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Category — Technology

Of Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives Teaching the Net Generation

We have devoted a number of posts over the last few years to the idea that there are two different sets of computer users: digital natives and digital immigrants. In addition, we have discussed the terms multitasking, power browsing and bouncing out and their importance to teachers.

For educators and/or parents seeking additional clarity on these and other terms, Ofer Zur, self-proclaimed digital immigrant, and his digital native daughter Azzia Zur, provide a great summary at the Zur Institute. Their overview is particularly compelling because it focuses on the patterns one sees as opposed to trying to formulate absolutes.

The Zurs note that the term digital immigrant is generally used for those born prior to 1964, a sort of unofficial cutoff for the influx of technology to everyday life. Those born after that date are generally lumped into the digital native category.

However, first and foremost, they point out the obvious, that not all digital immigrants and digital natives are created equal. To get a basic sense of the difference they generalize to three basic categories of technology users for each group.

In the digital immigrant world they use these broad descriptors: the avoiders, the reluctant adopters and the enthusiastic adopters. The Zurs offer, and we concur, that the latter group, irrespective of when they were born, has the full potential to keep up with digital natives. They also suggest that anyone in the first two categories seeking to move to the last would be best served by hiring “a patient, pleasant digital native to help build up the skill set.”

They also divide digital natives into three separate groups: the avoiders, the minimalists and the enthusiastic participants. It is pleasant to see some additional experts note that being born during the digital period does not necessarily mean that one has a knack for or an interest in computers. That said, the Zurs insist that the largest segment of the digital native population resides firmly in the latter category and will turn to technology first when almost any type of need arises.

They acknowledge that these simple distinctions contrast with the work of Feeney (2010) and Toledo (2007) who described a continuum of people’s relationships to the digital world based not on their age but on their attitudes and implementation of digital technologies. The breakdown here is far more detailed: the avoider, the minimalist, the tourist, the enthusiastic adopter, the innovator and the over-user or addict.

Great Chart for Parents and Teachers

Irrespective of the level of detail, the Zurs go on to provide a fantastic chart of the preferred behaviors of digital immigrants versus those preferred by natives. For example while digital immigrants may become technology tourists and even enthusiastic adopters, they still generally prefer to talk in person or on the phone. On the flip side, digital natives generally prefer to text rather than call and to connect via the net.

A critical distinction for educators revolves around the preferences when either group seeks to learn new things. Most often, digital immigrants were raised with the instructional manual approach. They therefore are more reflective learners and prefer clear sequential steps presented linearly and logically.

Digital natives basically abhor such manuals. They are used to trial and error as a learning format and thus prefer direct experimentation and interaction rather than reflection. Based on the multiple inputs technology can provide, they also prefer to receive information quickly and from multiple channels.

There are many other clear distinctions provided in the Zur chart, from the general preferences for each group related to gratification and rewards, the idea of tackling one task at a time versus multi-tasking or task-switching, and the preference for more knowledge, just-in-case learning, versus the rejection of useless info in favor of a just-in-time mentality.

The Zurs also note that immigrants should simply drop the idea that too much time spent online is a time waster if they want to successfully work with kids. The reason? Those youngsters are convinced that many aspects of life are only happening online.

Like it or not, these developments have profound implications for educators. Kids today are used to having “control over the exploration of material.” That is their norm.

Therefore, teachers insisting on providing traditional directions like open a book and go to page 5 are “completely archaic to most digital natives.” Instead, when they are handed the book, they will open it and begin to explore themselves, just as they will when they are given a digital device.

Digital Immigrants and Natives as Educators

Ultimately, the message is a simple one. Educators, whether they were born prior to’64 or after, will find little classroom success if they remain in the avoider, reluctant adopter, minimalist or tourist categories. There is now great clarity that educators must be at a minimum in the enthusiastic adopter category if they are to successfully teach the digital generation.

In fact, we would contend that the best teachers moving forward will need to take their technology to an even higher level. To be successful, they will need, at least at times, to move into the category of user often dubbed innovator.

That does not mean that some traditional elements of education should be tossed by the wayside. Educators will still want to help youngsters increase their ability to defer gratification but it must be understood that this will be an incredibly difficult task. Likewise, the newer learning models will challenge teachers to find ways to help students increase their attention spans even as we learn to deal with students “bouncing out” when they are uninspired.

But the successful teachers of the 21st century will recognize that these will be ongoing challenges. To avoid consistent frustration, they must not be at odds with the youngsters in their classrooms.

Instead, 21st century teachers will accept the embedded preferences of our youngsters and adjust accordingly.

March 1, 2011   2 Comments

The Enormous Technological Challenges Facing Education

Advances in technology continue to change how adults view and interact with the world. Of course, those same advances are available to teachers and the youngsters who populate their classrooms.

These developments are leading to enormous challenges for teachers regarding the role digital devices can and should play in the learning process. For some educators, the view is that technology should only be utilized as a tool to help facilitate student understanding and mastery of the current curriculum. For other educators, technology is as fundamental to learning as reading and writing and therefore must become a separate segment of the school curriculum.

To get a sense of the differences in these viewpoints, we turn to the 2011 Horizon Report (pdf), the eighth in the ongoing annual series of reports from Educause focused on emerging technology in higher education. As in the past, the current Horizon Report seeks to highlight the six emerging technologies or practices that are likely to enter mainstream use within three adoption horizons: near-term (those technologies that will see adoption over the next twelve months), mid-term (those that will be adopted over a 12-36 month period), and far-term (those that will be pursued over the 36-60 month time frame).

The 2011 report identified the following specific areas as technologies to watch:

– Near-term: mobile computing and open content.
– Mid-term: electronic books and simple augmented reality.
– Far-term: gesture-based computing and visual data analysis.

Most educators are no doubt very familiar with the first three elements noted in the Horizon report. These topics have garnered a lot of press over the last couple of years and their use is becoming more common in Pre K-12 classrooms.

The last three, on the other hand, are not generally seeing much if any time in the current learning environment. But if tomorrow’s workers are going to be ready to take advantage of the incredible technological progress available to them, teachers will need to become more knowledgeable of these incredible new options.

In that regard, one of the critical findings of the report centers on the issue of digital media literacy and the subsequent challenges that literacy creates for educators. The report reveals the significance of digital media literacy in every discipline and profession but that formal training in digital literacy skills and techniques is rarely found in teacher education programs. Worse yet, the Horizon report reveals that formal training is virtually non-existent in higher education.

While many educators are working on the topic in an informal manner, the fact remains that literacy is deemed to be “less about tools and more about thinking.” Therefore, a systems approach to digital literacy is necessary if we are to ensure that teachers are ready and able to lead students down this ever-evolving path.

