and not adults is an arbitary imposition without grounds. But I would suggest we need more critical thought about the risks of uncritically talking about a blocking approach to young people's media access and to the protection of young people online.