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The anti-EDIs social norm: A counterargument

Woman checking phone

REALLY?! (Photo by Ed Yourdon. Creative Commons licensed.)

They’re more like DEDIs (digitally enabled displays of insensitivity) than EDIs (electronic displays of insensitivity), because the behavior is human not electronic. But that’s beside the point. This NPR commentary suggests that EDIs are becoming a social norm. It cites an unscientific survey of 2,000 newsletter subscribers as finding that this insensitive behavior – people checking their phones in the middle of a meal or a conversation – is getting worse.

It just may be getting worse, but that doesn’t mean EDIs are a social norm. It’s every bit as possible that frowning on and even shunning DEDIs or EDIs – a backlash against them – is becoming a social norm (here‘s evidence). Growing incidences of behavior that people find rude and insensitive could just as easily spell growing indignation, anger or – better – anti-DEDI strategies, workarounds and games. When more and more people find something objectionable and more and more people are aware that they do, awareness of the problem grows and people feel social pressure not to be insensitive in that way. So presence – the opposite behavior – becomes the social norm, not the behavior people object to, right? Tell me if you disagree.

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From ‘Big Data’ to ‘Big Parent’: Student privacy developments

Are you part of the Big Parent response to Big Data? Great lede from Politico.com’s Stephanie Simon: “You’ve heard of Big Oil and Big Tobacco. Now get ready for Big Parent.” She’s talking about an unpredicted mobilization in recent months that has “catapulted student privacy … to prominence in statehouses from New York to Florida to Wyoming” and “attracted powerful allies” from left (ACLU) to right (ALEC). As of a month ago, “14 states have enacted stricter student privacy protections, often with overwhelming bipartisan support, and more are likely on the way” and “at least 105 student privacy bills were introduced this year in 35 states,” Simon reports, citing the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Window on school

Photo by Moyan Brenn (Creative Commons licensed)

You may’ve heard of the first accomplishment of this new movement: the folding last month of the $100 million InBloom database that was funded by the Gates Foundation “to make it easier for schools to share confidential student records with private companies.”

State databases are next

Next, children’s privacy advocates are tackling “huge state databases being built to track children … from as early as infancy through the start of their careers,” Simon reports. “They are intended to store intimate details on tens of millions of children and young adults — identified by name, birth date, address and even, in some cases, Social Security number — to help officials pinpoint the education system’s strengths and weaknesses and craft public policy accordingly.”

The strength of parent activists’ reaction reportedly took by surprise people who want to improve public education in an evidence-based way, and they’re trying to turn an unhealthy blend of “legitimate questions about data security” and “alarmist rhetoric” into a productive discussion. Further complicating things (and adding heat to the controversy) is the way some states are handling the data. For example, in one state, data gathered on students is processed for analysis in aggregate so that individual students’ data can’t, at a reasonable cost, be produced for parents who request it (see the example on the report’s first page of a retired math teacher in Nevada making such a request for his four children’s data). Read more

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The why of the Facebook research fracas & what it calls for

social media iconsWondering about the “Facebook Emotional Manipulation Study” so much in the news these past few days? If so, you’re not alone. What’s causing this firestorm? Consumer research is nothing new, and we all know academic research certainly isn’t. There are some aspects of this that are very different, however, and so cause a great deal of uneasiness if not outrage. What’s different here are…

  • The media involved. This has several implications: 1) Market research has always been about people as consumers – consuming products as well as media in a mass-media environment. This is about participatory media, where the data being gathered and analyzed is the content of our lives and relationships. The manipulation rightly feels very personal because it just is. 2) Which arguably makes research subjects more vulnerable when changes are made around what we post of our innermost thoughts, intimate relationships and everyday lives. 3) Also, people sign up to use social media services – they “buy in” – so without policy or social changes thereto, businesses have long been assuming that “by using this you consent” because users can always choose to leave – why some services have treated use as a kind of contract into which users enter.
  • The cross-sector nature of the project. This was a joint-academic/business research project – social media user data with academic analysis. So whose standards of practice apply? Public companies are governed by their shareholders; academic research is governed by universities’ IRBs (institutional review boards ensuring the safety of research subjects). Who governs cross-sector research?
  • Where we are in history. We’re in the middle of concentric circles of concern. The smaller circle is the privacy or “Big Data” panic we’re now experiencing. The bigger, more general one is our media shift on the scale of the one that involved the printing press that led to the social changes called the Renaissance and the Reformation in the West. Only accelerated and global this time. That’s because a huge proportion of the planet’s population is now networked. Social change makes people uneasy. New media that cause social change represent a lot of unknowns, and people fear both change and unknown quantities.

