A recent New York Times article entitled The Dicey Parent-Teacher Duet, looks at the delicate balance these days in the relationship between parents and teachers and, in part, takes up the question of the pros and cons of digital communication between the two groups. While the article is mainly directed at teachers, both sides should probably take note of some of the suggestions that were made, which is why I take up the issue here.
Of course, it is obvious that digital communication between parents and teachers can be very powerful. It is timely, quick and easy and can be done asynchronously, or in other words, when both parties have time during the busy working day. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this works very well.
There is, of course, the potential for issues and if you are a parent who likes to text or send email to staff at your child's school, here are some things to think about:
Keeping Your Data
I've often written in this column that just because you delete something online does not mean it is gone. The regulations regarding Facebook in Europe are different because of the strict privacy laws in Ireland, where the company office is based, so when people began requesting to see what personal information had been saved, they were often amazed to receive over a hundred pages of related information including posts they thought they had deleted. Just because it does not appear online anymore does not mean that dreadful picture or horrible post is gone forever.
Protecting Your Data
Your data should be protected in some way and that should be spelled out. Remind kids to check for language that indicates their data is protected such as "take commercially reasonable precautions to protect the information from loss, misuse and unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, and destruction of data."
Change is in the Wind
Privacy policies change all the time. For example, Facebook tends to change theirs on a regular basis and they have even removed the word "privacy" from their policy, which means that you may be looking for something other than a "privacy" policy when looking for information about how you are protected. Ideally, you should be notified of a change in policy by email, text, or an announcement on the site. Many sites act like your continued use of the site is your acceptance of any policy changes. If it is a site you use on a regular basis, you may want to check every few months to see what changes have been made and kids should be reminded to do this as well.
With the holidays upon us I always get a lot of questions about how to help grandparents get set up with technology. With digital technology, particularly the Internet, becoming more and more essential to staying in touch with each other, much less being able to get your hands on the proper government forms or to find out how to order a new coffee pot lid, technology is no longer just for tweens and early (or even late) adopters. It has moved from being something "nice to have" to a necessity these days.
Of course the biggest problem with getting grandparents involved in technology is that you often become the first line of tech support. For most of us, including the so called "experts" on those technology help lines, this is an exercise in exasperation and frustration, but having the person on the other line be someone who changed your diapers and put up with your teenage years certainly adds to the tension of the situation.
There is a way to make this easier: Switch your parents to the exact same technology products you use every day. It is the best way to understand those little oops moments and chances are most of their issues will be problems you have already encountered (and hopefully solved) yourself. As for problems you don't recognize, well let's just say it is easier trying to talk someone through a jammed printer when you have the exact same printer in front of you. Some well-meaning folks try to set their parent up with "easier to use" phones, computer and TV sets. In the end this often proves to have the exact opposite effect, especially if you live hundreds of miles away. Chances are if you can see it and know it you will have much better luck helping someone fix it.
Unless this is an initial set of some new technology, you may need to talk the grandparents into this approach. If they already have technology that they have been using and it works for them (televisions seems to the least problematic), you may just want to leave it alone and just make the "matching" technology a rule for new purchases or for items that need constant attention.
Overall , there are probably four major problem areas where having the same technology at your house and at the grandparents might make sense and will keep frustrations with problem-solving to a minimum.
Just remember, duplication can be your friend.
Now a new study about the happiness of college students is being related to Facebook and is saying much the same thing, albeit somewhat in reverse. We tend to look at other people's Facebook (and other social networking) pages and because just the accomplishments and warm and fuzzy moments in other people's lives are chronicled there, we tend to think that our own lives don't stack up. We tend to think we are the only ones who are depressed and get down and out. Perhaps this is the digital version of not being able to see the forest for the trees.
Of course, this is nothing new. Montesquieu is quoted as saying: "If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are." But there is something to the idea that social networking may be making this tendency worse. By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people's lives, and inviting constant comparison, we tend to see ourselves as the losers, giving credence to the idea that Facebook exploits an Achilles' heel of human nature. As for teenage boys and girls, always less than satisfied bunch, they may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses.
I am not saying that we need to do away with Facebook. I just think that it is another media literacy lesson we have to teach our kids. It could be as simple as asking them if they know anyone, including themselves, who highlights the low moments in their lives in equal proportion to the high ones on Facebook or other social networking sites? It is also a good reminder to ourselves about other parent's Facebook or photo scrapbook pages, that only include the golden moments with their kids, their careers and their significant others. We have to remember that we are only seeing the "up" moments - not the inevitable bumps in the road that rise up for all. It is important for us to remember that we are only seeing a "slice" of their life and no comparisons are required.