Below we examine the six areas briefly and the challenges facing educators in implementing these short-term, mid-term, and far-term technologies. For greater depth, readers may simply turn to the Horizon’s 2011 detailed report (pdf – 40 pages).

1. Mobile Technology

Today, we have a wealth of options for staying connected while on the go. While many equate the idea of mobile technology with the cell phone, the term mobile device is used to categorize everything from smart phones to netbooks.

Today, not only are there many devices (smart phones, netbooks, laptops and the like) to choose from, each of these options is capable of performing multiple functions. Whatever the choice, the ability to access the Internet and personal data from anywhere in the world is becoming ever more important especially as technology becomes cloud-based.

Ultimately, this online data storage is creating a totally new view of IT support. It also creates the requirement that our information be accessible to us no matter what our choice of device or our location.

The result is that more and more people are looking to mobiles as their device of choice. Furthermore, they are generally seen as cheaper and easier to use than desktop or laptop computers.

While many have long espoused the potential of mobile devices to revolutionize learning, educators continue to have concerns with the privacy and classroom management issues that come with student use of such devices. But clearly the digital world is headed firmly in this direction and education must follow suit.

2. Open Content

Open content appears to carry fewer concerns for educators and is generally seen as critical to addressing the ever-rising costs of higher education. Perhaps even more importantly, open content has the ability to provide the level of flexibility today’s students are beginning to demand.

Providing individual choice as to when and how to learn, open content is already becoming a critical format for colleges and universities. As traditional lines of learning get further blurred by the needs of adults to constantly upgrade skills to remain competitive in the workplace, education must follow suit.

The ability to learn informally, without constant direction and supervision, is a skill that we must increasingly begin to utilize in the classrooms of tomorrow. And whereas education used to center on a just-in-case format (becoming knowledgeable in a wide variety of topics to ensure future flexibility) the easy access to information requires a switch to “just-in-time” and “found” learning. Both of these formats will ensure that learning is far more timely and efficient.

This demands a new educational perspective where knowledge is not held by a select few and shared only upon demand but instead is collective in nature and sharable. This will continue to push teachers towards a new model where they focus on guiding and coaching students on methods for accessing and evaluating the volume of information available.

3. Electronic Books

While the Horizon report notes that “electronic books have been available in some form for nearly four decades,” the last twelve months “have seen a dramatic upswing in their acceptance and use.” Add to the mix the various assortment of electronic reading devices now available and it is easy to see why “electronic books are appearing on campuses with increasing frequency.”

For the student with the overweight backpack, the idea of being able to carry an entire library in their book bag is enormously appealing. On the college campus, electronic books are not only proving to be a cost-effective and portable alternative to heavy textbooks, these devices are able to store all syllabi and supplemental reading selections for even the most intense courses.

The latest e-book readers not only rival the experience of reading a paper book, they offer the ability to easily mark up and highlight text when desired, annotations that can be easily exported and shared with fellow students. Perhaps even more importantly, electronic readers offer keyword searching and instant dictionary lookups, two elements that can greatly enhance the learning possibilities for students.

Today we see the list of available titles is growing rapidly and with that development, the new format’s convenience will also yield even greater cost-effectiveness over time. Throw the fact that our wireless devices enable individuals to purchase materials from nearly anywhere on the planet means that entire libraries are now available to both teachers and students without ever leaving their home or the walls of their respective classroom.

4. Simple Augmented Reality

The ability to combine the real world with virtual information is the fundamental tenet of what is referred to as augmented reality. It involves the blending of virtual data, the information available to users via technology, with live action and what we see in the real world.

According to the Horizon report, AR dates back to the late 1960s and 1970 though it was not until the 1990s that major companies put the technology to use for visualization and training purposes. Those applications once required headsets that kept users tethered to their desktop computers but now the camera and screen embedded in smart phones and other mobile devices (our basic GPS system) can serve as the tools to blend the real world with virtual data.

Augmented reality applications exist in two basic formats: marker-based, whereby a “camera must perceive a specific visual cue in order for the software to call up the correct information,’ and markerless, whereby “positional data, such as a mobile’s GPS and compass is compared against a library of images to find a match.”

For education, the major focus could well be on augmented reality gaming. Such games would be based on real world situations that are then augmented with networked data, bringing incredible life to the study of both history and geography.

For the extremely futuristic minded, there is also the development of augmented reality books. Though the books are printed normally, they are made so as to include AR elements. After purchase, special software installed on a webcam allows the camera to interact with the book to create three dimensional visualizations.

5. Gesture Based Computing

Gesture-based computing gives rise to truly transformative technology where devices are created “that react to us instead of requiring us to learn to work with them.” Therefore, instead of teaching children how to use a mouse and keyboard, we would instead teach them to use natural movements to engage their technology.

Most of us are familiar with the iPhone or the Nintendo Wii, gesture-based systems that accept input in the form of taps, swipes, motion, pressure, and the number of fingers touching the devices. Incorporating the potential for more kinesthetic classroom would also take away one of the current fears associated with computers and those popular video games, the sedentary lifestyle that often accompanies those activities.

In addition, yet another one of the most important elements would be the collaborative nature gesture-based computing would offer teachers. By removing the need to share a keyboard and mouse, gestural interfaces would allow multiple users to potentially interact with a single computer simultaneously.

More than simply making technology easier to engage, gesture-based computing has been shown to enhance fine motor skills. One such study revealed that surgeons-in-training who warmed up with the Wii scored an average of 48% higher on tool tests and simulated surgical procedures than those who did not.

6. Visual Data Analysis

Visual data analysis is a new field that blends highly advanced computational methods with sophisticated graphic generating tools. These computer enhancements make it possible for almost anyone to see any existing patterns and/or structure in even the most complex of data settings.

Data collection and compilation has long been seen as a tedious process. While computers removed some of the manual challenges of this process, analyzing, interpreting, and displaying data was largely a field only statisticians and engineers fully grasped.

Most people see these tools as being useful when studying scientific topics such as climate change and global warming trends. But if we can make “it possible for anyone to sift through, display, and understand complex concepts and relationships,” then visual data representation will soon lead to applications in the social sciences and humanities.

As for the implications for educators, the field is deemed to be more consistent with the pattern matching skills that seem to be hard-wired into the human brain. But the greatest impact could well be the concept’s ability to enable educational researchers to finally isolate the specific variables that truly impact learning and identify the most effective educational practices to employ in the classroom.

February 22, 2011   3 Comments

Media Literacy – A Topic for All Ages

We have noted previously the need for modern schools to begin to include media literacy in their respective curricula. It is a subject of growing importance as we move into a world where savvy business and advertising professionals consistently seek to take advantage of an undereducated and naïve public citizenry.

Two recent reports reveal how media is impacting our lives. The first involves a recent survey by Harris Interactive called the Youth EquiTrends Study. The second involves a poll conducted by, based at the University of Maryland, and Knowledge Networks on the recent election and the disappointing level of misinformed voters.