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Social media major factor in teens’ social & sex lives: Australia study

With its 5th national study of Australian teens’ sexual attitudes, behaviors and health since 1992, La Trobe University for the first time took a careful look at social media’s role in their social and sexual lives, finding that it plays a significant one.

La Trobe University logo“Our survey clearly shows the major role social media has in the negotiation and development of sexual relationships,” said the study’s lead author, emeritus Prof. Anne Mitchell in the press release. As for the survey’s findings overall, she said “we can take heart from these results as they suggest that young people on the whole are feeling good about their decisions to have or not to have sex and most are acting responsibly.”

About sexting

Although the survey covered a full spectrum of experience – feelings, attraction, pressures, practices, drug use, fertility factors, relationships, etc. – as for social media use (one of nine chapters in the study), it found that 42% of Australian 10th, 11th and 12th grade students had received a “sexually explicit, nude or nearly nude photo or video” of themselves and 26% had sent one of themselves. Among sexually active youth, 70% had received and 50% had sent such photos (the authors defined “sexually active” as having ever had sexual intercourse, finding that 23% of 10th graders, 34% of 11th graders and 50% of 12th graders had). Read more

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Youth sexuality, romance & digital media in Canada: Study

When MediaSmarts conducted its focus groups with young Canadians, it heard quite a bit about the important role the Internet plays in their “exploring and learning about sexuality and relationships,” the Canadian digital literacy organization says. But the authors write that the survey itself – of 5,000+ students in grades 4-11 – suggests that that role may be smaller than you’d think, with only 8% of students saying that they go online to learn about sexuality. That goes up as they age up, though, so the figure is 1% for 6th graders and 20% for 11th graders. Still, they use the Net more for information on physical health (18%) and mental health (11%), compared to that 8% for info on sexuality. [Not all questions about sexuality were asked of kids in younger grades, the authors write. Some, "including questions about pornography and sexting, were asked only of students in grades 7-11.]

Other interesting findings in three categories:

MediaSmartsRomantic partners vs. everybody else: Young Canadian interact more with friends and family in social media than with boyfriends and girlfriends. “Over 90% of students in grades 7-11 think their friends should be able to read their social media posts compared to 59% who think their boyfriend or girlfriend should be able to.” This too changes as they age up, but with 11th graders, 95% are open to friends reading their social media posts vs. 70% romantic partners doing so. They also feel friends should be able to track their whereabouts using geolocation tech) more than romantic partners (and almost as much as their parents), for 11th graders, the percentages were 49% for parents, 45% friends and 30% romantic partners. Canadian teens “more actively engage in deleting posts … to avoid misunderstandings on the part of their family and friends than they are in keeping something from a romantic partner.” Read more

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Zooming in on social norms: Youth sexting study

The research on teen and young adult sexting is getting more granular. One of the more interesting findings in a new study at Drexel University indicated that social norms are clearly developing around the practice. Looking at frequency of youth sexting, the study – published in the academic journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy – found that, “though many respondents [undergraduates at "a large Northeastern (US) university"] acknowledged participating in sexting as minors, the frequency with which they engaged in this behavior and the number of partners with whom they exchanged sexts were fairly small,” the authors wrote.

