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Friday, February 05, 2010

Social norming: *So* key to online safety

I doubt the term "social norming" means much to most people, but it's actually common practice in family life, at school, and on sports teams. It's the culture or behavioral norms we create to teach and model values and ethics for our children – showing up in statements like "we don't say 'hate' in this family" or "we respect the other team." Maybe because it's so second-nature, we don't often think about how powerful social norming can be on the online-safety front. But when the research shows that aggressive behavior online more than doubles the aggressor's risk of being victimized, we need to take this point very seriously. In fact, we need to move past expecting adults to do the modeling to expecting all community members to do so, especially children – help them see that they are key to their own well-being as well as their community's. Professor and cyberbullying researcher Sameer Hinduja puts this in the school context: "How does this relate to reducing online harassment among elementary, middle, and high school students? Social norming has to do with modifying the environment, or culture within a school, so that appropriate behaviors are not only encouraged, but perceived widely to be the norm," he writes in his blog. The same goes for online community. Virtual worlds, multiplayer online games, and social network sites need to foster a culture of civil behavior and citizenship as a vital Net-safety feature of their communities. There has been discussion about the importance of "neighborhood policing" or community self-policing online as well as offline, and I agree. It's vital, and many responsible sites and worlds act quickly on abuse reports. But they need to pair that with social norming to be both preventive and reactive, to provide more complete protection (I call this "the guild effect").

However, as much as we may like it to be, changing the culture is not just up to sites and virtual worlds or schools. It can't be. Because this is a user-driven media environment we're all experiencing now, by definition it's up to all of us, especially the users of a particular virtual world or social site (or classroom, family or neighborhood). So how do we start? As Hinduja puts it, "by focusing attention on the majority of youth who do utilize computers and cellphones in acceptable ways. If I told you that one in five teenagers are cyberbullied, you wouldn’t focus on spreading that fact around your student body. Rather, you would reframe and reconceptualize that research finding, and then create cool and relevant messaging strategies emphasizing that the vast majority of your students [and our children] are using Internet technologies with integrity, discretion, and wisdom, which would hopefully motivate or induce the remainder to get 'on board.' Ideally, the remainder would desire to fit in, would desire to be like everyone else, and would feel an informal compulsion to stop cyberbullying others and start doing the right thing." If we're worried about cyberbullying as a society, we need to get going on this! As Hinduja writes, "Spending too much time painting cyberbullying in alarmist colors may encourage more youth to act in similar ways, since those youth will perceive the act as 'normal' and that 'everyone is doing it'.”

Related links

  • "Claiming & social norming in social sites"
  • "Toward fixing teen risky behavior in social sites: Study"
  • "'21st-century statecraft' at home & school"
  • "From users to citizens: How to make digital citizenship relevant"
  • "Social norming & digital citizenship"
  • "Social norming for risk prevention"

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  • Thursday, February 04, 2010

    66% of teens text, only 8% tweet: Study

    Though adult blogging remains steady, teen blogging has decreased by half since 2006 – from 28% of teens then to 14% now, according to a Pew/Internet report released yesterday. Eleven percent of Americans 30+ maintain a personal blog right now, Pew adds. Blogging by 18-29-year-olds has decreased, too, but not by quite as much: from 24% of that age group in 2007 to 15% now. Social networking continues to grow – 73% of teens use social sites now (compared to 47% of adults), up from 55% in 2006 and 65% last February – but Twitter use among teens is not high. Only 8% of 12-to-17-year-old Net users use Twitter, compared to about a third of 18-to-29-year-olds (the age group that uses Twitter the most). Compare that teen Twitter use to virtual worlds (about the same) and texting (a whopping 66%). Moving from media to devices: 75% of teens and 93% of 18-to-29-year-olds have cellphones. It's not surprising to parents, I think, when Pew says that, "in the past five years, cellphone ownership has become mainstream among even the youngest teens." That's where the biggest growth has been: "Fully 58% of 12-year-olds now own a cellphone, up from just 18% of such teens as recently as 2004."

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    Wednesday, February 03, 2010

    Kids' top toy for 2010: iPad?!

