In the lead up to the Youth Work Online Month of Action I’ve got an article in Children and Young People Now’s ‘skills for the job’ section, talking about digital literacy. Here’s how it starts:
A lot of what we hear about young people and the internet is focused on e-safety. But digital literacy is about a lot more than that. Digital literacy involves being able to navigate the digital world – making the most of the many opportunities it provides for accessing information, creating connections, having a say, being part of communities and developing skills and knowledge for now and for the future.
Developing young people’s digital literacy needs professionals to engage with the online world – supporting young people to move beyond narrow use of a few social networking websites or apps – to discover the full potential of the internet as a global information resource. It also involves the development of critical skills – enabling internet users to choose what information to engage with. One key part of digital literacy is to know when to multi-task, when to focus, when to be connected, and when to disconnect.
In the upcoming Month of Action we’ll be focusing a lot more on these themes – working to build broader networks of practitioners focussed on all aspects of the digital world for young people.
P.S. I’m still on the lookout for a venue for the Month of Action’s unConference. We’re looking for somewhere in London, available on Saturday 16th April, with good Wifi, room for 100 people in break-out spaces, and crucially, either free or low-cost. If you know someone who could sponsor the event by sharing their venue/offices/meeting rooms for the day, do get in touch.
[Summary: Practical questions to use in e-safety education when working with social media and social networking sites]
Later this month the House of Lords will be spending two and a half hours discussing young people and social networking sites in a debate initiated by Lord Toby Harris. As Shane McCracken has pointed out, a focus on “the adequacy of safeguards to protect [young people’s] privacy and interests” risks as debate leading towards legislation to restrict and control how social network sites function or young people’s use of them. However, even if Shane’s more hopefuly scenario of “increased awareness about the need to educate young people and parents about internet privacy issues” results, we could still end up heading in the wrong direction.
Far too often e-safety education places it’s focus on communicating ‘safety messages’ which are either counter-intuitive to the active social network using young person (‘don’t share any personal information online’) or which end over-detailed, complex or in contradiction with the way social network sites operate (‘use a nick name’ – ‘but it asks for a real name’). Plus, being aware of a safety message and putting its content into practice are two very different things.
In a project I’ve been working on for the Brent Local Safeguarding Children BoardE-Safety Subcommittee we’ve tried to explore how, instead of a focus on safety messages, we can use critical questions* to structure education about safe use of social media, whilst promoting the opportunities that new technologies offer at the same time. Using a critical questions approach can enable professionals to facilitate young people’s own exploration ofsafe and effective uses of new media, without the professional needed to be a new-media expert.
Here’s the current working draft of our question-bank: All these questions were designed be asked in the context of some form of purpose driven online-communication – such as using a blog, social network or social messaging tool to run a campaign on a local issue. The questions are divided into six sections.
1) Think about: the idea
What are you trying to communicate?
2) Think about: intended audience
Who are you doing it for?
Who might also be interested in what you have created/posted/shared?
How long do you want it to be available online for?
Do you want to allow others to copy and remix it? Or should it be covered by copyright?
3) Think about: the impact of the information or media you are sharing
What difference do you want it to make?
What other impact could it have?
Could anyone get upset because of it?
What good things could happen because it it? What bad things could happen?
4) Think about: identity Thinking about how you have/will share this information or media:
Is it/will it be linked to personal information about you? Who can see that information?
Do you just have one identity online, or are you a different person in different spaces?
5) Think about: interaction Thinking about information or media that you have shared:
Who are you connecting with through it? Do you know them? Is it ok if you don’t know them?
Can people leave comments and feedback on it?
How would you respond to a comment from someone you don’t know?
How would you respond to a comment that said something hurtful or aggressive to you, or to a friend?
6) Think about: each other
What would you do if a friend shared a photo or video of you online that you didn’t want shared?
What would you do if you had shared a photo of someone and they asked you to delete it?
What would you do if someone you know was spending all their time talking to someone online who they have never met?
What would you do if you were worried about your friends being bullied?