Of course, they are right about online safety. Right from the beginning kids need to understand that being online is a lot like being out in the real world. What concerns me instead is the interpretation of this study. For example, one of the findings is that "More young children know how to play a computer game (58%) than swim (20%) or ride a bike (52%)." For 2-5 year olds, I would say that is probably exactly what I would expect most parents to say and that would not be developmentally unusual at all. Another is that "28% of young children can make a mobile phone call, but only 20% know to dial 911 in case of an emergency." How can you survey that so precisely - is that what parents think their 2-5 year olds know or has it been put to the test, heaven forbid?
Using these statistics, the interpreters of this survey seem absolutely convinced that kids are acquiring computer skills sooner than "traditional real world skills." As a result some of the write-ups are generating headlines like "Learning to Play ‘Angry Birds' Before You Can Tie Your Shoes" and "Growing Up Digital: Can Kids Balance Tech Skills and Life Skills?" with articles in publications like the Wall Street Journal opening with lines like "Kids today are better wielding a mouse or smartphone than swimming or making their own breakfast. What's a parent to do?"
You can read the press release for yourself, but my advice - let's not get hysterical quite yet. My guess is that kids, at their own pace, will still learn to ride bikes, how to swim and even make their own breakfast. (One other statistic implied that 2-5 year olds didn't know how to shovel snow because of technology. Give me a break!) Let's just help them be careful out there in both the real and online worlds and model some behavior that says there is more to life than being online. If we do that, maybe they will also learn to read survey results like thes with a grain of salt.
Perhaps you've seen one of these symbols on an ad or a sign recently:
Your kids probably have heard about them - they are QR or Quick Response Codes - (basically a 3D barcode) and they are beginning to pop-up everywhere. While they are in many ways an old technology - being just a more sophisticated barcode - the difference is that people - not stores - are scanning them and using them to get to the Web quickly to get more information - or even discounts - about the items they are attached to. And FYI - we are about to see many more of them in use. By the way - if you scanned this one it would take to the home page of the Power to Learn site.
What You Need
So what do you need to use QR codes? A device, like your smartphone or an iPod Touch, that has a built-in camera so you can scan or simply take a picture of the code, a program (basically an app on your phone) to do the decoding, and a connection to the Internet to see where the barcode takes you. Many free popular apps/decoders/readers for the iPhone and Android like NeoReader are available and they let you not only read codes, but create them as well. Barcode Scanner from Zxing is another. There are plenty of others, just do a search in your search engine like Google for a "QR Code Reader" and you should find something that works for your phone or device.
So What's the Big Deal?
The big deal here is that instead of trying to type in a website you see on a sign, an ad or a poster that has a long URL (web address) to take you to a specific part of a site, now your phone can scan it, decode it, and take you to the information instantly. QR codes can contain up to 4,000 characters of information so the potential for what you get when you scan one is huge. Right now they primarily direct people to web addresses and they are beginning to appear on business cards as well as well as ads to give you more information on products, discounts or even coupons that can be scanned at the store. Zoos are using them on exhibit signs so that you can get more information on the animals through text, audio and video, which is a great idea for when animals aren't active, visible or even off exhibit for some reason. There are also many ideas being circulated for using them in schools and libraries. Just think what it would be like to scan a QR code to get a review of a book you pick up and wonder about or even directions on how to use a product you are considering buying? You might even think about creating your own QR codes (see Kaywa to see how fast and easy it is to do that) and attaching them to items in your home to remind you where you bought them, how to use them, or some family memory attached to them.
Get ready to see more of them - the invasion of the QR codes.
2010 has been dubbed The Year We Stopped Talking to One Another and there is definitely something to it, for both old and young and every age in-between. Everywhere you go you see people in the thrall of their electronic devices and if you have been on a plane recently you know the first echo upon landing is everyone's cell phone being restarted. From texting at dinner to posting on Facebook from work or checking e-mail while on a date, the connectivity revolution is creating a lot of divided attention, not to mention social angst. Many analysts say it's time to step back and reassess, although almost everyone agrees we still don't know how things are going to shake out.
