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(Gen) Computers and Education

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 07, 2005 2:27 pm    Post subject: (Gen) Computers and Education Reply with quote

Why children shouldn't have the world at their fingertips
Lowell Monke

THOMAS EDISON WAS A GREAT INVENTOR but a lousy prognosticator. When he proclaimed in 1922 that the motion picture would replace textbooks in schools, he began a long string of spectacularly wrong predictions regarding the capacity of various technologies to revolutionize teaching. To date, none of them—from film to television—has lived up to the hype. Most were quickly relegated to the audiovisual closet. Even the computer, which is now a standard feature of most classrooms, has not been able to show a consistent record of improving education.

"There have been no advances over the past decade that can be confidently attributed to broader access to computers," said Stanford University professor of education Larry Cuban in 2001, summarizing the existing research on educational computing. "The link between test-score improvements and computer availability and use is even more contested." Part of the problem, Cuban pointed out, is that many computers simply go unused in the classroom. But more recent research, including a University of Munich study of 174,000 students in thirty-one countries, indicates that students who frequently use computers perform worse academically than those who use them rarely or not at all.

Whether or not these assessments are the last word, it is clear that the computer has not fulfilled the promises made for it. Promoters of instructional technology have reverted to a much more modest claim—that the computer is just another tool: "it's what you do with it that counts." But this response ignores the ecological impact of technologies. Far from being neutral, they reconstitute all of the relationships in an environment, some for better and some for worse. Installing a computer lab in a school may mean that students have access to information they would never be able to get any other way, but it may also mean that children spend less time engaged in outdoor play, the art supply budget has to be cut, new security measures have to be employed, and Acceptable Use Agreements are needed to inform parents (for the first time in American educational history) that the school is not responsible for the material a child encounters while under its supervision.

The "just-a-tool" argument also ignores the fact that whenever we choose one learning activity over another, we are deciding what kinds of encounters with the world we value for our children, which in turn influences what they grow up to value. Computers tend to promote and support certain kinds of learning experiences, and devalue others. As technology critic Neil Postman has observed, "What we need to consider about computers has nothing to do with its efficiency as a teaching tool. We need to know in what ways it is altering our conception of learning."

If we look through that lens, I think we will see that educational computing is neither a revolution nor a passing fad, but a Faustian bargain. Children gain unprecedented power to control their external world, but at the cost of internal growth. During the two decades that I taught young people with and about digital technology, I came to realize that the power of computers can lead children into deadened, alienated, and manipulative relationships with the world, that children's increasingly pervasive use of computers jeopardizes their ability to belong fully to human and biological communities—ultimately jeopardizing the communities themselves.

Several years ago I participated in a panel discussion on Iowa Public Television that focused on some "best practices" for computers in the classroom. Early in the program, a video showed how a fourth grade class in rural Iowa used computers to produce hypertext book reports on Charlotte's Web, E. B. White's classic children's novel. In the video, students proudly demonstrated their work, which included a computer-generated "spider" jumping across the screen and an animated stick-figure boy swinging from a hayloft rope. Toward the end of the video, a student discussed the important lessons he had learned: always be nice to each other and help one another.

There were important lessons for viewers as well. Images of the students talking around computer screens dispelled (appropriately, I think) the notion that computers always isolate users. Moreover, the teacher explained that her students were so enthusiastic about the project that they chose to go to the computer lab rather than outside for recess. While she seemed impressed by this dedication, it underscores the first troubling influence of computers. The medium is so compelling that it lures children away from the kind of activities through which they have always most effectively discovered themselves and their place in the world.

Ironically, students could best learn the lessons implicit in Charlotte's Web—the need to negotiate relationships, the importance of all members of a community, even the rats—by engaging in the recess they missed. In a school, recess is not just a break from intellectual demands or a chance to let off steam. It is also a break from a closely supervised social and physical environment. It is when children are most free to negotiate their own relationships, at arm's length from adult authority. Yet across the U.S., these opportunities are disappearing. By the year 2000, according to a 2001 report by University of New Orleans associate professor Judith Kieff, more than 40 percent of the elementary and middle schools in the U.S. had entirely eliminated recess. By contrast, U.S. Department of Education statistics indicate that spending on technology in schools increased by more than 300 percent from 1990 to 2000.

Structured learning certainly has its place. But if it crowds out direct, unmediated engagement with the world, it undercuts a child's education. Children learn the fragility of flowers by touching their petals. They learn to cooperate by organizing their own games. The computer cannot simulate the physical and emotional nuances of resolving a dispute during kickball, or the creativity of inventing new rhymes to the rhythm of jumping rope. These full-bodied, often deeply heartfelt experiences educate not just the intellect but also the soul of the child. When children are free to practice on their own, they can test their inner perceptions against the world around them, develop the qualities of care, self-discipline, courage, compassion, generosity, and tolerance—and gradually figure out how to be part of both social and biological communities.

It's true that engaging with others on the playground can be a harrowing experience, too. Children often need to be monitored and, at times, disciplined for acts of cruelty, carelessness, selfishness, even violence. Computers do provide an attractively reliable alternative to the dangers of unsupervised play. But schools too often use computers or other highly structured activities to prevent these problematic qualities of childhood from surfacing—out of fear or a compulsion to force-feed academics. This effectively denies children the practice and feedback they need to develop the skills and dispositions of a mature person. If children do not dip their toes in the waters of unsupervised social activity, they likely will never be able to swim in the sea of civic responsibility. If they have no opportunities to dig in the soil, discover the spiders, bugs, birds, and plants that populate even the smallest unpaved playgrounds, they will be less likely to explore, appreciate, and protect nature as adults.

Computers not only divert students from recess and other unstructured experiences, but also replace those authentic experiences with virtual ones, creating a separate set of problems. According to surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation and others, school-age children spend, on average, around five hours a day in front of screens for recreational purposes (for children ages two to seven the average is around three hours). All that screen time is supplemented by the hundreds of impressive computer projects now taking place in schools. Yet these projects—the steady diet of virtual trips to the Antarctic, virtual climbs to the summit of Mount Everest, and trips into cyber-orbit that represent one technological high after another—generate only vicarious thrills. The student doesn't actually soar above the Earth, doesn't trek across icy terrain, doesn't climb a mountain. Increasingly, she isn't even allowed to climb to the top of the jungle gym. And unlike reading, virtual adventures leave almost nothing to, and therefore require almost nothing of, the imagination. In experiencing the virtual world, the student cannot, as philosopher Steve Talbott has put it, "connect to [her] inner essence."

On the contrary, she is exposed to a simulated world that tends to deaden her encounters with the real one. During the decade that I spent teaching a course called Advanced Computer Technology, I repeatedly found that after engaging in Internet projects, students came back down to the Earth of their immediate surroundings with boredom and disinterest—and a desire to get back online. This phenomenon was so pronounced that I started kidding my students about being BEJs: Big Event Junkies. Sadly, many readily admitted that, in general, their classes had to be conducted with the multimedia sensationalism of MTV just to keep them engaged. Having watched Discovery Channel and worked with computer simulations that severely compress both time and space, children are typically disappointed when they first approach a pond or stream: the fish aren't jumping, the frogs aren't croaking, the deer aren't drinking, the otters aren't playing, and the raccoons (not to mention bears) aren't fishing. Their electronic experiences have led them to expect to see these things happening—all at once and with no effort on their part. This distortion can also result from a diet of television and movies, but the computer's powerful interactive capabilities greatly accelerate it. And the phenomenon affects more than just experiences with the natural world. It leaves students apathetic and impatient in any number of settings—from class discussions to science experiments. The result is that the child becomes less animated and less capable of appreciating what it means to be alive, what it means to belong in the world as a biological, social being.