EquiTrends Study

The Harris Interactive survey consisted of polling more than five thousand 8- to 24-year-olds last August. The researchers sought to identify what has been dubbed “brand equity” amongst our young people.

iStock_000012962995XSmallBrand equity is a term used to express a brand’s overall strength based upon three factors: familiarity, quality, and purchase consideration. To get at the youngster’s view of specific product names, those polled were asked to rate between 98 and 125 popular brands of goods. The research sample was drawn online for 13- to 24-year-olds and by way of parents for 8- to 12-year-olds.

The 8- to 12-year-old top ten went like this:

1. Nintendo Wii
2. Doritos
3. Oreo’s
4. M&Ms
5. Disney Channel
6. Nickelodeon
7. Nintendo DS
8. McDonald’s
9. Toys R Us
10. Cartoon Network

It was somewhat nice to see Nintendo holding the top spot since the Wii incorporates exercise into the gaming experience. But in an era where children are suffering from premature obesity so much is revealed by what we see in slots 2, 3, 4 and 8.

And while television appears prominently in the top ten, no mention is made of the one television program, Sesame Street, that might mix the viewing pleasure with some learning.

If we move on to 13- to 17-year-olds the level of junk food and the extreme calorie intake moves just a tad further:

1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
2. iPod
3. Google
4. M&Ms
5. Oreo’s
6. Subway
7. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate
8. Target
9. Sprite
10. Microsoft

On the positive site, there is a noteworthy drop here in television-related items and the move towards media that is at least interactive (Google and Microsoft).

Finally for the oldest group , 18- to 24-year-olds, we see some modest changes:

1. Google
2. Facebook
3. iPod
4. Gatorade
5. Target
6. Subway
7. Apple
8. iTunes
9. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

It is clearly nice to see those food items fall down and off the list. But this list speaks volumes for educators especially given the brand familiarity of Google and Facebook to this age group. Those wanting to implement these tools in the education setting clearly have a captive audience that is already familiar with their use.

Of course, this also conjures up that age-old challenge for educators: distractibility. While these tools can be put to use in the learning environment, their ability to be utilized so easily in an off-task manner continues to leave educators concerned about their implementation.

Finally, if ages are not broken out we see the following list:

1. M&Ms
2. Google
3. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
4. Oreo’s
5. iPod
6. Target
7. Subway
8. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate
9. Doritos
10. Pixar

Uninformed Public Voter

iStock_000005620177XSmall The second report on the impact of media and the need to be aware of its effects parallels one of our more recent concerns regarding uniformed voters. The World Public Opinion poll reported that 9 in 10 voters indicated they had encountered information they believed was misleading or false during the 2010 election. The report further noted that 56% of respondents indicated they thought this had occurred frequently with a nearly like number (54%) believing this misinformation was more frequent than usual.

But the most interesting development was that voters in total had in fact been misinformed on some very basic issues but did not realize they were unaware of the truth. For example, though the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had concluded that the stimulus legislation has saved or created somewhere between 2.0-5.2 million jobs, only 8% of voters thought most economists who had studied it concluded that the stimulus legislation had created or saved several million jobs. Perhaps most astonishingly, 20% even believed that it resulted in job losses.

As but one more example, though the CBO concluded that the health reform law would reduce the budget deficit, 53% of voters thought most economists have concluded that health reform would increase the deficit.

Because misinformed viewers actually reported watching different news channels, the failure to be properly informed could not be attributable to one specific news source. Perhaps most importantly, those who had greater exposure to news sources were generally better informed.

But the report did reveal a number of cases where greater exposure to a news source increased misinformation on a specific issue. The report also noted that those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to be misled.

Some examples with direct quotes from the study:

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points).

As for the final nail in the Fox coffin, the effect was not deemed a function of partisan bias. Even those Fox watchers who voted Democratic were more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch that specific network.

Media Literacy

In our world today, we are bombarded with imagery designed to sell us on specific products. Our media consumption involves exposure via two traditional outlets, television and print media, as well as all the new forms that accompany the explosion of technology and the Internet.

It is important for all of us to understand that those candy makers and the folks at Doritos know how to get their message across. As we move towards epidemic levels of obesity in our country, it is imperative we look at the messages being provided to children on a daily basis.

But we adults are just as easily manipulated. How else could those who watch a certain network that calls itself “fair and balanced” not realize they are not receiving factually accurate information.

Collectively, the two studies reveal the importance of being able to realistically and properly assess brands. The results are alarming.

First, and foremost, we can clearly see that the ability to assess is not something the general public can do. And that of course leads to the ultimate issue, that brand equity transfers over time into brand loyalty.

December 19, 2010   1 Comment

One Way Schools Could Develop Creative Thinkers!

It just might be time for K-12 education to make video games a fundamental part of the curricula.

Everywhere we turn these days we hear the same thing.

Our students need things we don’t teach and that our school structures do not allow for a focus on learning and thus all too often sustain the current social hierarchy. Some would insist that our schools are crushing every ounce of creativity from our young (see accompanying video).

In her article on “The Things We Don’t Teach,” Jenifer Fox quotes extensively from the publication “Tough Choices or Tough Times (pdf),” a document calling for the development of youngsters who are creative and innovative. The report further stresses the need for developing adaptable and cooperative workers who will be “constantly organizing and reorganizing in a never-ending array of teams.”

Fox hammers the current school culture:

“In an age when most jobs require intuitive decision-making, where more mental activities replace physical ones, traditional instruction and assessment is ineffective (i.e. the teacher demonstrates how to do something and the student who repeats the performance best receives a high grade). In the 21st century workplace, a new premium is placed on creative problem solving, teamwork and collaboration. Our schools will “bridge” students into the workforce when they begin to focus on developing student strengths and teach students how to bring those strengths to the teams they work on.

Using Video Games to Teach

We have noted on many occasions that one of the most intriguing options for the future of education is the use of video games to teach higher order thinking skills. We have offered our Eleven Video Games to Unlock Your Inner Genious as well as a suggestion as to how gaming behavior could be used to instruct students on the all-important scientific method.

To date we have read little about public K-12 education doing anything in the way of organizing their curricula around this idea and/or implementing the concept in the classroom in a meaningful way. But as always, higher education appears to be the first to grasp the idea and is at least seeing the option as a viable elective.

University of Florida students in the honors program now have just such an option. The video game “StarCraft” is used to teach critical thinking, problem solving and resource management skills in the online course IDS2935, “21st Century Skills in StarCraft.” Nate Poling, the UF doctoral student teaching the class, told news reporters that the game is a tool and a resource, that the game is an anchor in the same way that other courses might use a textbook to reinforce specific concepts. Poling believes that ultimately games can be a great teaching tool and cites his early infatuation with the popular Apple “Oregon Trail” option often made available to students during free time in elementary school.

