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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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FB privacy & the social media ‘collective unconscious’ (so far)

Some people read Facebook’s near 180-degree change in how new users experience privacy as a response to pressure from privacy advocates and policymakers. I don’t think so. It’s largely a response to something even more powerful: changes in how users are using social media – all kinds of social media, not just Facebook.

fblogoWe’re seeing a lot of the changes right in our own experiences and households. They partly reflect users’ collective response to technology’s rapid evolution, but users’ interests and practices are changing too.

  1. Weary of reputation worries: Possibly because they’re tired of reputation fears and reminders that their posts go into a permanent, searchable global archive, users  increasingly like social media services that blend mobile, ephemeral, spontaneous and private (see this about self-presentation fatigue).
  2. Global fishbowl: Partly because they don’t want to be in a giant fishbowl that aggregates them with everybody else, including grandparents, teachers and former boy/girlfriends and partly because so many new apps and services offer a gazillion ways to socialize, options are growing and diversifying. Read more
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Net safety’s ’3 alarmist assumptions’: Researcher

This is news, and not just for the Internet safety field. It’s important for policymakers, parents, educators, researchers, healthcare providers and journalists to know about: In the Journal of Child Psychology, sociologist David Finkelhor, one of the US’s most prominent experts on child victimization, challenges the “alarmism reflected by so much of the scholarly and journalistic literature” about youth and technology. He suggests in a commentary in the Journal’s latest issue that the “techno-panic mindset” has shaped not only the public policy agenda but also the research agenda – even though social science “can be at its most useful when it tries to allay social policy driven by alarm and emotion.”

David FinkelhorDr. Finkelhor, director of University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC), also says social science may have the responsibility “to provide perspectives from those whose voice may be poorly represented in the public discourse,” in this case “young people themselves.” He asks what the research agenda would look like if it were set by them. He’s not alone in wondering this. Last year, the authors of an EU Kids Online report wrote, “Adult society (parents, teachers, policy makers and the media) has shaped the policy agenda for understanding online risk…. Most research … has asked children about risks that worry adults rather than discovering what concerns children themselves” (see this).

The 3 assumptions

Finkelhor points to “three alarmist assumptions” found in the news coverage and research: that the digital environment is “perilous for youth” and, unlike other environments where they spend time, “amplifies deviance”; that problems which show up in the digital environment are unique to it and fostered by its “specific dynamics” (e.g., cyberbullying or sexting); and that the solution to all this is “specialized Internet education.”

Viable counter assumptions

Those assumptions are not evidence-based, Finkelhor writes, urging that they be given “more explicit critical attention.” On the other hand, he writes, “there are many possible hypotheses about how the technologies could be protective, but these have attracted scant attention in comparison to the endangerment speculation.” So in the commentary, he looks at three counter hypotheses: Read more

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Remember: The ‘right to be forgotten’ is shared

A lot has been published and broadcast about Internet users’ “right to be forgotten,” long before and since last week’s ruling by a high court in Europe (see the BBC), including the important points that…

  • Scratching the surface. Suing a search engine to take down links to offending content doesn’t mean the content itself gets taken down
  • EU Court of JusticeWho decides? A court has made search engines, of all things, “judge and jury in deciding what gets removed and what is in the public interest and therefore remains [in search results]” (these two points, thanks to Stephen Balkam of the Family Online Safety Institute in the Huffington Post)
  • Erasing history? What one person wants expunged from public record is sometimes something other people or institutions feel should be in the public record. Internet policy scholar Adam Thierer at George Mason University told Tech News World that the European court’s ruling “opens the door to a new censorship regime” disguised as privacy protection.
  • A blunt instrument. “How an individual’s reputation is protected online is too important and subtle a policy matter to be legislated by a high court” (the above and this point also made by Harvard University law and computer science professor Jonathan Zittrain in the New York Times)
  • “Right” is wrong. It’s not really a right to be forgotten, according to Netherlander Joris van Hoboken, among 8 other fascinating reasons for why the “right” is wrong in his 2011 PhD dissertation. That phrase really overstates the basic data protection principle this is about – “purpose limitation” (keeping data uploaded for one purpose from spreading to another, e.g., not having a private email turned into a status update to all your friends) – and turns it into an emotionally charged issue of reputation and second chances focused on what turns up in search engine results (this reminds me of, in the last decade, state attorneys general prescribing technology as the solution to a different perceived social problem – and prescribing before there was a diagnosis).

