Post in our forum for parents, teens - You! - at

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why participatory media need to be in school

Writer, tech consultant, and educator Clay Shirky just gave a talk at the State Dept. explaining the media sea change we're experiencing globally. Keeping participatory media, the most fluent though not necessarily most literate users of which are youth, out of school only solidifies the firewall between formal and informal learning and holds school back from 21st-century relevance. Isn't the idea of adults unidirectionally disseminating to students info that the latter have actually never encountered before beginning to sound quaint? Doesn't helping students make sense of all the info they're gathering and think about the implications of all the info they're sharing, multidirectionally, almost 24/7, sound a little more current? Remember that old term "information superhighway"? Well, even back in Web 1.0, when the Internet was more mass-media-on-screens, it was getting to be like a "highway" for all forms of "transport." It simply can't be called either "technology" or a new medium that's being layered on top of life or school. It's technology + media + communication + producing + consuming + community and so on. It's a planet-size screen displaying, pipeline carrying, and mirror reflecting virtually all of human life. Shirky says the Net has become "the mode of carriage for all other media ... less a source of information and more a site of coordination" because people can now consume, produce and also gather 'round and talk about the info simultaneously.

So the Internet or participatory media simply can't be an add-on to what students are currently learning - just "another subject to be shoehorned into the curriculum as job training for knowledge workers," as author and professor Howard Rheingold put it, quoted by professor Michael Wesch here. That approach would sell students, the learning process, school, and participatory culture short. They need to learn new media literacy and how to function well and civilly in community (be civically engaged, good citizens) in and with multidirectional, many-to-many social media throughout the curricula, the school day, and all grade levels. Visionaries like Rheingold, Wesch, and Shirky - and some amazing tech educators I feel so lucky to have met - show how important it is for students, as both producers and consumers, to approach participatory media in an ethical, mindful, and literate way. That's what school could do if it stops blocking participatory media: bring the rigor and enrichment of formal learning to the informal-learning that's engaging students and, in the other direction, bring the meaningfulness of informal learning to school. I ran across all three of the above links while doing some research for a talk at Purdue University this week. I hope they'll be as thought-provoking for you as they were for me.

But those are just a couple of reasons. Send yours! (Post here or in the ConnectSafely forum) - you can email me via anne(at)

Labels: , , , ,

Undercover Mom in, Part 1: Romance in the air

By Sharon Duke Estroff

As with every children’s virtual world I’ve visited undercover, I found to have both its crown jewels and its skeletons in the closet.

Crown jewel: Socially acceptable doll play for tweens
When I was growing up, girls played with Barbies well past their 12th birthdays. Today, in contrast, publicly admitting to owning a Barbie Dream House at the age of 12 would equate to middle school social suicide. Not so, however, for her virtual counterpart. is one of the most popular websites in the burgeoning children’s virtual world market. K-Zero virtual world consultancy places it at 15 million unique accounts and skip counting. The vast majority of those accounts belonging to tween girls. This is welcome news considering the widespread concern among child development experts that the KGOY phenomenon (Kids Getting Older Younger) may be cheating millennial kids out of their one and only go round at childhood. has allowed a generation of cool-conscious tweens to stay on the pink bandwagon for just a little longer.

Skeleton in the closet: Questionable conversation
But just because the’s is the classic high-ponytailed pink silhouette doesn’t mean that the play is the same as in yesteryear. The chat and virtual interaction factors have added a completely different dimension to this Barbie world. Because pictures speak a thousand words – and I am frankly speechless after some of the conversations I witnessed – I am going to use screenshots to out this skeleton.

Surprising Barbie Girl Scene #1: I took this screenshot in the Extreme Dreamland palace, where ambience is kitschy Arabian Nights with matching background music. I’d just plopped myself down by the crystal ball when the avatar sitting next to me announced “I am a guys” (the filter disallows “guy” in the singular). Hmm, she/he sure doesn’t look like a guy….

Surprising Barbie Girl Scene #2: Once we’d established that he was of the male species and I of the female, our conversation progressed to the next level. Here is my new guy friend asking me if I’d like to make out. Note that his proposal is presented in separate bubbles to bypass filters that block certain strands of words.

Coming next week: more crown jewels and skeletons oat For an index of the complete Undercover Mom series to date, please click here.

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Important new book on youth online

So much great work in youth social-media use and online safety has been going on in the UK, from the Byron Review and ensuing Action Plan to the just-released "Digital Manifesto" from a coalition of children's nonprofits to to the EU Kids Online project based at the London School of Economics & Political Science. LSE professor Sonia Livingstone has been busy - having directed EU Kids Online, a three-year, 21-country study that just ended with a conference last week; won a 2.5 million-euro ($3.47m) grant for two more years' research ("one of the largest ever won by the LSE," reports); and published her new book, Children and the Internet: Great Expectations, Challenging Realities. Media professor Henry Jenkins has just blogged a short interview with Livingstone about her book here, commenting on the balance she has always struck: The book, he writes, "will be of immediate relevance for all of us doing work on new media literacies and digital learning and beyond, for all of you who are trying to make sense of the challenges and contradictions of parenting in the digital age. As always, what I admire most about Livingstone is her deft balance," Jenkins writes. I hope he won't mind if I share an especially interesting comment from Livingstone in the interview: "I've sought to show how young people's enthusiasm, energies and interests are a great starting point for them to maximize the potential the internet could afford them, but they can't do it on their own, for the internet is a resource largely of our - adult - making. And it's full of false promises.... It invites civic participation, but political groups still communicate one-way more than two-way, treating the internet more as a broadcast than an interactive medium; and adults celebrate young people's engagement with online information and communication at the same time as seeking to restrict them, worrying about addiction, distraction, and loss of concentration, not to mention the many fears about pornography, race hate and inappropriate sexual contact." I first wrote about Livingstone's work in 2003 and most recently in "Fictionalizing their profiles."

