Setting the Stage for Designing Young Lives

I’m currently engaged in a new Collaborative Exploration offered up the the Critical and Creative Thinking Community out of UMass Boston entitled “Young People Designing Their Own Lives.”  The case challenges explorers to think about how we might go about helping young people tackle their life design challenges by presenting the concept for a script or book that would guide young folks as they chart their course.

Interestingly, this coincided with a conference session at the National Humanities Conference this past weekend.   Folks from the PA Humanities Council talked about their Teen Reading Lounge program. The program has teens read books, discuss them, and then do hands on activities related to the books. The presenter linked the program and the exploration of literature to these key life questions teens are confronting:

  • Who am I?
  • What is my place in the world?
  • What do I believe?

Definitely, important prompts to start a life journey.  As I’ve been contemplating this case, I have also been thinking about creative books and activities from my youth.  One of the things I loved most when I was young were Colorfoms.  I loved having scenes where I could place characters and props.  I could rearrange and reconfigure infinitely.  I was free to orient, overlap, and edit.  At the same time, I had a container or structure that bounded my exploration.

About a year ago, a few of my favorite pre-teens were interested in creating their own “tv show.”  I gave them some simple guidelines:

  1. they each needed to have a character and know what their character was about and how that character related to the other characters
  2. they needed to have at least 3 settings
  3. they needed a challenge, task, or mission that they were trying to accomplish
  4. they could each bring or include one friend in the process

The girls scripted out a basic story line.  They knew what each scene was and what they were trying to do.  I told them to come to the tv studio ready to act.  They should bring any costumes or props that they needed.  I then let them design and arrange the various studio sets and furniture how they wanted.  I showed them how the green screne worked so they could see the possibilities for creative backgrounds.  From these basic elements they created and orchestrated a pretty silly, but cohesive story that was generated out of their own creative mind.  It was sort of like Colorform media.

So, as I’m exploring and thinking on this month’s collaborative exploration, I’m contemplating how to go about crafting a basic environment with enough raw materials that might jumpstart the life design mindset of teens.  What would this look like?  What format — book, script, media production, game?  What elements need to be in the mix and what will allow them to productively craft this?  What supports or guidance are needed?  It is exciting to think about.

 

The “N” in PLN (#xplrpln)

So in considering the contours and definition of a “personal learning network” (PLN), I turned to the trusty online dictionary.  So the words personal and learning seemed to garner definitions that resonated:

Personal — relating to, directed to, or intended for a particular person
Learning — the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill

Then I came to network and that is when things started to get really fuzzy and exciting at all?the same time.  So one possible definition revolves around the connective mechanisms:  any combination of filaments, lines, veins, passages or the like in a netlike form
So here we have conduits, tissues and live wires formed into a specific pattern that is interlocking, decentralized, yet strong.   Then there is this definition related to radio and television:

a group of transmitting stations linked by wire or microwave relay so that the same program can be broadcast or telecast by all

This idea of entities transmitting information and relaying it seems useful.  The part about broadcasting “the same program” not so much.  And then there is this:

a system of interrelated buildings, offices, stations, etc., especially over a large area or throughout a county, territory, region, etc.

This definition brings in the sense of geographic space and travel across that space.  That seems cool. Then there is the idea of a network related to electricity:

an arrangement of conducting elements, as resistors, capacitors, or inductors connected by conducting wire.

In some ways this harkens to the first definition, but the inclusion of concepts like “resistors,” “capacitors,” “inductors” and by extension “transmitters,” “amplifiers,” “switches” and such start to flesh out the dynamic processes that are inherent in electrical grids — overloads, blackouts, excess capacity are also part of this analogy.

So, I’m sure if I search further there would be other networks with finer nuances depending on the sector or field — social networks, computer networks, underground networks.

So how do I make sense of network as a definition?  These are the things that work for me:

decentralized, interlocking, formed by many materials to aid movement and conduction, spread out across space (and I’d say time as well) with dynamic components that work for and against its smooth operation.

So a personal learning network?  So if we add this network definition to the personal and learning I would get:

spanning space and time, a personal learning network is a decentralized, interlocking, multi-material form with dynamic components that work for and against an individual’s process of acquiring knowledge and skills.

Any way, that’s what I have for the time being.  I realize, that the “what” moving across this network is till not particularly clear with “components” being a particularly fuzzy concept. I’ll need to think on that. (#xplrpln)

Still Considering Resistance & Its Connection to Stories

Source: Rule of Thumb – http://http://rule-of-thumb.net/

The CICMOOC has moved on to metrics and measuring this week, but I am still considering and thinking on resistance.  My good friends Dan and Karen were kind enough to contribute to an exercise from the MOOC that asked for resistance points to a goal I set up.  The goal I proposed to them was to turn my yet not finished dissertation into a book.  They were incredibly helpful resisters and gave me lots of good reason why I could not do this.  In fact, they pointed out more than one reason I had not considered myself.  (For more detail on the exercise – a fellow MOOCer has posted a slideshare of her experience with the exercise).

The exercise was helpful.  It forced me to dispute their resistance.  I needed to consider their points as valid and come up with solutions and or alternatives that they had not thought about.  This was a pretty  productive.  By trying to dispute my friends’ claims, I became more committed to my own goals.

This thinking coincides with the start of a new Collaborative Exploration entitled Stories to Scaffold Creative Learning offered up by the Critical and Creative Thinking Program at UMass Boston.  The first Google+ Hangout sessions was last night and as I am thinking on themes and threads brought up by the participants, I have come back to the resistance exercise.  Through the lens of the CE I am seeing how the exercise forced me to craft an alternative narrative of possibility and by doing so, helped me see a path for movement forward that was clearer than if I hadn’t considered the obstacles or barriers.

This idea of obstacles, barriers and challenges also came up today in talking about a project at Tisch College (located at Tufts University).  The project is an interactive, multiplayer game called Civic Seed (still in development) which is designed to prepare college students who will be going out into communities to do internships.  I am part of the evaluation team on the project.  The content designer was worried that the game designers had not sequenced the content and thus would create confusion for the players.  In communicating with her and the dean of the college, it seemed to me that often the path to solutions or problems are not neatly sequenced.  We get information at different times.  We encounter road blocks.  We get side tracked.  But at some point, if we are dedicated and have time to reflect and engage with others, we often make sense of all of the bits.

So where does that leave me?  Well thinking about how things like resistance and problems (like a government shutdown) can actually be opportunities for new types of stories.  Tension points for new possibilities and new visions. This has me thinking about terms like disruptions, destruction, counter culture, and so much more.