In the meantime, that doesn't mean that families shouldn't make some decisions for themselves about when technology is appropriate and when it's not. (Take a look at Resolutions for an Online Family for a realistic approach.) I am the first to admit that it is often easier to text my kids and I know my teenage son appreciates not being interrupted by a call from Mom when he is with his buddies. He is often far more responsive by text than in a phone call about what is going on, where he is, or just letting us know he is home. But that isn't a reason to stop talking in person or to actually call.
I have also found myself wondering what could make 2011 The Year We Reassessed Our Relationship with Personal Technology. I hate to be a pessimist, but I just don't think it is going to happen without some great calamity. We, who have fully embraced technology, are very much into the here and now and seem very willing to sacrifice the niceties along the way. We don't give much thought to those who don't have access to the same kind of technology, nor are we much worried about the consequences of that. That certainly seems to be the consensus of most of the under-30 generation who have grown up with the technology and find no wonder in what the technology can do. Instead they always seem to be asking why it doesn't do more. Many, if not most, have little patience for those who are not as tech savvy as they are.
That lack of patience on both scores is concerning and is leading to yet another kind of digital divide the experts have never discussed before. I, for one, am certainly going to try to be conscious of it this year and do what I can to make sure the "talking" continues between the generations of my family - no matter how digitally connected or savvy they fancy themselves. I also hope to be more expressive about the positive aspects of technology, helping my children, colleagues and friends to appreciate how far we have come and to recognize we are not entangled in some kind of Gordian knot that only bigger, better, faster technology is going to unravel.
Perhaps you can model that kind of behavior as well. For parents, let's face it, as technology continues to burgeon and the struggle to "keep up" continues it is only in our own self-interest to do so.
Now a visit to the application store by you or your kids to download that cute virtual pet program, may bring with it more than you bargained for on your smartphone. As smartphones flood the marketplace and users load up on apps such as games, shopping tools, map software and online banking, they're also exposing themselves to identity thieves and hackers.
So how can you and your children protect your phones and your identities from this new breed of mobile-minded criminal? Here are some tips:
For parents this debate means that we need to urge our schools to foster this deeper thinking by handing out more research question-based school assignments (i.e . What in Lincoln's background made him suited to be President during the Civil War? Or what if Holden Caulfield the main character in Catcher in the Rye had had a cell phone, how would the story be different?) rather than just going along with old school style shallow assignments (write a biography of Abraham Lincoln or do a book report on Catcher in the Rye) that can be easily plagiarized off Wikipedia or it's cousins or the term paper mills that are multiplying like rabbits. Those kinds of "thinking" assignments do mean more work for kids - and sometimes parents who have to help foster this more in-depth exploration - but in the long run, they will build stronger brains.
The other half of this debate seems to be about whether the current generations - from ages 2 to 30 or those who always seem "turned on" - have the capacity to learn when to turn the technology off. To me, this is the more crucial debate.
Certainly most tech titans, an overwhelming 75%, according to a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, believe that by 2020, people's use of the Internet will enhance human intelligence. Their consensus is that new skills will be elevated, such as our ability to hunt for information and look for patterns in broad data, and that we will be able to make better decisions because of the Web. But even they admit that it will be up to each individual to stay focused to avoid overwhelming distraction.
It is so easy to find example of kids who just can't bear to turn the technology off. But some experts say that we haven't had much of a chance to develop our social responses to the easy availability of 24/7 access. I believe that argument has some credibility, especially since our schools have not yet integrated technology, particularly individual access to technology, into the school day very well yet. In the present atmosphere, where technology is something you do more regularly out of school than in, the impetus to get right back online when the school day is done is very strong.
And that is where parents come in. The importance of taking breaks, turning off devices and simply talking in person needs to be modeled as well as gently enforced with the current generations from a very early age. It is yet another aspect of parenting with technology that needs to be explored, discussed, encouraged and even enjoyed. Stay tuned for more columns on just those topics in this space during this school year.
So should you buy your child an ebook reader? That still depends on your child and their needs, but it's important to understand what ebooks bring to the table especially when they start talking about instituting ebook readers at school instead of textbooks. It seems that a convergence of technology (bandwidth and devices), culture (tech-savvy students) and economic factors (slashed school budgets and desperately innovative companies) is bringing the possibility that your child is going to be exposed to ebooks at school, or need an ebook, to get along in the not too distant future.
So how do you get up-to-speed? Here are some ideas:
If you haven't read the first article in this series, I'm sure you'll enjoy reading about the students' thoughts and opinions about cyberbullying, social networking, cell phone use, school use of cyber communication, privacy, and more.
