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Friday, October 22, 2004

Kids & the new search engines

Great resource this week from the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg: a roundup review of the four new search tools out there - Google's as well as, Amazon's, and My Yahoo. (Even more next-gen search engines are mentioned in a Washington Post article today.)

A parent's caveat: Something Walt didn't mention (no space and his audience isn't just parents) is what kids can run into, especially in if left unfiltered: A9's search turns up images on the same page as text results. I tested it with the word "nude" and - right on the main results page - got at least a dozen full-body nude shots, some in sexually explicit poses. I then went to "Preferences" (upper-right-hand corner) and clicked on moderate filtering, then saved my Preferences. My next search for "nude" turned up no images at all (same for strict filtering, of course). The good news is, A9 defaults to "moderate filtering" until you've registered (though I doubt there are many barriers to kids registering; of course if they want images, they can always go to Google Images search). For details on the other search tools, pls click to the latest issue of my newsletter. For more on image-searching challenges, see "Kids checking out porn with image searches" and "Kids and Net porn - moms' accounts."

Desktop search: Parent's-eye-view

Google's new search tool has been all over the news, but not the family angle on it. Ted Werth, dad and CEO of family-tech-support company PlumChoice, thoughtfully pointed out something you might want to know: "Parents may be able to use the Google tool to more easily understand what their children are doing with their computers. This tool will provide an easy index for looking at what the child has saved on the computer. While I believe that training children on computer safety is the best approach for safe computing, I'm a proponent of keeping a close eye on what kids do with their computers as well." To clear up the privacy concerns that have been aired in the media this past week, click to my newsletter.

Calling young Webmasters!

Parents and teachers, December 6 is the deadline this year for Web developers 18 and under to compete for a place at the prestigious,international Cable & Wireless Childnet Academy in Jamaica next spring. To qualify, they must be a key person in the development of a site that benefits other young people or have a great idea for the "New to the Net" category which they'd like to develop further.

Prizes: A place at the Cable & Wireless Childnet Academy, 3/26-4/1; a grant from the project development fund totaling $50,0000+; an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Jamaica (must be accompanied by an adult); and follow-up Web support from Childnet and the Academy's mentors and trainers. One of the biggest rewards, I feel, is the chance to work shoulder-to-shoulder with peers from all over the world for a whole week. Winners usually represent nearly every continent. For more information, click to

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Cyberbullying more harmful to kids

...than traditional bullying, that is. This is according to a just-released study at the Queensland University of Technology, cited by ThisIsLondon. The main reason, according to lead researcher Marilyn Campbell, is that there's no escaping online bullying, no haven, the way a child's home is when s/he runs away from a traditional bully. And, we would add, simply not going online is not an option for most kids and teens, for whom IM-ing, phone-texting, online chat, or email are so much a part of their social lives. Another reason why cyberbullying is more harmful is the size of the audience. Usually there are few people around when bullying occurs in a physical place; when it happens online, often everybody in a child's peer group knows what's going on, and sometimes the information is very personal. Imagine the impact of having an enemy expose your deepest secrets to everybody you know; it's at least much more long-lasting than the results of most physical fights. And the "secrets" being sent around don't even have to be true, of course. For example, who knows if the information shared in this online exploit (picked up in the San Diego Union Tribune) was true: "In Allendale, N.J., students viewed with alarm a Web site that named the school's "top five biggest homosexuals" and the "top 20 gayest guys and gayest girls." But there's potential physical danger too: "One 13-year-old Rockland County [N.J.] girl had a fight with her best friend. The ex-friend used the girl's screen name to enter an adult chat room and gave out the girl's phone number. A man from the chat room called the girl's home – but was intercepted by the mother."

For the Queensland study, "the researchers studied an entire year of a primary school in Brisbane, Australia, giving more than 30 children a series of in-depth tests and interviews to establish their attitudes to cyberbullying," ThisIsLondon reports. It's the first research I've seen on the different impacts between online and traditional bullying. For more on cyberbullying, see "Cybersocializing, cyberbullying" and "The IM life of middle-schoolers."

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Vote next week?!

Parents and teachers, next Thursday, October 28, is Mock Election Day, "by any measure, the [US's] largest and most successful voter education project," according to a joint press release of National Student/Parent Mock Election and supporters USATODAY and American Happenings. More than 10 million students and parents cast their votes in the last two presidential Mock Elections in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and 14 countries/territories around the world where Americans are based, the release adds. Students have been debating the issues all along with peers in all 50 states and 176 countries at the New Voters Project Presidential Youth Debate, supported by, among others, a great youth-activism site called

As for voter education, here's an example of what we're all up against: "According to a 2003 study from Rutgers University, eight out of ten 15-to-26-year-olds know that the animated Simpsons family lives in Springfield, but less than half know the political party of their State's governor, and only 40% can say which party controls Congress," said John Herklotz, Chairman of American Happenings and Vice-Chairman of the National Student/Parent Mock Election.

Home computing trend

Cheap "one-stop shopping" is the theme I detect in two announcements from Microsoft and other companies this week. First, there's the MSN TV 2 - "high-speed Internet without a PC," as the Wall Street Journal summed it up - or WEBTV for broadband and less money. For $200 up front and $22 a month, it bundles Net access and a large set-top box and wireless keyboard that allow for email, Web-surfing, photo-sharing, video-playing, IM-ing, and the ability to "open some common email attachments." Just the thing for people more interested in communicating than computing! The other new development (Microsoft's version code-name "Istanbul" but being worked on IBM and other companies) is targeting businesses first, but I can really see teenagers loving it. It "seamlessly integrates" Net-based communications - email, instant-messaging, video-conferencing, traditional phone service, and Internet-based calling, according to the Associated Press. "The products employ 'presence' technology, which tells users whether co-workers are online and their degree of availability - whether they can take a phone call or prefer to be emailed or to instead join a Web conference, for example," the AP reports, adding: "The idea is to enhance the 'buddy list' concept ... so workers can choose how to best communicate in a given moment." As usual, one can see privacy issues arising.