For those unfamiliar with the game, “StarCraft” is a strategy game in which as many as eight players can compete online. Poling selected the game because it reinforces lessons related to balancing resources and the managing of risks, two skills important to anyone starting a business.

As homework the students are required to play the game for as many as two hours each week. Ironically, grading comes from typical educational formats – students must keep a log, write papers and do a final presentation.

iStock_000005207063XSmallIt’s just that everything centers upon the game: the log documents student attempts to play the game while the papers focus on the decisions students made while playing. But the one way that contrasts with traditional educational practices is that grading will not be correlated with student skills playing the game.

Of course, if one peruses the Internet, the web is loaded with specific references to this very course with the vast majority offering a “you must be kidding” tone. While the gaming community attempts to keep a straight face even as they use the story as a selling point, independent sites seem to focus on the “ha ha” concept, the proverbial, I too want to earn a bachelor’s degree in Starcraft.

But we have heard tell that the University of California at Berkeley began using “StarCraft” in the classroom last year while the puzzle video game “Portal” is among required material this fall for freshmen at Wabash College in Indiana.

Video Games as an Assessment Tool

It will no doubt take some time for the skeptics to be won over but it is interesting to note that the concept of stealth assessments is taking hold and here again video games could offer a key component to making the concept work. Stealth assessment recognizes that complications from test anxiety can make it difficult to capture specific abilities. In addition, traditional testing formats can’t help but bring in outside factors based on students existing knowledge or lack of specific knowledge in regards to a topic.

So as educators and independent assessors seek ways to measure skills like critical thinking, creativity, and persistence, new ways of testing those traits are developing. One such way is to allow students to immerse themselves in a fun activity and then watch how they behave.

Allowing a small group to play a video game reduces test anxiety even as it creates a setting where an observer can watch students interacting as they solve a complex task. Researchers insist that a lot of important stuff happens when individuals play video games.

Because every aspect of what transpires allows an educator to observe how students process specific tasks, such an option is being considered a possible method for assessing an individual’s higher order thinking skill level as well as a person’s ability to function as part of a team.

domestic lifeThis of course represents yet another step in the video game evolution – in the earlier arena discussed the game is used to supplement classroom instruction and thus help develop higher order thinking skills. In the second instance of stealth assessments, video games are utilized as a method for assessing what a student has acquired for skills.

The result is that video games could actually form that final critical educational bridge, the one that blurs the distinction between learning and assessment.

Time Has Come

In sum total, it is clear that at this time our schools are falling short in regards to developing the next generation of creative thinkers. No doubt, the time has come for new and innovative teaching options be explored.

But the radical nature of using video games as teaching and assessment tools doesn’t appear likely to fly in public education where the traditionalists are convinced that education involving video games has to be devoid of rigor.

So it will likely fall on some entrepreneur convincing some board to allow a new charter school to be created that focuses on developing 21st century skills. Imagine a school where reading, writing and arithmetic are integrated with technology, the world wide web and video gaming.

Of course, some basic skills will never change – the ability to read and write and think logically all remain important elements in any school. But at the same time, our future is dependent on developing yet another set of core skills centered upon the world wide web: the ability to research, think creatively and collaboratively problem solve.

The first set of entrepreneurs who can redesign schools around this theme and then contrast it with the limitations of traditional educational formats are going to make themselves a whole lot of money.

Because I have no doubt that video games and virtual worlds represent the future of learning.

November 21, 2010   No Comments

Is Digital Media Producing a Less-Empathic Generation of Young People?

There is little doubt that we have entered a wondrous new age, one where every facet of life is evolving and generally doing so in ways we could never have anticipated. As we make our way through what is now dubbed the digital era, early assessments have many concerned for our young.

There are those who see the digital age as creating a group of youngsters with the shortest attention spans in history. Still others express concern that the digital age may actually be interfering with the intellectual development of young people.

iStock_000004111604XSmallIn fairness, there is another group that sees the developments positively and believes that a new, wired generation is able to do things we older folks could never have dreamed up. Those with such a view throw around the new term, multi-tasking, and refer to today’s young positively as digital natives.

However, the alarmists seem to be winning out. And a new study released late spring added one more layer of concern for those who work with children.

The Work of Sara Konrath

One of the disconcerting developments involves a three-decade analysis of prior research conducted by Sara Konrath, a professor affiliated with the psychiatry department at the University of Rochester. Also a researcher for the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, Konrath found that today’s college students are not as empathic as those of prior generations.

The professor arrives at her conclusions after reviewing 72 studies measuring this specific personality trait conducted over a 30-year period (1979-2009). When college students are compared with those from the late 1970s, Konrath found that today’s college students were “less likely to make an effort to understand their friends’ perspectives,” or to “feel tenderness or concern for the less fortunate.”

With the most significant drop occurring after the year 2000, Konrath found that “kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago.” These findings mirror the concerns of those who see today’s young as being extremely self-centered, an attribute that has some folks calling today’s youngsters Generation Me.

Digital Media Responsible?

The alarming development could result from a number of factors though it is clear that Konrath believes the largest culprit is digital media. And when she places the blame, she hits on virtually every one of the concerns often expressed by others.

“In terms of media content, this generation of college students grew up with video games,” she told US News. “And a growing body of research, including work done by my colleagues at Michigan, is establishing that exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others.”

Konrath goes on to point fingers at another popular phenomenon, social media. The professor theorizes that a shift towards online friendships provides youngsters with the ability to “tune out” when they wish. The ability to tune out when conversing online could then spill over to the point that students may tune out even when peers are expressing themselves in face-to-face settings.

This raises new flags and throws a bit of a wrench into the growing sentiment that social media can play a positive role in the education process of young people.

While focusing primarily on the role of digital media, Konrath did speculate that our hyper-competitive society and its unbridled focus on success could also be playing a role. In some cases, it could be the cutthroat nature of such a lifestyle, but it could just as likely be that our fast-paced world prevents us from being able to tune in to the needs of others.

Educator Interest

togetherFurther review of the professor’s work reveals a very interesting assessment of what constitutes a healthy self-focus. By the term healthy, Konrath talks of a youngster developing a strong, confident sense of self, referred to as individualism. This contrasts with unhealthy self-focus that is so inflated it borders on narcissism.

What is also of interest is the professor’s view that self-focus can develop alongside other-focus. Most importantly, in her view, positive levels of individualism can develop alongside collectivism and empathic behavior if nurtured properly.

Such a theory means that people can actually be high in category and low in the other, high in both, or low in both. Konrath has developed a theory around the consequences of an excess in self-focus without a simultaneous focus on others, a situation the researcher calls “social atomization.”