What policymakers have to understand

But there’s one final, very crucial point in all this that isn’t prominent enough in the public discussion: the nature of the “content” we’re all talking about.

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Kik Messenger’s smart new safety features

Kik Messenger screenshotKik Messenger, which claims to be the US’s 7th most popular social app and ranks even higher in some other countries, today released a new version that gives its 120 million+ users more control over who can text them.

Over the past year, its creators at Waterloo, Ontario-based Kik Interactive noticed the app has become “the leading cross-app messenger,” they claimed. That means that people who “meet” in game apps such as Clash of Clans or social ones like Tumblr or Twitter move over to Kik to text with each other. So, apparently to make sure users actually want those conversations with new acquaintances to happen, Kik now keeps the new people separate from existing Kik friends for you and blurs out both the profile photos and the messages of the new ones so you can decide whether or not you really want to see them or read their messages. You could always choose to ignore or block people (and still can, without their knowing it), but that’s kind of after the fact – after they get annoying. This way, you decide up front who you allow to join your Kik friends. The other smart safety feature that was and is still in place is that users have screennames; the app doesn’t share phone numbers or email addresses. Read more

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A media mentor for every child

Author and journalist Lisa Guernsey has a great idea – one that clearly grows out of her research for the recent book, Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Your Young Child, and her work in early childhood education for public policy think tank the New America Foundation. [I loved her cover story for The Atlantic based on the book and wrote about it here.]

In a just-released TEDx talk, she asked, “What if we were to commit to ensure that every family with young children had access to a media mentor?” This doesn’t have to be daunting or expensive. It doesn’t have to be a special new position to create anywhere, she’s quick to add, knowing schools’ and libraries’ budgets, but all the more reason than ever to stop eliminating school librarians’ and media specialists’ jobs and consciously, collectively include old and new media literacy lessons in schools and public libraries. Because media mentors come in all forms, including elementary school teachers, school and public librarians, middle school language arts teachers, American lit teachers and parents! What matters is people in children’s lives who 1) really care about them and their futures, 2) embrace digital media as well as the traditional kind, seeing how important that is for their future and 3) engage with them in the media they love. Read more

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Our kids’ privacy & a White House report on ‘big data’

Referring to a new report from the White House that she contributed to, social media scholar danah boyd points out how impossibly simplistic it is to view “big data” as either all good or all bad. I’m thankful for the balance it struck in its findings on big data in education between the tremendous opportunities it represents for students and educators and the risks to student privacy. It resonates with the about-to-be-released report of a task force I’ve have the privilege of serving on this past year, the Aspen Task Force for Learning & the Internet, which also urges review of privacy laws affecting children.

In the White House’s report, “Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values,” it was good to see the statement that students “need appropriate freedoms to explore and experiment safely.” Yes, of course “without the specter of being haunted by mistakes in the future” (the authors’ qualification), but if policymakers act too quickly without careful consideration of laws’ impacts on students’ “freedom to explore and experiment” – as I feel they did with “COPPA 2″ – education innovation and student engagement go down and today’s high dropout rates keep going up.

We don’t yet know enough yet. “There is not yet a settled understanding of what harms, if any, are accruing to children,” says the White House report, “and what additional policy frameworks may be needed to ensure that growing up with technology will be an asset rather than a liability.” And yet, legislators have already proposed 90 privacy-related bills in 33 states this year, Education Week reports. We can’t pass or even update laws without carefully considering the potential harms and unintended consequences!

For more on this, go to this section on p. 24 of the White House report: “Learning about Learning: Big Data & Education” and the blue box entitled “Protecting Children’s Privacy in the Era of Big Data.” The report’s recommendations start on p. 58, with the one related to children’s education in the blue box on p. 64 under “Responsible Educational Innovation in the Digital Age.”