Drexel sexting chart

If you can’t see the text, 8% had experienced humiliation or reputation issues; 5% trouble from parents; 1% trouble at school; 0.6% bullying. Source: Washington Post via Drexel data

Sexting happens in “the context of exclusive intimate relationships,” the Washington Post reports in its coverage of the research. It’s no surprise that sexting is rarely a casual behavior, and this finding “explains why the number of recipients of sexts averaged around 1.8 people,” the Post adds. A 2012 study of US college students had a similar finding: that 86% of respondents who had voluntarily sent a sext of themselves (hadn’t been pressured to) said the photo wasn’t seen by anyone but the intended recipient. Read more

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Facebook’s new Slingshot aimed at Snapchat

There are no lurkers in the Slingshot app. It’s Facebook’s latest answer to users’ interest in disappearing (often called “ephemeral”) media and messages. What I mean by “no lurkers” is, as my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid explains, unlike Snapchat and Facebook’s now defunct Poke, “in order to view someone’s photo or video, you have to send one back [in Slingshot] Facebook bills the app as ‘a space where everybody is a creator and nobody is just a spectator,’ so if you don’t send an image, you can’t view one.” Like Snapchat, Slingshot can’t keep users from taking screenshots of photos meant to be ephemeral, and Facebook is good to warn users about that.

The safety aspect is solid: Although “anyone who adds you on Slingslot will show up on the list of people who can sling you,” Larry writes, “if you’d rather not see their images, you can hide them by swiping left on the person’s name and tapping hide. If anyone you’ve hidden is harassing you, you can tap the Hidden people section and report the person to Facebook.” [Disclosure: ConnectSafely.org, which I co-direct, is supported by Facebook, Google, TrendMicro and other Internet companies.]

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Amazon’s Fire Phone could be a hot holiday item

Now there’s a phone that puts the Amazon store and all that accompanying “retail therapy” right in people’s pockets. It’s a pretty slick looking little device, so here’s fair warning to parents worried about kids getting caught up in consumer culture that you may see this on some wish lists. [Of course, this is not to say that Amazon.com with all its convenience isn't already in our pockets (and wallets); as much as I love hanging out and shopping in independent bookshops, I've been known to buy and read a book or two on my iPhone, using Amazon and its Kindle app.]

Called the Fire Phone (to go with Amazon’s Kindle Fire), this device sort of runs on Google’s Android operating system, but modified, so that not all Android apps will run on it – which is only really a problem if the 240,000 some odd apps available in Amazon’s Appstore aren’t enough (Apple’s App Store and Google Play “each have about five times as many offerings,” Wired reports). HOWEVER, I don’t know whether parents will see this as good or bad: Kids and other media-sharers will probably be dismayed to find that Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube won’t work on this phone. Amazon may have to fix that! What the phone will be great for, Wired says, is 3D effects and hands-free navigation. Its 3D technology makes the phone “a little diorama box, with stunning effects for 3-D maps, games, and homescreen wallpaper,” according to Wired.

“Pricing for the Fire Phone will be $200 for the 32GB version and $300 for the 64GB one. Both of those are with two-year contracts. It will only be available on AT&T for the time being, and will go on sale July 25th,” Wired reports.

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New from ConnectSafely: ‘A Parents’ Guide to Mobile Phones’

It’s hard to know exactly how many kids and teens have mobile phones right now, but we do know that over a year ago more than a third (37%) of US 12-to-17-year-olds had smartphones, up from 23% in 2011, and a whopping 78% had some kind of mobile phone. That’s from the Pew Internet Project, one of the best US sources on youth and tech.

mobileguideWe also know that mobile phones are how young people access the Net now; 74% go online with mobile devices at least occasionally and 25% mostly that way (Pew calls them “cell-mostly Internet users”), and half of teen smartphone users are cell-mostly. They’re connecting with each other and the world with the hundreds of thousands of apps, each offering its own way to socialize, produce, share, shop, search, get informed and be entertained.

So what is all this data about young people saying? Their parents are looking for guidance on how to help mobile phone users with their safety, privacy and security. ConnectSafely.org, the nonprofit organization I help run, has just the thing for that. Released today, our 8-page “Parents’ Guide to Mobile Phones” covers all the bases, from “12 Tips for Smart Smartphone Use” to a view of the full mobile ecosystem to thoughts on parental controls and parenting phone users. The guide is sponsored by the US’s top mobile carriers – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless – and CTIA-The Wireless Association in Washington, D.C. Read more

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A task force report & a student bill of rights

Aspen Task Force reportOne of the most remarkable things about the report of the Aspen Task Force on Learning & the Internet, I believe, is how in sync it is with students’ own view of what needs to happen in US education. Clearly, if a constitutional convention on students’ rights were held today, the various parties – students, educators, parents, policymakers – would have a good deal of common ground right out of the gate.