So what to make of the Charlotte's Web video, in which the students hunch over a ten-by-twelve-inch screen, trying to learn about what it means to be part of a community while the recess clock ticks away? It's probably unfair to blame the teacher, who would have had plenty of reasons to turn to computers. Like thousands of innovative teachers across the U.S., she must try to find alternatives to the mind-numbing routine of lectures, worksheets, and rote memorization that constitutes conventional schooling. Perhaps like many other teachers, she fully acknowledges the negative effects of computer instruction as she works to create something positive. Or her instructional choices may have simply reflected the infatuation that many parents, community leaders, school administrators, and educational scholars have had with technology. Computer-based education clearly energizes many students and it seems to offer children tremendous power. Unfortunately, what it strips away is much less obvious.

WHEN I WAS GROWING UP IN RURAL IOWA, I certainly lacked for many things. I couldn't tell a bagel from a burrito. But I always and in many ways belonged. For children, belonging is the most important function a community serves. Indeed, that is the message that lies at the heart of Charlotte's Web. None of us—whether of barnyard or human society—thrives without a sense of belonging. Communities offer it in many different ways—through stories, through language, through membership in religious, civic, or educational organizations. In my case, belonging hinged most decisively on place. I knew our farm—where the snowdrifts would be the morning after a blizzard, where and when the spring runoff would create a temporary stream through the east pasture. I knew the warmest and coolest spots. I could tell you where I was by the smells alone. Watching a massive thunderstorm build in the west, or discovering a new litter of kittens in the barn, I would be awestruck, mesmerized by mysterious wonders I could not control. One of the few moments I remember from elementary school is watching a huge black-and-yellow garden spider climb out of Lee Anfinson's pant cuffs after we came back from a field trip picking wildflowers. It set the whole class in motion with lively conversation and completely flummoxed our crusty old teacher. Somehow that spider spoke to all of us wide-eyed third graders, and we couldn't help but speak back. My experience of these moments, even if often only as a caring observer, somehow solidified my sense of belonging to a world larger than myself—and prepared me, with my parents' guidance, to participate in the larger community, human and otherwise.

Though the work of the students in the video doesn't reflect it, this kind of experience plays a major role in E. B. White's story. Charlotte's Web beautifully draws a child's attention to something that is increasingly rare in schools: the wonder of ordinary processes of nature, which grows mainly through direct contact with the real world. As Hannah Arendt and other observers have noted, we can only learn who we are as human beings by encountering what we are not. While it may seem an impossible task to provide all children with access to truly wild territories, even digging in (healthy) soil opens up a micro-universe that is wild, diverse, and "alien." Substituting the excitement of virtual connections for the deep fulfillment of firsthand engagement is like mistaking a map of a country for the land itself, or as biological philosopher Gregory Bateson put it, "eat[ing] the menu instead of your meal." No one prays over a menu. And I've never witnessed a child developing a reverence for nature while using a computer.

There is a profound difference between learning from the world and learning about it. Any young reader can find a surfeit of information about worms on the Internet. But the computer can only teach the student about worms, and only through abstract symbols—images and text cast on a two-dimensional screen. Contrast that with the way children come to know worms by hands-on experience—by digging in the soil, watching the worm retreat into its hole, and of course feeling it wiggle in the hand. There is the delight of discovery, the dirt under the fingernails, an initial squeamishness followed by a sense of pride at overcoming it. This is what can infuse knowledge with reverence, taking it beyond simple ingestion and manipulation of symbols. And it is reverence in learning that inspires responsibility to the world, the basis of belonging. So I had to wonder why the teacher from the Charlotte's Web video asked children to create animated computer pictures of spiders. Had she considered bringing terrariums into the room so students could watch real spiders fluidly spinning real webs? Sadly, I suspect not.

Rather than attempt to compensate for a growing disconnect from nature, schools seem more and more committed to reinforcing it, a problem that began long before the use of computers. Western pedagogy has always favored abstract knowledge over experiential learning. Even relying on books too much or too early inhibits the ability of children to develop direct relationships with the subjects they are studying. But because of their power, computers drastically exacerbate this tendency, leading us to believe that vivid images, massive amounts of information, and even online conversations with experts provide an adequate substitute for conversing with the things themselves.

As the computer has amplified our youths' ability to virtually "go anywhere, at any time," it has eroded their sense of belonging anywhere, at any time, to anybody, or for any reason. How does a child growing up in Kansas gain a sense of belonging when her school encourages virtual learning about Afghanistan more than firsthand learning about her hometown? How does she relate to the world while spending most of her time engaging with computer-mediated text, images, and sounds that are oddly devoid of place, texture, depth, weight, odor, or taste—empty of life? Can she still cultivate the qualities of responsibility and reverence that are the foundation of belonging to real human or biological communities?

During the years that I worked with young people on Internet telecollaboration projects, I was constantly frustrated by individuals and even entire groups of students who would suddenly disappear from cyber-conversations related to the projects. My own students indicated that they understood the departures to be a way of controlling relationships that develop online. If they get too intense, too nasty, too boring, too demanding, just stop communicating and the relationship goes away. When I inquired, the students who used e-mail regularly all admitted they had done this, the majority more than once. This avoidance of potentially difficult interaction also surfaced in a group of students in the "Talented and Gifted" class at my school. They preferred discussing cultural diversity with students on the other side of the world through the Internet rather than conversing with the school's own ESL students, many of whom came from the very same parts of the world as the online correspondents. These bright high school students feared the uncertain consequences of engaging the immigrants face-to-face. Would they want to be friends? Would they ask for favors? Would they embarrass them in front of others? Would these beginning English speakers try to engage them in frustrating conversations? Better to stay online, where they could control when and how they related to strange people—without much of the work and uncertainty involved with creating and maintaining a caring relationship with a community.

If computers discourage a sense of belonging and the hard work needed to interact responsibly with others, they replace it with a promise of power. The seduction of the digital world is strong, especially for small children. What sets the computer apart from other devices, such as television, is the element of control. The most subtle, impressive message promoted by the Charlotte's Web video was that children could take charge of their own learning. Rather than passively listening to a lecture, they were directly interacting with educational content at their own pace. Children, who have so little control over so many things, often respond enthusiastically to such a gift. They feel the same sense of power and control that any of us feels when we use the computer successfully.

To develop normally, any child needs to learn to exert some control over her environment. But the control computers offer children is deceptive, and ultimately dangerous. In the first place, any control children obtain comes at a price: relinquishing the uniquely imaginative and often irrational thought processes that mark childhood. Keep in mind that a computer always has a hidden pedagogue—the programmer—who designed the software and invisibly controls the options available to students at every step of the way. If they try to think "outside the box," the box either refuses to respond or replies with an error message. The students must first surrender to the computer's hyper-rational form of "thinking" before they are awarded any control at all.

And then what exactly is awarded? Here is one of the most underappreciated hazards of the digital age: the problematic nature of a child's newfound power—and the lack of internal discipline in using it. The child pushes a button and the computer draws an X on the screen. The child didn't draw that X, she essentially "ordered" the computer to do it, and the computer employed an enormous amount of embedded adult skill to complete the task. Most of the time a user forgets this distinction because the machine so quickly and precisely processes commands. But the intensity of the frustration that we experience when the computer suddenly stops following orders (and our tendency to curse at, beg, or sweet talk it) confirms that the subtle difference is not lost on the psyche. This shift toward remote control is akin to taking the child out of the role of actor and turning her into the director. This is a very different way of engaging the world than hitting a ball, building a fort, setting a table, climbing a tree, sorting coins, speaking and listening to another person, acting in a play. In an important sense, the child gains control over a vast array of complex abstract activities by giving up or eroding her capacity to actually do them herself. We bemoan the student who uses a spell-checker instead of learning to spell, or a calculator instead of learning to add. But the sacrifice of internal growth for external power generally operates at a more subtle level, as when a child assembles a PowerPoint slideshow using little if any material that she actually created herself.

