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Friday, January 22, 2010

Texting good 4 spelling & reading: Study

In a study of students' texting habits, the British Academy British Academy found no support for the "negative media and public speculation" around young people's texting. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reports, "the kids who used more 'textisms' – abbreviations such as “plz” (please) and “l8ter” (later) [shouldn't that be "l8er"?] – showed higher scores on some spelling, phonetics, reading comprehension and other English language competency tests." The study's authors are Coventry University psychology Profs. Beverly Plester and Clare Wood. In three separate studies of groups of 60-90 8-to-12-year-olds, they found, among other things, that 1) "the proportions of textisms that kids used in their sentence translations was positively linked to verbal reasoning; the more textspeak kids used, the higher their test scores" and 2) "the younger the age at which the kids had received mobile phones, the better their ability to read words and identify patterns of sound in speech." [See also "Major study on youth & media: Let's take a closer look"]

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28 students suspended for cyberbullying

A Seattle middle school recently suspended 28 students for involvement in a Facebook page that put down another student, the Seattle Times reported. I'm not sure what suspension does to stop cyberbullying, but I was glad to read that 1) the hate page probably wasn't on Facebook for more than 24 hours and that 2) "school staff talked with [the suspended students] and their parents, and the principal plans to hold assemblies for students and meetings for parents to discuss appropriate and safe Internet use." Here's UPI's coverage. [See also "School cyberbully wins free-speech case" and "The power of play: Cyberbullying solution?".]

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

'21st-century statecraft' at home & school

Live on the Web, I was just listening to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton's call for 21st-century statecraft (as well as the need to protect free expression online) and couldn't help but think about how much we need to respect, teach, and model good citizenship at home and school (here and in every country) – using the media kids use and love – in order to realize Secretary Clinton's vision for Internet freedom. She spoke of the need to "create norms of behavior among states." Absolutely, but we need to start here at home, promoting and modeling norms of good behavior online and in homes and classrooms using the social (behavioral) media and technologies where so much kid behavior occurs now. I just reviewed a major study, the Kaiser Family Foundation's, about how much youth are using media, and while some are appalled at the time spent with media, are they thinking about how so much of that usage is outside of school, because we block social media and cellphones from school – leaving young people completely on their own to work out social norms? What a missed opportunity! Secretary Clinton also called on us to focus on the needs of youth. Doing so must include understanding how they use media, not just how much. Let's begin now consciously to model and teach the good digital as well as real-world citizenship and "statecraft" that will be protections to free speech, our countries, and most especially our children – at school, in virtual worlds, and all the other places where they spend time. [See also "Digital risk, digital citizenship" and "From users to citizens."]

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Major study on youth & media: Let's take a closer look

With its fresh, sweeping look at the media lives of US 8-to-18-year-olds, the Kaiser Family Foundation's just-released "Generation M2" is a tremendous service to parents and educators – but also a subtle disservice. The latter, because it looks at kids' and teens' experiences with today's media through the lens of yesterday's, the mass-media culture we adults grew up in. "The story of media in young people’s lives today is primarily a story of technology facilitating increased consumption," the authors write, even while a growing body of research shows that the youth-media story is actually more about sharing, playing with, and producing media, individually and collectively, than consuming it. But more on that in a moment. First, the findings....

1. The data

As "one of the largest and most comprehensive publicly available sources of information on the amount and nature of media use among American youth," this is also Kaiser's third such study (the first two were done in 1999 and 2004), so it shows usage trends. "Generation M2" also zooms in on individual media and devices, behaviors such as multimedia multitasking, and gender and ethnicity differences in the data. Here are some highlights:

  • Nothing but more (almost): Youth media consumption has grown from 6:21 hours/day five years ago to 7:38 today, and they now "pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into those 7.5 hours a day." The breakdown: Movies and print, 0 growth; 47 more min./day for music/audio; 38 more min./day for "TV content"; 24 more min./day with videogames; and 27 more min./day on computers (though I'm not sure why computers are called media, when they're more delivery devices). Age-wise, the biggest media-use growth spurt is "when children hit the 11-to-14-year-old age group," when total media use goes up a whopping 4 hours a day (from 7:51 for kids 8-10 to 11:53 for those 11-14).

