PLAYBACK: The Digital Revolution Has Just Begun: What We Like, What Works, and What Matters


Photo by Juli.

7.1.11 | How tablets, iPads, apps, cell phones and e-readers are revolutionizing comics, content, education technology, relationships and your parents. Plus, coverage of the annual ISTE conference and a new PBS content platform for teachers.

As these recent observations show, we are still in an exploratory mode when it comes to the digital frontier—and we really enjoy the exploring: 

Opening Up the Classroom: The theme for this week’s International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference was “Unlocking Potential” and, from the assessments of several attendees, that meant a new openness, especially among administrators, to the pedagogical potential of everything from web 2.0 tools to video games.

Anne Collier at has a great round-up of the “blur” that was one of the largest ed-tech gatherings in the world. Some of her most surprising takeaways:

* Not only is social media no longer a dirty word for educators, but dismissing social media as a teaching tool might cause some participants to walk out of your presentation: “‘More and more school administrators are interested in participatory learning,’ said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. CoSN research has found that ‘over 75% of superintendents and curriculum directors agree that Web 2.0 holds potential value for teaching and learning,’ and 48% said some use of social Web was already in place.”

* Robotics programs are in place at almost two-thirds of U.S. high schools and 30 percent of middle schools.

* The “iPad revolution” is sweeping education, especially in special ed and math environments, and is reportedly responsible for concrete gains on some state tests.

* “Virtual world teaching” will blow your mind, whether it’s in the form of a “World of Warcraft” curriculum (which “teaches everything from writing and storytelling to poetry and literature to video editing to media literacy and citizenship” and where “every student’s a hero and teachers are called ‘lorekeepers’”) or in machinima, video created by students using 3-D virtual worlds or games.

* Digital learning both requires and fosters a respect for student agency and students as individual learners.

Plus: Audrey Watters over at ReadWriteWeb had some of her most profound conference moments while wandering among the ed-tech companies on the exhibit floor. Not only were the big names there, but: “The app ecosystem—of the iPad, of Android, and on the Web—has given rise to a number of startups that have entered the education technology space with great gusto.”

Watters focuses on one app in particular, ShowMe, that “lets users record a voice-over whiteboard-like tutorial that can then be shared as a video online or embedded into other websites.”

Improving Public (Broadcasting) Access: PBS is joining this media crowd in a new way, having recently opened up PBS Learning Media, pulling together its previous efforts to provide access to a variety of digital content—from videos to games—that are aligned with curriculum standards. Jenna Zwang at eSchooNews has the details.

Curling Up With a Tablet: Speaking of cool iPad/tablet stuff, it’s clear by now that tablets are changing the way we read, but it’s amazing how much change is still to come. Douglas Wolk at Wired discusses how tablets are revolutionizing a comic book world that has always relied on, emotionally and financially, a very traditional comic book store culture:

Comics, as it happens, look magnificent on tablets. But no one in the comics industry is really ready for what that magnificence implies. Sales of periodical comics are falling, and there’s no iTunes Store equivalent to sell them digitally—no single place where readers can buy all the comics they’d ever want, old and new, to read on their tablets.

A new service, comiXology, has helped the big comic publishers, like Marvel and DC, feel more comfortable offering their catalog content in tablet form. New content will still be reserved for the brick-and-mortar retailers, to help keep the ink-and-paper fanbase happy. The way the future of comics play out, Wolk suggests, is a test of how we can balance our real and virtual lives.

Mommy, Can You Create a Story With Me: That isn’t so much of a dilemma for children who are immersing themselves in new and improved book apps on the iPad. Bob Tedeschi at The New York Times reports on how much these book apps—especially the ones you purchase in the iTunes App Store rather than the iTunes Books store—are integrating more animated and interactive content that are taking fuller advantage of the medium.

And according to J.C. Hutchins, the immersive experience of books on the iPad is only going to get better. Writing at Digital Book World, Hutchins suggests ways to move beyond just tactile and kinetic interactivity and integrate stories with other built-in iPad features such as Notes and Calendar, Maps and the Web. He and other digital storytellers are ready to start producing this new brand of stories, but it might be a challenge for some:

For most other authors, conceiving narratives like this requires a retraining of the brain — a fundamental rethinking of how to tell stories. Rather than provide a completely linear narrative experience, they must embrace elements of transmedia storytelling, game play, and a commitment to collaborating with others (such as programmers, graphic designers, videographers, and more).

In this way, it’s akin to filmmaking—a creative vision overseen by a primary creator, but eventually executed by several specialists.

Long Live E-Readers: Despite all the tablet love, a new Pew Internet Research study shows that ownership of e-readers is exploding much faster than tablets. In his analysis of the data, Dan Rowinski at ReadWriteWeb suggests the reason might be as simple as the fact that the market for e-readers is much more mature: The e-reader options are more solidified and their entry-level price is many hundreds dollars cheaper than a tablet.

But some of the demographic results of the study point to e-readers also complicating the digital divide: “Hispanic adults, adults younger than age 65, college graduates and those living in households with incomes of at least $75,000 are most likely to own e-book readers. Parents are also more likely than non-parents to own these devices.”

Have You Called Your Teenager Today: The journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking published the results of a study this week that looked at what cellphone interactions may say about parent–child relationships. The paper is based on a survey of 196 teenager-parent pairs who completed questionnaires about their cell phone calls to one another, parenting processes, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.

“What I found generally was that when adolescents are initiating the communication and are seeking out social support and guidance from their parents, then almost across the board they tend to have better reports of getting along with their parents,” Robert S. Weisskirch, a professor of human development at California State University in Monterey Bay and the study’s author, told The New York Times.

On the other hand, when parents were initiating calls frequently to monitor their children’s whereabouts, track their homework or tell them they were upset, there was more conflict in the relationship, and the teenagers tended to have lower self-esteem. “When the parents call and have a lot of communication around ‘what are you doing?’ or ‘who are you with?’ or when they’re angry at the child and upset or scared, the kids report more conflict in the family,” he said.

Ultimately, the phone is just a tool that may augment the relationship but doesn’t substitute for it, he said. Still, he said, the phone may help during the transitional time of adolescence, when children are flexing their independence but tend to need guidance making decisions.

In parenting and in the classroom, whether it is giving teenagers agency or giving them the skills to negotiate their online and offline worlds, it’s always handy to know the limitations of technology—and ourselves.

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