Perhaps more importantly, however, this emphasis on external power teaches children a manipulative way of engaging the world. The computer does an unprecedented job of facilitating the manipulation of symbols. Every object within the virtual environment is not only an abstract representation of something tangible, but is also discrete, floating freely in a digital sea, ready at hand for the user to do with as she pleases. A picture of a tree on a computer has no roots in the earth; it is available to be dragged, cropped, shaded, and reshaped. A picture of a face can be distorted, a recording of a musical performance remixed, someone else's text altered and inserted into an essay. The very idea of the dignity of a subject evaporates when everything becomes an object to be taken apart, reassembled, or deleted. Before computers, people could certainly abstract and manipulate symbols of massive objects or living things, from trees to mountainsides, from buildings to troop movements. But in the past, the level of manipulative power found in a computer never rested in the hands of children, and little research has been done to determine its effect on them. Advocates enthuse over the "unlimited" opportunities computers afford the student for imaginative control. And the computer environment attracts children exactly because it strips away the very resistance to their will that so frustrates them in their concrete existence. Yet in the real world, it is precisely an object's resistance to unlimited manipulation that forces a child (or anyone) to acknowledge the physical limitations of the natural world, the limits of one's power over it, and the need to respect the will of others living in it. To develop normally, a child needs to learn that she cannot force the family cat to sit on her lap, make a rosebud bloom, or hurt a friend and expect to just start over again with everything just as it was before. Nevertheless, long before children have learned these lessons in the real world, parents and educators rush to supply them with digital tools. And we are only now getting our first glimpse of the results—even among teenagers, whom we would expect to have more maturity than their grade school counterparts.

On the day my Advanced Computer Technology classroom got wired to the Internet, it suddenly struck me that, like other technology teachers testing the early Internet waters, I was about to give my high school students more power to do more harm to more people than any teens had ever had in history, and all at a safe distance. They could inflict emotional pain with a few keystrokes and never have to witness the tears shed. They had the skill to destroy hours, even years, of work accomplished by others they didn't know or feel any ill-will toward—just unfortunate, poorly protected network users whose files provided convenient bull's-eyes for youth flexing their newfound technical muscles. Had anyone helped them develop the inner moral and ethical strength needed to say "no" to the flexing of that power?

On the contrary, we hand even our smallest children enormously powerful machines long before they have the moral capacities to use them properly. Then to assure that our children don't slip past the electronic fences we erect around them, we rely on yet other technologies—including Internet filters like Net Nanny—or fear of draconian punishments. This is not the way to prepare youth for membership in a democratic society that eschews authoritarian control.

That lesson hit home with particular force when I had to handle a trio of very bright high school students in one of the last computer classes I taught. These otherwise nice young men lobbied me so hard to approve their major project proposal—breaking through the school's network security—that I finally relented to see if they intended to follow through. When I told them it was up to them, they trotted off to the lab without a second thought and went right to work—until I hauled them back and reasserted my authority. Once the external controls were lifted, these teens possessed no internal controls to take over. This is something those who want to "empower" young children by handing them computers have tended to ignore: that internal moral and ethical development must precede the acquisition of power—political, economic, or technical—if it is to be employed responsibly.

Computer science pioneer Joseph Weizenbaum long ago argued that as the machines we put in our citizens' hands become more and more powerful, it is crucial that we increase our efforts to help people recognize and accept the immense responsibility they have to use those machines for the good of humanity. Technology can provide enormous assistance in figuring out how to do things, Weizenbaum pointed out, but it turns mute when it comes time to determine what we should do. Without any such moral grounding, the dependence on computers encourages a manipulative, "whatever works" attitude toward others. It also reinforces the exploitative relationship to the environment that has plagued Western society since Descartes first expressed his desire to "seize nature by the throat." Even sophisticated "environmental" simulations, which show how ecosystems respond to changes, reinforce the mistaken idea that the natural world conforms to our abstract representations of it, and therefore has no inherent value, only the instrumental value we assign to it through our symbols. Such reductionism reinforces the kind of faulty thinking that is destroying the planet: we can dam riparian systems if models show an "acceptable" level of damage, treat human beings simply as units of productivity to be discarded when inconvenient or useless, and reduce all things, even those living, to mere data. The message of the medium—abstraction, manipulation, control, and power—inevitably influences those who use it.

None of this happens overnight, of course, or with a single exposure to a computer. It takes time to shape a worldview. But that is exactly why it is wrong-headed to push such powerful worldview-shapers on impressionable children, especially during elementary school years. What happens when we immerse our children in virtual environments whose fundamental lesson is not to live fully and responsibly in the world, but to value the power to manipulate objects and relationships? How can we then expect our children to draw the line between the symbols and what they represent? When we remove resistance to a child's will to act, how can we teach that child to deal maturely with the Earth and its inhabitants?

OUR TECHNOLOGICAL AGE REQUIRES A NEW DEFINITION OF MATURITY: coming to terms with the proper limits of one's own power in relation to nature, society, and one's own desires. Developing those limits may be the most crucial goal of twenty-first-century education. Given the pervasiveness of digital technology, it is not necessary or sensible to teach children to reject computers (although I found that students need just one year of high school to learn enough computer skills to enter the workplace or college). What is necessary is to confront the challenges the technology poses with wisdom and great care. A number of organizations are attempting to do just that. The Alliance for Childhood, for one, has recently published a set of curriculum guidelines that promotes an ecological understanding of the relationship between humans and technology. But that's just a beginning.

In the preface to his thoughtful book, The Whale and the Reactor, Langdon Winner writes, "I am convinced that any philosophy of technology worth its salt must eventually ask, 'How can we limit modern technology to match our best sense of who we are and the kind of world we would like to build?'" Unfortunately, our schools too often default to the inverse of that question: "How can we limit human beings to match the best use of what our technology can do and the kind of world it will build?" As a consequence, our children are likely to sustain this process of alienation—in which they treat themselves, other people, and the Earth instrumentally—in a vain attempt to materially fill up lives crippled by internal emptiness. We should not be surprised when they "solve" personal and social problems by turning to drugs, guns, hateful Web logs, or other powerful "tools," rather than digging deep within themselves or searching out others in the community for strength and support. After all, this is just what we have taught them to do.

At the heart of a child's relationship with technology is a paradox—that the more external power children have at their disposal, the more difficult it will be for them to develop the inner capacities to use that power wisely. Once educators, parents, and policymakers understand this phenomenon, perhaps education will begin to emphasize the development of human beings living in community, and not just technical virtuosity. I am convinced that this will necessarily involve unplugging the learning environment long enough to encourage children to discover who they are and what kind of world they must live in. That, in turn, will allow them to participate more wisely in using external tools to shape, and at times leave unshaped, the world in which we all must live.


What is a computer?

What is the internet?


Last edited by adedios on Sat Jan 27, 2007 3:32 pm; edited 3 times in total
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 5:43 pm    Post subject: Is the printed encyclopedia dead? Reply with quote

Is the printed encyclopedia dead?
Sat Mar 11, 2006
Manila Bulletin Online

You might as well call the past decade as the age of virtual enlightenment. But could it also be the age when the printed resource met its end?