  • Much more mobile: All that growth in media use was "driven in large part by ready access to mobile devices like cell phones and iPods," according to the study's press release – cellphone ownership for 8-to-18-year-olds went from 39% to 66% and iPods and other music players from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players. Of course parents know that kids spend more time doing everything besides talking on their cellphones (games, music, photo-sharing, video-viewing, etc.: 49 min./day; talking 33 min./day). This study did not consider texting a form of media use, it says, but it did find that people in grades 7-12 spend an average of 1:35/day texting.

  • "Parental control": About 30% of youth "say they have rules about how much time they can spend" with various media. But children who do have rules at their house spend almost 3 hours less time with media a day than those with no rules.

  • TV leads in more ways than 1: "TV remains the dominant type of media content consumed, at 4:29 a day," and 64% of 8-to-18-year-olds "say the TV is usually on during meals; 45% say it's on "most of the time"; 71% have a TV in their bedroom; 50% have a videogame console in their room. The authors did say that this latest study found for the first time that TV-viewing on *TV sets* went down 25 min./day between 2004 and '09, but TV-viewing on other devices more than offset that decline: 24 min./day online; 16 a day on MP3 players; 15 a day on cellphones. "All told, 59% (2:39) of young people’s TV-viewing consists of live TV on a TV set, and 41% (1:50) is time-shifted, on DVDs, online, or mobile.]

  • Media use & grades: With the caveat that the study "cannot establish a cause and effect relationship between media use and grades," the authors write that 47% of heavy media users ("the 21% of young people who consume more than 16 hours of media a day") say they usually get "mostly Cs or lower," compared to 23% of light users. ["Light users" are the 17% who consume less than 3 hours/day.] Book reading held steady over the past five years at about 25 min./day, but magazine and newspaper reading are both down ("from :14 to :09 for magazines and from :06 to :03 for newspapers").

  • Favorite Net uses: In terms of time, social networking unsurprising topped the list (74% of people in grades 7-12 have profiles), but – surprising to me – they spent only 22 min./day at it, followed by gaming (17 min.) and checking out video sites (15 min.).

  • Girls & boys: Girls spend more time than boys in social sites (:25 vs. :19), listening to music (2:33 vs. 2:06), and reading (:43 vs. :33), but not by all that much. The real gap shows up in game playing and video use: console games (:56 boys vs. :14 girls), computer games (:25 vs. :08), and sites like YouTube (:17 vs. :12).

    2. Removing the mass-media filter

    So are we looking at all this data largely from the context of the media environment we grew up in, where media were consumed, professionally produced (much of it for entertainment), and government-regulated? As we read, are we worried that new media are just a waste of our kids' time, a distraction, or even a potential health problem (Kaiser's study appears in its "Media & Health" practice)? The Kaiser report is riddled with the words "consume" and "consumption," when really what youth do so much more with media now is blog, share, post, text, discuss, remix, and produce, often collaboratively, as mentioned above. As sweeping as this study's scope was, a study about their consumption is only a small part of today's youth-media equation.

    The report refers to "screen media" vs. "print media," when what can appear on that Net-connected screen is virtually all traditional media as well as the new, user-generated kind – because the Internet increasingly mirrors all of human life, the behavioral parts (from bullying to mentoring) as well as the consumables (from great literature to research to frat party photos) and creative productions (photos, tunes, videos, podcasts) are there too. Yet, when referring specifically to young people reading text on the screen, the report cites "the latest advice column on a fashion website or a classmate’s posting on a social networking site," not peers' blog posts, videos or other creations.

    This study wasn't about the informal learning going on in social media, but that needs consideration in the context of youth media use. [A question asked in the 1999 Kaiser study – about whether time spent using the computer was mainly entertaining, killing time, or learning something – was in fact dropped for the next two studies (see pp. 46 and 47).] It's important to keep in mind that extensive research into how youth use social media at home, in school, and in after-school programs shows that a lot of learning, not just entertainment, is going on in their media use. In its 2008 report, "Living and Learning with New Media," the Digital Youth Project found that, "by exploring new interests, tinkering, and 'messing around' with new forms of media, [youth] acquire various forms of technical and media literacy.... By its immediacy and breadth of information, the digital world lowers barriers to self-directed learning." In a paper on videogame-based learning, Digital Youth Project lead investigator, Dr. Mimi Ito, wrote last fall that "online groups mobilizing through games like World of Warcraft, [alternate-reality game] I Love Bees, or [virtual world] Whyville have demonstrated the possibilities of new forms of collaborative problem solving and collective action which exhibit properties of scientific inquiry."

