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Raising Digital Natives at SXSWedu: Digital Citizenship, Empathy and Apps

I just returned from speaking at SXSWedu. I had an incredible time—what an experience. SXSWedu is unlike most education conferences because of the diversity of speakers and attendees. There were app developers, policy experts, publishers, school leaders, teachers, students, and activists all at the same conference in Austin, TX. Not quite as huge as the Interactive and Music festivals that follow, but large enough that it could feel overwhelming at times, or at least cause twinges of the “fear of missing out.” Luckily, my interactions and experiences were so engaging that I had little time to consider what might be happening elsewhere at the same moment. I can’t possibly do justice to my whole experience, nor will I try to make you hungry by detailing all the amazing tacos I ate in Austin. But here are a few of the conversations that I got to dip into that will inspire my writing, speaking, and consulting going forward.

There were a significant number of people who share my obsessions: 1) empathy in the digital age; 2) thoughtful digital citizenship; and 3) parent engagement with educational technology innovation. I was privileged in that my talk was one of the very first sessions of the conference. My Future 15 talk, “This is Their Hearts on Smartphones” offered an update on my TEDx from earlier this year. Afterwards, I got to meet some inspiring people, whom I know I’ll be talking to and learningScreen Shot 2015-03-12 at 7.57.16 PM from again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Citizenship

I’ve been dying to meet Carl Hooker since we got to work with some other great folks on webinar on engaging parents with edtech. (Free and archived here). Carl and I talked about the huge need for parent support in teaching digital citizenship, professional development for teachers, and student workshops. I got to see him do his incredibly relevant and hysterically funny workshop on parenting in the 21st century called, “Raised by Siri.” Getting to compare notes and strategize about doing this work with a like-minded educator like Carl filled me with inspiration and excitement.

I was also thrilled to encounter Jessica Millstone, a brilliant fellow digital citizenship expert I’ve been hoping to meet for years! She’s at Brain Pop, one of my favorite ed tech companies. We got to chat at a EdTechWomen’s lovely meetup for women in educational technology  where we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, skyline views, and the company of smart women who develop, consult, and innovate in the world of ed tech.

After my talk, I also met Professor Nick Bowman—and I got to attend his panel as well. He’s a professor in the Communication Department at West Virginia University, researching how individuals construct their relationships with social media. I can’t wait to hear more about his research and to share some data here. As a former professor of Media Studies, I love to catch up with academic colleagues to hear the latest in the field.

Privacy vs. Parents: Diving Into the Controversies

SXSWedu has been the site of controversial discussions about privacy in the past, so it was great to hear from experts about the latest recommendations for best practices. Two years ago at SXSWedu, the controversial student data collection/analysis repository inBloom was a major presenter. Parents around the country were very concerned about how inBloom might use and share student data. Ultimately, pushback from concerned parents caused inBloom to close. This story is the perfect cautionary tale of educational technology NOT meeting parental concerns—exactly the kind of breakdown I am working to address. 

Since my parent engagement work helps schools understand parental concerns better, this erosion of trust between parents, schools, and policy makers is very instructive to my work. So you can imagine that I was very excited to dive into discussions of privacy at SXSWedu, including a summit on Privacy and Student Data.

It was at this summit that I caught the latest research from Pew Researcher Amanda Lenhart. The Pew research on the “Internet and American Life” is one of the sources of data I share most frequently in my parent talks. Amanda Lenhart presented updates from Pew’s studies of teenagers. One key data point is that teenagers “do take steps to actively manage their reputations online.” Based on my own conversations with young adults, I find this to be true as well—and use it to reassure the parents and teachers with whom I work. 

Meeting app/curriculum designers in person

One of the best reasons to go to SXSWedu was to meet people who research, develop, create, and market the tech tools used by students and educators with whom I work. I had a great time at Edutopia’s party chatting with Ronnie Burt from EduBlogs, a tool that allows students to blog and share their experiences—and Henry Lyford from Edmodo, a collaborative tool used by numerous schools that I’ve worked with. I learned so much from them about how they incorporate teacher and student feedback into their work! Getting to talk to app creators is such a great chance to learn about the feedback process, and to see how important our experience as everyday users is to these companies.