Using critical questions
Whilst these questions don’t give explicit safety messages – in encouraging young people to develop their own understand and literacy with digital tools they are designed to act as a vehicle for exploring safety messages. In Brent I’m hoping that, with continued development, they will form the backbone of a programme encouraging young people to develop their digital literacy whilst creating and sharing online content about their local area.
However, I believe that moving from a ‘safety messages’ to a ‘critical questions’ and a ‘literacy building’ frame of engagement with social networking and social media also has other implications:
It suggests that instead of placing restrictions on young people’s access to social network sites, or seeking to control the activities young people can engage in on social network sites, we should look to the design of online social networking environments to ensure that they encourage their users to consider, rather than ignore, key critical questions about what will happen to information and media they share. Whilst it may take government pressure before the big networks build safety and ethics into the core of their designs, we can explore creative ways to inject critical literacy building features in social networking platforms already.
Some questions for you
I’ve not yet had chance to pilot and evaluate the critical questions framework in depth – and I’m keen to make sure it continues to develop to be as useful as possible in ensuring young people take up online opportunities in safe and effective ways. I would really value feedback from anyone working on e-safety:
In your experience, how well equipped are the young people you work with to respond to these sorts of critical questions about their online activity?
Are there other key questions you would add to get young people to consider issues not raised above?
How would these questions work with different age groups? In our experience is there an age range for whom safety messages, rather than critical literacy building, is the only option?
*Critical questions – as in ‘constructive criticism’ or ‘questions that make you think and re-evaluate activity or behaviour’.
Late last year I had the pleasure of speaking a couple of times with Anne Õuemaa and her tear from Tartu’s youth service in Estonia as they were putting together their ‘Youth Worker in the Cyber Jungle’ conference. I even had the chance to present to the conference via Skype and to talk to some of the Tartu youth work team afterwards about plans they are developing to create local social networks where interaction is encouraged to boost young people’s self esteem through affirmation from peers.
True to a commitment to shared learning, the notes from the Tartu conference are now online, and you can find them all (in english) here.
As I browse through the conference notes I found ‘Guides of online youth work’. But as I browsed the 16 points drawn from the conference they struck me not so much as guidelines but almost as a manifesto for youth work and the web. You can read the PDF here, or, take a look below and share your thoughts on this embryonic manifesto…
International Youth Work Conference „Youth Worker Found in Cyber Jungle“
November 18-19, 2008 at Dorpat Convention Centre in Tartu
POSSIBILITIES AND GUIDELINES OF ONLINE YOUTH WORK
On the basis of conference materials
An active participant probably got a lot of new thoughts from the conference about
online youth work, why do we need it and where to start. To help you remember all
the things you have learned the conference team has prepared an overview of
possibilities and guidelines of online youth work. Would you like to add anything
here? Have a great time reading and implementing what you have learned!
1. First of all you have to get over the ancient belief that adults know better
than youth themselves what is good for youth! Get to know the world of
the new generation! The new generation consists of young people who
demand and expect openness, honesty, constant innovation and development.
They think differently from their parents. If for parents the Internet is another
world, then for youth it is the World.
2. Use new technological means in a new way when working with youth!
New technological means need to be used in a new way. There is a danger of
representatives of the old generation falling for old methods while using
means of new media. This is not very helpful because old methods don’t work
with new means. Previously used communication channels enabled to create a
situation where information was held by one person who presented it to others.
However, the Internet works slightly differently as a communication channel –
there are no hierarchies there, information may be got right from the source
and it is selected on the basis of genuineness. The main communication on the
Internet takes place between individuals.
3. Take into account that today it is easier to be in the same network with
youth than ever before! Virtual networks start having an impact on
communication, and an assessment presented by an individual may acquire
monetary value. As mentioned before, the structure of virtual communication
networks is no longer hierarchical. The parents of a youth in a communication
network are on the same level as the youth’s friends.
4. Get to know the life in virtual worlds! Get to know the principles of
communication in virtual worlds and use them when working with youth!
Youth and the Internet will go together now and forever, and all kinds of
youth work should be based on the Internet.
