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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Crystal ball gazing

Some aspects of the future aren't all that mysterious.

Given that it takes between three and five years for hardware to roll out, it's not all that hard to predict the underlying trends for say, the next five or so years. In other words, the environment is predictable. Far less predictable is what people do in that environment.

So here's a bit of crystal ball gazing on the future of kids & electronic media, where "kids" = children 8 to 18.

Predictable trends (hardly soda bottle-rocket science):
1. Internet connectivity will continue to become widespread; bandwidth will grow.
2. Handheld devices proliferate. They become cheaper and more powerful.
3. More kids continue to have access to both of the above.
4. This is a field of dreams scenario: because kids have access to handhelds & Internet access, they *will* use it. (Past trends predict this will be the case. From the Kaiser Family Foundation report:
Over the past five years, the proportion of 8- to 18-year- olds who own their own cell phone has grown from about four in ten (39%) to about two-thirds (66%). The proportion with iPods or other MP3 players increased even more dramatically, jumping from 18% to 76% among all 8- to 18-year-olds.
and this too:
In the last five years, home Internet access has expanded from 74% to 84% among young people; the proportion with a laptop has grown from 12% to 29%; and Internet access in the bedroom has jumped from 20% to 33%. The quality of Internet access has improved as well, with high-speed access increasing from 31% to 59%.

Now here's an observation: the adult world does a fine job modeling how to consume media. (Just listen to Shaq on those Comcast commercials.) What we don't do much: model how to *use* the media-- how to manipulate it, how to create stuff with it.

The KFF report is grumpy about kids who consume alot of media: Youth who spend more time with media report lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment.

And further:
Nearly half (47%) of all heavy media users say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly C’s or lower), compared to 23% of light media users. Heavy media users are also more likely to say they get into trouble a lot, are often sad or unhappy, and are often bored. Moreover, the relationships between media exposure and grades, and between media exposure and personal contentment, withstood controls for other possibly relevant factors such as age, gender, race, parent education, and single vs. two-parent households.

It's not news to parents that the "tween" or early teen years are tough ones: those are the years when kids are starting to exercise their own will, often in opposition to their parents (just because they can). This newfound independence is heady stuff. Again from KFF:

Two groups of young people stand out for their high levels of media consumption: those in the tween and early teen years (11- to 14-year-olds), and Blacks and Hispanics.

The disparities in media use in relation to both age and race are difficult to ignore. The jump in media use that occurs when young people hit the 11- to 14-year-old age group is tremendous—an increase of more than three hours a day in time spent with media (total media use), and an increase of four hours a day in total media exposure. Eleven- to fourteen-year-olds average just under nine hours of media use a day (8:40), and when multitasking is taken into account, pack in nearly 12 hours of media exposure (11:53). The biggest increases are in TV and video game use: 11- to 14-year-olds consume an average of five hours a day (5:03) of TV and movie content—live, recorded, on DVD, online, or on mobile platforms—and spend nearly an hour and a half a day (1:25) playing video games. In other words, just as children begin to make the transition into adolescence, their media use explodes.

Once again, we should ask: what are we modeling and teaching these kids? We've done a fine job of teaching them to be consumers. What about becoming producers?

We also know that middle school is where we lose kids. The schools fail us here, even more so than at the elementary school level. And when adolescents become disaffected and want to give up, it's awfully hard to get them back on track. (Note: I've seen these statistics: will search for them again.)

So here's a half thought: There are a number of ways to categorize the proliferation of education materials on the Internet. Among them: those that are intended to be "consumed," and those that are either instructions or steps on how to "produce" things. Reading a book is consumption; watching a movie (whether a Ken Burns' documentary or Pokemon) is also consumption. Maker instructions obviously are about "production," as are contests.

Here's another differentiator: there are some resources that are uniquely available via the Internet -- and others that are simply more convenient when they are in cyberspace. Lesson plans -- things that lay out in text what to do -- may be more convenient when stored in the digital cloud but they can exist in books or many other forms. The Beckman Institute "Bugscope" is more unique: you could (possibly) visit it if you're in Illinois (then again, maybe not. I don't know if they like visitors in the flesh!) Maybe the last step with that is... how would you build a bug?

So perhaps another unifying idea: the resources that we should surface and share with educators should be about making things, not just consuming things.

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