I didn’t know how old the schoolchildren would be, or if they would be active on social networking sites. However, the age range I expected was 10-13 and the majority might not be old enough to use most of the social networking sites. (Based on age regulations set by the sites, not based on what kids are actually doing!)
Realising that I would have to talk about online environments in a broad sense, without specifics on social networking platforms that the kids might not be able to use, I had to think of creative and (hopefully) fun ways to start conversations.
Oh! And I was doing it without the aid of technology!
To create the workshops, I came up with three activities:
- Building a network with balls of wool
- A game of “who’s real; who’s not”
- Identifying the blur between online and offline activities
The first activity was meant to be an icebreaker as I had understood that it would be a random group of kids from around Edinburgh. The idea was that someone would hold the ball of wool and start talking about their online or offline interests and activities. When someone shared a trait, they’d call out and the ball would be tossed to them, whilst the first person held their end of the string. This continued until there was a massive web of wool crossing back and forth across the table.
The kids seemed genuinely surprised with some of their direct connections as well as the way that they were connected with others through those connections. In some cases, they were shocked that they had so many connections with someone and in other cases, they were surprised that they had so few. (A special nod to the last group. 6 kids were 13-14 years of age and they went out of their way to make two 9-year-old girls feel included!)
The “who’s real; who’s not” activity was a guessing game with questions and answers. I had two envelopes, each with a photo inside and a bio outside. The bios were for 12-year-old boys and included some brief details such as usernames and email addresses. Inside one envelope was a photo of a 12-year-old boy. Inside the other was a photo of a 50-year-old man. The aim here was for the kids to ask questions of each “boy” such as their grade level at school, their hobbies and interests, or their social media habits. Then, they needed to determine which one was the “real” 12-year-old and which one was the imposter.
This was by far the most entertaining of the activities, and it is also the one that brought the most discussion. The kids debated with each other if the answers could be legitimate or not with some insisting that a “real” 12-year-old would or would not do what I was claiming. (Little did they know, but all of my “real” kid information came from a real 12-year-old boy!) I especially found it interesting that some of the kids didn’t care who was real because they would never actually meet up with someone they met online because they just assumed that anything they said was a lie. (This might be an interesting area of research all on its own!)
The final activity was only run for one of the workshops, as the other three rounds took more time than the first two activities. However, the final activity was a bit of a flop. (Maybe because of the ages of the participants?) Here, each kid was asked to write three lists: activities only done offline (brushing teeth); activities only done online (playing Minecraft); and activities that include on- and offline tasks (buying concert or airplane tickets).
The kids seemed a bit interested in how the different activities could take place online or offline – or both – but, ultimately, it was not an interesting task for them. I wonder if it was too much like a school task or if they just don’t view the blurring between online and offline environments as something worth even considering. Again, that might be an interesting area of research all on its own!
I think it’s fair to say that I got more out of the day’s activities than the kids because I now have a better understanding of what activities might or might not work. I will be using modified versions of the first and third activities for a “grown-up” workshop I’m delivering in the summer and (hopefully) the discussions sparked by the activities will be just as useful and dynamic as they were with today’s groups.
But the next time I deliver workshops to kids, I think I will work harder on bringing in technology. Wool and Post-Its just wasn’t right for that audience!