“Socially atomized people have difficulty considering the larger web-like social context in which all humans are embedded,” notes Konrath. Yet another interesting development in those with excessive narcissism is a certain level of aggression.

Konrath’s work could have enormous implication for teachers moving forward. If indeed our digital culture is rendering a generation of self-centered individuals, it will likely fall on schools to construct educational opportunities to combat this negative trend.

October 17, 2010   1 Comment

New Online Safety Report Provides Advice for Parents and Educators

Time to skip the scare tactics.

To be frank, it is the method most often chosen when working with young people. Take the worst-case scenarios and then use them to scare the bejesus out of our kids.

Internet securityIt has been utilized for years to try to keep our youth from using alcohol, tobacco, and harder drugs. It is also used all too frequently when discussing sexual activities including the risk of HIV.

And all too often it has been used to try to dissuade our youngsters from using social networking sites.

Unfortunately, the scare tactic approach has not proven to have the impact adults would like it to have. Not too surprisingly, a new report reveals that using similar tactics when discussing online safety is not the way to go either.

The Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG), a federal entity created by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, recently released an online safety report (pdf) that provided specific recommendations for students, teachers, and parents. Instead of making students fearful about the perils of the internet or blocking such access altogether, the report encourages a broad approach to online safety that features both media literacy and digital citizenship.

Safety a Legitimate Issue

Referring to the Internet as a “living thing,” the task force did not minimize the importance of internet safety for our youngsters. But their report did indicate that scare tactics did little to influence the behavior of adolescents.

As expected, research indicates that both preteens and teenagers spend a significant portion of their waking hours on tech-based communication forms including interacting on social networking sites. Such interactions provide one of the greatest fears for many adults, that a child will fall victim to an online predator.

Those adult fears often lead directly to our use of scare tactics to try to keep our youngsters from using these sites. But, according to the researchers, recent studies have shown, “the statistical probability of a young person being physically assaulted by an adult who they first met online is extremely low.”

That finding is consistent with a 2008 report that appeared in American Psychologists indicating that young people’s use of social networking sites did not increase their risk of victimization. Furthermore, while “sexual predation on minors by adults, both online and offline, remains a concern, bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline.”

Yet another common concern is the growing issue of sexting and the latest trend of sharing explicit photos. Unclear as how to handle such behavior, many communities have allowed local police to handle the matter with a heavy-handed, punishment-oriented approach. Those few, highly-publicized situations have provided yet another rationale for using scare tactics with our youngsters.

The report discourages such an approach, insisting that a united effort that takes advantage of the protective tools offered, but works in collaboration with parents and school personnel, is the best way to proceed. Furthermore, the task force insists that schools can safely incorporate the use of social networking sites into the classroom.

Education Critical

The educational approach should feature programs that model the appropriate use of technology and the sites frequented by our youngsters. In other words, instead of using horror stories and focusing on negative behavior, adults must model positive and productive use. To ensure the approach is effective, that modeling must come from all adult caregivers and not just educators.


From the report:

“Because the Internet is increasingly user-driven, with its “content” changing in real-time, users are increasingly stakeholders in their own well-being online. Their own behavior online can lead to a full range of experiences, from positive ones to victimization, pointing to the increasingly important role of safety education for children as well as their caregivers. The focus of future task forces therefore needs to be as much on protective education as on protective technology.”

As for the greatest threats children face online, the report indicates that cyber bullying is far more common than most people believe. The latest form of bullying begins as early as second grade and generally is initiated most often by a students classmates or peer group.

One interesting development of the report was the rather novice suggestion of looking to young people as experts in online tech usage to help guide adults in developing a set of best educational practices.

For more, read the full report (pdf).

June 29, 2010   No Comments

Online, Higher Education Models – Enter the New York Times

We have read on many occasions of new higher education models. One blogger, John Robb, noted that one catalyst could be the economic downturn we have experienced.

Most certainly, a number of folks have expressed dismay that in tough economic times, one constant remains – next year’s university fees and tuition costs will be significantly more than what students had to shell out this year. While most tend to chastise higher education, this development no doubt has caught the attention of entrepreneurs who see education as a source of revenue.

A More Profitable New York Times?

iStock_000009137974XSmallHowever, we may not have been paying enough attention to this combination of factors. We would have never guessed the latest educational entry might come from an industry that is floundering, the newspaper business, and from one of the most venerable of news outlets, the New York Times.

But as media conglomerates search for new revenue models that could help them to return to financial stability, they are apparently leaving no stone unturned. But most people are focusing on the fact that the NY Times is once again considering charging online readers access to its web site.

It seems that Times leadership is about to reintroduce a paywall format whereby readers without a subscription will get a limited number of free peeks at the site per month. Critics insist that it will not enhance that much-needed revenue stream in the long run.

Since bloggers provide enormous referrals when citing articles, even readership at the Times is greatly enhanced by online linking. If a paywall is put in place, those bloggers would no longer be able to refer readers to a specific article with the certainty that those readers would be able to access that story when they click.

Fewer readers in the long run means fewer dollars as well.

But in an even more interesting move, in addition to charging for story access, it now appears that the Times is moving into the field of education. According to the Guardian, beginning this spring the Times “will start awarding certificates in conjunction with several universities to students who pay to take its online courses.”

The Guardian notes the step serves two critical purposes: earning the Times some extra bucks as it works to extend the company’s brand name.

Not Entirely New

It was two years ago the paper launched the New York Times Knowledge Network. Offering online courses with editors and journalists, the program initially involved the offering of non-credit courses that provided continuing education expertise for journalists.

istock_000007229384xsmall-300x299The difference, though shades of gray must be mentioned here, is that it now appears the model is designed to produce a stream of income. The latest model involves far more than non-credit, continuing education classes; instead the Times will partner with other universities to offer courses that grant credits and can be used for certificate programs.

Felice Nudelman, director of education for the Times, recently explained the concept to Inside High Ed. “It is, for many institutions, a profit center,” she acknowledged.

Teaming up with Ball State University and Rosemont College, courses will range from $235 for a six-week video storytelling course ($199 if no credit is to be awarded) to a six-course certification in entrepreneurship at $1,950 per course. The video course is one of nine courses students must complete to obtain a joint certificate in “emerging media journalism” from the Times and Ball State.

Other options include immigration law courses taken in conjunction with the City University of New York and separate 45-week programs in paralegal studies and nurse paralegal studies from Thomas Edison State College.

The format has the Times and the specific universities sharing course revenues. The colleges will provide the professors for each course while the Times will offer access to news archives back to 1851, subject-specific content modules designed by the paper, and newsroom specialists for guest lectures.

Future of Education

As a new education model, the concept could well be the harbinger of things to come. The Times certainly offers an incredible library of material to say nothing of employing enormous reporting expertise.