And now... what the students have to say about the positives of the Internet and digital communication-what they love about connecting digitally.
"When a person views the world through a cyber perspective, limitations are almost nonexistent." Justin (Grade 9)
"...we know texting is not the same as actually being with someone. However, video-chatting-now that's a way to cyber communicate. You can actually see each other when you are talking. Facial expressions, actions, hand gestures, are all impossible over the phone and while texting. Maybe you just got a new haircut, or your braces off. Your friends can easily see those changes. And there are lots of programs that you can use to talk to anybody, anywhere, for as long as you want with no cost." (Claire S., Grade 8)
"The Internet is a groundbreaking invention." (Mark, Grade 8)
"While homebound during a snowstorm, we experienced a power outage. Suddenly without electricity, computer, landline telephones, and heat, I realized how we take technological advances we use daily for granted." (Keegan, Grade 5)
Put yourself back the your grandparents' time. You need directions to your cousin's house in Maine. You might have to call someone for directions or buy a map instead of MapQuesting or Googling. How about finding out what is playing at the movies? You might have to drive to the theater to check the "Now Playing" sign or make another phone call." (Hannah, Grade 8)
"I love to text my friends when we have breaks from school, and I love to email my cousin who lives a few hours from me." (Claire D. Grade 8)
"After I had an accident on the lacrosse field and tore my ACL, one doctor told me, "Son, if you want to be on a team, you'd better choose a chess team." But, as it turned out, the answer was as simple as pulling up a search bar and typing in teenage ACL injuries" on my computer. There was the answer: a doctor who could repair my knee." (Brad, Grade 9)
"Being a teenager in high school, cyber communication has definitely come in handy for me. With my cell phone, email, text messaging, Facebook, ..., I can get my homework off the Internet, email a paper to a teacher, look up information for a report, and keep in contact with my friends." (McKenzie, Grade 9)
"The Internet was created for the purpose of being able to share information with everyone, in different cities, states, and even countries. This is so great because no matter where you are in the world just about, you can get online and talk with someone who lives near or far away." (Katie, Grade 9)
"During the winter, lots of school days were missed because of the weather. My honors physical science teacher arranged for online classrooms. This allowed us to keep up with our studies. We called the classes "snow school." (Justin, Grade 9)
"I love being able to keep up with people I rarely see and learning about their day and how they are doing." (Razaak, Grade 8)
"The Internet is neither scary or bad. The Internet is a technology. It has no thoughts of its own, no feelings, no inclinations toward helping or hurting people. It just exists.
(Mark, Grade 8)
"What I like is that I can do my essays on the computer and that I can find information I need." (Lauren Grade 6)
"I can get lots of help with projects by going online." (Jordan, Grade 6)
"Soldiers fighting for our country used to write letters home, which would take a long time to get there. In today's world, soldiers can Skype or video chat with their families. A father in Iraq can see his son taking his first footsteps." (Hannah, Grade 8.)
"I believe cyber communications are great, and I really miss them when they are not working. I can learn just about anything online-like news and like when my school is closed for snow." (Keegan, Grade 5)
"My math teacher posts homework on the Internet and has all the due dates for everything online. It's convenient for me and time saving, too." (Razaak, Grade 8)
"I love digital communication because it keeps me in touch with my friends and relatives in Peru. Do you know how much it costs for a regular phone call to Peru, but with the Internet, I don't have to worry about the costs." (Oriana, Grade 8)
"Cyber communication has changed the world and it will continue to change the way we live at an even more rapid pace." (Justin, Grade 9)
"There is not a doubt in my mind that cyber communication means progress. It is currently possible to communicate with billions of people, whether they are across the street or all the way around the globe." (Brad, Grade 9)
Watch for the last article in this series, "Our View of the Future."
How about the kids? Has anyone thought to ask them what they think or do we adults simply assume we know what kids are thinking about digital communication?
The 2009-2010 Optimist Oratorical Competition focused upon the topic: Cyber Communication-Progress or Problem? It was a great topic for today's teens, and I think you'll find some of their opinions just what you thought they'd be, but others, will be surprising.
