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Originally posted on the Connected Learning Research Network blog, 2.22.13:

Classroom and afterschool programs sometimes organize competitions or recitals as a way to connect parents and friends with student achievements, generating excitement and motivation for all involved. Fashion Camp provides an example of how openly networked practices with new media, or environments that design links between institutions, home, and interest communities, engage parents with student classroom practices. For example, the Fashion Camp Facebook page is host to a great deal of content shared by Anne1, the business owner and camp facilitator. Some updates are event-specific, advertising upcoming camp events (“Join us Saturday for the Sketching Workshop!”) or displaying recent news about the camp from other media outlets. The bulk of the content shared on the page, however, consists of colorful photographs and video taken during the camps themselves. A common form of the photographs is a split screen that includes three images: an instructor giving a lesson, students applying the lesson to their particular assignment, and the student showing their final product.

After speaking with Anne, as well as parents of camp attendees, I learned that the Facebook page provides a key link between parent, teacher, and classroom experiences. Camp updates through social media provide parents with a window into the minutiae of their child’s educational practices, and also serve to engage parents with the material that students learn in the classroom. The camp facilitates connected learning through openly networked practices with social media, rendering classroom activities more transparent and visible to intergenerational audiences. Platforms like Facebook allow student work to gain public and parent recognition.

Many parents send their children to Fashion Camp because they themselves know very little about fashion, design, and sewing, but want to support their child’s interests. Yet Anne expressed that conveying to parents exactly what they do in the classroom is a challenge given public perceptions that frame fashion as frivolous:

“There are a lot more [camps] popping up that are sewing-based…but it makes me cringe when I see these because it’s like, ‘Come and play dress-up, look in the mirror, look at how pretty I am, walk the runway, let’s put makeup on,’ and we do nothing of the sort here, you know? I want to take the skills behind fashion—sketching, sewing, designing, creating—and put them to work in projects that are applicable for a ten-year-old.”

For Anne, connecting classroom practices with other audiences allows her to demystify the structure and content of what they do. In order to connect parents with the learning activities in the classroom, Anne shares updates from the classroom with parents on their Facebook page:

“Parents are kind of like, ‘Okay, [students] do what?’ So along the way I’m taking pictures, you know, like, ‘Hey look…the sketch is right here on the cutting table. And here’s the little girl with her dress, and she’s putting studs on and you can literally see…whatever we’ve done. Then take another picture and it’s the girl at the sewing machine and then the girl wearing the dress. To me, it couldn’t be more clear what we’ve just done. And the comments, you’ll see they’ll be like, “Oh my gosh,” “Wow!”

For Anne, the camp’s social media presence accomplishes dual purposes: it engages parent audiences with upcoming camp events and publicity, and it also accomplishes the difficult task of connecting parents with the many dimensions or stages of classroom practices. In Anne’s words, it shows parents “we’re a learning space…if the parents come and drop their kids off, by the very end they’ve missed the stages. So this is a good way for us to communicate that.” Dispelling preconceived notions about the pursuit of certain interests and their academic relevance is a theme across our other cases, as well (StarcraftWWE). Through use of new media, Fashion Camp is able to render their activities openly networked to parents and make learning activities much more clear intergenerationally.

Exploring the camp Facebook page reveals the parent impact of connecting classroom practices through social media. The page’s wall includes image after image of different students working on various projects: receiving lessons, sketching, sewing, and showing off their final work.  In one example, a parent reacts to her child’s work being showcased through an image on the Facebook page. The image includes a split screen of students’ work on sketches, sewing, and modeling their completed garment. Georgia, the mother of the displayed student, leaves a comment on the picture:

“My daughter had the best time of her life and couldn’t stop talking about the camp event all day long. Thank you for giving her such a terrific environment to express her creativity and learn about fashion design!”

In another example, Joanne commented on an image of students studying fashion magazines and other media:

“My daughter came home today and expressed that this was her favorite class by far!”

And in yet another example, Linda left a comment on a picture of students sharing their designed garments on dress forms, or miniature models for creating designs:

“Look at all the smiles in this picture. Those girls had the best time this morning!”

Parent reactions demonstrate their excitement in viewing the intersection of their child’s own interests with academically relevant practices. In all cases, parents used social media to engage with different stages of the learning practices that students pursue during their Fashion Camp lessons. This reflects a tenet of Connected Learning through an emphasis on openly networked design: educational practices should be crafted with mind to the many dimensions of students’ lives, including not only the classroom activities but also the important connections youth have at home.

Social media provides new means for parents to become connected to student learning, and celebrate their child’s achievements in a friendly, public forum with other parents. As these examples show, new media enable unprecedented forms of parent involvement with student learning experience by making these practices visible intergenerationally. In particular, with activities like fashion design — including sketching, sewing, and garment construction — social media provide a new venue to share and receive feedback.

(1) All group and individual names have been changed to protect the identity of respondents.

Originally posted on the Connected Learning Research Network blog, 10.26.12:

During my fieldwork in Sackboy Planet, an online community of LittleBigPlanet2 players, I frequently observed community members sharing their designed levels with others and for various purposes.1 Usually, players share their levels-in-progress on the website’s forums for feedback from others players to improve their skills and designs, to promote their own content, and to participate in level design contests that have exciting rewards. Most often, levels were shared in areas of the forum designated for self-promotion. But on occasion players would share their content elsewhere on the website in order to strategically garner the kind of attention they want to their projects.