Just look at the Student Bill of Rights, developed by student activists (in middle school, high school and college), and the just-released Task Force report, “Learner at the Center of a Networked World.” [Disclosure: I had the privilege of serving on this task force.]

The preamble to the Student Bill of Rights states:

“We, the Students, feel education reform efforts have generally ignored our voice in the conversation to improve school, and that the solution ought to be inclusive and empowering for students, rather than dismissive and patronizing…. In order to form a more perfect education, we establish these Student Rights….” Student Bill of Rights logo

The 10 rights that follow are freedom of expression; safety and wellbeing; due process (fair and just treatment and a right to appeal decisions); learner centered education; institutional agency (the right to influence decisions that affect them); control of their information and privacy; employability; civic participation (including the ability to solve real problems in academic work); fair assessment; and access to adequate technology.

Where Task Force & students agree

There are many points of resonance between that set of rights and the recommendations of the Task Force report, with its 26 action steps. All of it is based on five core principles for effective connected learning: Read more

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Toward student-centered learning: Delete fear, add agency

Erik Martin“School,” said University of Maryland student and game designer Erik Martin in a TEDx talk last fall, “operates counter to the interests of children. In school, we’re not really taught to overcome a challenge; we’re taught to fear the prospect of failure…. How on earth can you innovate in a system that fears failure so much?… Our education method … doesn’t create resilient, inspired students.”

A comment from education professor Christopher Tienken at Seton Hall University resonates with that: “We really need to step back and see what we’re doing to children,” he said. “We need to focus more on skills like resilience, persistence, empathy, collaboration, communication, compassion, critical problem-solving, strategizing – those are skills that transcend time. They transcend subject matter. But those are the skills that are necessary in a 21st-century economy.”

A national task force saying the same

Aspen Task Force reportThere are actually many educators who agree with Erik, including author and education professor Yong Zhao at the University of Oregon, who says there’s “an urgent need for a paradigm shift in education.” The ranks of students and educators calling for learning that is more student-centered and supportive of student literacy, creativity and agency are growing. For examples, see the report of the Aspen Task Force on Learning & the Internet being released this week and video interviews with leading innovators in education in the Brainwaves Anthology by educator Bob Greenberg. Erik, the University of Maryland student, has teamed up with other students and adult allies to create and promote a Student Bill of Rights.

But I’m getting ahead of the story: To explain how Erik became an education activist, he said that he had been hospitalized for anorexia nervosa when, a few years ago, he was a high school student. He dreaded going back to school after spending a month in the hospital. Part of what helped him heal from (and talk publicly about) the eating disorder and associated fear, shame and depression, he relates in his talk, was joining and then leading a guild in the online game World of Warcraft. Read more

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For solving social problems: The social media jujitsu remix

The other day I blogged about the collective conscious that social media users could become – are becoming, actually. Then I wrote about how users themselves – and not just ethical venture capitalists – could demand that startups bake safety and other pro-social basics into their apps and other services and that anti-social policies in established services get fixed.

Jujitsu

Photo: Peter Huys

Then I watched this talk by Ilyse Hogue, formerly of MoveOn.org and now of NARAL Pro-Choice America and the picture became even clearer. She’s talking about women exercising their rights (and overcoming stigma), but she has a slide in her talk – titled “Stigma Jujitsu” – that’s really for anyone wanting to exercise rights or make change, for themselves or others. Because who hasn’t been marginalized at some point in his or her life – or hasn’t wanted to help someone who was the subject of social cruelty? In a single slide, Hogue presents the steps people are increasingly taking – from an individual or group being victimized to activists seeking change – to make all kinds of things better.

The ‘stigma jujitsu’ how-to

With “stigma jujitsu,” she’s remixing an ancient Japanese martial art and method for defending oneself without a weapon with the power of collective intention and action in social media. But “stigma,” which Webster defines as “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something,” is only one of the social problems this jujitsu remix can expose and swamp with collective action in social media.