5. Get to know the possibilities of information technology and dangers
arising from them! Remember that life is constantly changing! If you want to
cope and keep your knowledge up to date, you have to move towards life!
6. Use the Internet environment in work with youth keeping their needs and
interests in mind! If we are unable to generate adequate materials in Estonian
on the Internet, then the current generation will not feel sad about it, they will
manage their business in English from then on. If we are unable to generate
enough knowledge and entertainment on the Internet, then youth will use the
knowledge and entertainment produced by others. The only way is to change
with the times and to go to a place with youth work where youth already is and
try to provide them the information which is interesting and important to them.
7. Tell youth about possibilities and dangers of the Internet and teach them
how to avoid dangers by using the possibilities!
8. Teach youth some source critical attitude, i.e. how to distinguish valuable
information from less valuable! Digital nomads do not need as much
information as they need help finding the information, assessing its reliability
and interpreting it.
9. Support involvement of youth! The new generation has not grown up in
front of TV. As communication on the Internet is always two-sided, they have
been able to have a say in things and express their opinion since they were
children. That is what involvement is all about. The concept of the Internet
favours involvement. Youth get involved because it is interesting for them.
Create conditions in virtual worlds so that youth could get involved and create
content in respect to subjects that matter to them!
10. Turn the web environment you use for working with youth into the one
which favours intercultural learning! Create possibilities for presenting
different cultures on the Internet! Translate the information into the mother
tongue of the users! This is how information is transferred from one
community to another and they can get to know each other better.
11. Teach youth, including youth with special needs and other minority
youth, how to present themselves positively (on the Internet), i.e. how to
play the cards so that it suits best for the youth! In the long run we will be
communicating with persons not a colour of someone’s skin or a wheelchair.
12. Develop the computer park of your youth centre and create possibilities
of communication in virtual networks for youth, regardless of their
mother tongue, cultural background, special needs, possibilities, etc.
13. Give a child the freedom to test what he has learned on the Internet!
Create a trusting relationship so that the child can turn to you when he has
questions! Just like you don’t follow your child in streets to check, if he is
crossing the street with a green light, in the same way you don’t have to check
on your child on the Internet all the time.
14. Use means of the Internet and virtual worlds when communicating with
youth and motivate them to communicate and act in real life, too!
Although virtual realities may be important, nothing can replace real contact
with a person. Online youth work supplements youth work in real life but it
cannot replace it.
15. Support the developing of self-concept and self-confidence of a youth and
his ability to put his foot down because this is ensures coping in all areas
of life, including virtual worlds.
16. When planning your resources, please take into account that online youth
work takes time and commitment and the work will never end! Improve
yourself constantly and be a role model for youth and your colleagues! All
virtual channels only work if they have a purpose and if their creators use
them to exchange their everyday messages.
For the Plings project – concerned with promoting positive activities to young people – Social Network Sites (SNS) offer amazing opportunities. One of the main ways people find out about positive activities (the football club, dance group or arts society for example) is through word of mouth. So if you can feed information about positive activities into SNS, and increase the flows of information about positive activities through the networks of young people already active there, you could potentially have a big impact on young people’s awareness of activities they could take part in.
Take a look at the slidecast below to get an idea of how a Social Network Site application could work:
Of course, local authorities and professionals working with young people have a duty not only to make sure young people are aware of the positive activities available to them, but also a duty to keep young people safe from harm – and Social Network Sites can be places of risk as well as of opportunity. Which is why public and third-sector organisations engaging with SNS shouldn’t just copy the ‘viral marketting’ and often aggressive tactics of commercial SNS application builders – but need to develop a clear ethical and risk assessment framework for engaging with Social Network Sites.
I hope that this working paperwhich I’ve put together for the ISP/Plings project can go some way to starting off that development.
‘Safe and effective SNS applications for young people: considerations in building social networking
applications for under 19s’ aims to build a coherent foundation to support public and third-sector engagement with SNS through application building by:
Unpacking the reasons why we need to treat young people differently;
Exploring the features of Social Network Sites which lead to both amazing opportunities, and potential risks;
Clearly identifying the risks to young people within the Social Network Site space;
Proposing three levels of response that should lead to safe and effective application building;
The document also includes an outline risk assessment framework.
