The Social Constructed Digital Native

One of the sessions at Podcamp Western Mass a few weeks ago was about social media and education. It was an open discussion hitting a lot of different points, and I found myself approaching it from a contrarian viewpoint that ultimately led me to start considering the idea of the socially constructed digital native.

One of the first people to speak was a college student, who was studying social media, and was frustrated that the courses focused on technical basics of using one social media platform or another, without getting into more important topics like search engine optimization. There was a discussion about how much social media is changing and how some of the social media tools that were discussed may not last more than a couple more years.

Personally, while I recognize some value of search engine optimization, I tend to view much of it as snake oil. I suggested that what is really needed is focusing on skills like understanding the audience and storytelling, because these skills matter, no matter what media is being used.

Others talked about cyber safety issues for kids or social skills like making eye contact, or giving someone your undivided attention. I trotted out Marc Prensky’s idea of the digital native and the digital immigrant and pushed the concept a little further. How much of the ideas that people were talking about were ideas from digital immigrants and how digital natives should live in a digital world?

Are kids without access to social media today viewed the way kids without television were viewed and treated forty years ago? Do we, or should we, value continuous partial attention? How much are these expectations socially constructed? And to the extent that they are socially constructed, how much are digital immigrants trying to maintain old world, analog ways of interacting in a digital world? How much are digital immigrants trying to get their digital native kids to behave as if they still live in the old analog world?

This is not to say that there isn’t value in certain old ways of interacting. The value of understanding your audience remains, whether it is a digital native audience, a digital immigrant audience, or some mixture.

Yet, perhaps, as we talk with people about how to behave digitally, we should take the opportunity to question which actions are really beneficial, as opposed to which actions are done, because that is the way things were always done in the old analog world. Perhaps, instead of prescribing behavior, we should be teaching students how to understand social constructs, and generate new, more pertinent social constructs that can evolve with our evolving technology.

Teaching Elementary School Children 3D Printing

A few months ago, CHC purchased a 3D printer. Since then, I’ve been learning how to create objects using various programs. Initially, I used Blender, which is a very powerful, yet complicated 3D rendering program. I figured it was probably too difficult to teach to elementary school kids. Later, I tried SketchUp which is much easier, and there is also a free version of this. I was thinking of teaching this to the kids, when someone suggested I try TinkerCAD.

TinkerCAD is a free web based 3D design program. It is very easy. However, you need to set up an account to use it and the terms of service said you needed to be thirteen to set up an account. I didn’t want to go through issues of trying to get the parents to set up accounts, nor did I want to set up a half dozen student accounts to manage.

Fortunately, it turns out, you can have many people logged into the same account at the same time, so I set up six computers running TinkerCAD and logged all of them into my account. I prepared a lesson plan based on the TinkerCAD quests going through how to move, copy and replicate objects, how to change your views, how to change the size and location of objects and how to use the opposite of an object, a hole, to create interesting designs.

The students came in, sat down at the computers, and started working. Many of them had played Minecraft in the past, and were used to moving around cubes to create 3D designs, although they may not have thought of it that way. They all quickly started creating objects and reshaping things. There went my lesson plan.

So, I watched the students as they played at 3D design and I pointed out things they didn’t pick up automatically. A few had problems finding objects other than the basic geometric objects and I got them to scroll up and down the objects on the left. Many had probably moving objects up and down along the Z axis, and I showed them about using the little black arrows above and below the objects.

We also, fortunately, had more students than computers, and some students arrived a little bit late. This meant that the students needed to share computers, but more importantly, it gave them an opportunity to teach one another what they were learning.

I spent a little time talking about how long it takes to print objects. The basic cube takes about twenty minutes. Two cubes together, only takes a few minutes longer. The complexity of the object seems to contribute more to the time it takes to print an object than the size of it.

I show them how I could take their designs, save them as STL files, open those files in the Makerbot program, and then print the object. Seeing their objects printed, while understanding how long it took to create objects really inspired them, and by the end of the hour, every student had an object they wanted printed. They helped change the filament of the printer to the color they wanted and excited watched their objects appear.

I only had enough time to print the first two smallest object and I figure I’ve got a full day of printing objects from these students ahead of me. They will swing by later to print up their objects and perhaps share some of their own designs.

I pointed out to their parents how they could set up accounts, and share objects they created publicly. I expect I’ll be getting some emails about other objects they create.

The key take away in teaching kids 3D printing with TinkerCAD: Set up the environment, let them start playing with the program, give them hints on places where they might get stuck, encourage them by printing a few objects, and get out of the way. The students picked up TinkerCAD much more easily and quickly than even I had expected.

This is Blood

At work, I mentor young adults interested in health care and social media and I often talk about understanding your audience. Often, the people I work with have fairly narrow views of life and the people around them. So, I find different videos to help them gain a little perspective. One of my favorites is This is Water from a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace. He starts off with

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

He goes on to talk about the banal tedium of daily life and suggests the following:

I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

It is up to us, what we do with life around us.