For this article, I targeted the essays of 22 students, ages 10-15. Later, we may print some of the essays for you in their entirety, but for now, I'll get your mind going with what the kids have to say about:
Part 1: What We Think Are the Problems with Cyber Communication
Part 2: What We Love About Cyber Communication
Part 3: Our View of the Future
Part 1: What We Think Are the Problems with Cyber Communication
"My great- great aunt is ninety-two. She never used any kind of cell phone contact list, and she has everyone's birthdays memorized. She's never forgotten to send a card, plus she always writes an original poem for every person. Will I be like that when I am her age? Will you? Will technology have ruined our chance at an excellent memory? Technology is making us lazy." (Claire D., Grade 8)
"Those funny little icons on our computer screens look innocent enough. Facebook, Google, iChat, IM, MySpace, Skype, Twitter, and others sit anxiously like children waiting for friends to come play with them. Some people would argue that cyber communication is far from child's play. " (Elise, Grade 9)
"Can you imagine texting your grandmother with LOL. My grandmother would be appalled." (Justin, Gr. 9)
Online there's the danger of communicating with someone you don't really know-a person who is not really who he or she pretends to be. The Internet lets people be anonymous and that is not always good." (Razaak, Grade 8)
"Parent controls unfortunately don't always work." (Rachel, Grade 6)
"I'll be the first to admit that when I come home from school just about everyday the computer is usually the first place I go because there is so much to do there, and it can keep me entertained for hours. Between checking Facebook and email and doing work for school, it's a rare day when I'm not occupied on the computer. But I don't think this is a good thing at all. Consider all the other, more important and healthier things I could be doing. No fresh air. No exercise. It's not technology's fault that people are lazy and use it the wrong ways." (McKenzie, Grade 9)
"Cell phones are useful, but there is a time and a place to use them." (Alyssa, Grade 8)
"Although digital communication for correspondence may be quicker and easier, these simple messages can never replace the meaning of a real letter. The feel of the paper, the way your name is written, or even the faint smell of the person still lingering." (Emma, Grade 8)
"Once anyone joins a social networking site, information becomes public. There is really no way to fully protect oneself. Once you click "Submit", information your post is out there. Even if you delete it, its still there cached somewhere. Digital permanence, as it's called, is something that youth of today cannot seem to wrap themselves around. " (Jamie, Grade 8)
"Computers hate me! I don't ever know when they are going to run out of battery power or when my printer is going to run out of ink. As for passwords, I make them so secure that even I can't remember them. So when I go on a site and need a password, I always click on, "Forgot Password" and get a new one." (Oriana, Grade 8)
"Text messages are great ways of getting in touch with your friends and family. Your friend posted a picture of her brand new puppy on Facebook. You know exactly where your friend lives. After all, she posted her name, address, and phone number online. Unfortunately, you aren't the only one who has access to this information. It's out there for the world to see." (Claire D., Grade 8)
"People, even nations, can abuse the systems, like when a government spies on the emails of citizens." (Keegan, Grade 5)
"Because people are paying bills online and are sending emails instead of handwritten notes, the postal service is taking in less mail. What happens when the postal workers have their salaries cut because they don't have enough mail to carry?" (Rachel, Grade 6)
"Cyberbullying is a major problem on the Internet. It's about talking to people in a mean way or making fun of someone. It could go from a simple," Hey, how's it going?" to a "That's it! I can't take this anymore," which could be caused by an offensive joke or name calling." (Raphael, Grade 7)
"There is also the problem of too much privacy. Parents are no longer entirely aware of what's going on in their child's life. They can't keep track of every message their child receives, especially not with that pesky delete button. How can they help keep their child safe, when nearly all accounts are blocked with usernames and passwords? Parents wouldn't know if their child was a victim of cyberbullying or a child predator. And that's the scary part. Parents may have eyes in the back of their heads, but they don't always have eyes in the back of the keyboard." (Claire S, Grade 8)
"You don't know who has saved the information you put online, even if you deleted it." (Claire D., Grade 8)
"When I was watching CNN, I saw a segment about cell phone safety. It showed how parents could track their children with GPS locators. I thought to myself that this was the start of a new generation of advertising. Tell the viewer what you can do with a device, but what they don't hear is about all the other features the cell phone has installed that their children could use." (Lorenzo, Grade 8)
"The problem is that with the millions of people online, not all of them are going to be good company or have your best interests in mind. One in four teenage girls said they have met strangers through the Internet." (Katie, Grade 9)
"With your phone you can talk and text obsessively, so much so that your social skills and language use will deplete from using computer slang." (Mark, Grade 8)
"Will libraries close and printers be put out of business because people can read books and periodicals online? Isn't our economy struggling enough? (Rachel, Grade 6)
"Kids don't talk to their parents because they are always on their digital devices. And parents don't care because they gave them the devices in the first place." (Alyssa, Grade 8)
"It's not just your friends who are interested in your Facebook page." (Katie, Grade 9)
"Some say cyber communication is the best thing ever, while others think computers are out to get them." (Jamie, Grade 8)
"When my classmates posted information they shouldn't in our American History forum, the teacher took it down." (Raphael, Grade 7)
"Today people largely rely on the instant satisfaction they get through all the new technologies." (McKenzie, Grade 9)
"Some people think cyber communication is ruining our society." (Biola, Grade 6)
"Anyone who has taken any part in the world of cyber communication has probably encountered some type of cyberbullying, whether it is a nasty chain mail or a false profile created about someone. Often these things are not taken seriously or said to be a joke, but at what point is it no longer funny? " (Katie, Grade 9)
"When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, his thoughts weren't to make prank calls or to bully others." (Daniel, Grade 8)
Don't miss the next piece in this series, What We Love About Cyber Communication
It has been an interesting time recently for an observer of technology like me. Mind you, I have been at this job for quite some time. I got my first grant from Apple to write some of the very early software that was written for kids back in 1979, so when I tell you I have been watching almost right from the beginning, at least when it comes to technology for homes and school, I have. I have seen lots of trends, a whole golden era of children's software production, and lots of claims of superiority and ease of use come and go, but mostly go.
