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WISEKIDS in Wales

I’ve just returned from 2 weeks in Wales and London (with a few days in North Yorkshire) and I wanted to say a few words about Wales and the WISEKIDS/WISP Conference in Swansea and Bangor.

The conference was well organised – really impressive. Sangeet Bhullar did an outstanding job of motivating an excellent group made up of educators, online experts, and young people – who all came together to share our collective knowledge and experience about how the online world works. Most important, I think, was the positive message that shone through. The online world is part of our every day lives and to keep harping on this media fear-based message of predators behind every screen is not only untrue but just not productive.

Professor Tanya Byron was the virtual Keynote at the first day in Swansea. She’s amazing, of course. I think she pretty much walks on water and have dubbed her a “rock star” in the online safety world. She’s sensible really. That’s all it takes. Someone who is sensible and doesn’t toss around a lot of buzzwords and industry jargon is much needed in this industry. She talks about how “we’re raising children in captivity.” Her message is worth watching. Stop reading this and watch it if you are short on time. I loved what she said near the end of her video keynote for the conference. “…for all those that say childhood is toxic, children shouldn’t use computers…really, go move to another planet.” It’s my new tag line. You can watch her keynote video here: scroll down 4 names

I think we all agreed the most informative presentations were from the Welsh young people (students), who traveled near and far to creatively present their ideas and share their world wide view of the web with us. They were refreshingly honest. And they supported what those of us who work on the front lines within the industry have known for ages: the net is here to stay and it’s part of who we are – it’s how we live our daily lives. This leaves us with the important question of how we take advantage of the net to help people of all ages learn, communicate wisely, and expand their opportunities and lives?

There were plenty of ideas presented towards answering the question above. One presentation I found thought-provoking was from John Davitt , who was the keynote for the Bangor session. Aside from the entertainment value (which I’ll give a 9 out of 10), he has some significant, though progressive, ideas to share. Learning shouldn’t be restricted to sitting at a desk listening to someone dictate facts or asking you to read facts someone has dictated in text. Learning is a collaborative, intuitive, creative process and because of the web, we have endless possibilities at our fingertips to encourage communication, learning, collaborating, and expanding every child’s perspective. These are my words, interpreting John Davitt’s point in his inspiring keynote. I think he would concur that my interpretation is accurate.(he’s certainly invited to comment on this blog!).

There were so many good presentations, such as Leon Cynch (of Learn 4 Life) gave a presentation about Second Life and learning. It’s not secret I’ve been a major SL fan for many years and its potential is untapped by so many to this day, but the good news is there are many pioneers who understand how much potential SL has for the world, including learning potential.

Tamara Littleton (CEO and founder of emoderation.com) gave an in-depth view of the real world of moderation in online virtual worlds. It was outstanding and informative. Many people in the industry have no idea how moderation truly works on a day-to-day basis. Actually, many people in the industry have no idea of what actually happens in Virtual Worlds, now that I think of it. [interlude: I know I'm forever frustrated by the theoretical experts who rarely if ever set fingers (heh) in online kid's worlds. And if they do, it's for 5 seconds and they think they get the entire culture after their 5 second jaunt - it drives me crazy.] I was thrilled to see Tamara present the practical, real point of view of online virtual worlds for kids. Hands on, the real thing, what happens daily. Well done Tamara!

No worries, I’m not going to go on about every presenter. I’ll just leave us with the question above and encourage idea sharing. Don’t be shy.

A big well done to Sangeet and her crew. They were amazing. Conferences aren’t easy. I’ve been lucky to go to some really good ones during the past 12 months. FOSI 09 in Washington DC. Safe Internet Alliance in 2009. WiseKids/WISP this year. And several others are on the schedule that look to be really productive. Here’s to collaborative problem-solving.