The three responses proposed are:
Abiding by ethical principles – and designing applications on the basis of principles derived from law, a respect for young people’s rights, and existing principles from professional practice;
Having a clear risk assessment in place for all projects – to make sure potential risks are identified and design decisions or resources put in place to limit potential harm to young people;
Building safety in – and creating applications which empower young people and encourage general safe online behavior.
Exploring further This first public draft of the paper is hopefully just a starting point of a deeper exploration on building positive SNS applications. In particular:
The ISP/Plings project will be seeking to operationalise some of the learning in this paper, so it’s proposals, and the feedback and comments on it should have an opportunitity to be explored in practice over the first half of next year…
If there is enough interest – then I’d love to host a seminar on SNS applications and youth engagement early in 2009 – exploring both this paper, and emerging practice from the field. If you would be interested in taking part do drop me a line (tim at practicalparticipation dot org dot uk) or leave a comment on this blog post.
All comments and feedback on the paper are most welcome. Again, e-mail or comment below…
[Summary: things local authorities might say… and why they need to think again]
You might have heard a local authority or organisation you work with say something like this:
“We can’t engage with young people through social networking sites – it’s just too risky.”
To which my reply is generally ‘Risky to who?’.
Engaging with social network sites may present risks to organisations. Risks of not understanding what’s going on; Risks of hearing negative feedback from young people about what the organisation is doing; and risks of being associated with negative news stories about social network sites.
And leaping into SNS without preparing staff and having policies and support in place for practitioners also creates risks of mistakes being made.
But when organisations and authorities, who have a duty to promote the safety of children and young people don’t engage – it’s young people who are put at risk.
If Social Network Sites are blocked at school, and young people encounter unsuitable content or contact that worries them whilst they are circumventing the school filters, they are less likely to raise a concern with teachers or other adults because they may worry about getting into trouble for circumventing the blocks.
If staff don’t gain an understanding of social network sites through using them then they won’t be able to support young people to engage with them safely, or to respond to potential risks proactively.
But if staff are engaged with social network sites they can identify risks before they become harms; they can become approachable adults who young people will talk to about their worries; they can help young people develop their online communities into pro-social positive spaces.
If you prefer listening to a presentation over reading a report (PDF) – then you can catch some of the key learning from the Youth Work and Social Networking project in this video from Tim speaking at the Wise Kids conference in Swansea during October.
You can find the Video here. Choose ‘Workshop B’ from the Playlist, and then select the presentation labelled ‘Tim Davies’ to watch.
This video also introduces a new way of looking at the workforce development aspect of the Youth Work and Social Networking final report – exploring different youth work responses to Social Network Sites through the stories of four different youth workers.
Plus – whilst you’re looking at the webcast – you can enjoy many other presentations from the Wise Kids conference – including a great Key Note by John Davitt about new media tools for education and learning during the morning sessions.
to teach children about web dangers, target harmful net content and establish a code of conduct for sites featuring material uploaded by users.
Whilst the launch of the UKCCIS as a hub for action is a step forward â€“ the big challenge ahead of it is to recognise the value of informal education and youth work approaches in contributing to the safety of young people online, and to adopt different approaches to promoting the safety of children and of young people.
Understanding informal education:
At the launch of the UKCCIS Gordon Brown said:
â€œThe challenge for us is to make sure young people can use the internet safely and do so with the minimum of restrictions but the maximum of opportunities
But just as we would not allow them to go out unsupervised in playgrounds or in youth clubs or in swimming pools, so we must put in place the measures we need to keep our children safe onlineâ€ (Source BBC News)
It’s crucial to remember however, that our responses to risks from playgrounds, youth clubs or swimming pools do not rely on education campaigns and the safe design of the spaces alone â€“ but also from the skills of professionals who can support young people and who can respond to their needs and issues at the times the needs arise.