Empathy

On the empathy front, I was delighted to meet Rachel Zindler and Hannah Rosenthal from Teaching2gether, a new organization that  is doing some amazing work around inclusion and rethinking special needs education. Teaching2gether did a great session that helped educators feel empathy for all of their different learners by offering simulations of various learning differences and physical disabilities so educators could experience how they would impair engagement in a typical classroom. The experiential strategy made for great conversations and allowed the audience to engage at a much deeper level than is typical for a panel presentation.

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 At this session, I met another app designer:  Michele Walker, a guidance counselor and mother who created the app Choiceworks to help her own quirky kids thrive in school and at home. Since I use Choiceworks at home, Michele is a hero to me!

Finally, as a co-author of a brand-new curriculum, it was exciting to meet Andrea Lovanhill, who works with the highly regarded anti-bullying curriculum, Second Step. I loved that we met on an escalator and she took the time to have a quick lunch with me so I could learn more about Second Step.

Overall, experiences like this left me feeling like the trek to SXSWedu was highly worthwhile. So many great people were willing to talk and engage—it was an honor to be on the program and get to share my work in such smart company. This post only describes a fraction of the encounters and fantastic conversations I had at SXSWedu. I look forward to continuing the conversations and collaborating with my digital citizenship comrades in the very near future!

 

Kids crave their parents' attention, but sometimes digital devices get in the way.

Your Attention Please!: Kids Design Apps for Their Parents

Kids crave their parents' attention, but sometimes digital devices get in the way.In my last post, I talked about “app development” workshops that I do with 4th–7th graders to illuminate the issues that technology introduces into our lives. We start by identifying a common problem, then trying to solve the problem with a designed solution.

We talked about apps to help with impatience and persistence with regard to text messaging, group chat dynamics, and setting boundaries in kids’ use of technology. You can read the whole article here: Kids Design an App.

In the course of these workshops, the kids went beyond peer-to-peer issues. Every single kid had stories about their parents not really hearing them when they are talking, texting while they are driving, or having their kids text for them so they could drive. Some kids reported resorting to hiding their parents’ phones while they are cooking or otherwise distracted so that they can talk with them. Other kids told stories of having to repeat entire stories about their day as parents drive, text, and talk with their kids. Hearing this made me never want to risk a pedestrian crossing again!

The kids are way ahead—and again, they came up with some great solutions. I have to warn you, though. As a parent myself, these were somewhat guilt inducing, and caused me to be very self-aware. It’s a good thing, ultimately, but I can’t say that it was easy. You may have the same reactions, so there’s my disclaimer up front!

Their biggest concerns were around attention and protection, which is not surprising for this age group. Let’s look at the issues, and the solutions that the kids designed:

Parental Attention

Kids understand that smartphone technology—and the connection that comes with it—makes demands on our attention. How many times have you seen a parent focused on the “second screen” while a child tries to get his/her attention? It’s easy to spot when it’s another parent, but be honest—have you done this before? As mindful as I try to be, I know that I am guilty at times. And this is a big issue for kids.

The most common solution to this issue that the kids “designed” was a voice recognition app that temporarily disables the parent’s phone if the child is speaking in the same space. If your child is speaking in proximity to you, it disables texting, social media, and phone calls. If you are talking on the phone, it gives you an indication to end the call.

Kids recognized that it wasn’t always realistic to just stop doing whatever you’re doing—they get that parents have jobs and other stuff to do! They understand that sometimes you need to finish up what you’re doing before you can give them the attention they want. But when “5 more minutes, please” turns into an hour, they want help. One group of kids designed an app that puts a time limiter on your device. So when you say you need 5 more minutes, it grants you that—but then shuts down your phone. They appropriately named this the “5 More Minutes” app.