Take, for example, the immense popularity of CDROMs. Introduced in 1985, the CD-ROM is compact, convenient, and usable as long as there is a compatible computer around. The utility of the CD has pushed even the legendary Encyclopedia Britannica—which has been around since 1768—to come up with its own CD version as an answer to the popularity of Microsoft’s Encarta.

In fact, the lesser known New Merit, Funk and Wagnall’s, and Collier’s Encyclopedias all serve as Encarta’s main sources of information. But while Microsoft’s Encarta has flourished, the Funk and Wagnall’s, New Merit, and Collier’s Encyclopedias stopped printing in 1998.


Of course, there’s also the Internet to consider.

From being an American government experiment in 1983, and then becoming common currency in 1996, the Internet has radically changed how people get their information. If it used to take students hours of trawling through card catalogs and library shelves, they can now simply click on an Internet link to be directed to hundreds of websites geared specifically to whatever it is they’re looking for.

Open source software, which allows anybody to edit or add on to any information posted on the web, has even given rise to such popular resource sites as and

While poses little threat to dictionaries everywhere—it is a slang dictionary after all— is slowly becoming a considerable threat to an already embattled printed encyclopaedia industry.

Wikipedia began in 2001 as a supplement to Nupedia, an online encyclopedia written by experts. While Nupedia endeavored to make scholars volunteer information for free, it was Wikipedia’s immense user-friendliness and easy updating that made it much more popular with users. Soon, it began to overshadow its predecessor.

By sheer virtue of girth, Wikipedia far outstrips its much more established counterpart, the Encyclopedias Brittanica. In its English version, Wikipedia has about 1,014,00 articles on almost every subject imaginable, a considerable lead over the Brittanica’s 120,00 articles.

With so many other sources of information so readily available, what role does the printed resource material still play in daily life, especially to those students who have in need of them the most?


Ace Elgar is a sales consultant for Filway Marketing, which incidentally was also the distributor of Collier’s Encyclopedia back when it was still in print. Elgar is also a pre-school teacher by profession, and she believes that despite all these technological advances, the use of printed materials and the importance of reading still has a place in the minds of tech-savvy children and the parents who raise them.

Elgar says that whatever new invention technology comes up with, reading skills are still paramount since Internet research, after all, still requires its users to read. She says that the Internet’s role as a reserch medium is something entirely different from that of a book.

"As a preschool teacher, I see books differently," she explains. "Reading and computers are not at all in the same field. We encourage parents to expose their children to computers but not at such a very young age. You have to form a very solid foundation first and you do that through reading."

In fact, Elgar says that computers themselves have done more to convince parents that a good foundation in reading is what their children need to help them with the rigors of any educational system.

She also says that these parents who have grown up without the benefits—and the pitfalls—of the Internet know better than to let their children rely solely on an online resource.

"At a certain point in your college life, you can’t spend it on the Internet alone and you’ll have to do research. How can you do that when you only know how to push a button?" she asks. "You have to start them young so they can carry that with them as they grow up, where going through card catalogs and books won’t be a problem for them. And parents today know what they can give to their children to help them develop."

Elgar also points out that one thing that books can offer and that is sorely lacking in online resources is the discipline of doing actual research and the accountability of the person who uses the information. Along with the convenience that online resources bring are issues of plagiarism and a lack of research skills, and Elgar says that children raised on a culture of reading would not be prone to such laxness.

"What we’re trying to develop with books is the discipline. Yes, you can just cut and paste, but is that what we really want?" she says. "Even when you go on the Internet, how can you possibly weed out what is important when you don’t read through it? How do you go about developing those reading comprehension skills without being exposed to reading materials? Computers are a must-have nowadays but so are books."

These issues are certainly chinks in Wikipedia’s armor that can be exploited. Since its inception, the online resource has constantly been under fire because of issues regarding the reliability of its information and the ease with which anybody can vandalize entries.

Former Britannica editor Robert McHenry even famously compared Wikipedia to a "public restroom," stating that those who use it have no idea "who has used the facilities before him." Since everyone can edit the information, very few of the site’s editors actually have the credentials to talk about certain concepts better explained by experts.

At the end of 2005, controversy erupted after journalist John Seigenthaler Sr. found that his biography had been vandalized. This led to the decision to restrict the ability to start articles to registered users and for media outlets such as CNN to question the reliability of Wikipedia’s methods.


Despite these controversies, Wikipedia is still a very popular research tool among students. Elgar says that Filway, on its part, is doing its best to make reading attractive to younger children so they grow up with an appreciation for both books and online resources. The company’s total development program tackles different aspects of children’s reading development and features books with interactive features such as test booklets and "talking pens." None of these books are available on CD, she points out, and this is what makes them unique.

Perhaps the best argument that printed resources are still the way to go despite these emerging technologies is the fact that even and Wikipedia are coming out with printed editions of their popular online materials. has come out with Urban Dictionary: Fularious Street Slang Defined, while the German version of Wikipedia will be printed in its entirety by Directmedia, in 100 volumes of 800 pages each. Publication will begin in October 2006, and finish in 2010.

Elgar says that parents, students and book sellers should not consider books and online resources as two disparate elements that will never go together.

"You have to step back, look at them, and tell ourselves if it is okay to leave them like that and at the mercy of technology. We’re answerable to these children because they can’t make these decisions themselves. They will go to the most convenient route and is that what we want them to do?" she explains. "It’s not either-or, it is joining both. The kids are expected to be more equipped, and you do that by exposing them to the values of reading a good book while at the same time not cutting them off from the benefits of technology."
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 18, 2006 2:08 pm    Post subject: Bytes by the Quintillion For Today and Tomorrow Reply with quote

Bytes by the Quintillion For Today and Tomorrow
30 March 2006

Engineers and information specialists from government, industry and academia agreed this month at a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) workshop* that immediate action is needed to keep vast amounts of digital knowledge from disappearing into cyberspace or becoming in 200, or even 20 years, as incomprehensible as the markings on Babylonian cuneiform tablets.

According to estimates offered at the conference, the world churns out new digital information equivalent to the entire collection of the U.S. Library of Congress every 15 minutes. Such a proliferation of information in digital format, occurring almost 100 times a day, adds up to approximately five exabytes (five quintillion bytes or five billion gigabytes) a year. Unlike information stored on paper, however, this digital information can disappear almost instantaneously. Major historical artifacts such as original homepages of breakthrough e-commerce sites are already gone. Photographic records, stored digitally on disks, are in jeopardy of decay in as short a time as five years. At the same time, the rapid pace of technological change, itself, makes it difficult to understand documents preserved in earlier formats.

Participants agreed on the need to build a business case to offer companies in areas such as manufacturing, health care, life sciences, law and defense an incentive to invest in digital archiving. Such a study would demonstrate how access to archived information is critical to trace design rationale in cases of failure, document engineering changes, support product life-cycle use, investigate accidents, defend against patent infringement, compare new works with earlier versions, facilitate mergers and acquisitions. Arguments for archiving everything from engineering discussions, e-mails, and CAD models to design and production logs and manufacturing process plans would be presented. The study would also explore the cost of not archiving such information by estimating avoidable expenses for errors, recreating the data or reverse engineering, retesting, training, education and lost business.

The workshop reviewed current digital archival techniques as well as prospects for future software and standards in the area. The conference participants also discussed the possibility of collaboration on future digital archiving research projects. A report of the workshop is expected in late spring.

