Danah Boyd: Relationships and Network Building

Boyd defines 21st century learning as making sense of the networks of public life. She points out that the most valuable thing gained from America’s top higher ed institutions isn’t the degree or the knowledge, but the relationships and networks students have made in their time there. She argues that building lifelong learners means “helping people recognize how important it is that they continuously surround themselves by people that they can learn from...[and] connect to new people on a regular basis.” She fears that social media makes it too easy for young people to sequester themselves into a narrow focus of like-minded people.

 Photo credit: http://edudemic.com/2012/11/teach-students-about-social-media/

Photo credit: http://edudemic.com/2012/11/teach-students-about-social-media/

While I agree with this goal, I would argue that surrounding oneself with like-minded people is an important part of development that shouldn’t be cut out. Solidifying one’s own identity requires finding role models and others who reflect your values so you can live them and engage in them. As educators, we can help young people take their smaller circle for identity negotiation and widen it to open the way for brave, new intellectual pursuits. The question is how can we do this best?

How can we facilitate the building of social networks? How do we support natural relationship building and encourage the expansion of this comfort zone? How do we reward and document this form of growth and development?

Danah Boyd: How Teens Navigate Public and Private

As Boyd discusses the value of a public stage to experiment with self expression, she makes a really interesting distinction that “just because teenagers want to be IN public does not mean that they want to BE public.” They therefore have figured out how to negotiate a privacy within the public realm. This is possible because we no longer define privacy as the control of information. Information is free flowing. Shared knowledge is more valuable than competing in a zero-sum intellectual property game. Instead, privacy is gained by controlling the boundaries of who participates in your ideas and who understands your ideas. Teens use "’social steganography,’ which happens when teens choose to post something very publicly knowing the meaning is completely lost on anyone who is not in-the-know.”

What do public and community gathering spaces look like with this definition of public and private? How can teens to be in public and yet create boundaries of meaning? What does “social steganography” look like in physical form? Or is a combination of physical space and digital communication?

Danah Boyd on Trends in Teen Media Use

This written talk by Danah Boyd caught my eye and is worth a break from How Children Succeed. Her talk forecasts the nature of future organizations based on trends in start up culture and teen media use. She argues that today is about the development of the individual through their social networks. Organizations are a means of implementing and realizing, but they are not the primary focus. I love her productive cross-generational comparison. I’ll reflect on the teen learning topics of her talk here and will save start up reflections for a separate organizational strategy discussion. Boyd explores how social media demonstrates three aspects of teen development: identity experimentation, navigating public/private boundaries and building relationships and networks.

Identity Experimentation

 A feedback book at a public library is filled with more expressions of personal identity than comments on the library.

A feedback book at a public library is filled with more expressions of personal identity than comments on the library.

Boyd makes a similar argument as Sherry Turkle in Alone Together: teen years are crowded with responsibilities and expectations that give them little opportunity to experiment with who they are and who they want to be. Social media serves as an interstitial realm that they can control: “it becomes a training ground for independence, creativity, and personal self-expression.”

How can we support this experimentation in learning environments? How can we connect them to the social media realm for safe experimentation? And help them carry the fruits of that experimentation into the physical realm? How can we create a physical realm that similarly supports experimentation?