But the last couple of weeks have been different. The difference has been very subtle, but something I have been hoping for, for a very long time, is unfolding and I think it should be mentioned, explored and celebrated especially by adults, who are often the butt of the younger generation's jokes about technology.
And what is it? I finally think technology for the rest of us, those of us who don't really want to know how and why it works, but instead that it is intuitive, easy to use, and has only a slight learning curve, is finally beginning to emerge, go mainstream and become a priority of the technology companies.
And why the heck is that important? Because I think we are going to see some leveling of the playing field now that gadgets like smart phones and iPads are making it easy for anyone (READ TECHNOPHOBIC ADULTS) to take part in the digital feast that is available online, especially for those who are willing to make even the slightest effort to dig into it.
But, hold on to your hats folks, because I also think we are going to see some backlash from the younger generation and the technology "experts" who are not all that pleased to see this happen. For anyone who followed the unveiling of the iPad, this pointed criticism became evident pretty quickly. "You can't create with it," some bloggers repeated over and over again, like repeating it might make it true, and lots of technology experts spent several columns reiterating all the things the iPad can't do or can't do yet, instead of examining how it brings technology to a user's fingertips. Others criticized the device as just being technology for the very young or the very old.
To me, this last comment is probably the most telling of all. To me a device you give a kid, or someone who has not necessarily had a lot of experience with technology, should be something that is easy to use, self -explanatory, and highly reliable. Both of these age groups are also not known for their patience, so putting a device in this category, is actually pretty high praise.
But let's take this comment of "just being technology for the very young or the very old" on face value. I think many of the techno-commentators want to imply that technology just shouldn't be this easy. For whatever reason, this certainly is the image that many kids who fancy themselves to be technosavvy and self proclaimed "techies" want to perpetuate. They don't believe in technology for the rest of us and that is why they are going to make fun of devices like the iPad and the upcoming iSlate from Hewlett Packard.
So don't be fooled and don't feel bad if a device like the iPad suddenly opens up the mysteries of the digital world to you because it is so transparent. Enjoy your new empowerment and just remember that the digital world is supposed to open doors for everyone. It is time to celebrate that technologies for the rest of us are becoming a reality and not just a slogan.
Everyone is against plagiarism. No one wants to see his or her ideas stolen. Which makes it hard to speak out against technology tools that make it harder for students to plagiarize, but I have done so several times in this column and in other places as well. Why? Because I see dangers in the way schools use these tools and the over reliance placed on them. I also think that both parents and kids need to understand these tools to make sure there are no misunderstandings in how they are used, when they are used (i.e. college admissions are now using them as well) and what it might mean to be “caught” by one of them. I also am very troubled as an educator and a parent about what they are doing to the teaching of writing in our schools.
I would love to hear from parents, teachers and students out there about your experiences with tools like Turnitin.com, but here is what I see as the issues:
Bottom line: In your children’s work is being scrutinized by a plagiarism detection service, make sure your school is using it properly and not substituting the service for good teaching. Also don’t be afraid to ask for proof if your child is tagged by one of these services. Remember, the computer is not always right.