    Apple may not have thought of it that way, but Children's Technology Review editor (and former teacher) Warren Buckleitner thinks the iPad just may be Toy of the Year, he writes in Gadgetwise at the New York Times. Some of the reasons: Lots of available games and other software already; no controller or mouse ("the screen *is* the controller and it sits in their lap, which works for children (and their grandparents, too, by the way"); that big high-res screen and gorgeous color palette that brings imagery to life; road-trip activity center; and Warren adds "a fair price," but I think parents will be waiting for that $499 starting price to come down – which is not to say there won't be plenty of parent-hounding while they do that waiting. But before anybody succumbs, give it some thought. The iPad also makes the Web very attractive and portable. Basically, it's a very big iPod Touch, which led to lots of family discussions after the recent holidays, when parents realized all of the Web was now in their kids' pockets wherever they went, and they hadn't thought about parental controls before giftwrapping. The iPhone and iTouch's App Store – including all the games and some parental-control apps – will be available for the iPad too. Check out the possibilities before giving 2010's "Toy of the Year" to your child (because the iPad will function very similarly, see "How To Setup Parental Controls on iPhone & iPod Touch."

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    Tuesday, February 02, 2010

    What's the deal with Farmville?

    If you believe what a few of its 72 million worldwide players told USATODAY, the Facebook-based, virtual-reality social game offers a mild sense of escape, fosters a sort of virtual diligence (about tending one's virtual crops and farm animals), and encourages community and charity toward one's virtual neighbors (neighbors get "points and gold for scaring away pests, fertilizing or feeding chickens" on each other's land). Farmville wasn't always purely positive, of course (see "Social gaming cleaning up its act?"). Farmville's parent, San Francisco-based game developer Zynga, announced last fall it was banishing all "offer advertising" from its games (Farmville fans, have you seen any lately?), but they're something to watch out for in social games – those parasitical little offers that tricked players into ultimately paying "far more for in-game currency than if they just paid [the game itself] cash," TechCrunch reported. Just because Zynga supposedly got rid of it doesn't mean other developers did, so talk with your kids about "free" offers on phones and on the Web. [Meanwhile, reports that the BBC is getting into social gaming (looking at the iPhone, Facebook, and Nintendo Wii and DS platforms), having hired a new executive VP of games.]

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    Monday, February 01, 2010

    PBS Frontline's 'Digital Nation': Presenting our generation with a crucial choice

    Seems to me, Gever Tully's Tinkering School would be the perfect antidote for all the concern about kids and digital media expressed in PBS Frontline's "Digital Nation" – hands-on problem-solving, lots of tools, collaboratively learning by doing, giving kids time to work the problem, celebrating and analyzing failures, teaching that success is embedded in the process (watch his TED Talk about this). The thing is, so much of that sort of tinkering is being done by kids using the very digital media and technologies that are the focus of our fears. But more on that in a minute.

    This time, Frontline, which airs on PBS this Tuesday night, is depicting the personal explorations of Digital Nation's writers themselves, those of Rachel Dretzin and Douglas Rushkoff, both parents. Last time, in 2008's "Growing Up Online," the stories were more those of the documentary's subjects. It's as if Dretzin, the producer of both Growing Up Online and Digital Nation, was shaken by what her reporting turned up in the last project. Thoughtful journalist/anthropologist that she is, she went in-depth and looked at all sides of those teens' stories, presenting the most balanced picture I'd seen anywhere to that point, having interviewed leading social-media researchers such as C.J. Pasco and danah boyd for depth and perspective.

    In Digital Nation, at least the preview version I saw this past weekend, it seems the main story is two parents' concerns. We're on a 90-minute journey with them, wending our way through skillfully told vignettes (about everything from a South Korean boy at videogame-addiction camp to the US Army's shopping-mall-based videogame arcade/ recruiting center to a corporation's daily multinational staff meetings in a virtual world) and thought-provoking interviews, again with top academics (e.g., MIT's Sherry Turkle, USC's Henry Jenkins, Arizona State's James Paul Gee, educator Katie Salen, Emory's Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation, and Marc Prensky, who coined the term "digital natives"). Important, if not particularly new, questions are raised – for example, about multitasking, etiquette, addiction, alienation, and the blurring of virtual and real.

    Documenting an angst-ridden point in history?

    Certainly we hear Rushkoff when he says "we need to know if we're tinkering with something more essential than we realize ... what it means to be a human being." But we also hear from scholars who have been studying that question very closely for years that, with societal and technological change, some things have always been lost and some gained. Prensky says on camera that "we confuse the best ways of doing something once [in our past] with the best ways of doing something forever." That's what so many of us are doing. Perhaps Dretzin and Rushkoff are Everyman, or Everyparent, and Digital Nation is documenting a point in history – here in the middle of this profound media shift Earth is experiencing – when we're fearing and mourning what's being lost a lot more than we're seeking and considering what is being gained.