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‘Being Ginger’: A film for anyone addressing bullying

Being Ginger is really about being human. In a fundamentally kind, sometimes humorous, amazingly un-moralistic way, director Scott Harris shows what it both feels and looks like to be dehumanized and what healing from that looks like, even as the casual cruelty he documents continues. Sometimes he asked for it while doing his filming but it’s still amazing and disturbing to see how unthinkingly interview subjects deliver – particularly a teacher he’d had in 2nd grade and later interviewed before making the film and a woman he interviewed in a park during its making.

Being Ginger filmEven though what happened to him as a child is why he made Being Ginger, Harris says he didn’t intend to create a film about bullying. Which is why it’s both so effective as one and so unfair to call it one. Among many things it does, the film puts childhood bullying in the context of a 31-year-old man’s life, that man then showing us with courage and candor not only the bullying’s impact but how he’s moving past it more than 20 years later.

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An 18-year-old’s exploration of Internet addiction in video

In a series of man-on-the-street interviews, one young woman’s answer to the question, “Do you think you’re addicted to the Internet?” was: “Yes…. Twitter. I can’t get off of it.” Another responded, “I love creeping on Facebook. I never post; I’m just always creeping, creeping, creeping [also called "lurking," looking at people's comments, likes, photos, etc.].” A third said, “I just run to the videos, the weirdest videos. I can spend all night watching them.”

Eoin CorbettBut 18-year-old Irish filmmaker Eoin (sounds like “Owen”) Corbett went a lot deeper for his 20-min. documentary Internet Addiction and Me. He also asked this question of himself – before and after completely unplugging from the Internet for 30 days – and of three friends, who agreed to participate in the experiment and each stay totally offline for a week.

He started his Net-free month thinking, “I’m probably more addicted than I think I am,” and I won’t spoil the ending, but what he discovered was both a bit complicated and definitely anti-climactic. He realized he’d “built it up in my head as being a bigger thing than it really is.” That probably has a lot to do with how the society and media culture around him have represented “the Internet” to him and his peers (not much different from US society). So both complicated and anti-climactic is about right, because the Internet is so many different things and its use so very individual (see this about youth-and-social-media researcher danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated).

Seeking an expert’s perspective

Eoin also took his investigation to the CyberPsychology Research Center, where psychologist Ciaran McMahon told him “we really don’t know what it [the Internet] is yet.” He took Eoin back to the mid-’90s, when the conversation about Internet addiction started, pointing out how much the Net has changed since then. “Every day it’s different,” Dr. McMahon said, “you never go back to the same Internet twice…. Maybe we’re not talking about ‘Internet addiction’,” he added, suggesting that what people may actually be referring to is impulse control.

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A little social media news roundup

A flurry of social media news stories hit the airwaves this past week from Google, Facebook and Snapchat. Here are the ones most of interest to parents and educators:

  • Snapchat: The Federal Trade Commission has apparently been wanting Snapchat to be much clearer about just how ephemeral its disappearing messages really are. The Commission filed a complaint and reached a settlement with Snapchat for misleading users, Gigaom reported. “As part of the agreement,” reports my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid in Forbes, “Snapchat will have to change its messaging to make it more clear that messages don’t necessarily disappear. Read more
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The videogame discourse: Default to open-mindedness!

My heart sinks when I see uncritical thinking in commentaries from Internet safety advocates about the media young people love – thinking that defaults (and contributes to a society-level default) to fear that new media’s harmful and young users are either potential victims or up to no good. Take videogames, for example. We know that…

Half the Sky game

Game-changing game: Half the Sky is one of a growing genre of games designed to help heal people and the world.

“Videogame play is pervasive throughout our society,” as brain scientist Daphne Bavelier said in a TEDx Talk in Lausanne that has been translated into 27 languages and viewed nearly 1.8 million times (Pew Internet found that digital game play is part of 97% of US 12-to-17-year-olds’ lives, and that was back in 2008). “It is clearly here to stay. It has an amazing impact on our everyday life.” Dr. Bavelier cited game maker Activision’s statistics showing that, within a month of its release, Call of Duty: Black Ops had been played for 68,000 years worldwide. “Would any of you complain if this was the case with linear algebra?” she asked her audience.

