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Friday, September 14, 2007

Social networking & school

The US's 14th-largest school district believes social-networking tools have instructional value. Ted Davis, director of enterprise information services for Fairfax County Public Schools in the Washington, D.C., area told that to Christopher Heum of Even though MySpace is "public enemy No. 1" to many schools, he writes, "now, as more social-networking tools like blogs and wikis are developed for classroom use, technology directors face a difficult dilemma: how to balance the educational benefits of these new tools with concerns about student privacy and safety." Some school administrators seem to think that MySpace is the all of the "social-networking problem" and simply block that and maybe a few other social sites, when the number of such sites is multiplying exponentially and many "traditional" Web sites are adding social-networking features. In a not-to-be-missed commentary in the Christian Science Monitor, Mark Franek of Philadelphia University and former dean of students at Philadelphia's William Penn Charter School writes: "Want to have a conversation with an author, a professor, a critic, or a journalist? Want to utilize the 'oral histories' or expertise of your classmates' families, relatives, and friends? Want to talk to someone in Boston or Baghdad about something that is going on under their boots or in their brains? If they have an Internet connection, send them a link and invite them to join your online classroom discussion. In several profound ways, the classroom is no longer a pedagogical 'black box'." Here's another view on social networking at, a nonprofit site for blogging about social issues.

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Oz panel to study social-site safety

Australia's federal government announced it has appointed a task force "to investigate the safety of social networking sites and the danger they pose to Australian children," Australia's ABC News reports. "The Social Network Consultative Group is part of the Government's $189 million NetAlert program." The panel will also consider "strategies," including legislation, that might make social networking safer.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Parent-teen connectedness, online & off

Pediatrician Trish Hutchison and ob-gyn Melisa Holmes, authors of the "Girlology" books for girls 11-16, say that "leaders in the field of adolescent health" call parent-child connectedness a "super-protector" for teens. They say it can have positive effects like fostering teen self-esteem and coping skills, reducing violence and drug use, and improve social relationships. In their book site the two docs have 10 tips for parents on how to connect with their teenage children. It looks to me like they apply just as well to parents of boys. I especially like the last four and have used variations of them many times myself when talking to fellow parents (the authors elaborate on the following on the page I link to above): "Be a parent more than a friend…. Learn the art of active listening…. Don’t freak out over anything [they] tell you - at least not in front of [them]…. [and] Encourage safe risk-taking." All the tips are applicable to their online lives as much as their offline ones.


Innovative child-protection tech

Its creator, Adam Hildreth, 22, calls it the Anti-Grooming Engine, The Guardian reports. "He claims the product is 99.9% effective in identifying adults online with a sexual motivation," and it's not keyword filtering. "The software is designed to look out for conversation patterns, typing speed, use of grammar and punctuation, and any aggressive or bullying language. Using extracts of online conversations between young people as examples of 'good' data, it is fed into the computer and compared with conversation gathered from that of suspected groomers." And the computer, he says, "learns" to tell the difference. CyberSentinel in the US has made some similar claims in the past, indicating that others have thought of this approach (see this in 2001). The proof is in the pudding, though, The Guardian cites one child-safety advocate as saying, and the pudding's not done yet - check out the article to get the full picture. Here's info in our forum site,, about "How to recognize grooming."

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

YouTube scene in RL

This Washington Post article offers insights into what you might call the YouTube scene, the one populated by YouTube celebrities and their fans. It tells about a recent gathering of YouTubers in "real life." An example of the former: SXePhil. That's " the alias of 21-year-old University of South Florida student and Web heartthrob Philip DeFranco, whose videos have been viewed millions of times." Then there are the ones who have corporate sponsors that pay for product placements in the YouTubers' videos. As for online entertainment in general, the Wall Street Journal article profiled singer and guitarist Marie Digby, who, the Journal says, illustrates how "the Internet is transforming the world of entertainment."


Adult's view of 3 social sites

San Jose Mercury News columnist Dean Takahashi wondered "which social network [was] worth joining" among three biggies: MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The three "all make it easier for you to express yourself and meet people with shared interests, but each focuses on a different area." You'll want to read the article for details on each, but he makes a good point that no single social site can do all things for all people - each has its strengths and weaknesses, which of course are different for each user. Meanwhile, CNBC reporter Julia Boorstin offers a look at some newer niche social-networking sites.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Increasingly connected online kids

For a long time in online safety talks, we've been stating what is probably obvious but deserves some family discussion: The number of devices on which and access points (friends' houses, wi-fi hot spots, etc.) at which youth can social network and otherwise use the Net is growing fast. The newest iPod is yet another example of the latter. It joins Microsoft's Zune as something that young people will probably deem a very cool way to access the Net. The new iPod Touch "is a touch-screen device that lets anyone in range of a wi-fi hot spot buy music or surf the Web. The version with 8 gigabytes of storage will cost $299 and the 16-gigabyte version $399," the Los Angeles Times reports. Microsoft has cut Zune's price in response, PC World reports. Apple also cut the price of the iPhone by $200. Here are a PC World blog's "Fifteen Random Thoughts about the New iPods." Google News linked to some 1,700 stories around the world on Apple's announcement. BTW, I mentioned family discussion up there. What I'm referring to is discussion about kids making good use of and developing the "filter" between their ears as they access the Net via all these places and devices.


Monday, September 10, 2007

For female gamers

US society has evolved since the '60s, but videogaming is stuck in a pre-Feminism time warp, and the Los Angeles Times profiles someone working on that problem: Christa Phillips, screenname TriXie, "a goodwill ambassador for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox Live online game service. Her online group, GamerchiX, functions as a virtual Grand Central Terminal for women and girls who tread into the testosterone-steeped world of console gaming." TriXie told the L.A. Times that some women get either trash-talked or hit on ("or both") the minute they join the Xbox Live fray, which can be a bit of a deterrent. She estimates that 10-20% of Xbox Live's 7 million members are women. For those unfamiliar with Xbox Live, the service is used to find opponents ad teammates and to chat either via voice (usually using headsets) or instant messaging." This article offers some great context on the female gaming community as a whole too.


Videogames as art

"Just like paintings, sculptures, plays, films, or symphonies, videogames can both display breathtaking aesthetics and convey powerful messages. Videogames can carry the twin payloads of beauty and purpose as any other artistic medium," writes CNET editor Will Greenwald. Click "PRESS START" on the page and you'll see screenshots of 10 examples, among them Bioshock (featuring "brilliant art deco-inspired level design and fascinating analysis of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and the Objectivist movement"), Okami, Metal Gear Solid, Eternal Sonata, and Alice. Meanwhile, CNN reports that producers in this very visual artistic medium have "largely ignored … the blind." "With that in mind, a team of researchers at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab in Massachusetts set out this summer to make a music-based video game that's designed for mainstream players and also accessible to the blind."


Sunday, September 09, 2007

CA may ban teen tech use in cars

California is one of 11 states considering a law banning teens' use of cellphones and other electronic devices while driving. "At least 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed bans," the Associated Press reports. California has already passed a law that will require adults to use hands-free phones and takes effect next July, but this law would apply to kids' use of any non-emergency devices, including hands-free phones, laptops, hand-held media players, etc. "Last month, police in suburban Phoenix blamed a teen's text-messaging habit for a head-on crash that killed two people," according to the AP.

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