Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Students 2.0 Bust-Out!


Last week sometime (I don’t keep track of days), I video-Skyped with the Korean Project Global Cooling club. PGC is the brain child of Clay Burell, with the aid of Bill Farren (who made the Did You Ever Wonder video). Their goal, in the words of Christopher Watson (the teacher helping coordinate PGC Hawaii), is to mobilize a global network of students to report on the efforts for sustainability in their communities, and also to connect them for further work together. The idea for the concert is to bring attention to the website and all the work and resources that will be posted there. We’ll be having a Hawaii-based concert for the cause in April. I was amazed at how easy it was to connect with people half-way around the world. True, their time zone maybe be a day and a half ahead of me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t come to their Project Global Cooling meetings.

What I really hope this connection between people all over the world evolves into is a place where teachers won’t have to do the connecting for the students. When we talk about a sustainable future, we don’t just mean environmentally. Places like Nervousness.org (an art project forum) are self-sustaining home bases where projects are formed between like-minded artists. There is no third party that sets them up, nor are there painfully difficult organizational problems to deal with. The artists do the art, exchange addresses, send the art, and then one person puts it all together. I see no reason why there can’t be somewhere for students to gather, talk, and create with their contemporaries (sans teacher).

We’ve all talked about how it’s time to stop underestimating kids, how it’s time to give us a voice. Out on the blogosphere front, things are definitely improving. But I look at things like Twitter (where the student population would be considered “endangered” at best), and, like Sean, I wonder why students haven’t all taken to the web. The answer is simple: where would they go? There is no single place for global student collaboration.

That’s why I created two places that I think will help students to self-connect.

The first place is a Twitter account called YouthNet. This Twitter account is a tool for students to find other students on Twitter. They can also use it to introduce themselves to the student network. For example, this would be my tweet: “@YouthNet I’m Lindsea, 16 years old, Hawaii. Interested in art, writing, photography, music, sustainability, film. skype=sonicyouthgurl”. In these 140 characters or less, I’m able to introduce myself, say where I’m from, and mention the areas in which I’m interested in starting projects. YouthNet would follow only students, so actually finding other students on Twitter wouldn’t be difficult. Student Twitterers are then able to advertise their projects (school-related or not) to other students.

The second place is a Wikispace wiki. The wiki is similar to the Twitter account in that it is a tool for starting projects and forming connections with similarly passioned people. There’s a page called World Connection where people list their name, blog address, Skype screen name, Twitter account, e-mail address, and interests. This is the starting point for networking. Then there is the “Talk” page, which basically serves as a place for discussion (obviously), and a very chillaxed forum for either casual or serious conversation. If the students choose, they can use Talk as the starting place for their projects. For brainstorming, collaborating, and swapping ideas, this is the place.

In the video chat I had with PGC in Korea, one of Clay’s students, Soojin, gives the example of a World Geography project. Let’s see how this project would work using YouthNet tools: So person X is assigned a World Geography project of her choosing. She decides to do it on exploring the anthropology of young people in different countries. Using YouthNet, she would first post the thesis of her project on the Talk page. Interested parties would then reply with their own input. She could also look through the World Connection page and contact the students interested in writing. She’d send out a mass email to all students interested, telling them in more detail what the parameters of the project are and the deadline. The students would write about their lives in the various countries all over the world, send her a couple pictures, and then person X would write a summary, and then self-publish the original stories and pictures on lulu.com.

This place that I’m creating is for students, first and foremost. It is platform for self-directed collaboration with fellow students all over the world, and it is the epitome of unschooliness and passion-based learning. The best part about this is that once it’s created and all the details are worked out, the project will be sustainable. That is, once it’s up and running, there will be no central leader. The students would have complete control. My youthful idealism has complete faith in my fellow students’ ability to lead themselves with world consciousness and integrity. I know that we’re capable of utilizing something like this to take the technological emphasis out of Internet collaboration, and use these tools only as a medium to crystallize all of our amazing potential.

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