Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stop, Disconnect, & Listen

Admittedly, I stole this title from a great post by Barry Saide and Christopher Bronke, “Stop, Collaborate, and Listen” who, of course, borrowed the title from Vanilla Ice. While the article for ASCD highlighted the fun and passion ignited through connection, often via conferences and social media, when it arrived in my inbox while I was on vacation, I was less than inspired by the sentiments. It led me to ponder why I felt this way, since being a connected educator is something I am very passionate about. My mornings are typically greeted by coffee over my Feedly stream, followed by checking out my Buffer suggestions and my favorite Twitter groups.

I’ve never been one who needed a full stop vacation. Rather, I typically fill vacations with work at the beach, fitness, attempting not to fall off mountains, and reading. I’m not alone in engaging in the fake break. Over summer, the call to learning is prolific across PLNs, transforming traditional R & R into Reflection & Reading...with a generous dash of tinkering and tweeting on the side. In fact, if we are not using our downtime for workshops and Twitter chats, we feel almost - dare I suggest - lazy. It is presumptuous to assume this is a shared feeling, but based on the neurotic streams of information, I can’t imagine I am alone in the frenzy.

So for the past few days, which I had the chance to spend in solitude at the beach, I took a different approach. With work deadlines to be met, I could not realistically shut it down completely, but I decided to turn the waterfall into a trickle. I allocated work time to accomplish my must-dos but disconnected from many of my feeds, only checking Feedly for morning reading on one day. I chose the sounds of nature over music and a fiction read over the titles on my professional development shelf. I ignored reading recommendations from friends (sorry!) and “pocketed” them for later...maybe.

Here’s what I noticed, aside from the stunning sounds and sights of nature. The pace slowed, my stress fell, and I felt cleaner. I know it’s a strange description, but it felt like disconnecting purged frenetic pollutants from my system. When these things exited, other things flowed in. Ideas mainly, and lots of them. They are not the ideas of others shared on my media streams, though I’m certain they are not completely original, but they did originate in my mind.

The downside is, I still feel I missed a lot while absent, though the reality is we miss the majority even while present (jumping into a Twitter stream is like standing under the waterfall and thinking you can drink all the water). Another downside is I’m not sure I have a clear sense of what actions I’m going to take to make room for disconnection in my life. But, I am committed to the idea, and when I figure out my strategy, I will share it...via social media, of course, where there surely already exists a deluge of top tips on disconnecting from your tech.  

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Road to Digital Independence: 5 Tips to Cultivate Independence in #DigitalNatives

In America, Independence Day means celebrating our freedom through the time-honored sharing of hotdogs and burgers on the grill. To paraphrase a sentiment from Warren Buffett, we are sitting in the shade of freedom today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. The right to be individual and independent, to have agency over action and belief, has been part of our cultural DNA from the inception of our nation. As instinctual as it is, however, it must also be cultivated with intention and purpose within our children. This is especially true in the digital world where freedom thrives but also threatens.
In honor of Independency Day, here are five tips we as parents and educators can employ to help children along the path to digital independence.
#1: Model
From the earliest of ages, our children can learn from us about the digital world and our collective responsibility within it. Just as we model waiting for the “walking man” to safely cross the street, we should model online safety and awareness practices. The opportunities to also model activism, connected work ethic, and learning thrive with digital tools. Watching TED videos together (there are several by incredibly innovative children) and using social media to connect and collaborate allow our children to observe the most purposeful and powerful benefits of the digital world.
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#2: Learn the Language
To be truly independent within any culture, knowledge of the common language is essential. Though most of us learned to navigate the digital world within knowledge of code, today it is possible to empower children with a creative voice not just using digital tools but creating them through code. Tools like Tynker, Khan Academy, and Scratch provide coding environments for children to learn the language of programming. These kid-friendly environments cultivate independence in its rawest form--creation.

#3: Create & Innovate

To create is to bring individual thought to existence. Creative energy flourishes in children, especially at a young age when the conventions of the world have not put boundaries on untamed ideas. By using digital tools to create music, film, design, art, choreography, and writing, children are embedded with a maker, rather than consumer, mindset for the use of digital media.
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#4: Explore
Our children may be digital natives, but just as one born native to New York City is a native to it, we would not expect that child to instinctively understand how to safely navigate the city independently. Such learning takes place over time, from “walking man” to independent subway navigation and street awareness. Just as we start giving children boundaries of safe independent neighborhood navigation, we too must establish these safe exploration boundaries online. Outlining where, when, and with whom it is safe and productive to travel online is an essential prerequisite to independent exploration. As children age, we broaden the landscape of independent travel but remain connected with them.
#5: Teach and Model Balance
To speak of online independence without balance of offline agency would be remiss. Too often, children explore the digital world without a healthy balance and thereby establish an unhealthy reliance on the digital world for meaning, voice, and independence. Where they have them online, they may suffer offline. We bear the onus of establishing balance through boundaries and exposure to offline tools which similarly cultivate independence. Taking children to maker events, empowering them with the tools to create offline and explore the “real world” with us are as, if not more important, as the digital world becomes more and more integral to our lives.