This is the emerging, largely untested kind of solution of our (digital, networked) age for any number of social problems – hateful or unjust behavior such as bullying, trolling, unfair policies, harmful laws, etc. It’s a social solution, “social” as in lateral, peer-to-peer, bottom-up, collective and chosen rather than top-down and imposed. Here, for social media change agents, are Hogue’s five steps of stigma jujitsu: Read more

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Hmm. Secret to open anonymous ‘Secret Dens’

Secret appIt’s unusual to see a tech reporter anticipating Net safety problems with a new social app feature. So I was impressed with a post by TechCrunch.com’s Sarah Perez about Secret’s forthcoming addition of “Secret Dens” for anonymous sharing in specific locations (like schools, companies and other organizations).

Launched early this year, Secret is an app for sharing thoughts, “secrets,” etc. (somewhat) anonymously with friends, friends’ friends or publicly (I say “somewhat” because the smaller the circle of sharing, the more easily recipients can guess who’s sharing, right?). With the Android version launched last month, users could also see anonymous messages shared nearby and not in their social networks (using geolocation). With the “Secret Dens” feature its developers are testing now, all this gets more clubby in an oddly sort of anonymous way.

Dens of anonymity?

“Any posts made in the Den are visible only to other Den members,” according to PCMag.com. “As with the anonymous mainstream Secret app, members of a Den aren’t given the identities of other Den members but they do get a notification when somebody joins – just not the new member’s name.” And, PCMag.com adds, “any member of a Den has the right to remove anybody else from the domain.”

Sure Secret Dens could be fun, but users will want to be alert to the anti-social potential, e.g., exclusive we-they situations, marginalization or promotion of self-harm. I just can’t help but wonder if it once entered legal or marketing minds at Secret how anonymous “Secret Dens” would play with parents. Maybe there no parents at this startup.

“This is an interesting move for Secret,” Perez reports, “as its two top competitors [Yik Yak and Whisper] have shown to place a priority on moderation and reporting features in order to combat bullying as well as potentially ‘triggering’ messages that could provoke some users to engage in self-harm.” Here‘s my post in March on how Yik Yak is different from other social media, and then about its move to geo-fence off middle and high schools. Read more

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Cybersecurity in social studies class

Cybersecurity is in the news more and more. It’s a growing concern for law enforcement, and US companies are “increasing both the size and budget of their security teams,” CNBC reports. “By the end of 2014, JPMorgan’s annual cybersecurity budget will rise to $250 million from $200 million in 2012 … and the largest U.S. bank will have about 1,000 people focused on cybersecurity, compared with 600 people two years ago. The problem is, even this year, there’s “a shortage of more than a million security professionals across the globe,” according to a Cisco report cited in the Huffington Post.

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Fresh data on US kids’ social media use

Young people’s social media interests are changing right along with the media, according to the latest Speak Up study, which surveyed more than 325,000 students, along with parents, teachers and administrators.

Speak Up logo “Only 30% of middle school students and 39% of high school students now say they’re maintaining a social networking site,” says Project Tomorrow, which conducts the annual survey, “a decrease of approximately 40% since 2009.” Picking up the slack, predictably, are social media apps “such as Instagram, Snapchat and Vine “with participation by 44% of students in grades 6-12.” Twitter, thought probably more on the mobile platform than the Web, is now only 11 percentage points behind Facebook among high school students, with 28% of them using Twitter.

Though games are equally popular among boys and girls, MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games) are a major social tool for middle school boys in particular, 42% of whom play them. The MMOGs figure for middle school girls is 26%. [See p. 7 of the study for more on games.] In other key social media findings…

  • Two-thirds of students in grades 7-12 use text messaging, “an increase of 37%” since the 2008 SpeakUp survey.
  • 28% of middle school students create and post videos
  • A quarter of all students follow favorite blogs and 12% have their own.
  • 38% of middle and high school students stream online TV shows.

VERY informal focus group Read more

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Texting options multiplying like rabbits (even more now)

Everybody’s, including kids’, texting and talking options continue to multiply like rabbits. First there was texting from your mobile carrier, then phone-based texting like Apple’s iMessage and voice via computers (later adding in phones) as with Google Voice and Skype. Along came texting apps too, such as the simple and spare WhatsApp now owned by Facebook and the something-for-everybody, multi-feature, China-based WeChat, which lags behind WhatsApp by only about 100 million users (the latter now at about 500 million). Next came apps focused on other things, like photo- or video-sharing, that had a messaging component and apps focused more on chat than texting (in differing shades of gray). The layers and kinds of choices are amazing. Some people prefer having a bunch of apps on their phones that do one thing, others a few apps that do lots of things.