They also want to use the STEL app that I mentioned in my last post as a gentle reminder to their parents to “Stop Texting, Enjoy Life.” Sometimes it’s that simple, right?

Inappropriate Content

Kids design an app to help to help manage their parents!It’s also a good sign that kids are aware that there are things they shouldn’t be seeing. They reported coming into the room, usually after bedtime, and seeing things on TV that they know is not appropriate. If you watch Scandal, House of Cards, or anything on HBO, you know what I’m talking about. The kids expressed some clever ideas about how to manage this.

My favorite is the “Earmuffs App,” which was spontaneously developed by one group of children in a recent workshop. If you, the parent, are watching TV with “swearing” and “inappropriate content” and your child comes into the room, the app senses it and 1) switches the content to your smartphone or tablet and 2) mutes all the “swear words.” Brilliant!

Don’t Text and Drive

When the subject of parents and their technology comes up, children invariably bring up driving. You may not text and drive, or you may not think that your kids notice when you do. But so many kids in these workshops mention the issue—it is clear that this is happening. Some kids also report that their parents ask them to text or call for them while they are driving, which is safer but still annoying as kids want to tell you about their day in the car, not play secretary.

Not only do I want to be safe, but I also want to model good behavior for the kids in the back seat. Children seem to understand the safety issues of driving distracted, but I get the sense that it’s not their primary concern. They can’t relate to the responsibility of driving, and they trust in their parents’ capability and control. For them, the issue is parental attention. They kept going back to the apps mentioned above—limiters that can turn off technology and turn on parent-to-child attention.

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As I mentioned above, some of this was hard for me to hear. All of this suggests that parents are not listening to their kids—and that kids feel frustrated about it. Clearly, our kids want more from us than they are getting. This hit home for me as I often check email as my son plays with Lego or digs into a coloring book. While I tend to think of this as parallel play, I need to check in with if and how I am making myself “unavailable.”

This certainly echoes Catherine Steiner Adair’s findings in her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, and some of Sherry Turkle’s findings in Alone Together. App design was a great solutions-oriented way for kids to get creative around these problems and to recognize that many of them share common challenges.

Lynn Schofield Clark wrote a great book called The Parent App: Understanding Families in the Digital Age that addresses how families in different demographic groups use technology, but in reality, there is no “Parent App.” It’s up to us as parents to recognize the signs, get self-reflective, and make corrections on our own. Our kids are watching and learning from every little thing we do, and from these workshops, they are speaking loud and clear about what they need from us.

P.S. I hope that you’ll take this post in the right spirit. The twinges of guilt that I experienced subsided into something productive after the initial shock. I wish the same for you—that this will help you see things in a new light. As always, I welcome any comments, criticisms, observations, or new ideas. We’re all in this together!

 

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Positive Media! Mad scientist girl on YOUTUBE.

This blog post is about fascinating folks I encountered at the Digital Media and Learning Conference last weekend in SF.

I went to a great panel on “Democratizing Learning Innovation” that included innovator and Tinkering School guru Gever Tulley as well as Sylvia and her “tech ninja” dad, and some other folks…When I was a kid, my scientist dad and I did experiments, but this takes this practice to a whole new level. Both Tulley and Sylvia and her dad think making things/failing/trying/experimenting is a great way to learn things, and I have to agree! Check out Super Awesome Sylvia’s amazing channel. I love her energy, and I love the fact that she is encouraging kids to try complex tinkering and science. I love that she’s a girl doing the mad-scientist thing…

The combination of old school science and new school dissemination on youtube is a delightful pairing. As Gever pointed out, we often treat kids as if they are incompetent and need protection. While as a mom of a three year old, I recognize that there is SOME need for protection, I can also see that my kid can already do much more than I let him, and with encouragement, can really innovate. I look forward to trying some of Tulley’s 50 Dangerous things you should let your kid do…Once little guy is just a bit bigger. Keep on being Super Awesome, Slyvia!