In another column, in this space I talked about how some parents are advocating that the only way to get kids to stop texting is to take away their cell phones. Perhaps that works or might be a last resort, but aren’t there some other ways to go about it? When parents go cold turkey like this I am reminded of a friend who never let her first child have any candy when she was a toddler and when she went off to preschool, the first thing she did every lunchtime was trade away her entire lunch for candy. The second child in that family benefited from his older sister’s experience, as Mom decided a much more moderate approach might work better.
So how can you use text messaging to your advantage as a parent? Here are some ideas I found when I decided to research the subject:
Using Text Messaging in a Productive Way with Your Teen
One of the reasons many cellular companies decided to offer unlimited texting several years ago is because parents demanded it after they discovered that even having 5000 free text messages a month bundled with many plans wasn’t enough for many families with teens. In addition Cingular commissioned a survey and asked a clinical psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Ruth Peters to come up with some suggestions for parents on how to use text messages in a productive way. Here are some of her suggestions mingled with some additions of my own:
Just for fun you might want to see how one Mom suggests using text messaging to get your kids to the dinner table in an article on the SunSentinel.com site. Just shows how, with a little ingenuity you can make texting something fun rather than it being a CWOT (That’s “complete waste of time” in texting shorthand.) Remember, so much of coping with technology (and teens) is attitude.
In the hands of the wrong person, knowing a password – yours or even your kids - can create havoc. So what can you do to create and, even more importantly, manage strong passwords and teach your kids how to do the same?
How to Create a Strong Password
Creating a strong password is more than a matter of thinking up some word that would be difficult for someone to guess. A good password should be long, original, non-repeating and include a variety of character types. Another important consideration: No double-dipping. Each online profile should have its own password.
So what is on the checklist for creating a strong password?
Result: S10wDr1v3r -- It pretty much meets all the basic criteria and is an overall strong password. Of course, we should be able to type it at a decent enough speed so that over-the-shoulder spying eyes won't figure it out.
Then again, S10wDr1v3r was the exact password "guessed" in a password hacking competition in 2007.
Well, if you have a decent enough memory, S10wDr1v3r may not be that hard to remember. However, can you remember 25 passwords of this length and complexity? If you have 25 online accounts you’ll need to. Just because S10wDr1v3r is a relatively strong password, and perhaps stronger than the one you were previously using, it doesn't mean that you can recycle it. Reusing passwords is never a good idea. Think of it like a domino effect -- if one of your passwords is compromised, every other account using that password is also compromised. And all that hard work will have gone to waste.
Don't worry, it's not as hard as you think.
If you recognize the difference in password strength between blink182 (one of the top 10 passwords) and S10wDr1v3r, you are well on your way to password security. S10wDr1v3r is in fact a strong password, but it is missing something very simple to make it a stronger password.
The most important thing to remember about creating strong passwords is make them LONG. Passwords don't have to be limited to just one word -- be creative with your passwords. Go ahead and write a full sentence, something like -- monday rain reminds me of lazy days.
Believe it or not, this may just be stronger than S10wDr1v3r. That's right -- even without punctuation, capital letters and/or numbers. Longer is indeed stronger.
Making It Stronger Yet
Needless to say, 7vPi%QE#AOYG6=>5Pv!ya:oey1%*AU5i8:q is the strongest of all. And it may seem almost ridiculous to have a password like this, but if it is the strongest password, why not? Security shouldn't be compromised, and neither should your passwords.
If you follow the fundamental password principle of Going Long, you will be a password pro. Obviously, it would be close to impossible to memorize 25 passwords such as 7vPi%QE#AOYG6=>5Pv!ya:oey1%*AU5i8:q.
A quality password manager will not only create an infinite number of unguessable long and strong passwords for you, but it will help you keep them safe and organized for you and your kids. Most modern products offer what's called "one-click log-in," so that you don't even have to type that mumbo jumbo.
When choosing your password vault, you may want to decide if you want something installed on your computer or something that can be accessed 24/7 via the Internet (also known as an "online password manager"). Make sure you shop around and find a service you feel most comfortable with . I use 1Password on my Mac and I love it more and more each day as the complexity of my life seems to increase as well as the demands on my time.
These are all the tips and tricks you need so that you’ll never have to click "forgot password" again or deal with your kid’s tears when they can’t log back into a favorite virtual world after a week’s absence. Try a password manager. You’ll wonder why you struggled all those years without one.
