PLAYBACK: What Facebook Reveals and Conceals; Tyler Clementi and Digital Citizenship; Laptop Success and Fail Stories
2.24.12 | Tyler Clementi, Dharun Ravi and digital citizenship; new articles from International Journal of Learning & Media; a laptop for every student works well in North Carolina, not so much in Alabama; and a Twitter chat on helping kids learn anytime, anywhere—all in this week’s PLAYBACK.
Reading, Really Reading, Facebook Posts: Some teens reveal their innermost feelings and anxieties on Facebook, but how do parents, mental health experts, university resident advisers and others who may be privvy to such postings determine when to intervene?
That’s the issue addressed in this New York Times story on online sharing. Jan Hoffman writes that parents have acknowledged not always knowing “how to distinguish the drama du jour from silent screams.” She continues:
Often their teenagers felt angry and embarrassed when parents responded on Facebook walls or even, after reading a worrisome comment by their child’s friend, alerted the friend’s parents.
Many parents said they felt embarrassed, too. After reading a grim post, they might raise an alarm, only to be curtly told by their offspring that it was a popular song lyric, a tactic teens use to comment in code, in part to confound snooping parents.
Ms. Corbett, the Charlotte therapist, said that when she followed her sons’ Facebook pages, she used caution before responding to occasional downbeat posts. If parents react to every little bad mood, she said, children might be less open on Facebook, assuming that “my parents will freak out.”
Teens who want to avoid scrutiny are skilled at camouflaging the true meaning of their writing, according to danah boyd, by using song lyrics and other phrases that their friends will understand but their parent’s won’t. This, too, can further complicate knowing when the writer is hoping for a stronger response than a few “likes.”
A Story of a Suicide and a Story of Digital Citizenship: The New Yorker story about Tyler Clementi, a gay Rutgers University student who committed suicide after learning his roommate, Dharun Ravi, used a computer to spy on him, had been sitting on my desk since its arrival. But after reading my colleague Barbara Ray’s discussion of digital citizenship at Common Sense Media, I quickly started and finished Ian Parker’s remarkable study.
By focusing on teens’ capacity for decision making and their comprehension only of the immediate, individual effects of their actions, Ray provides a helpful context for understanding the numerous ethical breaches that occurred: “Pre-judging a roommate based on his online trail, the ease with which the teen currency of gossip travels, the walling off of face-to-face interaction in favor of online socializing, and of course, the ethical breach of spying on someone and publicizing it—all are compounded by the very nature of the digital world. Couple that with the social culture of teen worlds, and it is a recipe for tragedy.”
Ravi’s trial started this morning. He faces 15 counts of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and hindering apprehension.
Read Now: IJLM, Vol. 3, Issue 2: The latest issue of the International Journal of Learning & Media has just been posted and, for a limited time, all the articles are available for free online through MIT Press Journals.
In years past the great fear was that the digital divide would leave black and Latino youth disconnected from the social, educational, and civic opportunities the Internet affords. However, some of the most urgent questions today are less about access and more about the context and quality of engagement. Specifically, how do race, class, gender, and geography influence the digital media practices of young people? Even as a growing diversity of young people adopts digital media technologies, not all digital media ecologies are equal. Accordingly, noteworthy risks and opportunities are associated with young people’s digital lives. But how are the risks and opportunities distributed? And are some youth more likely to experience the risks than the opportunities?
View previous posts for more from Watkins on context and quality of engagement.
Some of the other articles in this issue include: “Rethinking Language Learning: Virtual Worlds as a Catalyst for Change,” by Dongping Zheng and Kristi Newgar; “Kids Closer Up: Playing, Learning, and Growing with Digital Media,” by Lori Takeuchi; and “One Laptop per Child Birmingham: Case Study of a Radical Experiment,” by Mark Warschauer, Shelia R. Cotten, and Morgan G. Ames.
That last article takes stock of the Birmingham program, which launched in 2008 with the distribution of 15,000 XO computers to students in grades 1–5, teachers, and administrators. The results were disappointing:
Imposed on the local school district by the Birmingham City Council, the program was mired in controversy from the beginning. Much of this controversy was related to the mayor of Birmingham, a contentious figure in Alabama politics and the one who initiated the OLPC program in the city. The XOs were seldom used in class and broke down at a rapid rate. After the two people responsible for launching the program, the mayor and city council president, were imprisoned for unrelated corruption, the new city leadership faced financial deficits and cut off further funding for the OLPC program, leading to its demise.
Though the Birmingham project is in some ways an outlier within the broader OLPC initiative, which originally targeted developing countries, in a number of ways the program faithfully adhered to key OLPC principles, and the problems that surfaced were typical of those reported in numerous OLPC implementations. How and why the program failed are thus worthy of close attention.
It’s Not Just About Laptops: On the flip side, the Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresviile, N.C., started issuing laptops three years ago to the 4,400 4th through 12th graders in five schools. It is now being celebrated as “the de facto national model of the digital school,” reports The New York Times.
Graduation rates and test scores are up; dropouts are down. But supporters are quick to point out that it’s not due to laptops alone.
“This is not about the technology,” Mark Edwards, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District, told visitors to the school. “It’s not about the box. It’s about changing the culture of instruction — preparing students for their future, not our past.”
“Other districts are doing things, but what we see in Mooresville is the whole package: using the budget, innovating, using data, involvement with the community and leadership,” said Karen Cator, a former Apple executive who is director of educational technology for the United States Department of Education. “There are lessons to be learned.”
Read on to learn what the district had to cut to afford the laptops, how broadband access is made available to low-income families, and the “culture of collaboration among staff and kids.”
Learning Anytime, Anywhere: Learning, of course, is not tied to the classroom. After School Matters alerted us to a Twitter chat on Wednesday, Feb. 29, from 2-3 p.m. EST to explore how schools and community organizations can help kids learn anytime, anywhere using digital media, mobile devices and online games.
Hosted by the Collaborative for Building After-School Systems, the chat will feature the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS, producers of the Ready to Learn suite of educational games, and other special guests from community organizations and schools. Join in to share your experiences, learn best practices, and discuss how you can overcome challenges in using technology effectively in out-of-school time.
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