*”Long Term Knowledge Retention Workshop”, March 15-16,”2006 Interoperability Week at NIST”. Gaithersburg, Md.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 27, 2006 8:23 pm    Post subject: A collection of websites for science education Reply with quote

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PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2006 10:40 am    Post subject: Internet use involves both pros and cons Reply with quote

American Psychological Association
30 April 2006

Internet use involves both pros and cons for children and adolescents

Some youth benefit from Internet use while for others it can exacerbate self-destructive behaviors
WASHINGTON -- Between 75 and 90 percent of teenagers in the United States use the Internet to email, instant message (IM), visit chat rooms and explore other sites on the World Wide Web. According to the latest research presented in a special issue of Developmental Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), spending a lot of time on the Web can have both negative and positive effects on young people, i.e., the sharing of self-injury practices by some and the improvement of academic performance and health awareness by others.
"A major goal for this cumulation of research is to show the good and bad sides of the Internet as it relates to children," said coeditors of the special issue Patricia Greenfield, PhD, of the Children's Digital Media Center, University of California at Los Angeles and Zheng Yan, PhD, of the State University of New York at Albany.

In a series of six articles, leading researchers examine normal behavior in chat rooms and the use of message boards by adolescents who self-injure, uses of the Internet to improve academic achievement among low-income youth and ways to provide health information to youth living in developing countries. Researcher Yan examines the importance of age in understanding the social and technical aspects of the Internet; Subrahmanyam and colleagues look at why adolescents reveal their identities and sexuality online differently when in monitored versus nonmonitored virtual environments; while Cassell and colleagues investigate how language use and linguistic styles of adolescents in an online community can predict leaders.

To understand the role the Internet plays in linking marginalized adolescents and spreading potentially damaging behaviors, Cornell University researchers Janis L. Whitlock, PhD, Jane L. Powers, PhD, and John Eckenrode, PhD, explored the role Internet message boards play in creating communities centered around self-injurious practices. Self-injurious behavior typically refers to a variety of behaviors in which the individual purposefully inflicts harm to his or her body without the obvious intent of committing suicide. The authors observed 406 message boards to investigate how adolescents solicit and share information related to self-injurious behavior. Females 14-20 years of age visited these bulletin boards the most.

The findings show that online interactions provide essential social support for otherwise isolated adolescents, but these online boards may also normalize and encourage self-injurious behavior and add potentially lethal behaviors to the repertoire of established adolescent self-injurers and those exploring identity options, said lead author Whitlock.

The authors also found that Internet message boards provide a powerful vehicle for bringing together self-injurious adolescents. Although the message boards examined for these two studies may not be representative of all self-injury message boards, they do provide a snapshot of content and exchange common in those with high activity. In the last five years, "hundreds of message boards specifically designed to provide a safe forum for self-injurious individuals have come into existence and may expose vulnerable adolescents to a subculture that normalizes and encourages self-injurious behavior," said Whitlock.

The Internet can also be a good educational tool for hard-to-reach populations. Researchers from Michigan State University examined the positive effects of home Internet access on the academic performance of low-income, mostly African American children and teenagers in their article, "Does Home Internet Use Influence the Academic Performance of Low-Income Children? Findings from the HomeNetToo Project." In this research, 140 children aged 10–18 years old (83% African American and 58% male) living in single-parent households (75%) with a $15,000 or less median income were followed for a two-year period to see whether home Internet use would influence academic achievement.

The children who participated in the HomeNetToo project were online for an average of 30 minutes a day. Findings indicate that children who used the Internet more had higher standardized test scores in reading and higher grade point averages (GPAs) at one year and at 16 months after the project began compared to children who used the Internet less, said lead author Linda Jackson, PhD. Internet use had no effect on standardized test scores in math.

"Improvements in reading achievement may be attributable to the fact that spending more time online typically means spending more time reading," said Dr. Jackson. "GPAs may improve because GPAs are heavily dependent on reading skills," she added.

In another article showing the positive effects of Internet use, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Ghana looked at the benefits of teens using the Internet for health information in the developing world, where access to health information is scarce. The study surveyed 778 15- to 18-year-olds living in Accra, Ghana, who were either in school or out of school on their Internet usage and knowledge of health information. Two thirds (66%) of the youth who were in school and around half (54%) of the youth who were out of school had gone online previously.

The authors found that regardless of these users' school status, gender, age or ethnicity, 53% went online to find health information. In fact, the Internet was even a relatively more important source for out-of-school than for in-school youth, a finding with important social implications. Youths said the Internet provided interesting material that helped them solve a problem or answer a question. The most common topics searched on the Internet for in-school youth were sexually transmitted diseases, diet/nutrition and fitness and exercise. For the out-of-school youth, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual activities and sexual abuse were the topics of choice.

"Out-of-school youth in Ghana may have parents with less formal education than the in-school youth, and this may inhibit certain discussions around sex and health," said lead author Dina L. G. Borzekowski, EdD. "With HIV/AIDs rampant in Africa, our finding has tremendous public health implications. The Internet may be an increasingly effective way to reach lower socioeconomic youth with prevention messages." Furthermore, the Internet is invaluable for adolescents who want to find out more about personal, sensitive and embarrassing issues related to their bodies, relationships and health, she added.

Special Section: "Children, Adolescents, and the Internet"; Special section of Developmental Psychology, Vol. 42, No.3.

Full texts of the articles are available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at

Section coeditors may be contacted as follows: Patricia Greenfield, PhD, Department of Psychology and Children's Digital Media Center, UCLA can be reached by phone at 310-500-8640 or by email at Zheng Yan, PhD, SUNY, Albany, can be reached by phone at 518-442-5060 or by email at

The authors of the articles can also be contacted:

Dina Borzekowski, EdD, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; "Youth Using the Internet for Health Information in Ghana"; phone: 301-523-2386; email:
Justine Cassel, PhD, Northwestern University; "Internet and Youth Leadership"; phone: 617-818-3400; email:
Linda Jackson, PhD, Michigan State University; "Home Internet and Reading Gains in Low-Income Children"; phone: 517 353-7207; email:
Kaveri Subrahmanyam, PhD, California State University, Los Angeles and Children's Digital Media Center, UCLA; "Identity and Sexuality in Teen Chat Rooms"; email:
Zheng Yan, EdD, University of Albany, SUNY; "Children's Understanding of the Internet"; phone: 518-442-5060; email:
Janis Whitlock, PhD, Cornell University; "Self-Injury Bulletin Boards"; phone: 607-254-2894; email:

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.
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PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2006 9:03 am    Post subject: Are our teachers ICT ready? Reply with quote

Are our teachers ICT ready?
Fri May 05, 2006
Manila Bulletin

Education is an important factor in a country’s economic development because it has direct influence on the quality of its human resources. By molding attitudes, instilling discipline and imparting knowledge and skills needed for a wide range of industries and professions, education contributes to the economy.

An Asian Development Bank publication, Education and National Development in Asia: Trends, Issues, Policies, and Strategies (2001), cites examples where jobs in urban centers are increasingly requiring language and computer skills, such as the industrialized coastal regions of the People’s Republic of China.

In the Philippines, urban centers like Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao follow the same practice when hiring personnel, as compared to towns and cities in the countryside, where basic literacy and manual skills are enough for agricultural, manufacturing, and service-oriented jobs.


The two factors emphasized in this article are quality education and the importance of technology proficiency both for teachers, and graduates who would soon be joining the work force.

Information and communication technology (ICT) can help enhance the learning experience of students and thus improve the quality of instruction.

With this in mind, it is important for teachers to be equipped with ICT skills not just for their work efficiency, but more importantly for the use of this medium in delivering instruction.

Teachers must learn how to use computer applications in preparing instructional materials like audiovisual presentations that can help reinforce the lessons they teach.

