The Connected Learning principles and values are braided in the DNA of Hive NYC Learning Network. For us, they provide both aspirational theory and a clear action plan grounded in a body of research-supported evidence. One of the essential ideas of networked learning is its focus on linking and making visible the different spaces where people exchange, acquire and share knowledge and information. In a world of pervasive computing and mediated experiences, we know that there is the potential for learning to occur anywhere, anytime. But how can we make this happen in lasting and meaningful ways? This is a blog post about place: about signing up, showing up, planning, working and getting to a specific place where knowledge and information is dynamic, shared and networked in the here and now. On June 1, 2013, the place that was the place was Emoti-Con! NYC, the fifth annual, day-long festival in which youth aged 12-18 from the five NYC boroughs show and share projects with their peers, engage in problem-based activities, compete for awards, and receive both digital badges and real-time feedback from industry professionals. They also eat, drink, textify and engage while others describe their personal and professional pathways. Emoti-Con! NYC 2013 was organized by a hard-working steering committee (from Global Kids, Hive NYC HQ, MOUSE, New York Public Library and Parsons The New School for Design) in consultation with the A-Team, a group of youth leaders from across Hive NYC organizations. Over the years, Emoti-Con! has attracted youth from across the five boroughs and organizations across NYC, and has emerged as the premier showcase of digital media and technology projects designed by youth with a focus on civic engagement and the betterment of not just New York City but the world.
The Celeste Bartos Forum in the main branch of the New York Public Library was the perfect setting for Emoti-Con! 2013′s particular mix of science fair, youth-networking opportunities, inspirational keynotes and fun. The setting—a huge room with a striking chandelier and round tables flanked by Emoti-Con! banners and posters designed by young designers from Parsons Scholars—provided the perfect backdrop for an amazing array of projects. Teen and adult emcees and the A-Team kept the tight schedule flowing almost seamlessly. For the first time ever, Emoti-Con! featured an all-female lineup of keynote speakers: Limor Fried, aka Ladyada, an engineer and cover subject of Wired magazine; game designer and founder of Athens Plaython, Chloe Varelidi; and Theresa Lynn, a South Bronx teen activist and actor who starred earlier this year in Michel Gondry’s collaborative film experiment The We and the I. Their pithy remarks were followed by a wide-ranging set of questions from the teens, focused on gaining a deeper understanding of their work and how they too might set on similar paths in the future. These main stage events—perfectly balanced with the excitable energy of the A-Team and 200 newly-badged inventors—gave the proceedings a unique, youth-produced, “you had to be there” flair.
As a member of the steering committee, it was amazing to see the event come alive after so many months of planning. In my role as an Emoti-Con! Challenge judge, I was also able to view the event through a lens that privileged design, intent, social impact, creativity and presentation. After having the opportunity to speak with young makers, trying out everything from audio stories and digital pets to “Mixing Buddy” a kitchen mixer for users with mobility issues, I was quite inspired. As I assessed and discussed what I saw with my partner in adjudication, Brian Alspach of E-Line Media, it was clear that the room itself was a learning platform—the participating youth demonstrated what they had made and learned and then continued to accrue more knowledge and experience throughout the day. They were learning how to present their work, how to listen to feedback and most importantly how to accept criticism (and suggestions) from people they didn’t know. But most importantly, they were learning how to dialogue and create community and conduct themselves in a room bustling with equally innovative peers.
As I traveled around the room, a few meta-questions arose—namely, how did these different experiences—from making to presenting—connect for Emoti-Con’s participants? Through the efforts of many, a grand space had been successfully transformed into a game-like idea factory. It was like show-and-tell at Bell Labs, except with diversity, civic engagement and emojis. Emoti-Con! 2013, more so than the three I had previously attended, was bursting with even more ideas, exchanges, and raw potential—a transformation that is no small feat. But as the day raced by it became impossible to linger in the moment and I began to wonder what would or could happen next. We had over fifteen Hive NYC organizations represented, each project at their own presentation station, each organization grouped around their own set of tables. How could we not only strengthen the existing connections between youth but seed and grow more activity—not only across organizations, but also across Bartos forum tables and rooms?
As project managers of the concepts and and values behind Connected Learning, our work is to not only design these places, but to experiment and re-envision them so they contain the hybridity of elements and experiences that keep youth linked to time and place. This is one of the harder points to tackle on the Connected Learning action plan, and one that has to be approached with network effect in mind. It’s not going to happen overnight but we continue to hack, plan, hangout and brainstorm toward this goal. In just four years of bringing youth, attending, and now planning and judging at Emoti-Con!, I’ve seen how this particular convening can result in a meaningful “a-ha moment,” as youth realize that there are others who look like them, share their interests, and others who problem solve and express their ideas through the languages of computation, design, engineering, media and making. In the past nine months, Hive NYC has been working hard to connect the learning experiences of the youth. While still championing the role of the educator and watching the spread of networked learning, invention and community develop through fantastic events like Learning Labs, Exposure Camp‘s Teen Tech Bash and Hive Pop-Ups, we’ve made a concerted effort to expand our reach and design solutions to provide visual, knowable, youth-facing pathways. We’re building geo-spatial maps with the Habitat Map platform—prompting our members to crowd-source their organizational information to show where their programs take place and who they reach. We’re part of a loosely formed coalition working to leverage active digital badging efforts across New York as a way to connect youth. We’re actively conspiring with like-minded partners in the Office of Post-Secondary Readiness to bring Hive-like innovation to ten NYC high schools through the Digital Ready program—so that digital badging becomes the glue for recognizing and crediting informal learning opportunities within the formal school space. And like much of the world, we are eagerly watching and learning from our Hive Learning Network and Mozilla Open Badges colleagues, poised to engage youth in making and connecting through the Chicago Summer of Learning initiative. Finally, we’re looking to build and prototype lenses that show learning opportunities across Hive NYC using dynamic data to surface trends, track skill development and provide learning recommendations to youth. And in the midst of these high-tech plans and collaborations, we remain true to our “less yak, more hack” roots. Our communications and operations team have built a simple solution, a hyper-linked information resource, (most commonly referred to as a web page), that gathers summer learning opportunities and connects users to organizations, deadlines and sign-ups. This crowd-sourced effort has become one of the most popular places on this blog. Together, these simple and complex efforts leverage more nuanced views of the network for the youth who traverse its programs and places. They are proof positive that small is beautiful—and that the most minimalist prototypes and efforts can eventually lead to the grandest of rooms.
Emoti-Con! 2013 Recap