I had shown this video to some coworkers one Thursday, before heading out to a dinner at church.

It was a Thursday evening and I stopped in the basement of Grace and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Hamden, CT. The basement is like many church basements. The ceiling is covered with square foot sized tiles with lots of little holes in them; the kind I remember from my childhood, and probably even older. I can’t say that I remember the walls, but it seems like they are cinderblocks painted with some bland industrial color, perhaps from the 50s.

This is the room where Alcoholics Anonymous have meetings many evenings. There are hand written instructions near the giant coffee percolators and trash cans. On Friday nights, there is Dinner for a Dollar. It is an inexpensive home cooked meal where people contribute what they can, typically a dollar; sometimes more, sometimes nothing at all. People of all walks of life gather, chat and have a nourishing meal.

But Thursday night was Maundy Thursday. I had just gotten through rehearsing with a small pickup choir that would be doing Tallis’ Lamentation of Jeremiah on Good Friday. My youngest daughter was with me, talking blithely with those around her.

I sat quietly, considering the walks, the ceiling, the lives of people who have passed through this space. I thought of people who perhaps first started worship at Grace and St. Peter’s after attending an AA meeting in the basement, or having a nice home cooked meal when they were down on their luck and between jobs.

As we shared the supper and listened to the story of Maundy Thursday, it struck me. David Foster Wallace had told students about finding meaning in the tedium of daily modern existence. “This is water”.

The words of consecration, “this is my blood”. I thought of people struggling with addiction, struggling to make ends meet after losing a job. I thought of people that we pray for, week after week, fighting some illness. I thought of those close to me struggling with one calamity or another. I thought of monks I had met at monasteries, who had taken vows of silence, eating their simple meals. I thought of my own failings.

David Foster Wallace’s words mixed with Jesus’: “This is blood.” This is going beyond just “considering that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am”. It is recognizing that when you get right down to it, we are all the same, we are all connected, and that the Blood of Christ helps us transcend the tedium and empowers us to not only consider those around us, but to connect with and help them.

Around the state, I figured that friends of mine would be at similar dinners. They would have different ways of remembering, of celebrating, of talking about being ‘washed in the blood’, and that too, reflected our connection.

David Foster Wallace ends off his commencement speech with

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

To which, I add, and “This is blood”

Meriden Daffodil Festival

Yesterday, Fiona and I went to the Meriden Daffodil Festival. The band The Foresters was supposed to play, but their set got rained out. So, instead, Fiona and I spoke with some friends, had a bite to eat at the food tent and visited the crafts fair.

I’m not a big fan of shopping, but Fiona likes to shop and I figured we could walk around for a while before heading home. It was interesting to talk with some of the merchants. Some were old established small local businesses, like Sugar Maple Farms. We talked about this year’s maple syrup season and beekeeping. While they didn’t have any at the festival, and they don’t sell it online, they do sell comb honey. I believe they also visit some of the farmers markets, which several of the vendors do.

Woodbury based Winding Drive was their selling their various jams. They had plenty of samples of very good jam and talked about making jams from local products. The story of their founding is a great small local entrepreneurial story.

Similar to the story of Winding Drive is the story of Bradley Mountain Soaps. They started making herbal and goat milk soaps due to allergies in the family and this has grown into a nice little business.

So, while we didn’t get a chance to hear a good local band, we did get a chance to sample and buy some good local wares. The Meriden Daffodil Festival continues today, so if you get a chance to stop by, visit these vendors.

Catching Up

Another month has flown by, with almost no time to write, so my list of blog posts to write has gotten much longer. One of the things I’m doing at work is teaching elementary school kids how to design and print 3D objects. I probably have about three 3D printing posts I need to write; one on Tinkercad, one on advanced options, and one on working with the kids.

I’m also getting Samsung Gear 2 watch at work. I’m excited because it uses the Tizen operating system. I’ve started looking at developing on that platform, so there is another blog post or two that needs to be written there.

There were several events over the past month that need to be written about. I’m really want to write a blog post about Maundy Thursday, relating it to the great This is Water commencement speech. I went up to Podcamp on Saturday, and there is lots I should write about this, especially as it relates to the social constructs of teaching social media to digital natives. And, there is the 50th Anniversary of the World’s Fair in Flushing Queens. I hope to weave in Ingress and period pieces.

For both of these last two events, there are lots of photos as well, and I’m trying to organize my photos much better. Between autosyncing to platforms like Dropbox, Google+, Facebook and Flickr, running low on space on certain platforms and devices, separating work and personal photos, and having large archives, there is a lot of work to be done.

May and June are looking perhaps even busier. I used to keep an Upcoming Events section on my blog. Perhaps I’ll revive that as I plan for the coming months.

But first, I need to get on with my day. Fiona is going to go hear the Forresters at the Daffodil Festival in Meriden. I hope to get back in time to make a dump run, and then we’ll see what other writing I can get done.

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