Shifting Social Dynamics

The One Post a Day Challenge is already starting to add up to a big personal project for me. I’m not yet overwhelemd with it, but as I embark on a whirlwind 7 days (kicked off by an overnight trip to Madison, WI to present and punctuated by the Learning Design Summer Camp) I can see the wheels showing some signs of coming off. I’m not there yet though! I am thrilled to see the comments here, but what is already becoming evident is how nice it is to read a wealth of fresh squeezed content from my community every single day. I am enjoying hearing new voices and discovering new blogs. Very cool. One thing I am becoming concerned about is that I see a theme emerging here that I hope is meaningful to those around me — the idea of doing things in the cloud. All of my posts have been focused on using the Blogs at PSU as a personal publishing space and I am hoping it isn’t getting stale.

With that in mind, I thought I would take a stab at a similar, but slightly off topic observation about the coming shift in demographics on our campuses. I am drawing upon some of the amazing work done by our friends at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Not too long ago I read a few of their reports that focused on online teenagers’ web behavior. Not entirely surprising to see how connected they are, but it is a little stunning to see how sophisticated they are as they participate in social environments. Some highlights that have me thinking about what my campus will look like in 5 years and if our work is going to pay dividends when this generation shows up:

  1. Nearly 50% of online teens are sharing content online. This isn’t file sharing, it is sharing pictures, text, and other forms of their media.
  2. 64% engage in at least one form of content creation.
  3. Girls dominate most elements of online content creation and sharing with 35% of teen girls blogging, and 54% sharing photos. Compared with 20% of boys blog and 40% share pictures.
  4. Boys are nearly twice as likely to share their videos online — I’m not touching that one!

Why is this the case? Well I have a few suspicions, but the fact that Pew tells us that 89% of them report that people comment on these artifacts some of the time tells me a lot. Wow. So it means to me that they are engaging in a new form of social dynamic that looks a hell of a lot like a digital conversation. I am wondering as a follow up is if they actively market their online lives in a face to face world or if they just know their friends are connected to it and are silent about the publishing? Do they show up at school and say, “did you see my pictures, video, or blog post?” I’m not sure, but Pew also tells us that most of them use their social networks to control access — this is a big reason why Facebook is the number one photo sharing site on the Internet.

With that said, I am reminded of a meeting I had with my colleague, Glenn Johnson, early last week about the blog platform. Glenn has been the “ePortfolio Guy” at PSU for several years and has done an outstanding job socializing the notion of student portfolios. He was showing us how he has traditionally shown people how to use WYSIWYG tools along with our PASS explorer (really an online SFTP like client) that visualizes your personal webspace as files and folders. A metaphor that has been in play for years. When we started talking about teens and their use of social tools for sharing we started to wonder if they had any clue as to where their items were going?

Are Directories Dead to our Next Student?

Are Directories Dead to our Next Student?

Does a directory structure matter to this generation? Where the hell are my pictures when I upload them to Facebook anyway? Should we care or should we make the jump into just managing assets through tagging them on the way in? I think Pew tells us we have some real decisions to make as it relates to enterprise learning environments and some of our old school preconceptions are not going to match up with emerging trends. I am especially interested in what people think about this and how we can be positioning ourselves to deal with the shift.

9 thoughts on “Shifting Social Dynamics

  1. As the parent of a 14-year old girl who now has her own Facebook profile and has very quickly uploaded tons of photos and even video.. I don’t think she cares even the slightest bit where those things are “going”. She wants them on her page, she uploads them.. and there they are. The details aren’t important to her, she just wants her friends to see her photos. She’s also very good about putting a description on every photo and video that she uploads, which sort of surprised me. She’s not into twitter or even email (that’s not cool anymore), but she sends approximately 8,000 text messages a month. I told her a few days ago that now that she’s starting high school and playing field hockey, she should start a blog documenting everything and put up game photos and blog about the games and how they went and just keep that record all through high school. She said “Mom. That’s something YOU would like.. I’m not into that.” I guess I’ll keep a blog for her. 😉

  2. Are Directories Dead to our Next Student? Yes. Heck, they’re dead to the students that we have now. Maybe even the students that we had ten years ago. File structures and FTP is simply never going to be intuitive to the average student. Why learn this when they can go elsewhere and do things more easily?

    I am a huge blogs@psu advocate, but…this is one of the problems with MT. It requires way too much knowledge of templates and file structure. If we want our students to blog, they need a system that they can set up (ala most of the commercial blog spaces / social web sites) very quickly and very easily.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with Ellysa: SSH/FTP and directories are already dead. My students showed some early interest in HTML, so I did a class activity where we created a page in dreamweaver and uploaded it via SSH. The page consisted of 3 things:

    “What I’m doing now”
    a link
    a picture

    …looks familiar right? Same type of content they put on Facebook. After the activity (and mass confusion regarding FTP), the students all came back with the same line:

    “Why in the world would anyone go through this process?”

    And the PASS explorer…that took a major beat down from my students for a plethora of reasons.

  4. As a staff member and someone who feels fairly comfortable with technology.. even I get confused with MT and the PASS stuff. It’s just not ‘natural’ for me. I can totally understand what Ellysa and Bart are saying.

  5. It is what I am assuming … the need to see behind the curtain is dead to us. Directory structures matter to a very small percentage of students — tagging and search seem to be emerging trends.

    I do have to ask further about the comments that you need to know directory stuff to use Blogs at PSU … I can create a blog in my personal space without knowing a thing about directories, SFTP, or PASS in general. I’d like to understand how it is missing simplicity? I use WordPress on this blog, but if I were doing things today I would move to MT 4.2 (as soon as it goes final). One of the things we are excited about is MT 4.2’s powerful asset management set. Instead of uploading files via PASS Explorer, you can do it from within the MT environment. You can tag and describe all your files for easy retrieval and to insert into posts. The interface is actually quite nice.

    What are we missing with the usability of the Blogs at PSU? Understanding we can go only so far with the software … but, what can and should we be thinking about doing a better job of?

  6. One way to relatively painlessly expose students to hierarchies is to use the mapped PASS space drive in the computer labs. I find it is more intuitive than the PASS Explorer.

    Working in a networked environment students do need to be able to look at and understand where their data is stored. Sometimes you can forget where you put a particular file, usually when it is needed the most.

    I have had students fill up their PASS space by never deleting email in webmail. Then when we were using the PASS space to store map files for GIS there was no room! The problem was easily fixed, but showed the importance of housekeeping efforts.

  7. Should we at all be worrying about the content?

    No–I don’t mean the careless “what were they thinking when they took that” photograph, but the fact that most of the content they create is “thought-less” that is, without thought.

    As academics, we should be encouraging critical thinking, which means challenging others ideas, their thoughts, and allowing our own conceptions to be challenged as well.

    Yes, they are posting text, video, and pictures, but from what I am seeing (with kids in HS and college, and being connected to my students as well) they are generally “snaps” of the “what I am doing now” variety.

    I think our challenge as academics is to move them from the “snap” world, to the “reflective” one.

    What do you think?

  8. Steve, I think the content is the worry. One of the points that often gets lost when we promote these environments is that we are doing so because they break down barriers and let students get to focus on the content. I’m not concerned with what they do in their personal/social spaces, but I am very interested in seeing how faculty and students work together to create better teaching and learning outcomes.

    I think too many times our enthusiasm for the tools is misconstrued as excitement purely for the tool itself, when in fact it is really about affordances. I think the work that we will see come out of the blogs as portfolios initiative will drive us closer to the reflective world you are promoting. The tools will hopefully get out of the way of the real process.

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