Experiences from 6 years of introducing children and young teenagers to the online coding platform Scratch and its (theoretically) very active and engaging online community.
4 Key Takeaways:
- Scratch.mit.edu is a great platform for introducing kids to coding.
- It is also a safe and engaging place to take first steps in an online community.
- This overall safe and friendly community is like an online playground.
- Not everyone will want to engage with it, but for those who do, it is super.
About Sabine McKenna:
Sabine McKenna is a digital educator and off-and-on blogger. She teaches various digital skills to mainly young people in Skerries, Co. Dublin as creative computing courses Skerries (aka cccSkerries) and also runs workshops for children and adults in libraries. This is her fifth CongRegation.
Contacting Sabine McKenna:
By Sabine Mc Kenna
Communities are now online a lot of the time.
Just as in real life, virtual communities have explicit and implicit rules.
In order to become creative, competent, confident digital citizens, children need safe spaces where they can learn to be part of an online community.
The communities they are most likely to stumble upon on their own, those around games like Fortnite and video platforms like YouTube, can be rough and may not teach the most desirable attitudes and behaviours.
Respect for others, sharing of ideas, and constructive criticism are some of the guiding principles in the online Scratch community.
Since its launch in 2007, this online coding platform has attracted young people from about 7 to typically 18. Some have stayed on, and there are also some adults (often teachers).
The platform is managed by the Scratch team in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the community guidelines are as strictly enforced as possible.
All new participants, known as New Scratchers, have to be active on the site for a while, sharing projects and interacting with others, before they are offered to become Scratchers.
That’s all very well, but how does it work in reality?
First of all, Scratch insists (rightly so) on everyone staying as anonymous as possible while still having a personal profile. Users are discouraged from having user names that actually include their name, and from stating their exact location etc. It’s OK to say that a user is, say, ten years old and lives near Dublin. It’s not OK to say that they attend x school and live in Skerries.
It’s fine to have a drawing of yourself as your avatar. It’s not a good idea to use a photograph of yourself!
Also, all comments are meant to be positive, and all unfriendly comments should be reported and will be taken down
The good kids are the ones who interact early and much, always seeking to connect with others, to learn and to share their learning. They will follow freely, but not indiscriminately, and gather “followers” in turn, many of which will become online friends.
… the bored…
Some kids just don’t take to it. They find the place too “lame” (too friendly?), and want to move on to edgier areas of the internet. Often, the “good” become “bored” when they hit a certain age. Sometimes, kids who start very excitedly, engage in “follow for follow” activities and try to collect lots of followers, no matter who or how, become “the bored” quite soon.
… and the ugly
And then there are those who “just want to see the world burn” (now where did I get that quote from?). They create those projects that give others a jump scare (which will be taken down once reported). They post “funny” but cruel comments (which will be taken down once reported).
And what does that mean for the digital educator?
Scratch is a wonderful online playground. Like most good playgrounds, it’s mainly safe, but has some more risky areas. It allows some space for young onliners to figure out how to be part of an online community, how to share ideas and also how to collaborate (though in my experience, that does not happen all that often).
To be honest…
In my experience, what people are most likely to do on Scratch is… play other people’s games. And follow those who make the games they like best. It’s not as engaged a way of interacting with other Scratchers as I would like, but it’s the way it is.
75% of the people in my Scratch coding classes are not too interested in the online-community part of Scratch. Probably because they are in a group situation anyway, and don’t need to look outside the cccSkerries room for inspiration, praise, or constructive criticism.
But then there are the other 25%, who will indeed build up their own circle of online friends outside of class, safely and happily. And that is quite something!