Email is For Old People

Yesterday, Jeff Nugent and I had the opportunity to present at the 2008 Virginia School Board Association annual convention.  We had around 40 people attend our session entitled “Email Is For Old People.”  Two were school administrators and the rest were all school board members from around the state.

These were our presentations slides:

The final slide had embedded this video:

As one can see from the presentation, we asked a series of questions around communication:

1.  Who had sent a hand written letter recently?

Around 20% had done so in the past week – two-thirds had in the last year.

2.  Emails?

Everyone used email.

3.  Instant messages?

About 60% did not IM – we did have a couple of power users.

4.  Text messages on cellphones?

Again, about 60% did not text, a couple of heavy text users.  (…and some misunderstanding of the differences between IM and SMS)

5.  Updates to Facebook or MySpace?

Around 80% did not have social network accounts.

We then had them all stand up and slowly revealed a slide with 18 different web application logos on it.  We asked them to remain standing if they recognized and used at least 3 – and all remained standing.  We then asked about five, and half the room sat down.  As we progressed through 7, 9, and 12, we still had two people standing.  Jeff then revealed the dates at which each of these applications went live, and noted that – given the short lifespan of these applications – the notion that K-12 students are digital natives and we are immigrants is a bit of a leap.  We are all trying to figure out the uses at the same time.  What is different is that the kids are less fearful of attempting apps – and they tend to look to them for socialization and entertainment, not learning.  Jeff suggested that it is the role of skilled teachers to lead them through this web world, just as skilled teachers have always led.

I then gave a quick tour through six families of applications – emphasizing not the tool but the practices associated with the tools (communication, connections, shared knowledge creation, etc.).  Our handout wiki has more details on each:

–  Blogs


Social Bookmarking


– Social Networks like MySpace, Facebook and Ning

Picture and Video Sharing websites

The attendees were interested in our message and acknowledged their lack of background in this area.  One went so far as to basically say – Tell me how I should vote when questions about the use of the internet come up in school board meetings! It was evident to me that K-12 student use of the internet remains an area of fear, and I am not sure we successfully demystified it for them.  They recognized that Jeff and I were advocates and they wanted more info on the downsides.  One member noted a case at his school where a student had emailed in a Columbine warning hoax which shut the school down.  I countered that kids had been doing that for generations – in my day it was notes in the bathrooms instead of electronic notes.  We tried to suggest that the tool (the web) was not the issue – the issue was the practice…as it has always been.

We closed our presentation with the above video A Vision of K-12 Student Today by B. J. Nesbitt, IT Coordinator for Pickens County, South Carolina.  His younger take of the Michael Wesch video certainly sent a powerful message to these school board members.

Now one wonders, will the seeds we planted yesterday have any impact?  Time will tell.

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2 thoughts on “Email is For Old People

  1. I love this and wish I had seen it in person. I like the slides, info, video, and your insight. I would love to present something like this to my daughter’s school board. In fact I think that I am going to send a copy of this link to the superintendent and see if there is any interest, how much of this can I borrow? I see a creative commons license for the site, does it apply to the presentation? I would make my own but I may borrow some of your presentation ideas and content. Nice job!

  2. Kia ora Britt.

    Let’s not get buoyed up on the hype of a video. I agree with the message.

    Young people today are no different from when they were walking the planet 3000 years ago – I guarantee it. They have, as their in-built mechanism for survival, a baloney-detector. It tells them that the old foggies don’t know what they’re talking about – probably because for thousands of years they didn’t, for they were trully past it.

    Today you and I know that’s a load of baloney 🙂

    An artefact of that in-built baloney-detector is that young people don’t really want to hang out with adults per se. The up-shot of this is seen recently in what Jeff Cole says about how young people behave on the Net.

    They are social network hoppers. They first moved to Friendster and got shot of that because adults (20+) were using it. They moved to MySpace and got shot of that because it was actually designed for adults.

    They hopped to Facebook – ’nuff said. They then moved to Bebo, a network provider that designed thier stuff specially for young ‘uns.

    It’s not surprising that they don’t want to have a bar of email! THAT was the first attempt in communication using the Internet as we know it.

    I have 2 kids still at home – 14y and 18y. They both have Bebo accounts. My kids are different from most – they get on with their parents.

    Both my kids also have Facebook accounts. AND I’m a friend in both their groups on that networking site! Work that one out and you know how my mind works!

    I would no more ask them to make me a freind in their Bebo network than I would ask them to come with me to the RSA club. That would be so naf it’s not true, brother.

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

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