With new iMessage features in it’s just unveiled iOS 8, “Apple is now attacking messaging apps head-on,” reports BGR.com – features like being able to respond to emails and invitations, even ‘like’ Facebook posts directly from the notifications center, and being able to “share your location with people in your threads so you see where each other is located. Apple has “also added a ‘tap-to-talk’ feature that will let you just hold down your screen to turn on your microphone and speak your message into the thread. What’s even cooler is that you can listen to audio of one another’s messages just by raising the phone to your ear, essentially taking all of the hassle out of traditional voicemail services. Best of all,” BGR adds, “you can finally leave group message threads or silence individual threads with Do Not Disturb.”

[BTW, even though WeChat of Chinese Internet giant Tencent has 100 million few users than Whatsapp, it's the fastest-growing texting (not to mention shopping, gaming and banking) app. It grew at a rate of 1098.8% between the first quarter of 2013 and this year's Q1 and is No. 1 in most Asia-Pacific countries as well as India, according to wireless news site TruTower.com. WeChat, like all social media in China, is also "heavily monitored by the Chinese government," according to news site Quartz. Please see the Quartz piece for details on the differences between the top 2 texting apps.]

Starting at No. 1, the world’s top 9 messaging apps are WhatsApp in Silicon Valley, WeChat in Shenzhen, South Korea-based Line, South Korea-based KakaoTalk, southern California-based SnapChat, Viber (developed in Israel and acquired by Rakuten in Japan), California-based Tango, Nimbuzz (developed in Rotterdam, now in New Delhi), and Kik (developed in Ontario), according to WallStCheatSheet.com. Communicators customize based on personal prefs and practices, where their friends are, culture, social conditions and what they want to say about themselves with the tools they use.

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Apple’s newest smartphone ‘parental control’

Presenting "Family Sharing" Photo: Dean Takahashi

Presenting “Family Sharing” Photo: Dean Takahashi

Apple unveiled a whole slew of features coming in the next iterations of its operating systems for the iPhone (iOS 8) and Macs (OS X Yosemite), coming to a device near you in the fall. Among them was an iOS 8 feature called “Family Sharing,” a little bundle of convenience and control.

The feature will “let up to six users share any apps or media content they buy using the same credit card. Users will also be able to share family photo albums, calendars and more,” reports the Los Angeles Times. This way (here’s the parental control part), “if a child tries to buy something with their Apple device, the purchase will not go through until the parent approves a notification they receive on their gadget.” According to VentureBeat.com, Apple says “Family Sharing also permits kids to ask parents automatically if they can purchase a new app.” It may even save families money.

Related links

  • My ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid also touched on what’s coming with OS X Yosemite
  • PC Magazine put together a wish list for iOS 8 before Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Here‘s “What We Wanted vs. What We Got.”
  • The L.A. Times’s article highlighted 10 features Apple announced.
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Digital summer camp Part 2: Of managing a child’s Minecraft time

“I’m sad that my son is so busy with homework and other stuff lately that he hasn’t had time to even play Minecraft! I think it’s a better use of his time than homework.” That’s a comment from a mom and educator in San Jose, Calif., posted under an article by educator Kevin Jarrett in Edutopia last fall: “Too much is never enough: managing a child’s time playing Minecraft.”

Minecraft screenshotBecause he ran an after-school Minecraft club for some 40 elementary school students this past year, Jarrett got asked by a lot of parents, “How much is too much Minecraft?” His answer: “In my experience, the QUALITY of the online time is the key – what the online user is LEARNING or ACCOMPLISHING [emphasis his]. Problem is, most parents aren’t able to easily make that determination, and as a result, feel uneasy when kids relentlessly ask for more and more time in-game.”

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For digital summer camp, kid-source a game (or play this one!)