  • Did the writers really hear James Paul Gee, when, in their interview with him, he told of how, in virtual worlds and multiplayer games, young people function in teams in which "everybody is an expert in something but they know how to integrate their expertise with everybody else's; they know how to understand the other person's expertise so they can pull off an action together in a complicated world"? That's what happens for home-schooled students and the teacher members of the Cognitive Dissonance guild in World of Warcraft – and with students at school on curriculum-grounded "quests" in an educational virtual world called Quest Atlantis developed by the University of Indiana School of Education.

  • Did they hear Gee when he said we have two school systems now – traditional school, fixated on delivering content via textbooks, and the informal school system of social media, where kids are problem-solving, researching, producing, etc. on their own because social media are largely blocked from schools?

  • How about Katie Salen – professor, director of the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons the New School for Design, and executive director of the Institute of Play – when she suggests on the show itself that seeing young people's game-based learning and play only through the lens of our old media environment, where virtual worlds didn't exist, may be somewhat myopic for us and limiting for our children? (See "From chalk 'n' talk to learning by doing" about Quest to Learn, a new school of which the Institute of Play is a founding partner.)

    Stick with 'chalk 'n' talk' or open our minds?

    For our children's sake, we really need to dig past the legitimate but relentless, visceral, and politically correct questions with which all parents and mass-media natives struggle and seriously consider what these scholars are saying. And not only them! I can't wait to see what Digital Nation's producers come up with next, now that the work of more than two dozen social-media scholars – Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out – has been released by MIT Press. It's a mother lode of stories about how young people learn in and with new media.

    Which brings me back to tinkering. I got that word from Sylvia Martinez, president of Generation Yes, who presented a workshop about it at Educon, a tech educators' conference, this past weekend. Reading through her past posts about it, in addition to references to Gever Tully, I found a profound 10-minute video interview with John Seely Brown, visiting professor at USC and former director of PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), about using digital technology to bring collaborative "tinkering" back to school. Digital Nation, please look into this next!...

    Collaborative tinkering & social capital for kids

    In the interview, Brown said: "I think we're moving into quite a different kind of world, one in which change is omnipresent, where we're beginning to find ways to bootstrap our own knowledge, tinker with ideas around us, find things we don't know, ask good questions, and be open to criticism." He calls for peer-based, collaborative learning, "because, from the sharing you begin to see how other kids use what you just created. Kids learn from each other as much as from an authority or mentor."

    Brown talks about how to make school responsive to the pace of change and suggests thinking of schools in terms of "distributed communities of practice," which digital-technology learning tools allow. "With these powerful tools with which to craft things, tinkering has really come back big time.... This networked world is an open-source world, where I can make something, pass it back to the community, and have that community do new things with it." This is not just a shift for media or even education, but for identity and self-worth: "In earlier decades, a lot of kids grew up thinking, I am what I'm wearing, how I dress, what my parents own; my identity came from those material possessions. Just maybe we're entering a world where ... a sense of identity starts to get constructed for myself based on what I have done, what I have created, and others have built on, passed on to others, and they have been able to do wondrous things with as well. A whole new sense of reputational capital and social capital is on the move...."

    Related links

  • "digital_nation: life on the virtual frontier" - the show's main page (the full 90-min show can be watched online right now here)
  • A review of Digital Nation by media professor Henry Jenkins (who appeared in Digital Nation and taught at MIT for 20 years, until moving to USC six months ago) offering a different take on "killer paragraphs" and multitasking MIT students (including his own)
  • The perspective of Duke University English professor Cathy Davidson, who wrote a book about the 19th-century panic over the destructive effect of novels on children
  • "PBS documentary questions tech and our future," by ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid
  • "Are you an Internet optimist or pessimist?: The great debate over technology's impact on society," by Adam Thierer
  • Of "Dangerism" at The Tinkering School blog
  • "Net safety: How social networks can be protective," where I blog about how James Paul Gee's Digital Nation interview got me to thinking about how what I call "the guild effect" – or online community social norming and self-policing – will be an increasingly key element of online safety going forward
  • Digital Nation interview: My thoughts on parenting our digital-age kids
  • The reality TV of school: Helping our kids with tech-assisted 24/7 school drama
  • My review of "Growing Up Online" two years ago – maybe a little biased; it's good I wasn't interviewed for Digital Nation

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