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Helping "digital immigrants" see Web 2.0 as an asset for youth

Last month, my colleague Amira and I had the opportunity to speak to several coordinators of Neighborhood Network sites around the country. Neighborhood Networks are onsite, multiservice technology centers aimed at promoting self-sufficiency for residents of assisted housing.

Giving this talk was a good reminder to me of how the older "digital immigrant" population sees Web 2.0 in relation to young people, and how innovative the work we do at Global Kids really is.

Neighborhood Networks coordinators meet annual at Regional Technology Assistance Workshops to network with each other and learn strategies for maintaining sustainable centers and promoting resident self-sufficiency.  Amira and I got to speak at one of these workshops in Dallas to about 150 Neighborhood Network staffers.  It was a totally different population than we have ever dealt with at the Online Leadership Program.

Amira and I were tasked with giving an hour and a half keynote session on "Technology Trends: A Look at the Future." We decided to focus our talk on "Participatory Learning and New Technology," discussing how Global Kids integrates digital media and Web 2.0 into our youth development framework.  I am used to have 5-10 minutes to give the Global Kids Online Leadership Program talk, so having 90 minutes was both daunting and refreshing.

Amira and I took an educated guess that this audience was likely to be more daunted by and frightened of Web 2.0 than appreciative of what it can provide for their residents, particularly their teenage residents. So we spent a good chunk of our time explaining what Web 2.0 is and exploring some of the fears and concerns associated with these tools. I saw a lot of head nodding when I talked about MySpace as being a dangerous space full of predators, video games as full of senseless violence, and YouTube as a distraction from studies.

Then we presented the Global Kids perspective on Web 2.0 and participatory media, which basically turns on its head a lot of the traditional fears and concerns.  I.e.:

  • Video Games as tools for learning
  • Virtual Worlds as new spaces to empower youth voice
  • Social Media as tools for youth creation
  • Social Networks as means to support communities of practice

Clearly this blew the minds of a lot of our participants.

One person in the audience remarked she blocks access to MySpace and FaceBook at her technology center, but now she is rethinking the wisdom of that.  Another person described how she had to restrict YouTube because kids were watching videos of other kids at their school beating each other up.  One coordinator explained that they tend to only have very young kids and adults use the technology center, but that their teenagers have "better things to do" because they don't offer anything that interests them.

It was really amazing seeing these technology center coordinators think in new ways about how their youth could use these tools for beneficial purposes.

I'm hopeful that these coordinators of technology centers will develop programs at their sites that help their young people be more skillful digital citizens, media producers, and seekers of knowledge. Global Kids ou course has our own programs and curricula and media that we are happy to share. But we are just one of many, many other great organizations around the country that could be helping these Neighborhood Networks out.

With 1,400 Neighborhood Network sites around the country, the possibilities for changing the lives of thousands of at-risk young people using these digital tools is really tremendous.

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