PLAYBACK: The (Mostly) Kind Social Networking Spaces Teens Find Online and Learning How to Learn


Photo by Simon Bramwell.

11.11.11 | New study examines teens’ experience on social network sites; teaching kids to search online; the expansion of YOUmedia; and Twitter memorials for Veteran’s Day….

Kindness & Cruelty: Nearly 70 percent of teens who use social networking sites say their peers are mostly kind to each other, according to a new study released this week.  Yet 88 percent have witnessed mean or cruel behavior online. And 15 percent of teens on social networking sites say they have been the target of mean or cruel behavior.

The study, “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American teens navigate the new world of ‘digital citizenship,’” was released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project at the Family Online Safety Institute conference.

“For most teens, these are exciting and rewarding spaces,” said Amanda Lenhart, lead author of the new report. “But the majority have also seen a darker side. And for a subset of teens, the world of social media isn’t a pretty place because it presents a climate of drama and mean behavior.”

Researchers held focus groups and conducted a nationally representative survey of 799 young people ages 12 to 17, and their parents, to “examine teens’ behavior and experiences on social network sites, their privacy and safety practices, and the role of parents in digital safekeeping.”

They found that a full 95 percent of all teens are online, and 80 percent of online teens are using social media. The report also found that parents and peers are the most important sources of advice on online safety. You can download the full report here.

Why Johnny Can’t Search?: Blogging at Wired, Clive Thompson has a good post highlighting new research that finds, yet again, that supposedly tech-savvy young people are not all that skilful at searching for information online.

Bing Pan, a business professor at the College of Charleston, asked college students to look up the answers to a series of questions. He changed the order of the search results for some students and noted that the majority of students relied on sites that appeared at the top of Google’s search results.

“Pan grimly concluded that students aren’t assessing information sources on their own merit,” Thompson writes. “They’re putting too much trust in the machine.”

We’ve covered research by Eszter Hargittai and others that found similar results. Thompson points to the heroic efforts of school librarians around the country who are leading the charge to teach online literacy:

Consider the efforts of Frances Harris, librarian at the magnet University Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois. (Librarians are our national leaders in this fight; they’re the main ones trying to teach search skills to kids today.) Harris educates eighth and ninth graders in how to format nuanced queries using Boolean logic and advanced settings. She steers them away from raw Google searches and has them use academic and news databases, too.

But, crucially, she also trains students to assess the credibility of what they find online. For example, she teaches them to analyze the tone of a web page to judge whether it was created by an academic, an advocacy group, or a hobbyist. Students quickly gain the ability to detect if a top-ranked page about Martin Luther King Jr. was actually posted by white supremacists.

“I see them start to get really paranoid,” Harris says. “The big thing in assessing search results is authorship—who put it there and why have they put it there?” Or, as pioneering librarian Buffy Hamilton at Creekview High School near Atlanta says, “This is learning how to learn.”

Plus: See my post from earlier this week about why colleges need to do a better job of teaching students to understand and produce texts online.

The Future of Libraries: And speaking of libraries, writing at the Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog, Deborah Jacobs, director of the Global Libraries Initiative, explains why the foundation is funding a new research initiative to study how the role of public libraries is changing in the digital age and how library patrons’ needs and expectations are shifting.

“Even many of us who had worked with America’s public libraries for a decade were surprised that a third of Americans relied so heavily on the free access to computers, training, and internet provided at the 17,000 public libraries nestled in nearly every community in the country,” Jacobs writes.

Through funding to the Pew Internet and American Life Project to conduct the study, Jacobs says Gates is hoping community leaders and library staff can use the data to evolve library services to better meet the needs of their patrons in the coming years.

YOUmedia Miami: One example Jacobs and others are most likely looking to as a model is YOUmedia, the Chicago Public Library’s digital space for teens that is now expanding across the country with help from The MacArthur Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

High school students in Miami will soon have the opportunity to use technology to visualize their favorite book, create short animated films, and even tell an autobiographical digital story—all at their public library.

“The community in which this is being launched is Miami Gardens where teenagers don’t currently have somewhere they can have this kind of experience,” Gia Arbogast, branch administrator for the Miami-Dade Public Library System, told the Knight Foundation in this video interview. “Once we get them into the library and involved in the program, we can start having conversations about how this is going to benefit the larger community. We’re asking how you can take what you create out into the community and create something good.”

The Knight Foundation, which is supporting YOUmedia’s expansion, also spoke with Matthew Poland, chief executive officer of the Hartford Public Library, who is also working to implement a YOUmedia program in Connecticut in 2012. Poland says he see the program as critical to fostering civic engagement.

You can read the full post at the Knight Foundation. Also, see the post on how libraries can help build strong resilient communities. You can read lots more about YOUmedia on Spotlight.

#weremember: Finally, we wanted to point to yet another novel use of Twitter—to honor our fallen soldiers around the world this Veteran’s day.  The Paralyzed Veterans of America is inviting people to Tweet using the hashtag #ISalute, and in Canada, the Ottawa Citizen will tweet the names of those who died in service using the account @WeAreTheDead. And in the UK, some Twitter users plan to take part in an Armistice Day service held on Twitter with links to hymns and a two-minute “silence.” Followers are invited to tweet the names of departed loved ones. You can follow the service using the hashtag #weremember.

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