One year ago this month, its 3rd-through-6th grader designers launched the fifth and final iteration of Escape to Morrow, an open source digital game they designed in Minecraft for Minecraft players. The five iterations – including writing and rewriting backstories, creating maps, finding mods (Minecraft modifications out on the Web) and producing the trailer – took a year of work in summer camp, an afterschool program, spare time and 5th graders’ class time. Two of their teachers (at the Elisabeth Morrow School in Englewood, N.J.) wrote the game’s kernel.

Escape to Morrow game logoThe teachers were contacted by educators in other countries wanting to collaborate with their students on a project in Minecraft. Since other countries’ daytime can be US nighttime, participation would have to be asynchronous, not the more compelling mode of simultaneous and face-to-face (on screen). That was the first constraint. But – as with any art – constraints bring out creativity. What could be just as compelling as face-to-face interaction for students? Maybe a game?

“We wanted something as engaging as The Hunger Games, socially organized by our students and as compelling as the colonial unit we [had in a previous year] designed for 3rd grade,” the teachers write, referring to a 3rd-grade American history unit for which they had students build a colony from the ground up in a “new world” (in Minecraft). So for this new challenge, “we played with the idea of what might happen if we built a world where resources were allocated only to specific areas…. Inspired by observing John Hunter play the “World Peace Game” [in a master class he gave that one of these teachers, Marianne Malmstrom, attended], our seed began to take root in the idea of creating three nations, each holding one resource needed to construct a spaceship to escape certain doom. We agreed to set some simple parameters that would require each nation to work together. Having created the basic framework, we turned the design process over to students to work out details,” including the rules of the game.

When kids write the rules

But the students are doing so much more even than collaboratively writing the rules of a game, a great exercise all by itself. They’re crafting community norms. They’re being citizens, practicing citizenship. They’re managing their learning process – they have something they need to accomplish so they figure out as they go how to complete the task together; in the process, they’re creating and maintaining community. All three elements of what – according to professor Scott Nicholson at Syracuse University – turns “gamification” into meaningful play (and learning) are involved: agency, competency and relevance (see this), elements also key to student engagement.

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The real goal of unplugging

I love the parenthetical in the headline of “Five Ways to Break Your Kids’ Screen Addiction (and Yours, Too),” by Yahoo family tech columnist Dan Tynan. Because – if there’s such a thing as screen addiction and it’s not just something fashionable to (anxiously) joke about – what we model for our kids in our own use of phone and other screens has huge influence on them. [You've probably seen videos of toddlers walking around holding pretend cellphones up to their ears. A friend in Australia recently sent me adorable footage of her 3-year-old in a restaurant high chair opening up the menu and tapping away on it just as if it were a laptop and he was mommy or daddy working at home.]

Beyond the part about mindful modeling, I like the rest of Dan’s column too. It’s a funny, candid account of how he, his wife and teenage son and daughter did on their “annual ‘unplugging’ trip to the Great Smoky Mountains,” and you should read it to see how this year’s went. Besides how fun Dan’s column is to read, a big reason why I’m telling you about it is the positive, respectful approach he has to the tech part of parenting – as respectful of kids as parents. For example, in his “5 ways” – some of which you’ve heard before – he writes: “I think kids are more likely to follow the rules if they have a say in creating them, and are also more likely to become responsible adults.” I think so too. Another: “Measuring screen time alone is missing the point” (because by now we know that there are all kinds of screen time and they have different value in different contexts, right?).

Digital detox only Step 1

Photo by Cory M. Grenier (cc licensed)

Photo by Cory M. Grenier (cc licensed)

I’ll let you read the rest yourself, but first a word about unplugging. I think that, actually, digital detoxes, sabbaths and shabbats are fine. A good cleanse is great, but it’s only Step 1. Depending on whoever’s doing the cleanse and where s/he is, developmentally, it may be important to do Step 1 – maybe several times, once a year or once a week – but there’s little point in doing it if we leave out the most important part: reflecting on the experience and its impact (as 18-year-old filmmaker Eoin Corbett and his friends did). We might also choose to go right to Step 2 – leapfrog over Step 1 entirely – if we want to get to the real goal, which goes beyond tech-in-moderation, let alone tech avoidance (which can have major impact on kids’ social development these days and would need a whole lot more reflection and communication). Step 2 is mindful, literate use of our very social digital media: what happens as we develop the blended technical, social-emotional and media literacy that protects and enables competent navigation (see this). Read more

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