Educators That Rock!

danah boyd
Gilad Lotan
danah boyd

Educators That Rock!: danah boyd

November 13, 2009
by Shannon Firth
Last week, findingEducation caught up with Dr. danah boyd at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference in Charlotte, N.C. Boyd is an internationally recognized social media expert researcher for Microsoft Research New England, a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and an ethnographer, blogger and contributing author to the book “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media.”

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Boyd explains on her blog that “there are a lot of reasons … some personal and some political” as to why she decided to omit the capital letters in her name. A keynote speaker at the conference, she drew from her research on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook to explain how kids use these tools to communicate and to “create digital bodies” to express themselves.

In her online biography, boyd describes herself as a bored and rebellious student that went to “smart kids camp” in the summer but had trouble fitting in until she went online. “The Internet opened the door of possibilities to me. I found other smart kids year round ... Strangers taught me so much about the world and about myself,” she wrote.

“Unstructured environments are critical to social learning,” boyd said in her talk. Educators must “work with the grain, not against it.” She told findingEducation, “It's not about getting kids to be passionate about the things that librarians and teachers are passionate about, but using what kids are passionate about as gateways to learning.”

fE: Why is it important for educators to understand how kids act online when they aren't in the classroom?

db: Educators are trying to help young people find their way. Learning doesn't stop when kids step out of the doors of the classrooms. Educators send homework home, but they also deal with the dynamics of kids' home lives in the classroom. The boundaries were never clean and neat.

It's not that educators need to understand how kids act ONLINE when they aren't in the classroom, but rather, it's that educators need to have a sense of the context of kids' lives to be effective as educators, mentors, advisors. And the online world is now part of kids' lives.

fE: In your lecture you described how teenagers learned HTML and figured out how to "hack the system in order to get what they wanted" out of MySpace. How can teachers and librarians harness this kind of passion for learning and adapt these skills for use in the classroom?

db: Follow the passion... It's not about getting kids to be passionate about the things that librarians and teachers are passionate about, but using what kids are passionate about as gateways to learning. This is the problem with our approach to curriculum. We start with what we as adults think is important and then try to make it relevant to kids. Why not start with what kids are passionate about and use that to get into things that we think should be taught? Work with the grain, not against it.

Read the rest of the Q&A with danah boyd at findingEducation’s Digital Teachers’ Lounge.
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