One could certainly see students flocking to courses that might feature not only a competent professor, but the possibility of interacting with the likes of a Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, or Paul Krugman (provided Princeton might allow) would no doubt be incredibly marketable.

And as Nudleman told InsideHigherEducation, “If you look at the content of the pages of New York Times,” she is not stretching the truth too much when she asserts “we probably have as much depth and breadth as a good liberal arts curriculum.”

Robb was right, the current economics constitutes a chance for new models and it appears the NY Times is ready to deliver a very unique option. The question, ultimately, is will this help return an esteemed brand to financial stability.

January 19, 2010   No Comments

Technology and Literacy – Creating Better Writers

There is a growing sentiment that success hinges in great part on a student’s self-confidence. Whether it is the study of sophisticated mathematics or tossing a basketball in a hoop, those who believe in their abilities are able to consistently move on to greater challenges with a sense they will be able to meet the expectations set forth.

No doubt, some folks would differ with that sentiment. At InstructorWeb, we see reference to the mainstays of ongoing academic success: the need for study, practice, and review. Certainly those elements play a key role as well.

But the site also notes that self-worth and self-confidence cannot be overlooked, that “mental attitude is more relevant to success than academic aptitude.” Even more importantly, InstructorWeb insists “children who are convinced that they can succeed will succeed” and “will do so without the anxiety and nervousness that is so common among poor achievers.”

Boosting Literacy Skills

iStock_000002832253XSmallThe importance of self-confidence is a critical development embedded within the results of a recent survey by the National Literacy Trust, a charity actively promoting literacy in the United Kingdom. The online survey of 3001 students from England and Scotland, ages 8-16, revealed key relational findings between technology and patterns of reading and writing, two areas many educators often see as disparate or even mutually exclusive.

Explaining the basics of the study, Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, told BBC News:

“Engagement with online technology drives” student “enthusiasm for writing” in all its various formats, “short stories, letters, song lyrics or diaries.”

But ultimately, the key finding from the survey is one that educators should pay critical attention to: Children who blog, text or use social networking websites are more confident about their writing skills than those who do not use such sites.

According to the survey, when it came to writing, 75% of all students wrote regularly and most of those who did so reported putting both pen to paper as well as fingers to a keyboard. According to NLT, 82% of those surveyed sent text messages at least once a month while 73% used instant messaging services to chat online with friends. In contrast, 77% acknowledged putting pen to paper to write either class notes or when doing homework.

Though one might not be surprised at texting or instant messaging percentage, one of the most amazing statistics involved the significant number of students blogging. According to NLT, 24% of surveyed students wrote regularly on a blog.

Moving on to the element of confidence, of the children who neither blogged nor used social network sites, less than one in two (47%) rated their writing as “good” or “very good.” Meanwhile, more than half of all those (56%) who use social media and three of every five (61%) bloggers rated their writing as good or very good.

For those who continue to insist that technology is undermining basic reading and writing literacy, that the writing styles students use in online chat environments or when texting one another is detrimental, these findings and others had Douglas insisting he would have none of it.

“The more forms of communications children use the stronger their core literary skills,” Douglas informed the BBC. “Does it damage literacy? Our research results are conclusive – the more forms of communications children use the stronger their core literary skills.”

iStock_000008519301XSmallDouglas went on to relate one other critical point, one we have noted in the past: kids need to learn to distinguish between different writing styles.

Interesting Gender/Socioeconomic Findings

The random study yielded a near 50-50 gender split but did include a larger percentage of respondents who received free school meals (20.2%) than the U.K. average for primary and secondary students.

The male-female breakouts revealed some very interesting developments. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the boys reported that they did not enjoy writing as much as girls (38% vs. 52%). They also were more apt to rate themselves as ‘not very good writers’ (48% vs. 42%). In addition, boys were more likely than girls to agree with statements that ‘writing is boring’ (57% vs. 41%) and with ‘writing is more for girls than for boys’ (60% vs. 43%).

But for those looking to hook young men academically, the study revealed that boys held a more positive attitude towards computers and they were more likely than girls to believe that computers were beneficial to writing.

Another very interesting, and at times counter-intuitive development, involved the responses of the students qualifying for free school meals (FSM). First, there was no relationship between socio-economic status and enjoyment of writing, writing behavior, linking writing to success, views of writers, computer use, or attitudes towards computers. But heading back to the confidence arena, students outside the FSM group rated themselves as better writers than pupils who receive FSMs.

Similar Doubts Everywhere

Just as we see here on this side of the pond, there remains great skepticism among educators regarding technology use, particularly any steps that might encourage students to spend time online. In fact, John Coe, general secretary of the National Association for Primary Education, specified a growing concern of educators.

iStock_000000642945XSmallWhile there is no doubt enormous advantage to developing the relationship between teacher and child, Coe told the BBC, “sometimes the computer is closer to the child than the teacher by the age of 13.” But Coe went on to add that NAPE was looking into ways to incorporate the passion students had for texting into teaching methods.

That said, reverting once again to the confidence arena, it is imperative that educators understand why technology can be such a positive tool overall. Surveyed students not only said they used computers regularly; they also believed that computers were beneficial to their writing.

They reported that a computer made it easier for them to correct mistakes (89%), allowed them to present ideas more clearly (76%), and that computers allowed them to be more creative, concentrate more and even encouraged them to write more often (60%). In contrast, two of the most common reasons why youngsters indicated they were not good writers involved an inability to write neatly (23%) or not being very good at spelling (21%).

Simply stated, technology gave these youngsters greater confidence. Combine that with the ever-present desire of students to use technology and we have a clear indication as to why teachers would do well to incorporate social media and blogging opportunities into their basic literacy programs.

In fact, in a day and age when there are growing concerns with the academic development of young boys, the use of technology could well be the path to enhanced engagement for this group.

January 5, 2010   2 Comments

Comics in the Classroom – Technology Allows Students to Create their Own Characters and Strips

New comic strip site moves into the education market with BitStripsforSchools

It has been almost two years since we did our four-part feature on the use of comic books in the classroom. At that time we discussed the comics movement in light of the increased emphasis in the educational setting on student engagement and enhanced learning, two elements that spoke directly to the issue of teachers capturing the attention of their students.

Specifically, when it came to struggling young readers, it was clear that one way hook and thus engage students was to turn to the world of comics. While the initial reaction of some was that teachers were lowering their educational standards and reinforcing lazy reading habits, many others, understanding that teaching begins with getting student attention, decided to give comics a try.

For those educators still on the fence, we followed our initial post with an excellent interview with Chris Wilson of The Graphic Classroom. Most importantly, Chris clearly articulated how the graphic format could be used to enhance any reading program, not just those who struggled with the reading process.

Making Comic Strips

Teachers already using such the comics format no doubt understand how the creation of comic strips by students can become a teaching tool for reluctant writers as well.