Our work on the Youth Work and Social Networking report suggests that investing in the skills of the staff who support young people in informal education contexts has a significant amount to offer in equipping young people to navigate the risks of the web, and to make the most of the opportunities that exist.
Our broad thesis is that whilst awareness campaigns provide the foundation for behaviour change â€“ it is the supportive interventions and opportunities to explore risk issues and sensible peer norms within friendship groups and with responsible adults which can contribute most to increasing young people’s resources and resiliency in the online environment.
Children AND young people
It’s also crucial that the UKCCIS recognises that the issues for the safety of children, and the safety of young people (adolescents) are distinct and require different responses and approaches.
It’s key for UKCCIS to find the right participation methods to ensure that codes of conduct for websites with user generated content are designed with the impartial input of young people â€“ and that solutions are negotiated with the young users of sites and not imposed by industry.
UKCCIS don’t have a web presence yet â€“ but over the coming months it will be key for informal educational professionals to demonstrate how they can support young people to navigate risk. As Josie Fraser notes, UKCCIS still falls short of a coherent digital strategy for the UK â€“ promoting digital media literacy across formal and informal education settings â€“ but it can offer us an opportunity space to move forward with the important work of ensuring that young people are equipped to get the most of emerging and everyday digital technologies
The 26th and 27th September should see a veritable festival of events linked to youth participation, youth work and social media down in London. In fact, I wish I'd seen all the connections earlier to brand the whole lot as a festival.
Here's what is coming up:
Research launch of the Youth Work and Social Networking report (26th Sept, 2.45pm till 4.45pm) – the work that seems to have taken over a large chunk of the last six months of my time. Along with Pete Cranston, I'll be sharing what we've discovered, providing both a theoretical and practical account of how youth workers and other professionals working with young people can support young people to navigate the risks and make the most of the opportunities of online social networking, and opening up a discussion of different uses of social network sites in youth work.
The research launch is free to attend, and if you want more details or to reserve your place, get in touch with email@example.com
UK Youth Online open space event (27th Sept, 10am till 5pm, followed by a trip to a local pub) – on Saturday 27th we'll be opening up the agenda even more to explore all things linked to young people and social media. Thanks to the kind support of DIUS this free event will provide space for practitioners, academics, innovators, funders, managers and others interested in the impact of new technology on work with young people to gather together and explore a wide range of issues through short presentations, discussions and demonstrations.
For more details about UK Youth Online check out the network website, where you can also register to take part.
Please do pass details of all these events on to anyone who you think might be interested.
And what if you can't make the 26th and 27th September, or if London is a bit of a trek for you? Well, get in touch and let's get planning for some more local festivals exploring youth, technology and social media…
I've tried to keep the plethora of reflections and shared bits and pieces from the Youth Work and Social Networking project over on their own blog – but I'm aware some people have been expecting me to post them here also. So, here is a quick run-down of some of the posts, documents and resources you will find over on the Youth Work and Social Networking project blog.
We've created two mini-guides to introduce MySpace and Bebo. Like the one page guides series, these are free for you to use and adapt. The Bebo guide in particular is designed to help introduce Social Network Sites to a beginner audience of youth workers who may never have explored social network sites before.
We've been exploring how youth workers can turn to Social Network Sites and search engines to support them in community profiling.
I was down in Devon last Friday at the county's fantastic Kongomana youth festival. Alas, however, I wasn't there to chill out and enjoy two days of activities and socialising. I was there along with Carl and Russel to find out what young people thought of Devon County Council using social network sites for youth participation (all part of the Youth Work and Social Networking project, and building on work I've been doing over here).
I'll share more later on about how we used magnets, the side of a bus, and little cut up bits of Bebo on cardboard to ask young people about the sorts of policies, rules and safety guidelines the council should use. For now, I just wanted to share a few quick reflections on using cheap video cameras for consultation. What we did: Devon County Council got hold of 5 Busbi Video cameras (Â£29.99) each which we could hand out to young people throughout the day.