UK parents on kids' Net safety

A survey of UK parents of kids 5-15 with home Net access found that "only 8% of parents ... have implemented five of the most simple and important child safety guidelines." ISPA, the UK's Internet trade association which sponsored the survey, was referring to these five guidelines:

  • Use the Net in a high-traffic area of the house (38% of parents let their kids use the Net in a "private room").

  • Regularly remind kids of online safety rules (41% of those surveyed do, and 28% have never told their children not to give out personal info online).

  • Know who they're "talking" to online (13% of parents don't know if their child uses chat rooms, and of the 26% who know their kids do, 65% said they don't know who their kids' online friends are).

  • Surf the Net with your kids (63% frequently do, 23% never have).

  • Have online-safety software installed on computers kids use (32% of parents "have not enabled basic safety features such as Web and spam filtering; of the 68% who have enabled such features, "one in eight of them do not know if they have done so correctly").

    In its own survey timed to the UK's recent Parents Online Week, the British government had two questions that matched ISPA's: computer placement in the home (57% of parents have it in a high-traffic area, as opposed to ISPA's 38%) and parents and kids online together (44% do not allow their kids to use the Net without them, close to ISPA's 63% of parents who frequently use the Net with their kids). According to The Guardian, the government survey also found that a significant 64% of UK parents have banned their children from chatrooms. Also, 40+% said their biggest concern about their kids' Net use was the risk of them meeting a pedophile; 52% of parents want more government regulation of Net use; 58% called for more education on Net; and 73% believe the Net is "a great source of information."

    UK numbers are significant because Britain calls itself and is widely acknowledged to be the leading country in Internet safety work for children. Here's ISPA's press release on its survey.
  • K2K spells better test scores

    Kid-to-kid communications, that is - iEARN-style (, the K-12, Internet- and project-based learning network connects about 1 million students in 25,000 schools in 109 countries, working on more than 150 projects in 30 languages). I'll get to what sort of project in a moment; the big news and surprise pay-off is what this Net-enabled collaboration is doing for students academically - in addition to the international understanding it fosters. According to iEARN's press release, teachers are seeing dramatic improvements in students' reading and writing skills when participating in K2K projects, especially at the elementary school level. A teacher in New Jersey has seen his 4th-graders' writing consistently score in the upper 1% in annual state exams. Pepperdine University professor Margaret Riel has done some early research on this, finding, for example, that one particular class, which started below grade level, gained an average of two grade levels from working on these collaborative network projects." Click to the release for further data. Some of these projects link students in as many as 12 schools as they work on a collaborative project. Teacher Kristi Rennebohm Franz facilitated a project by her 4th- and 5th-graders in which they sent "comfort quilts" to children in earthquake-devastated Bam, Iran. "As soon as they heard about the catastrophe ... [they] went to work on their project. Each child drew a crayon design, which was ironed onto a cloth patch and sewn into a quilt. They read Websites about how other schools were making quilts, including schools in Uzbekistan." Kristi started teaching with these projects in 1998 after Nicaragua was struck by Hurricane Georges. Thanks to TechLearning for pointing this news out.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2004

    Gamers: Future star workers?

    "They know how to work in teams, are creative problem solvers, and believe that nothing is impossible," reports Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge. That may be comforting news to some parents of young thumb twitchers who thought that about all they were developing was good hand-to-eye coordination - maybe. "Gamers will make great workers and employees," concluded the authors of the just-published "Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever." They compare baby boomers, who see games as mere diversion, to members of the gamer generation, who've never known life without games and who see them as "a perfectly valid tool for solving problems, relating to other human beings, and discovering one's identity." Consequently, gamers approach the business world as "a bit more like a game." Great irony there: gamers as the ultimate realists!

    BTW, maybe one way to learn how to be a good manager is to play "god sims" (where players control everything that happens). The newest one, called "Fable," was created by top British game designer Peter Molyneux and sold 375,000 copies within a week of its release in the US this fall, the BBC reports.

    More ads in games

    Our young gamers may escape their arch nemeses in video games, but there's no escaping all the ads. "The fictional landscapes of video games are increasingly being dotted with product placements, pitching everything from athletic shoes to movies," the Associated Press reports.
    They're on buildings and billboards along virtual city streets, and they're simply products (cars, food, etc.) appearing in the games, just as in the movies. The way advertisers see it, TV viewership is going down and gaming up, and "video games now attract not just hard-core gamers, but people of all ages and more women than ever." Game sales surpassed movie box-office receipts last year. Another reason why advertisers are migrating to this medium: With game consoles connected to the Internet, ads can be updated anytime, long after games are sold. Here's the BBC on this later in the week.

    Monday, October 18, 2004

    Childcare Webcams

    Some 300-400 US day-care centers have Webcams, USATODAY reports, and their promoters are going after schools as well. The article cites one mom who actually chose her 17-month-old's provider, The Learning Curve in Gilbert, Ariz., because it allowed her to "click into" her child's day this way (with a user name and password and only for parents of kids 2 and under). She tries to limit herself to two checks a day - to get a handle on her daughter's eating routine and when she wakes up from her nap. "The Web cams, each about the size of a smoke detector, capture all the playroom action from the ceilings of the center, giving parents a wide-angle view. Parents cannot hear sounds when watching their children online, the service does not have zoom capabilities, and changing areas are never shown," USATODAY adds.