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Home » Articles »

Six Tracks Worth Following


The following are six areas of technology use that you might want to familiarize yourself with:

1. Social Networks

  • What’s worth knowing:
    At their most basic level, online social networks give young people a chance to interact with friends, acquaintances and, yes, possibly a lot of strangers. Because each person who belongs to one of these networks creates a profile, these sites give children opportunities to learn how they are similar and different from those around them and to build a sense of self. And, although you may be an active member of social networks yourself, it’s best not to assume your patterns of use are similar to your child’s.

  • What you can do:
    Talk to your child about the networks she finds appealing and how she likes to participate in them. Questions about your child’s profiles, such as "What information do you include in your profile(s)?" and "How are your profiles different from one another?" are good places to start, but a richer conversation is likely to come from knowing how your child interacts with other members of these networks. For example, you might ask, "What happens when members of the network have different opinions or interests — are you more likely to participate when everyone seems to agree or do you jump into debates?"

2. Self-Expression and Privacy

  • What’s worth knowing:
    Increasingly, young people are growing up in a media-saturated society and many are actively participating rather than solely viewing it from their couches and desktops. Many sites not only are social gathering places but collections of members' personal expressions. Though your child may not share the details of his full profile(s) to you, he may give you insight into how he thinks about himself and what he finds appealing about others' profiles. How he handles tiers of access (public vs. friends only), whom he allows to post comments and how and when he responds to updates are good topics to explore.

  • What you can do:
    Remind your child that once information goes online, it is out of his hands — and potentially in the hands of college admissions offices and future employers. Anyone can view, copy, store and forward it to others — no permission necessary. Also, your child may find questions that address identity head-on to be too intrusive — after all, he is aiming to establish his independence in the world — so it might be useful to ask first about audience, such as, "Who's attention are you trying to grab?" "What response are you hoping to receive?" and “What makes you want to share something and when do you hang back and take in what others have shared?”

3. Information Sourcing

  • What’s worth knowing:
    Your child may be catching onto the idea that she doesn't have to go to the information she wants — by visiting a string of news and encyclopedic sites, for example — but can have information come to her. Setting up filters that invite news on pre-selected topics or opting to follow someone who’s micro-blogging brings convenience but the trade off may be too much information.

  • What you can do:
    Get your child deliberately thinking about sources of information. Three simple questions you can ask is, "How do you know what you know about _______?", "Is it fact, opinion or something else?" “What’s missing?”

4. Skills and Dispositions for Today’s Generation

  • What’s worth knowing:
    There has been a lot of talk about how technology use is changing who people are — for better and for worse. Claims fluctuate from decreased attention span because of constant multi-tasking and reading in short, interruptible snippets to improved ability to process information from a broad range of sources. While researchers and neurologists try to better understand the effect of transmedia use on the brain and people’s wellbeing in the long run, you may want to focus your attention on the types of skills and learnings your child may be developing today.

  • What you can do:
    Familiarize yourself with some of the people and organizations giving careful consideration to what young people will need to know – and do if they are to be engaged students and active citizens. You’ll likely have your own list of skills you want your child to possess, but it may be an eye-opener to see lists developed by others working with digital media. Among them are The New Media Literacies Project at the University of Southern California and supported by the MacArthur Foundation; the Partnership for 21st Century Skills; and the International Society for Technology in Education.

5. Formal Learning

  • What’s worth knowing:
    While using technology for entertainment and socializing has a personal flavor to it, many teachers are finding creative ways to use digital media to support learning — both in class and well beyond the school building.

  • What you can do:
    Get to know what’s happening at your child’s school when it comes to technology and media. As a student, your child may have a good grasp on what’s going on in her classes but may be less familiar with school- or district-wide efforts. A media specialist or assistant principal may be a handy source of information as well as other parents. And, if you want to see what may be coming down the pike, turn to the New Media Consortium, which each year releases a Horizon Report. It describes emerging technology trends likely to have a significant impact on K-12 education, such as cloud computing and smart objects.

6. Portability and Ubiquity

  • What’s worth knowing:
    Smart phones, digital book readers and wireless networks are just the beginning of an effort to connect us anywhere at anytime. As a result, the potential for communicating, getting information and staying connected will grow dramatically.

  • What you can do:
    Unplug — first yourself, then your child. Just as you’re amazed by how quickly you can communicate and get an endless range of information, you’ll also want to be mindful of slowing down and puzzling through a question you or your child has away from any digital device.

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