The Philippine government, through the Department of Education (DepEd), has established ICT policies and strategies in education. The DepEd initiatives on the use of ICT in education were embedded in its Modernization Program that started in 1996. The program involves the introduction and use of technology to improve the teaching and learning process, educational management, and support operations in schools.

The DepEd identified the following targets for 2009: 75 percent of public secondary schools and 50 percent of public elementary schools shall have a computer lab equipped with basic multimedia equipment; all public science-oriented secondary schools shall be connected to the Internet; all public schools shall have an electronic library system; 75 percent of public school teachers will have been trained in basic computer skills and in the use of Internet and computer aided instruction (CAI); all public schools shall be provided with appropriate educational technology equipment packages.

The Philippines’ status in terms of ICT integration in its primary and secondary school systems is more or less similar to the experience of its developing neighbors. Student to computer ratio is more than 100 students to a computer, only about 18 percent of schools are Internet connected, and only about 15 percent of teachers are computer literate.

Among teachers with ICT skills, only half use computers in instruction. The level of ICT availability in schools is unevenly distributed in the country. ICT infrastructure is most available and developed in Metro Manila, next in Northern and Southern Luzon, while the Visayas and Mindanao regions have least access.


Based on the 2003 data from UNESCO, the Philippines must improve the status of primary and secondary schools in terms of ICT integration in order to achieve the DepEd modernization program’s 2009 targets and to be at par with the progress of its developing neighbors. The acquisition of more computer hardware and software and the training of teachers in ICT are the most important targets in this effort.

The Japan government-funded PCs for Public Schools (PCPS) Project, currently being implemented by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) together with the DepEd, the Department of Science and Technology (DoST), other government agencies and private sector partners like Intel and Microsoft, has successfully provided the needed hardware and software for more than 2,000 public schools since 2001. The project allowed these schools to establish computer laboratories furnished with 10 to 20 computers, 2 printers, an external modem and CD ROM drive. The schools also received updated software and computer-based instructional materials. The project has provided more than 30,000 computers to public schools mostly in rural areas.

Another contribution of the PCPS project is the ICT training of more than 20,000 public school teachers to date.

However, all parties involved in this effort must also ensure that ICT teacher training programs must be focused not just in "teaching technology" but "teaching with technology," as emphasized by a recent workshop conducted by the Philippine Commission on ICT in partnership with Intel Philippines in the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

On the other hand, the current trend is that new teachers freshly graduated from college possess computer skills. This is due to the wide availability of ICT courses and subjects in the tertiary education system, especially in normal colleges, that ensures that new teachers joining the workforce have the needed ICT skills. This is a welcome development since it will steadily increase the number of ICT literate teachers in the country’s schools.

Although much has been done by both the government and the private sector in addressing the need for ICT in schools, ultimately, the responsibility in developing ICT infrastructure and upgrading teachers’ skills is in the hands of all involved, including school heads, the communities served by the school, and the teachers themselves.

Besides ensuring the availability of the basic infrastructure for learning like classrooms and teaching aids, school heads must also find ways to upgrade the quality of education by procuring new learning materials and equipment and keep teachers’ skills updated through continuous training programs.

Teachers must also share the vision of using all forms of strategies and technologies in delivering quality instruction to their students.

The objectives of the ICT integration in education can be achieved only if all sectors involved share and move toward accomplishing this vision. The fulfillment of this vision will prepare our students to contribute in a technology and knowledge-driven global society.
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PostPosted: Wed May 10, 2006 6:39 am    Post subject: Nature vs Nintendo: Video games or national parks Reply with quote

University of Illinois at Chicago
9 May 2006

Nature vs Nintendo: Video games or national parks

Are future national park trips for America's youth likely to be on-line virtual experiences rather than the real thing? A University of Illinois at Chicago ecologist says there may be cause for concern.
Oliver Pergams, research assistant professor in biological sciences at UIC, reports in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Environmental Management that a rise in at-home entertainment activity, such as playing video games and surfing the Internet, corresponds with a decline, in per capita terms, in visits to U.S. national parks. Rising oil prices showed a strong association as well. The turnaround began in 1988 after a steady, half-century rise in park visits.

Pergams, a former commodities trader with a longtime interest in macroeconomics and international finance, used Statistical Abstracts data and special data acquired from Mediamark Research to conduct his study, using rank-order correlation and multilinear regression analytical tools.

"Many of the variables were highly significantly correlated with this decline in national park visitation," said Pergams. "Multilinear regression apportions which variables are the most significant in affecting the outcome."

While more than two dozen variables were tested, Pergams said video games, home movie rentals, going out to movies, Internet use, and rising fuel prices explained almost 98 percent of the decline. "It's fairly stunning," he said, but cautions that correlation is not the same as causation.

"This is no smoking gun," Pergams said. "We're showing statistically that the rise in use of these various types of media, as well as oil prices, is so highly correlated with the decline in national park visits that there is likely to be some association."

Pergams ruled out variables such as family income, age, the recent rise in foreign travel, or crowding in the parks as major factors. These variables were tested and shown not to correlate nearly as strongly as home entertainment and fuel prices.

"My concern is that young people are simply not going outdoors or to natural areas, but are instead playing video games, going on the Internet or watching movies," Pergams said. "My longer-term concern is that I don't see how this trend, if it is in fact true, could be good for conservation efforts. But if the trends are correct, perhaps public awareness will lead to some solutions."

Patricia Zaradic, a conservation biologist with the Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale, Pa., co-authored the paper.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 11, 2006 9:01 pm    Post subject: Growing Up Online Reply with quote

Growing Up Online
Young people jump headfirst into the Internet's world

Bruce Bower

As a conversation unfolds among teenagers on an Internet message board, it rapidly becomes evident that this is not idle electronic chatter. One youngster poses a question that, to an outsider, seems shocking: "Does anyone know how to cut deep without having it sting and bleed too much?" An answer quickly appears: "I use box cutter blades. You have to pull the skin really tight and press the blade down really hard." Another response advises that a quick swipe of a blade against skin "doesn't hurt and there is blood galore." The questioner seems satisfied: "Okay, I'll get a Stanley blade 'cause I hear that it will cut right to the bone with no hassle. But ... I won't cut that deep."
Welcome to the rapidly expanding online arena for teenagers who deliberately cut or otherwise injure themselves. It's a place where cutters, as they're known, can provide emotional support to one another, discuss events that trigger self-mutilation, encourage peers to seek medical or mental-health treatment, or offer tips on how best to hurt oneself without getting caught.

The conversation above, observed during a study of self-injury message boards, occupies a tiny corner of the virtual world that children and adolescents have aggressively colonized. Psychologist Janis L. Whitlock of Cornell University, the director of that study, and other researchers are beginning to explore how young people communicate on the Internet. The scientists are examining how various online contacts affect a youngster's schoolwork, social life, and budding sense of identity. Evidence also suggests that the Internet has expanded the reach of health-education efforts to teens in distant lands and provided unique leadership opportunities to a global crop of youngsters.

New findings, including six reports in the May Developmental Psychology, indicate that the Internet holds a special appeal for young people, says psychologist Patricia Greenfield of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). That's because the Internet provides an unprecedented number and variety of meeting places, from message boards to instant messaging to so-called social networking sites such as

The one constant is that teens take to the Internet like ants to a summer picnic. Nearly 9 in 10 U.S. youngsters, ages 12 to 17, used the Internet in 2004, according to a national survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington, D.C. That amounted to 21 million teens, half of whom said that they go online every day. About three in four U.S. adults used the Internet at that time, Pew researchers found.