The cameras are very simple to use, with an on/off switch, and big red button to start and stop recording. Even more useful, they've got a space where the battery compartment is (they run off AA batteries) where you can stick a question onto each camera so that the camera operator can read it.
We used questions such as 'What three words do you think of when I say Bebo?' and 'How could councils use Social Network Sites to help you get your voice heard?'.
During the chaos of running our paper-based consultation on social network site policy we were handing out the cameras to groups of young people to borrow for 5 to 10 minutes to go and interview their friends with the question on the back of the particular camera they had borrowed.
That way, so the theory went, we could get in views from a far wider range of young people. And the responses would be young people talking to young people – without the usual young person <–> strange adult dynamic that can occur during quick consultation exercises.
What happened: The cameras were borrowed and the cameras came back. Throughout the day groups of young people were taking the cameras to go and record things.
We had to help one or two groups get started using the cameras – and had to keep turning them off as they almost always came back still turned on and draining the batteries (although the batteries all lasted).
We didn't get chance to watch any of the video coming back in until we were packing up – and the first few clips I watched were not very promising. Mostly video clips of the grass as people were running places with the cameras.
However, as I watched through the rest of the clips I found a lot of really good content. Simple questions like 'What three words do you think of when I say Bebo?' had gathered a lot more responses that 'How could councils use Social Network Sites…' – but between the five cameras there was a lot of content, and, importantly, content that we hadn't been hearing from standing around and talking to young people in our more static consultation activity.
Unfortunately, because we were at a festival event, and because I wanted to keep the video interview activity as quick for participants as possible, we didn't ask each young person if they would be happy for their video clip to go online – so I can't share the actual clips with you. However, I did write up responses to the question 'What three words do you think of when I say Bebo?' and then ran them through Wordle.net to give this tag cloud (the larger the world, the more often it was said):
What did we learn about the method?
Young people talking to young people offers real insights: a lot of things came across in the video clips that didn't come across in our other conversations. Young people talking to their peers often do so in a more relaxed way. There is a lot of joking around in the clips that came back – but also a lot of really good comments and remarks that provide great insights.
Keep the questions simple: test out your questions first on the young people you expect to take the cameras round and interview people. If you need to provide any clarification of the question – then it won't work in this method.
Even point-and-shoot needs some guidance: I had hoped that the video clips we captured might be usable to edit together into a video report of the consultation. However, whilst the audio on most of them was usable – the video clips were rarely framed well (and often were super-close-ups or cut people's heads off). In the future I'll try to add some sort of guide onto the screen of the cameras to show how to frame a show (a circle showing where someones face should be in shot for example).
Bring spare batteries and memory cards – we were only running the consultation for a couple of hours – so managed to just use one set of batteries and memory cards per camera. But if you were running for longer – be ready with spare batteries and ready to swap out the memory cards (The Busbi Video cameras record onto cheap SD cards) so that the cameras can stay in use.
The cameras may not come back – we had one camera that took a long time to get back to us (we had almost given up on getting it back). Loosing the camera would have been a disappointment – but we would have also lost all the clips recored on there. Thats why for some events you may want to have memory cards in rotation so that whenever a camera gets swapped over you change the memory card and save a copy of the footage captured up to that point onto a laptop etc.
How could the idea be developed? I'm keen to try using the same method again – but also to explore other ways of putting recording equipment into young people's hands with simple prompts – and then seeing what comes back.
I could imagine recording a short 'introduction to an issue' clip on the memory cards of the Busbi Video camera (the camera has a play button which plays back the last clip) and then sending the cameras in the post to young people across and area with a spare memory card. Young people would be invited by the video introduction to create a clip in response to the issue in question – and would be asked to send back that memory card.
I'd love to hear ideas from others about how to develop this peer-to-peer recording for consultation sort of model. What have you done in the past? Or what sort of thing would you like to do?
(Disclaimed: I have used an affiliate code on links to the Busbi Video on Amazon. There are other cheap digital video cameras on the market – and if you've got access to more durable kit already – the this method could work with that also. I just happen to have used the Busbi and found it to do the job for what I wanted).