One such example of this can be seen in a post in the forum created by a community member named Sacklad. His post, which existed in a highly visible section of the forum designated for feedback on level design, was among the most popular posts in the section. The post, however, did not in its entirety meet the rules of this section of the forum. The administrators of the forum leave notes, called sticky posts, that set the terms for what can be shared in this section of the forum. Without these rules, discussion would be too unwieldy and difficult to navigate for people looking for other kinds of content or conversations. The first third of the 150+ pages of responses to the Sacklad’s post is devoted to topic-appropriate talk about idea development and designer recruitment for his own project, but after a certain point Sacklad stopped soliciting new ideas and new teammates. Instead, he used the remaining 100 pages of posts to share updates about the game and entice readers to follow the project until its release. Some community members became irritated that the thread drifted from the stated topic, and requested that they move their discussion to a private group. However, Sacklad felt that keeping it public was important:

“EVERYBODY JOIN THE PRIVATE GROUP!! NEVERMIND BECAUSE THIS THREAD IS STAYING! LOL!!

I said that because I want the rest of Sackboy Planet to know that this project is still in development…and by the way, this is the most visited thread on the site…I want everyone to know ;)”

In order to promote his own content, Sacklad strategically navigated not only the rules of Sackboy Planet that restrict certain kinds of off-topic discussion but also the publics of the online community. In doing so, he developed an approach that functioned similarly to the use of a megaphone in a crowded room: he was able to generate an incredible amount of interest in his work while part of a community saturated by others’ projects.

Sometimes players preferred sharing their levels-in-progress in less public environments, and they used different content sharing mediums as well as privacy settings to reach the kind of audiences they were looking for. Instead of posting on the forums, Luchadoro created a blog post in the online community announcing his project and requesting feedback:

“I need a group of testers to play my level, identify bugs or problems with the game, and submit these errors to me. If you are interested I will send you a private message containing a highly secret code needed to access and play the level. Then you can find some friends (three, for the most fun!), play the level a lot and share any problems with me!”

Blog posts exist in a separate area of the website, and while most are viewable to the public they are less readily visible than the forums. Moreover, Luchadoro used privacy settings within the game design itself to require a code or password to view his project. I asked him why he used blogging and passwords instead of simply posting in the forums:

“I wanted to make sure [the level] was bug-proof and that everything worked smoothly. And I also wanted to award players with a preview of the level. I wanted feedback. That was my main goal.”

The use of blogs and codes allowed him to solicit feedback and avoid sharing a level that had lots of bugs, or problems, in its design. I followed up by asking him if he would have received the same kind of feedback if he posted in the much more public forums. For Luchadoro, the use of blog posts and privacy settings in the game design enabled him to reach his desired audience:

“I would have gotten feedback I think. But for one thing the level could have had a lot of bugs. And for another it’s much easier to get feedback if you actually ask people for feedback. It’s way more likely to get detailed, very informative feedback. Actually I got a message for two full pages of feedback, so it was worth it. After about six testers I turned everyone down.”

By sharing his level-in-progress through blogs, a quasi-public medium on the website, and using game codes, or privacy settings in the game that restrict who sees your project, Luchadoro strategically navigated online publics in Sackboy Planet to reach his desired audience. Moreover, he sought this particular audience because he was not ready to share it with everyone yet – it had bugs and was still in development. While the website does officially designate spaces to share levels for feedback, those spaces reach a very broad public. Luchadoro used blogs and passwords to innovatively negotiate online publics in Sackboy Planet to create a context for level development and learning most ideal for him.

While these examples stand as interesting cases that show how gaming and online communities can provide multiple avenues to share work, solicit feedback, and learn, scholars of new media and culture may find them interesting, as well. Members of Sackboy Planet have the opportunity to not only consume game content but alsoprosume – players produce levels for others to play, as well.2 Moreover, on Sackboy Planet attention can be rather scarce. Not every created level is played by everyone and receives feedback and commendation, a reflection of a form of inequality termed attention scarcity.3 But sometimes attention scarcity is not simply about the need to reach any audience but it is rather a problem of reaching the intended one amid a larger crowd. In her research, boyd (2008) shows that teens navigate multiple channels of communication online for varied purposes and with different consequences.4 Similarly, members of Sackboy Planet strategically negotiate online publics to share their work with peers and overcome dimensions of attention scarcity, creating the kind of experience they seek as community participants and budding level designers.

(1) All group and individual names have been changed to protect the identity of respondents.

(2) Rizter, G. and N. Jurgenson. 2010. “Production, consumption, prosumption.” Journal of Consumer Culture. 10(1): 13-36.

(3) Hargittai, E. 2000. “Open Portals or Closed Gates? Channeling Content on the World Wide Web.” Poetics. 27(4): 233-254.

(4) boyd, d. 2008. Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics. PhD Dissertation. University of California-Berkeley, School of Information.

Special thanks to Rona Sheen who assisted with data collection and analysis for this post.