Teenagers, in particular, provide a moving target for Internet researchers, remarks psychologist Kaveri Subrahmanyam of California State University in Los Angeles. "By the time you publish research on one type of Internet use, such as blogging, teenagers have moved on to something new, such as myspace," she says, with a resigned chuckle.

Express yourself
Cyberspace offers a bevy of tempting opportunities to pretend to be who you're not. Yet teens don't typically go online to deceive others but to confront their own identities, according to recent studies. That's not surprising, Subrahmanyam notes, since adolescents typically seek answers to questions such as "Who am I?" and "Where do I belong?"

Consider the self-injury message boards studied by Whitlock's team. Five Internet search engines led the researchers to a whopping 406 such sites. Most of these attracted participants who identified themselves as girls between ages 12 and 20.

On message boards, as in chat rooms, participants register as members and adopt screen names, such as "Emily the Strange." In many cases, both members and nonmembers can view messages, although only members can post them.

Whitlock and her coworkers studied the content of 3,219 messages at 10 popular self-injury message boards over a 2-month period in 2005. Many postings provided emotional support to other members. Participants also frequently discussed circumstances that triggered self-mutilation. These included depression and conflicts with key people in their lives. Some message senders detailed ways to seek aid for physical and emotional problems, but others described feeling addicted to self-injury.

More ominously, a substantial minority of messages either discouraged self-injurers from seeking formal medical or mental help or shared details about self-harm techniques and ways to keep the practice secret.

Online teen chat rooms generally don't have specific topics but, like message boards, attract a wide range of kids and present both helpful and hurtful communications. Subrahmanyam and her colleagues examined typical conversations at two online chat sites for teens. They monitored more than 5 hours of electronic exchanges selected at various times of the day during a 2-month stretch in 2003.

On one site, an adult monitored conversations for unacceptable language. The other site was unmonitored.

More than half of the 583 participants at both sites gave personal information, usually including sex and age. Sexual themes constituted 5 percent of all messages, corresponding to about one sexual comment per minute. Obscene language characterized 5 percent of messages on the unmonitored site and 2 percent on the monitored site.

One-quarter of participants made sexual references, which was not unexpected given the amount of daily sex talk that has been reported among some teens. In the chat rooms, however, all members were confronted with the minority's sexual banter.

The protected environment of the monitored chat room resulted in markedly fewer explicit sexual messages and obscene words than the unmonitored chat room did, Subrahmanyam says. Moreover, the monitored site attracted more participants who identified themselves as young girls than did the unmonitored venue, which featured a larger number of correspondents who identified themselves as males in their late teens or early 20s.

Much of the explicit sexuality on the unmonitored site amounted to degrading and insulting comments, adding to concerns previously raised by other researchers that youths who visit such sites are likely to encounter sexual harassment from either peers or adults.

Subrahmanyam's team also conducted in-person interviews with teens who hadn't participated in the chat room study. The results suggest that only a small minority ever pretend to be other people on the Internet.

Intriguingly, teens who write online journals, known as blogs, often forgo sex talk for more-mundane topics, such as daily experiences at home and school, Subrahmanyam adds. In 2004, she analyzed the content of 600 entries in 200 teen blogs.

Teen blogs offer an outlet for discussing romantic relationships and, especially for boys, disclosing hidden sides of themselves, says psychologist Sandra L. Calvert of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. In a 2005 online report with David A. Huffaker of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Calvert described entries in 70 teen blogs, evenly split between bloggers who identified themselves as girls and as boys. The ages given ranged from 13 to 17.

Bloggers routinely disclosed personal information, including e-mail addresses and other contact details, the researchers found. Half the blogs of both boys and girls discussed relationships with boyfriends or girlfriends. Ten boys, but only two girls, wrote that they were using the blogs to openly discuss their homosexuality for the first time.

"Teenagers stay closer to reality in their online expressions about themselves than has previously been suggested," Calvert asserts.

Net gains
Give a middle school child from a low-income household a home computer with free Internet access and watch that child become a better reader. That's the conclusion of a new study that highlights potential academic consequences of the so-called digital divide separating poor kids from their better-off peers.

A team led by psychologist Linda A. Jackson of Michigan State University in East Lansing gave computers, Internet access, and in-home technical support to 140 children. The mostly 12-to-14-year-old, African-American boys and girls lived in single-parent families with incomes no higher than $15,000 a year. The researchers recorded each child's Internet use from December 2000 through June 2002.

Before entering the study, these children generally did poorly in school and on academic-achievement tests. However, overall grades and reading achievement scores—but not math-achievement scores—began to climb after 6 months of home Internet use. These measures had ascended farther by the end of the study, especially among the kids who spent the most time online.

Participants logged on to the Internet an average of 30 minutes a day, which isn't much in the grand scheme of teenage Internet use: Teens in middle- and upper-class families average 2 or more Internet hours each day. Only 25 percent of the children in the study used instant messaging, and only 16 percent sent e-mails or contributed to online chat. These low numbers probably reflect a lack of home Internet access among the kids' families and friends. Also, their parents forbade most of the participating kids from contacting strangers in chat rooms.

Still, text-heavy online sites seem to have provided reading experience that translated into higher reading scores and grades, the researchers suggest. Although participants remained below-average readers at the end of the study, their improvement showed promise, according to Jackson and her colleagues.

These findings raise the unsettling possibility that "children most likely to benefit from home Internet access are the very children least likely to have [it]," Jackson's team concludes.

In stark contrast to their poor peers, wealthier middle school and high school students spend much of their time on the Internet trading instant messages with friends, an activity with tremendous allure for young people trying to fit into peer groups, says psychologist Robert Kraut of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

For teens, instant messaging extends opportunities to communicate with friends and expands their social world, Kraut suggests. He and his colleagues probed instant messaging in interviews with 26 teens in 2002 and in surveys completed by 41 teens in 2004.

Instant messaging simulates joining a clique, without the rigid acceptance rules of in-person peer groups, in Kraut's view. Each user creates his or her own buddy list.

Within these virtual circles, teens become part of what they regard as a cool Internet practice and, at the same time, intensify feelings of being connected to friends, even when sitting by themselves doing homework, Kraut says.

Still, Internet-savvy youngsters typically have much to learn about the social reach and potential perils of online communication, says education professor Zheng Yan of the State University of New York at Albany.

Yan interviewed 322 elementary and middle school students in a New England suburb. Participants also drew pictures to show what the Internet looks like and, when told to think of the Internet as a city, what types of people one would see there.

By ages 10 to 11, children demonstrated considerable knowledge of the Internet's technical complexity, such as realizing that Internet sites act as data sources for many computers.

Not until ages 12 to 13, however, did youngsters begin to grasp the Internet's social complexity, such as the large numbers of strangers who can gain access to information that a person posts publicly. Even then, the kids' insight into the online social world's perils remained rudimentary compared with that previously observed in adults.

Children and teens plastering personal thoughts and images on Web sites such as "often don't realize how many people have access to that information, including sexual predators," Yan asserts. He encourages parental monitoring of Internet activities and regular discussions of online dangers with children.

Worldwide peers
Adolescents who form global Internet communities show signs of developing their own styles of leadership and social involvement, a trend that Northwestern University psychologist Justine Cassell and her coworkers view with optimism.

Cassell's team examined messages from an online community known as the Junior Summit, organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. University officials sent out worldwide calls for youngsters to participate in a closed, online forum that would address how technology can aid young people. They chose 3,062 applicants, ages 9 to 16, from 139 countries.

Those selected ranged from suburbanites in wealthy families to child laborers working in factories. Computers and Internet access were provided to 200 schools and community centers in convenient locations for those participants who needed them.

