Enid, Oklahoma, made national headlines this week for its local newspaper’s regionally controversial candidate endorsement in November’s US Presidential election. The 2nd annual TEDxWallerMiddleSchool event on November 19, 2016, was an Enid story even more deserving of national attention, however. TEDxWallerMiddleSchool was one of only 22 TEDxYouth events hosted worldwide in 2016, and the only TEDxYouth event held to date in Oklahoma. This was the second time students and educators at Waller Middle School in Enid have hosted a TEDx event. Last year all the speakers were local, but this year a few outside speakers were included in the lineup. One of those invited to speak was Rachel Fryer (@rachfMC), a 7th grader at Casady School in Oklahoma City, and our youngest child. In this post, I’ll reflect on how Rachel’s presentation, “Tales from a Teen Minecraft YouTuber,” was a wonderful example of not only student voice, but also the positive affordances of connected learning and social networking for today’s teens. These are very important messages to include in conversations about “digital citizenship” both inside and outside the classroom.
In early October 2016 Rachel recorded a 70 second summary of her ideas for a TEDx talk, which she submitted to the TEDxWallerMiddleSchool organizers as part of her application. We recorded this when we were on fall break in the Texas Hill Country. This video provides a window into her thinking about the story she wanted to tell: How creating a YouTube channel and sharing Minecraft videos have expanded her base of friends internationally and led to an engaging journey of learning about digital literacy as a connected teen. She didn’t want to publish this video on her YouTube channel, so we published it on mine. I recorded the interview for Rachel on my iPhone, and she created the background Minecraft gameplay clips using Screenflow on her laptop. We combined the videos using iMovie for iPhone.
This week after Christmas, Rachel recorded and published a short update video for her YouTube fans (now numbering 584) letting them know about her TEDx talk and how this was a positive experience for her. The video is less than 2 minutes long. Notice all the enhancements and special effects Rachel added to this video, including the closing sequence sharing her Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube subscription links.
If you ever have an opportunity to attend a TEDx Youth event, DEFINITELY GO! I first heard about TEDx Youth events via Bob Sprankle, when his daughter, Zoe, shared the presentation “Small Actions, Large Impact” at TEDxRedmond in 2010. TEDx Youth events not only provide opportunities for students to learn and practice the TED presentation style, but also serve in a variety of roles for audiovisual support, stage management, live Internet streaming, event organization, and more.
Rachel’s TEDx talk, “Tales from a Teen Minecraft YouTuber,” is just under eight minutes long. She did a masterful job sharing how her experiences have helped her learn about screencasting, music licensing, and safe downloading of 3rd party Minecraft enhancement files. I love that Rachel shared about how her life has been enriched by the digital friendships she’s made through YouTube, Instagram, and participation in the Connected Camps summer/afterschool Minecraft Clubs. (@connectedcamps) This is a message we RARELY hear when adults talk about social media and teens. Through her TEDx talk, Rachel took some important steps that can help address and change this “norm!”
When it comes to conversations about “Internet Safety” and digital citizenship at school, it’s very easy to focus the majority of our attention on “the dark side” of Internet use and abuse. Certainly it’s important to discuss cybersafety, Internet predators, privacy, the dangers of sexting, copyright / attribution, and other subjects. It’s also vital, however, to discuss the importance of creating a positive digital footprint, and the ways to safely navigate online interactions with others.
Earlier this month, our school hosted a local federal prosecutor as a guest speaker on Internet Safety for our parents and middle school students. Most of his message was helpful and on-target, but when it came to interacting with others online, his advice to students was “Never interact with someone online who you haven’t met first face-to-face.” While this absolutist message may resonate with some adults and on its face seem both appropriate and needed, I don’t think it’s a realistic or constructive message for teenagers (especially older teens) who likely interact digitally on a weekly basis with people they haven’t met in person.
In her TEDx talk, Rachel discussed how she is in ongoing conversations with her parents (that’s @sfryer & I) about what to share online and how much to share. We have worked together to decide, at times, if it was safe to “do a Minecraft collab” with a friend she had met online. Together, we answered questions like:
- How do we know this person is actually a teenage girl? (We used the other person’s Instagram and YouTube accounts to verify her identity)
- How can we protect ourselves as a family if we share the address of our home Minecraft server with her? (We used a free account on www.noip.com.)
All of those stories about navigating Internet safety issues together are not included in Rachel’s TEDx talk (it was, of course, HER talk and not mine) but I definitely think she did a great job presenting some of the positive reasons why teens should be supported in their creation and sharing of videos on a personal YouTube channel. She also made a strong case for how teen use use of social media accounts like Instagram and Twitter can help them positively connect with others.
Here the slides Rachel used in her TEDx talk. If you’d like to share constructive feedback with her, reach out on Twitter to @rachfMC as well as to @wfryer. In addition to benefiting Rachel as a communicator and YouTuber, I hope her TEDx talk (as she does) will inspire more adults to recognize and discuss the positive potential of YouTube to cultivate important digital literacy skills as well as navigate challenging digital citizenship situations.
YouTube and social media platforms like Twitter, SnapChat, and Instagram definitely present challenges for teens and parents. They also can present very positive opportunities for learning, fun and friendships, however, and these are important messages to remember when discussing Internet Safety and digital citizenship.
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