So the scientists in her lab are asking what all parents, educators and youth advocates should be asking: “How can we leverage that power?” It’s obvious that the question can no longer be “How can we keep kids away?” or even just how can we regulate game play, right? Because only asking the latter sends the message that play is a negative in our children’s lives, when play is something that helps them navigate rapid change and complexity (see this).

Shooter games’ positive effects

But why did Bavelier mention a shooter game like Call of Duty? a parent might ask. Because, she says, even “those action-packed shooter games … have a number of ingredients that are actually really powerful for brain plasticity, learning, attention, vision, etc.” In her lab, she tested shooter game players who played 5, 10 and 15 hours a week (not surprisingly, she says that in no way does she support excessive play) both through observation and through brain imaging. She and her colleagues found that video game play decidedly does not harm vision or lead to greater distraction or “attention problems.” In fact, by presenting things on a screen and tracking eye movement, they found that “your typical normal young adult can have a span of about three or four objects of attention…. Your action videogame player has a span of about six to seven objects of attention.” Read more

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Cross-cultural in so many ways: Insights from ‘Digitally Connected’

It was a small but mighty gathering at Harvard’s Berkman Center this week – mighty in diversity of geographical, personal and professional perspective (40% of the participants were from the global South). It was called “Digitally Connected,” but it was about a more inclusive and, I think, more lasting, holistic sense of what “connected” means. It was co-organized by UNICEF and Harvard University’s Berkman Center, but in closing Wednesday, Berkman Center executive director Urs Gasser thanked the participants for “peer-producing” it.

Equality/equity: The difference

Sez it all (tweeted by SAYEZ–South Africa Young Entrepreneur Zone)

That wasn’t just a kind send-off. The conference ended up modeling three things that participants called for in it: 1) it was well-organized but iterative – palpably open-ended, with a collective learn-as-you-go feeling); 2) it was cross-functional as well as -cultural (this was the “peer” part, a sense that each felt there was something to learn from every other participant); and 3) it moved past participation to co-creation.

Co-creation was a key theme of the conference for me: It’s not enough to give voice to youth, marginalized populations, economic have-nots (or conference participants); they need to be co-creators. David Sengeh from Sierra Leone (now studying at MIT) pointed out the difference between listening to youth and co-creating solutions and policies with them. He said lasting solutions to social problems have to grow out of the context (lives), interests and ingenuity of the people experiencing the problem (he gives examples in a guest post at CNN). Akaliza Keza Gara of Rwanda tweeted that “community solutions should come from WITHIN that community,” echoing what a Lebanese friend and family therapist told me years ago: “The solution is always within the child.” Sharad Sapra, director of UNICEF’s Innovation Center in Nairobi, asked why people aren’t part of the solution at every stage rather than mere recipients of services? He was suggesting that innovation is harnessed not imposed. Read more

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From connected learning to P2P learning

With kids in your life, certainly you’ve heard of tutorials and instructional videos on YouTube. But of course they’re not just for kids, and it’s exciting to think about all the learning, from guitar lessons to algebra to DIY plumbing, that goes on all over the Web and mobile platform – self-directed, -customized and -paced learning. Tutorials are there for people to learn just about anything their hearts desire, anytime, anywhere and at any point in their lives.

Peeragogy logo“Self-learners know how to go to YouTube, they know how to use search, mobilize personal learning networks,” writes best-selling author, thinker and educator Howard Rheingold (though it helps to have some good instruction in media literacy or, I’d add, to read his book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online). But “self” is the operative word in self-directed learning. “How does a group of self-learners organize co-learning?” Rheingold continues in the Foreword of Peeragogy.org.

The kernel of a handbook

Apparently, just as Linus Torvalds did with his Linux kernel in 1991, Rheingold and others put the kernel of a handbook, Peeragogy.org, on the Web late last year so that they and anyone who wanted to join them could answer that question. They were writing the manual for peer-to-peer learning as they were collaboratively figuring out the methodology, practicing without the preaching. co-develop the methodology for learning together “in the wild.” This is definitely connected learning, as the network of educators of that name would define it, including the part about employing connected digital media so that physical location is no barrier. But this goes beyond self-directed learning outside of school. Read more

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