During the last 3 months of 1998, children logged on to online homerooms, divided by geographic regions. Members of each homeroom generated and voted on 20 topics to be addressed by the overall forum. Topic groups then formed and participants elected a total of 100 delegates to an expenses-paid, 1-week summit in Boston in 1999.

Cassell's group found that delegates, whom the researchers refer to as online leaders, didn't display previously established characteristics of adult leaders, such as contributing many ideas to a task and asserting dominance over others. While the delegates eventually sent more messages than their peers did, those who were later chosen as online leaders—regardless of age or sex—had referred to group goals rather than to themselves and synthesized others' posts rather than offering only their own ideas.

Without in-person leadership cues such as height or attractiveness, online congregants looked for signs of collaborative and persuasive proficiency, the researchers say.

Outside the controlled confines of the Junior Summit, teens even in places where few people own home computers find ways to obtain vital Internet information. Ghana, a western Africa nation in which adolescents represent almost half the population, provides one example.

Researchers led by Dina L.G. Borzekowski of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore surveyed online experiences among 778 teens, ages 15 to 18, in Ghana's capital, Accra.

Two-thirds of the 600 youngsters who attended high school said that they had previously gone online, as did about half of the 178 teens who didn't attend school. Among all Internet users, the largest proportion—53 percent—had sought online health information on topics including AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, nutrition, exercise, drug use, and pregnancy.

Out-of-school teens—who faced considerable poverty—ranked the Internet as a more important source of sexual-health information than the students did, the investigators say.

In both groups, the majority of teens went online at Internet cafés, where patrons rent time on computers hooked up to the Internet.

Internet cafés have rapidly sprung up in unexpected areas, UCLA's Greenfield says. She conducts research in the southeastern Mexico state of Chiapas, which is inhabited mainly by poor farming families.

Small storefronts, each containing around 10 Internet-equipped computers, now dot this hard-pressed region, Greenfield notes. Primarily young people frequent these businesses, paying the equivalent of about $1 for an hour of Internet surfing.

"Even in Chiapas, adolescents are in the vanguard of Internet use," Greenfield remarks.



Boneva, B., . . . R.E. Kraut, et al. In press. Teenage communication in the instant messaging era. In Computers, Phones and the Internet: Domesticating Information Technology, R. Kraut, M. Brynin, and S. Kiesler, eds. Oxford University Press. Preprint of chapter available at

Borzekowski, D.L.G., J.N. Fobil, and K.O. Asante. 2006. Online access by adolescents in Accra: Ghanaian teens' use of the Internet for health information. Developmental Psychology 42(May):450-458. Available at

Cassell, J., D. Huffaker, et al. 2006. The language of online leadership: Gender and youth engagement on the Internet. Developmental Psychology 42(May):436-449. Available at

Greenfield, P., and Z. Yan. 2006. Children, adolescents, and the Internet: A new field of inquiry in developmental psychology. Developmental Psychology 42(May):391-394. Available at

Huffaker, D.A., and S.L. Calvert. 2005. Gender, identity, and language use in teenage blogs. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 10(January). Available at

Jackson, L.A., et al. 2006. Does home Internet use influence the academic performance of low-income children? Developmental Psychology 42(May):429-435. Available at

Subrahmanyam, K., D. Smahel, and P. Greenfield. 2006. Connecting developmental constructions to the Internet: Identity presentation and sexual exploration in online teen chat rooms. Developmental Psychology 42(May):395-406. Available at

Whitlock, J.L., J.L. Powers, and J. Eckenrode. 2006. The virtual cutting edge: The Internet and adolescent self-injury. Developmental Psychology 42(May):407-417. Available at

Yan, Z. 2006. What influences children's and adolescents' understanding of the complexity of the Internet? Developmental Psychology 42(May):418-428. Available at


Dina L.G. Borzekowski
Johns Hopkins University
Bloomberg School of Public Health
Department of Population and Family Health Sciences
615 North Wolfe Street
Baltimore, MD 21205

Sandra L. Calvert
Department of Psychology
Georgetown University
37th & O Streets, N.W.
Washington, DC 20057

Justine Cassell
Northwestern University
Frances Searle Building
Room 2-148
2240 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208-2952

Patricia Greenfield
University of California, Los Angeles
Children's Digital Media Center
1285 Franz Hall
405 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90095

David Huffaker
Northwestern University
Frances Searle Building
Room 2-148
2240 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208-2952

Linda A. Jackson
Michigan State University
Department of Psychology
East Lansing, MI 48824

Robert Kraut
Human Computer Interaction
Carnegie Mellon University
3515 NSH
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Kaveri Subrahmanyam
California State University
Department of Psychology
5151 State University Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90032-8190

Zheng Yan
State University of New York, Albany
Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology
Albany, NY 12222

From Science News, Vol. 169, No. 24, June 17, 2006, p. 376.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 25, 2007 8:04 am    Post subject: Web quests Reply with quote

What are web quests?

Science web quests:

Math web quests:
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 10:52 am    Post subject: Learning a sense of community online Reply with quote

Inderscience Publishers
19 June 2007

Learning a sense of community online

International online learning
Children and their teachers are already benefiting from online learning communities such as the Oracle Education Foundation's, but there is a real opportunity for richer learning with such systems that is yet to be tapped.

Elizabeth Hartnell-Young of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Nottingham and freelance statistician Karen Corneille of Victoria, Australia, writing in the International Journal of Web Based Communities, describe how they have taken as a case study and investigated how a free, password-protected online community can support children's learning.

"We found that many children engaged readily with the site," says Hartnell-Young. Even those children with less developed ICT skills benefited from interacting with others. She adds that, "educators played a powerful role in mediating learning, managing the communities, setting guidelines for participation, and linking students with outside experts." Such online communities are not yet mature enough to provide a fully rich learning experience, however, the researchers add.

As part of their assessment of the online learning community, the team defined the process of learning as not simply rote learning of events and objects but the creation of knowledge products, including information, principles and theories. Building knowledge obviously underpins learning.

The researchers also point out that modern teaching does not simply involve a teacher imparting knowledge to students but a more creative process in which teachers lead students and help them build knowledge. Such a process still needs boundaries but is more of a partnership with student and teacher essentially "learning" together. Such online communities have a long way to go to reach their full potential for Learning, however, they add.

Translating the concepts of teaching, learning, and knowledge building to an online community is no simple task. The Web is a disparate mix of useful, informative, entertaining, misconstrued and malicious material. The boundaries provided by a protected online learning system allows teachers to mediate the learning process in a secure and safe way, the researchers explain.

The team set out to find instances of how, as an example of an online learning community, helps the learning process. They assessed how such a system encourages a range of "digital" literacy, through enabling students to create their own material, and cases of interaction and collaboration between users in different learning tasks.

"As evidence of digital literacy, we considered individual students' pages," Hartnell-Young explains, "and the range of text, files and images with which they filled these pages." The team also investigated whether a sense of identity and audience existed and the kinds of social skills developed by users on message boards and voting. They also sought examples of joint tasks where groups worked together within a school, between different schools, and even internationally.

They found that the best way that teachers and facilitators could help students reap the rewards of using an online community is by encouraging their active engagement by designing accessible and provocative online activities, managing access to useful resources and, most of all, asking relevant and thought-provoking questions that challenge the students. "Teachers need to play an active role in encouraging student voice and ensuring that students can create and identify quality content," Hartnell-Young says.

For their part, as students start to share their pages and engage more widely within such a community, they can get positive feedback from fellow students and their teachers as well as benchmarking their own efforts against those of others.
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