    Probably since the beginning of modern-day-style adolescence, parents have had to adjust to unnerving new kinds and uses of media, but today's media shift is an order of magnitude different: Not only is it mobile, multimedia, multidirectional, user-produced, one-to-many, many-to-many, and many-to-one; it's all mixed up with traditional, professionally produced media in the same "place" – the Internet, via proliferating devices – and it's social and behavioral (see "Youth, adults & the social-media shift"). It's asking a lot of us adults, so there's a strange need for both patience (with ourselves and each other as we adjust) and urgency (to hurry up and adjust!). There's also a need to be alert to mass-media biases in what we read about youth and social media and open to the positive as well as negative implications.

    Related links

  • "Kids pack in nearly 11 hours of media use daily," by my ConnectSafely co-director, Larry Magid, at CNET and his audio interview with the study's director Kaiser Family Foundation vice president Victoria Rideout, where she makes 2 interesting points: 1) how hard it is to categorize kids' media use when it's so fluid (it would be a lot easier if the study were youth-centric, not media- or tech-centric), and 2) how most of kids' media use right now is what might be called passive and non-productive (which is no surprise when we block social media from school and leave them on their own in new media – see "School & social media: Uber big picture").
  • "If Your Kids Are Awake, They're Probably Online" in the New York Times, or did that headline writer mean watching TV, as the study actually suggests? The Times reports that "the study’s findings shocked its authors," then cites the view of Boston pediatrician Michael Rich that it's "time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment."
  • "Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project"
  • "Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-olds"
  • "Youth, adults & the social-media shift" here at NetFamilyNews

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  • Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Haiti relief from kid virtual worlds

    As we mention in our VW safety tips, some worlds offer opportunities for charitable giving in the "real world" – even for up-to-the-minute relief efforts like Haiti's. For example, Sony's offers $10 donations for Haiti with purchases of specific virtual goods in-world; "is matching up to $10,000 in donations to the Red Cross and setting aside a dedicated forum for discussing and coordinating relief efforts by its users"; and Sanrio's "is gearing up for a guild-based event asking teams to craft virtual goods in a race to build up a donation to Doctors Without Borders and an aid effort to Haiti," reports. Other charitable teen and kid worlds are (whose users have donated $250,000 so far),, and Meanwhile, Haiti's only film school, Cine Institute, is now rubble, but its "young filmmakers have been tirelessly been documenting" the earthquake's, tech education pundit Derek Baird blogs. They've been using social media to share eyewitness reports via Twitter, Vimeo, and the institute's own site, Baird adds. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, N.Y., this Friday, there will be a very "real world" Haiti Solidarity Benefit organized by students at Global Kids and the High School for Global Citizenship.

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    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    The cost of cellphone service choice?

    If people at your house think the Nexus One phone is cool, they're right, but they still need to think twice about various costs. The new Google phone is a pricey option to begin with: $539, "not including service fees by T-Mobile, Google's first service partner" if untethered from a T-Mobile service fee, the Washington Post reports. But if the buyer changes his or her mind and wants to end service early, the penalties "could amount to $550 in early equipment return and contract cancellation fees," the Post adds (not mentioning that T-Mobile does have a month-to-month plan with no termination fee, but probably higher-cost up front). This when the FCC is reviewing early termination fees at Verizon Wireless. Part of the cost of choice and being an early adopter, but he or she will want to make the adoption long-term! Another possible disincentive for parents looking at phones for their kids is Nexus One's lack of parental controls right now (this will change as apps proliferate for the phone). Speaking of third-party apps, there's soon-to-roll-out software from Taser for "a variety of smart phones" that will allow parents to see just about everything incoming and outgoing from a child's phone, described by's Larry Magid at CNET, asking if using it would be overparenting. Here, too, is a Common Sense Media video on how to set the parental controls Apple put on the iPhone and iPod Touch. [Meanwhile, cites a Gartner projection that mobile app stores will make $7 billion this year, up from $4.2 billion last year (even with about 80% of apps offered for free. Apple's App Store represents about 99% of the app biz right now.]

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    Haiti mobile-relief update

    The Red Cross reports that $22 million had been raised via cellphones for Haiti earthquake relief (about a fifth of the $112 million in total donations), the Washington Post reports. The previous cellphone fundraising record was a mere $400,000.

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