Given what we had learned, we were extremely intrigued with a new web site called Just as one might expect, it is computer software that allows students to create their own comic book characters and story lines or strips.

JacobAtWork-CandidLike Chris who grew up with an interest in graphic novels, Jacob Blackstock, the CEO of BitStrips Inc., always had an interest in drawing his own comics.

In fact, Jacob acknowledges that on the one hand he often got into trouble for drawing comics instead of paying attention while in class, but that on the other would get high marks for handing in comics as schoolwork.

With his site BitStrips, Jacob appears to have resolved this longstanding paradox. Having started, and stopped the university academic scene a number of times, Jacob had to teach himself classical animation, a step that helped him create his own 14-minute cartoon.

But the process of drawing the same character over 15,000 times (3 years worth of work) had him thinking of easier ways to repeat a creative process that could become tedious at times. With the help of David Kennedy, Shahan Panth, Jesse Brown, Dorian Baldwin and Tom Smahel, the group would create Bitstrips and offer just such a path for other would-be cartoonists.

Over the past ten days we posed a number of questions to the CEO of Bitstrips Inc. Below, as is our practice at OpenEducation, we offer his Q & A verbatim for our readers.

Can you give our readers a brief history of how Bitstrips came to be?

Bitstrips Inc. is a six-man team from Toronto, most of whom have been friends since high school. Collectively, we’ve been making comics, cartoons, and interactive games all our lives. After years of drawing the same things over and over again (animation and illustration can be tedious work), we found ourselves looking for a way to speed up the creation process – to minimize the time it takes to bring an idea to life in a shareable form. This quest led to the development of our Comic Builder, which we strived to make the easiest, most fun, and fastest way to make great-looking comics using a computer. As we reached this goal, we realized that the Comic Builder had a greater purpose than just speeding up the process:

Now anyone could make their own comics, regardless of their drawing ability. The uniquely evocative language of comics had always been reserved for a select few who possessed the skills and the patience to create them; now this language could be used by everyone, and could perhaps even become a new mode of everyday communication, like online video, blogs and twitter. Seeing this potential, we set out to build a new kind of website – and after about two years of toil, paid for out of our own pockets, was born.

In March of 2008 was launched at the SXSW interactive festival in Austin, Texas, where it was the hit of the show. We suddenly found ourselves fostering a rapidly growing, incredibly creative community of dedicated users, churning out massive quantities of comics on a daily basis. And to our surprise, we discovered that many of our users were educators, who were using the site as a teaching tool. This, in conjunction with recent studies that point to comics as a solution for developing student literacy, led us to consider the development of a new educational version of Bitstrips, tailored for use in the classroom.

We approached the Ontario Ministry of Education with a demo version of BitstripsforSchools, and they agreed to help us run a pilot program in a handful of classrooms. The pilot was a huge success, with teachers excited by the educational power of comic creation, and students inspired by the sheer fun of it all. We licensed the service to the Ministry for use across the province, and just about a month ago it finally launched – not just in Ontario, but also available anywhere in the world via an online self-serve option.

Since then the response has been overwhelming, with increasingly phenomenal usage. In our first month, we’ve had over 50,000 student accounts created. Currently the students are producing more than 6000 comics every day, and this number is increasing rapidly. And, most importantly, the teachers are thrilled to see just how engaged their students are while using Bitstrips.

Can you explain the differences between the two sites, particularly the attributes that are unique to the BitstripsforSchools site?

bitstrips one contains all the technology from, but with added security and administration features designed specifically for the school setting. Unlike, which is an entertainment site open to the public, BitstripsforSchools enables teachers to create virtual classrooms, which are essentially walled gardens that have no links to the wider web. These classrooms are just for students, and the teacher is in control. Administrative functionality allows teachers to monitor all activity within the class, and moderate content before it’s shared with the class.

Another unique aspect of BitstripsforSchools is that it gives teachers the ability to create specialized activities, and even share them with other teachers. This makes the site much more versatile and applicable to specific curricula. For example, if the class is reading a certain book, the teacher can create an activity that involves adapting a scene from the book into comic form. Any subject, from language to social studies to science, can be turned into an engaging comic-creation activity. And, as these activities are shared between teachers via the Activity Library, BitstripsforSchools will become exponentially more useful – teachers can search for activities by grade and subject, and add comments or ratings to assist other teachers in finding what they need.

Can you talk a little bit about the creativity available to students on the site – while basic character traits are available, it appears that students can customize each of their characters? And what attributes are available should they try to ‘cartoon’ themselves?

bitstrips 5One of the key ideas behind Bitstrips is that it’s not just about making comics – it’s about making comics that star YOU and your friends. This makes the experience more personal, fun and engaging. So, when developing the character builder, we tried to make it as flexible as possible, so that it’s easy to create an appealing, recognizable caricature of yourself or anyone you know.

There is currently a wide selection of facial features to choose from – eyes, ears, noses, hairstyles, etc… with regular updates planned throughout the year. But it’s not just about choosing the right set of eyes – you can also re-size them and move them around on the head – and we’ve found that it’s this fine-tuning of proportions that can really help capture the likeness of the person you’re recreating.

One of the special features we’ve added to BitstripsforSchools is a class picture that lives on your homepage. As each student creates his or her character (also known as avatars), it automatically appears in the group shot. So, when a teacher creates a Bitstrips classroom, they get to watch this scene fill itself up with cartoon versions of the whole class, which is a lot of fun for everyone.

Can you describe the types of emotions and actions available for characters? Is this fairly limited at this time?

One of the best things about building characters on Bitstrips is that there’s so much you can do with them. These characters are not just simple designs, they’re actually very expressive little puppets that can convey a lot of nuanced information without even using a word balloon.

We’ve got eight basic emotions to choose from, but those can be altered with independent eyelid, mouth and pupil controls, to generate a nearly infinite range of expressions. The body is also very adjustable, with a wide selection of poses in various categories (talking, walking, sitting, etc). And, even though it’s a two-dimensional design, you can rotate the character to view it from multiple angles.

So, from a single character design, there are truly endless possibilities when it comes to facial expressions and body language – which plays a big part in the unique way that comics can visually communicate thoughts and feelings.

How about the strips – is there a limit to the number of frames available or can a student create a story length cartoon?

A comic can have up to eight rows, with as many panels per row as the action will allow (usually no more than four). Generally this seems to be more than sufficient – though, for those students with more epic inclinations, they can build longer stories by creating multiple chapters. On we’ve had users create ongoing series with hundreds of episodes.

Talk a little bit about the art library currently available (characters, scenes and props). And what is in the works for expanding this library?

In addition to the characters, there is an art library containing a growing selection of props, furniture, backgrounds, and special effects. We like to think of the items in the library not as clip art, but rather as ‘smart art’ – that is, any given object may have multiple viewing angles as well as different states. For example, we have a banana that can be peeled, drawers that open and close, and water that transforms from a drop to a puddle. Discovering these extra states (and finding uses for them) has proven to be a fun part of exploring the library for our users.

