by Ed Latham
Checking my mail this morning, I received a chat from a student. The student was having difficulty (in a game of course) and did not know what to do next to resolve the issue. We chatted for a few min to find what he had attempted and what the resulting conditions were. He was very patient and articulate in describing the issue and what he had done thus far.
I jumped into some searching and digging through some forums to find others with similar issues to his. I quickly found others complaining of the same thing and the solutions offered by members of the forums. I shared my findings with him and how I went about getting that information.
He got very quiet (in chat that just means he went more than 2 minutes without typing) only to return with many negative comments in reference to his lack of ability to figure this out himself. He was quite upset that he had not thought to check the forums, had not thought of such a simple solution, and many other "failings" to resolve this problem himself.
Intervention time! I stopped him and asked him why it was so important that he figure it all out himself. He replied that he felt computer competent and not being able to fix things himself is perceived internally as a weakness. I was a bit shocked and asked him where he thinks these feelings came from. "Well in school, friends and teachers chew you out for asking stupid or obvious crap ... so idk I guess it is just I am used to people dissing me if I ask for help"
My fingers flew into action as I jumped on my digital soapbox. I shared the importance of developing and using our social networks to discuss and resolve solutions. The world this young child is going into not only benefits from the ability to reach out to others to process and work together, it is becoming more and more a necessary skill. Many reading this post already know the power of a good social network and how many hours of frustration and other negatives that are encountered without our personal resources and connections. After I stepped down off my soapbox and congratulated the boy on reaching out, asking the right questions and articulating so well what the problem was he reported he felt better. "Besides, I probably would have been all week trying to figure this out on my own and would have just given up on the whole thing and quit that game if I couldn't get this working."
I have the pleasure of working with people all over the state of Maine and I have been exposed to so many wonderful projects, practices and classrooms. Establishing connections with all of these great people has enabled me to field at least 5 questions a day from teachers from k-16. Many of those questions I get daily are of such a specific nature, I know I don't have more than a surface idea what they are asking, but I do know someone on my social networks that has experience with that and I can get almost instant help and walk throughs for the teacher asking the original question. Additionally, my knowledge expands in that arena! I am learning so much just by being the middle man in a social network chain.
Where are our students getting their help from? Many classrooms are still very teacher directed and may reward compliance more than personal inquiry. Mom and Dad, if they are around, are often glad to be done with all that school stuff. For many students, they may feel their friends are just as lost on the topic as he or she is. Cell phones are not allowed in classes nor are most forms of communication that allows connection to any social networks. Unless the student can get some time to visit their media specialist (one of the few social network resources allowed in school), the student is resigned to individual searches on the Internet, re hashing notes or the book, or trying to hit up the teacher after class some time.
In short, my social network allows me to get almost instant help not only for me, but for everyone I work with. With almost every educator I talk to wanting students to learn to think and problem solve, are we not removing access to tools real people use every day to resolve their problems? In most every workplace, people facing difficulties almost never go to their boss asking for a fix. Instead they hit up their network of resources to resolve the issues, hopefully quickly so the interruption does not set the worker behind or cause a scene.
How can we help students safely establish social networks and learn how to use these resources well? Is that enough? Shouldn't we be encouraging responsible efficiency in using our peeps to help move our current projects forward?
What are your thoughts on the importance of using a social network and if you are using/promoting such how are you doing so with students?