Comparing Mac OS X and Vista
In the battle over which operating system is best, when it comes to parental controls, both Mac OS X and Vista are pretty even, although the Mac controls are, like most Apple products, very easy to figure out and use.
To be fair, if you did a feature by feature comparison you probably wouldn't be surprised to find that both systems are very similar. There are time controls, ways and levels of blocking sites or access to applications (like your checkbook/financial records program), and methods to log what activities are taking place - like what websites your kids have visited, applications they've used, and people they've chatted with.) Vista, probably because of the Microsoft connection to the Xbox, does have better online game controls tied to the detailed age and content appropriateness ratings for games from an industry nonprofit called the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB. That means that you can keep your 5 year old off of games rated for teens or matures users. But I am not sure how many families play those kind of games on their computers. Most everyone I know uses their Xbox or other video game system to do that in a separate place using a television screen.
On the Apple side, and this is particularly great for families with small children, a separate child's home page can be configured with a dock (that line of icons that represent the programs you use like iTunes that runs along the bottom or side of the screen) with only three tabs and one-click options so that younger kids operate the computer more easily. (You can set up a separate home page in OSX by going to Preferences under the Apple Menu (top left corner of the screen) and then adding the child under Accounts.)
Mac OS X includes drop-down menus for setting when and how long a child can be on the computer. Microsoft's Vista, in contrast, offers a calendar grid to set day and time.
In Apple's newest operating system Leopard, settings enable parents to control a child's computer from their own, unlike Vista.
Finding Your Controls
So where can you find out how to use these hidden gems?As usual both companies have full details on their web sites, but you wouldn't necessarily know they were there. Try this link on the Apple site. This link should get you headed in the right direction on the Microsoft site.
And here are the lessons I think come out of this incident for parents and kids:
Is there scientific research to back me on that? Not yet, but someday it's sure to be the subject of some kind of fancy titled government-backed research project. All kidding aside though, in putting this paper together I found numerous articles and blog entries by teachers and professors bemoaning students overdependence on spell and grammar checkers as well as comments on how inaccurate grammar checkers can be. So how can you get your kids to believe you on this? Ask them to read over this poem, or better yet, cut and paste it into your word processor and let it take a look. They'll get the point.
Ode To a Spell Checker
I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC;
It plainly marks for my revue
Mistakes I cannot sea.
I've run this poem threw it
I'm sure your pleased too no
It's letter perfect in it's weigh
My checker tolled me sew.
So if the computer isn't the best helpmate in proofreading, how should you direct them to scour their work? Here's a list of things to try:
Cyberbullies and online game griefers ambush kids hoping to have fun online. Some social networking submissions and web sites, specially designed to harass certain individuals, put the old sadistic "slam" books of our school days to shame. Emails crafted to shed a bad light on someone's reputation or character, complete with digital photos, abound. Online seductions resulting in offline chaos become more common everyday.
If you've been following the nightly news anywhere other than Antarctica, you know what I mean. It's so sad that for every victory technology has, and there are many - like being able to get the latest medical information or letting school classrooms at opposite ends of the world have a chance to talk about what they have in common - there's always something unseemly stealing the thunder.
Sometimes I think that every day is Halloween for kids visiting online neighbors. They can't trust that people are who they seem to be, treats and their sources have to be highly screened, and new tricks are being invented every day, so beware. Certainly not the world I envisioned twenty-five years ago when I got bitten by the educational technology bug.
With everyone in disguise out in the cyberworld, I've also been contemplating this generation and its relationship with digital anonymity. We tell kids to invent screen names and gamer tags that don't reflect anything of themselves. We exhort them to not reveal any personal information on social networking sites, in emails or IMs or while playing games, in chats or anywhere else out online. We also caution them to make up smart passwords using a random collection of letters and numbers - not their pet's name or their favorite color.
I don't contest that these are the kinds of safety rules that we as parents must make sure our kids follow. Strict anonymity is a vital part of keeping kids safe online these days. I do worry, though, that the anonymity that makes it so easy to use technology for evil is setting up an odd parenting with technology issue. Are we are raising a generation who will always have a digital ultra ego, a part of themselves that is always anonymous and tempted to operate outside of social norms out in the digital world?
But perhaps all is not lost. In the midst of my sinking despair about the future, my 15-year old son appeared at my desk last week with a grin on his face. He didn't know of my growing concerns, but it seems he had some light to shed on my dark thoughts.
"I just chased a bully off some young kids by telling him to let up," he reported about playing Xbox online. "Being anonymous works both ways."Truer words were never spoken.