The art library also contains full scenes, which combine backgrounds, props and furniture to make it faster and easier to create your comic. We’re working on new batches of artwork and plan on releasing regular updates throughout the year. We get lots of requests for specific items to be added to the library, and we try to make sure that the most commonly requested bits go to the top of our list of new things to design. Currently we’re working on some major updates that should really add to the fun – new clothing, animals, musical instruments, and more…

Your site notes that students can email their comics home, print them out, or paste them into other applications. What are some of the other common applications students can use?

For those who want to work beyond the confines of the comic strip format, graphics from Bitstrips can be copied and pasted into other image editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop. We’ve seen people copying their characters into posters, calendars, Powerpoint presentations, profile pics for blogs and Twitter accounts – you name it. Some industrious folks have even created flipbook animations on Youtube by exporting individual panels as frames. We’re constantly amazed to see Bitstrips art pop up in the least expected places.

What are some of the not so obvious, indirect learnings that Bitstrips can offer students?

bitstrips 3There’s been a huge amount of emphasis lately on the power of comics as a tool for enhancing student engagement and literacy. We’ve also seen teachers use it for other subjects – art, social studies, even math.

Meanwhile, whatever the subject being studied, there is always the underlying fact that BitstripsforSchools is a social media application, and I think learning to use social media in a constructive way is very important for today’s students. While using Bitstrips, students will find themselves indirectly learning about appropriate online behavior, digital collaboration, and other essential skills for navigating the increasingly complex world of the web.

One real key aspect of comics is its ability to help students who are English as Second Language Learners. Are there other languages currently available for teachers?

BitstripsforSchools is currently available in English and French (we are a Canadian company, after all). It is very likely that in the near future we will add more versions of the site in different languages. We’ve already got users in every corner of the globe, and since the teachers write the activities and their students write the comics, there’s really nothing stopping anyone from using the tools in any language. But, as demand increases, we will certainly add more support (ie properly translated interface, activities and documentation) for other languages.

Educators are always concerned with Internet safety – talk a little bit about what filters/precautions you have in place?

bitstrips fourWhile developing the site, we were very aware that safety would be a prime concern for teachers, and thus it’s been a major factor in how we set things up. Our guiding principle is that the teacher is in control. When a teacher opens an account, they create a ‘virtual classroom’ that is essentially a walled garden with no links to the wider internet. Students can still access this classroom from their home computers, but there’s no way for anyone outside the class to access it, and no way for the students to stumble upon any content that hasn’t been reviewed by their teacher.

We have a number of moderation controls, designed to help teachers track and deal with all the activity within the class. They can choose to have all comics sent to them for review before approving them to be shared with the other students. Students can flag comics or comments as inappropriate, at which point they are rendered invisible to the rest of the class and brought to the teacher’s attention. Comics containing profanities are flagged automatically.

Can you briefly go over the pricing structure and what comes with each pricing level? Can teachers sign off and on easily (so as to have access for one, two or three month periods should they choose)? And do you foresee a time when there might be a very basic option available to schools for free?

We offer subscriptions on either a monthly or annual basis. For a single-classroom account, which supports up to 40 students, it’s $9.95 per month, or $87 for a full year. Teachers with more than one class can also get a multi-classroom account, which supports up to 6 classrooms, for $29.95 per month or $265 for a year. All accounts come with free updates and upgrades, and unlimited comics and activities.

We also offer volume discount rates for school accounts and district accounts, such as our license for the Ontario Ministry of Education. School reps can easily get in touch with us via the site to determine the pricing.

It’s possible that some day we might be able to figure out a more basic version that could be freely available – but we still have a lot of work to do before we can afford to develop something like that. In the meantime, any teacher can try the full-featured service for free by signing up for a 14-day trial account. All paid accounts also include the free trial for the first two weeks.

Can you provide teachers a couple of contacts that are currently using BitstripsforSchools should new potential users want to pursue specific questions about the site and its application?

For a contact outside our company, I’d point people to the blog of Doug Peterson, who is a Computers in the Classroom Consultant here in Ontario, and is also part of the OSAPAC committee that recommended the license to the Ministry. He’s been a great evangelist for Bitstrips, and has posted some great articles on his blog, like this one.

Meanwhile, any potential users with specific questions should feel free to get in touch with us directly anytime by emailing us at We’re always very happy to talk with educators about the service – direct communication with teachers has been a huge part of the site’s development since day one.

November 3, 2009   2 Comments

Film Contest for the Creative – Can You Sell Science?

ScienceCopenhagen, the YouTube channel offering that snappy and yes, sexy video that promoted the study of science recently announced The Moving Science 2010 Film Contest. The Videoer fra Det Naturvidenskabelige Fakultet (the Faculty of Science) at the University of Copenhagen gained a large web presence with the release of “The Power to Create.”

From its creativity and wondrously apt music to its brevity, every aspect of that little gem caught folks attention. Yet, to traditional academics, the ones who believe the world thrives way too much on packaging, the idea of using a hip video to sell the study of science has to be seen as an enormous step in the wrong direction.

In fact, two of the other posts on the YouTube channel, likely appealed only to, well the generation that just might be heading off to college in the near future. But they reveal a creative flair that has to appeal to the young man or woman who has previously been thinking that majoring in science represents the uncoolest of possible choices.

Indeed, in what appears to be a direct push to change that view, there is the classic beer bottle domino line called Cafeen Domino as well as another clever little video that features a young woman (with another wondrous track of music) using a urinal. We would have to think those did not sit well with the traditionalists either.

Moving Science 2010 Competition

To compete for a significant number of prizes, movie producers must produce a video shorter than five minutes. In fact, the recommendation is for a length of 10 to 120 seconds. Prizes are gift certificates for IT, music or video related equipment, with the top prize being 15,000 DKK or about $3,000.

To enter, you must produce a film about one of three things: why one should study science or what science can lead to in later life or the most specific, the studying of science at the University of Copenhagen. The competition is open to anyone, students as well as non-students, and virtually any movie format is acceptable.

It can be an advert, a sketch, a song, a documentary or even viral film. Movies can be shot on a cell phone, webcam or regular video camera and may of course include a killer soundtrack as long as copyright is properly dealt with.

Seven different subject categories are available: a free form category as well as videos that would feature topics related to the Department of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematical Sciences, Geography and Geology, Computer Science and Exercise and Sports Sciences.

And as for inspiration, the site offers the three gems we have already noted plus these other ingenious little YouTube stalwarts.

For more on the deadlines, specific prizes and submission details, visit The Moving Science 2010 Movie Competition and click on the various sub links noted.

October 26, 2009   No Comments