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Will India switch to Facebook?

Facebook has serious designs on India, but "for years [Google's] Orkut has dominated the Indian social-networking scene," Business Week reports. Facebook added Hindi and five other Indian languages last month, bringing the total number of languages it supports to 57, "with several dozen more in the works." Some question why, though, since such a high percentage of India's Net-using population speak English, especially connected young urbanites. The real draw for Facebook, probably, is English-speaking friends overseas who already use Facebook. A New Delhi-based source told Business Week that none of her US friends use Orkut, so she had to join Facebook. On the other hand, globally, linguistic diversity and issues may not be the issue so much as differences in how digital media and technologies are used from country to country, an interesting piece in Ad Age suggests, also using India as an example.

Labels: , , ,

Virtual world populations to skyrocket

At 27% growth between now and 2015, children aged 5-9 are the biggest growth sector of a global virtual world population that will grow from 186 million to 640 million by 2015, Virtual Worlds News reports. Citing just-released figures from market researchers Strategy Analytics, the report says "that's almost 100 million new players a year, a nearly 25% compounded annual growth rate." The current biggest growth demographic, tweens and teens, is expected to grow 21% in the next six years, and adult virtual world users will just triple. So from now till 2015, the actual numbers given are 5-to-9-year-olds, 50 million to 209.9 million; 10-to-17-year-olds, 125m-395.6m; and adults, 11.5m-32.5m. As for how VWs will make money: microtransactions, largely, which means sales associated with virtual objects such as clothes, furniture, pets, transportation, weapons, armor, spells, real estate - some for VWs simulating RL (real life), some for quests and other aspects of multiplayer online game play. Though some, such as Disney's Pixie Hollow and Webkinz and Webkinz Jr also have associated real-world objects for sale, e.g. Webkinz stuffed animals (for the latest on that, see this). Virtual Worlds News says microtransactions will account for 86% of all VW revenue, growing from over $1 billion now to $17.3 billion in 2015. Business Week linked to this story here.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More Internet, less family time?

Not necessarily, but while a just-released study doesn't come out and blame the Internet, one of its lead researchers seems to. The latest release of the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future's longitudinal survey found that 28% of Americans say they're spending less time with their families, up from 11% in 2006, according to an Associated Press report in Yahoo Tech. It was citing the 2009 edition of a survey Annenberg (at the University of Southern California) has been conducting annually since 2000. "The decline in family time coincides with a rise in Internet use and the popularity of social networks, though [the] study stopped just short of assigning blame," the AP reports. However, the respondents "did not report spending less time with their friends." As for their views of time spent online: In 2000, 11% of the 2,000+ respondents (ages 12 and up) said that family members under 18 were spending too much time online. By 2008, the latest study, that figure had grown to 28%. It also found that higher-income families reported "greater loss of family time" than lower-income ones, and "more women than men said they felt ignored by a family member using the Internet." Center senior fellow Michael Gilbert does seem to single out the Internet more than other technologies, such as TV and cellphones, as problematic, though, as the AP paraphrases him as saying that the Net "is so engrossing, and demands so much more attention than other technologies, that it can disrupt personal boundaries in ways other technologies wouldn't have." Here's Annenberg's report page.

Labels: , , , , ,

Pediatricians' role in dealing with bullying

Perri Klass, M.D., thoughtfully tells a story on herself about how her thinking about both victims and bullies has changed - and how differently she'd approach them as a pediatrician, based on what we now know from the research. In her commentary in the New York Times, she also reports a key development in pediatrics: "Next month, the American Academy of Pediatrics will publish the new version of an official policy statement on the pediatrician’s role in preventing youth violence. For the first time, it will have a section on bullying." This is huge progress. Klass also touches on what schools can do about bullying, adding the vital healthcare piece to the judicial one (the view of a juvenile judge in Georgia blogged about here) and the school piece (see this about a new anti-bullying program for schools called CAPSULE). She writes that, "for a successful anti-bullying program, the school needs to survey the children and find out the details - where it happens, when it happens.... Through class discussions, parent meetings and consistent responses to every incident, the school must put out the message that bullying will not be tolerated.... Parents of these children need to be encouraged to demand that schools take action, and pediatricians probably need to be ready to talk to the principal. And we need to follow up with the children to make sure the situation gets better, and to check in on their emotional health and get them help if they need it."

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bing's better

Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, got off to a rocky start where porn filtering was concerned. It got rave reviews except for the way it allowed people to bypass its SafeSearch filter even after set to "strict filtering," which my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid wrote about at CNET. Microsoft quickly made two changes that pretty much solve the problem if parents have filtering software installed on the computers their kids use (or use Microsoft's or Apple's operating-system-level parental controls). Now you can just put the URL "" into the filter's list of sites to block, and the filter will block all sexually explicit images Bing searches might turn up. Sites already excluded from the filter, such as, will also not display in, Larry explains. What won't work is what I suggested in my original post about Bing: simply turning on strict filtering and - if kids are compliant with a rule about not changing the strict setting - having peace of mind that nothing untoward will turn up without filtering software, as is true with other search engines. But to Microsoft's credit, it acted very quickly in response to concerns.

Labels: , , , , ,