Reaction Paper #2: How People Learn & New Media

Readings for this week include the first chapter of How People Learn, by Bransford et al. 1999, and Living and Learning with New Media, by Ito et al. 2008.

(I’m just including my last paragraph, which I think was the most interesting.)

A lot of schools and teachers are threatened by this generation of seemingly empowered, engaged, technology-savvy youth with their “resilient set of questions about adult authority.” (Ito et al. 2008) Further, “our values and norms in education, literacy, and public participation are being challenged by a shifting landscape of media and communications in which youth are central actors. Although complaints about ‘kids these days’ have a familiar ring to them, the contemporary version is somewhat unusual in how strongly it equates generational identity with technology identity, an equation that is reinforced by telecommunications and digital media corporations that hope to capitalize on this close identification.” (Ito et al. 2008) I want to address this very last part: the corporations. All these interfaces, platforms, and services are run by corporations, whose goal is to make money. This capitalistic ethos is built into the web, our children’s playground, and the companies make money when you to come back. They provide dopamine hits by alerts of connections to friends, by the functions of affirmations (“Pokes” or “Likes”), and by presenting solvable problems (such as in games), which is far from true about dilemmas in the teenage world. They provide quantifiable measures of popularity or desirability, which might at first seem like a reflection of content, but it’s not a far leap to being a measure of worth: the most followers, friends, shares, or comments. All this engenders FOMO (fear of missing out) and drama, such as “unfollow me and I’ll unfollow you.” This, naturally, affects actual identity formation and the conception of what it means to be successful in life. I’m not a technological determinist, clinical psychologist, nor anti-capitalist, but as the interfaces becoming increasingly seemless and as a greater percentage of our learning and life is extended on these platforms, I get a little skittish. Like many generations before me, my guiding hope is in education.

Opinions in this last paragraph were influenced by It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens, by danah boyd, and by a critique written of the book by Michael Simon, reprinted with permission on ISTE’s Indenpendent School Educator Network’s blog.

Staying Informed: Facebook

From our counselor: Adolescents are impulsive in their actions, focused on connecting to peers and taking risks. Thank goodness! Otherwise they would never have the courage to face the very scary world we live in and eventually leave home. The challenge is that technology feeds all three of these, and the results are not always conducive to a healthy, happy childhood.

Today, when kids turn 13, it’s not just about being a teenager: it’s about Facebook. The Facebook policy requires users to be 13, and signing up for an account, with all the connectedness it offers, might be equivalent to the Quinciñera or getting to vote.

This is where you (the adults) come in. Just as we don’t give them the keys to the car and wish them luck on the highway, we wouldn’t give them access to the internet without so much as a couple hours behind the wheel.

So as a parent (or teacher), how do you talk to your kid (student) about using facebook?

  • Know it yourself – have a facebook page. The best way to understand the experience is to be a part of it. If you kid loved lacrosse, you would probably pick up a stick or watch a couple games just to get a sense of it. Friend your kid. DON’T POST ON THEIR WALL.
  • Go through the account settings. I think of these as what others see about me. There are a lot of settings – you don’t have to do it all at once.
  • Go through the privacy settings. I think of these as who sees what I post. There are a lot of settings – you don’t have to do it all at once.
  • Show your child how to use the “View As” feature to see how their profile appears to the public or to their friends.

My mantra is that everything you share is PERMANENT & PUBLIC. Even on my personal account, I pretend my boss is looking over my shoulder. You never know who might see it.

Facebook is an amazing tool for connecting with friends and family across time and space. I play Scrabble against my mother who lives very far away, and it helps me feel more connected to her. On the other, if it becomes a world absent of adult guidance, like teenage drivers without navigation, it can become a tragic pile up of hurt feelings, broken friendships, and life-haunting videos from that one party in 8th grade.

Learning to manage social networks is a skill that kids need to be taught.

The first time I sat in the driver’s seat of my mom’s Pontiac Grand Am. It was the exhilarating taste of freedom. My mom worried that I would drive with the music too loud with my friends or not look all directions in the intersection. I was impulsive, peer-driven, and ignorant of the risks, but she sat next to me.

Maybe that’s what signing in to Facebook feels like. Same teenagers, different technology.

Build a Common Culture, Stay Informed, and Start the Conversation

These three tenets are the mantra of the middle school parent-tech partnership. Adolescents will always come up with new, wonderfully inventive ways of looking at rules and situations. Thank goodness! Because if they just did the same as we did, the world would never change. As a result of this, it’s impossible to come up with a rule for every situation. I like to come back to these tenets to guide my reactions:

1. Stay Informed

2. Start the Conversation

  • Even a protest is a conversation starter

3. Build a Common Culture

  • Setting boundaries on connectivity for all devices
  • Set family rules, like all technology used in common spaces
  • Model good technology behaviors, like not texting at the dinner table if you don’t want others texting then.
  • It’s about trust and respect, not technology
What does this look like in practice?
  • Your son wants to use his iPod touch to listen to music to fall asleep at night. You agree, but then begin to notice he’s having trouble getting up in the morning and seems more tired than usual.
  • Before you take it away or assume your child is using it all night,
    • Stay Informed: What things are possible on an iPod touch other than music? The most important thing is that it is possible to connect to the internet, so might he be messaging with friends or facebooking late? What do other parents do?
    • Start the Conversation: Ask him why he might be more tired. Ask him what else he uses his iPod touch for (during any time of day – leave it open). Ask what kind of music is he listening to and maybe listen along.
    • Build a Common Culture: What do you do with your technology at night? Do you listen to music to fall asleep? How can we work together to get more restful sleep?
These tenets help me get to the issue before jumping to conclusions. I realize that these may not be straightforward or easy issues, but they are important conversations and life habits to instill in adolescents.  We are invested in growing healthy, tech-balanced kids who can eventually manage their devices independently as adults. As your tech coordinator, I am here for you as a resource.