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Protecting Your Kids Online

The parental instinct, across species, includes specific actions associated with concern for their offspring: establishment of shelter, provision of nourishment and protection from natural enemies. While shelter and nourishment are, to a large extent, invariant across all life forms in the holistic sense of the term, the idea of protection take on many hues beyond “natural enemies” in the human race and ranges from justifiable species preserving concerns to paranoid parenting, sometimes the former morphing into the latter, especially in new environments. Such is often the case with the online environment.

Kids on the internet

While the utility of the Internet as a veritable source of information is indeed indisputable, the risks are very real and serious. There are three main risks associated with internet, especially when used by children – the loss of data, financial dangers and vulnerability to exploitation.  While social law enforcement agencies do indeed proactively seek to meet the challenge posed in a constantly evolving domain, the primary responsibility for protecting children rests with parents.

But before embarking on an extensive battle plan to counter threat, a parent must be aware that there are as many myths about the risks of technology as there are hyperboles. The myths are largely a result of salacious, sensation-mongering media headlines of rare or unusual events that are often caused by gross mismanagement, rather than common-sense actions. Before succumbing to mass hysteria, the parent must understand that such events are but outliers and do not represent common threats that are less sensational, but perhaps more damaging in the large picture. A logical analysis is very essential to contextualize the good and bad of the Internet and technology in general, so that a rational plan may be formulated to protect without restricting the young. This is particularly relevant in the present times where the online environment extends across several technological platforms.

Data Safety

Kaspersky Lab and B2B International recently conducted a survey of consumer security risks in the context of the multi-device world. The survey was conducted on internet users from 23 tech-savvy countries of the world. The caveat of “multi-device” is justified by the statistic that 77% of participants (~8600 of the total of 11135 people surveyed) used multiple devices to connect to the internet, at the same time. The good news was that 92% of the people used some form of internet protection on their Windows computer, but the bad news is that not as many protected computers with other operating systems, tablets and smartphones. Considering that twenty thousand malware are detected on Android OS every month, this does not bode well for users of non-windows devices without protection.

Loss of data from unprotected devices results from actual physical loss of the device itself – the survey reports that 18% of losers of devices were young people in the age range of 16-24, and through cyber attacks. Considering that more half of the people who used devices admitted that they value the data on the device more than the device, with 38% storing extremely confidential and important data, it is common sense to preserve the device as well as the data carefully. Protecting data involves a simple step of always using virus protection software on all devices.

Financial Safety

The internet has evolved from an information repository to a virtual market to buy anything ranging from utilitarian items to ridiculous things such as  people to stand in line for you.  98% of users surveyed by Kaspersky have used the Internet for some form of financial transaction.

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It follows naturally that children have started using the Internet for shopping as well.  Six in ten children have been reported to shop online with 54% of kids purchasing mobile apps and make in-app purchases and 41% using a mobile device to make general purchases. While smart phones manufacturers offer various tools to parents to monitor and manage the online financial activities of kids, a Microsoft survey shows that 77% of respondents are clueless and seek help from technology companies to manage their children’s app activities on their smart phones.

Personal Safety

Stranger–danger is not new to digital parenting, given the long history of fears regarding strangers in the real world; this is perhaps the only true instinct that human beings have towards protecting their children. Legislators, families, communities, and law enforcement agencies strive to alleviate this fear and obviate this threat through various rules and regulations, both enforced and recommended. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the US, for example, is designed to protect the personal information of a child, such as name address, phone number, social security number etc. and no site may collect such information from children without a parent knowing about it and agreeing to it first. But as with any governmental regulation, the primary route towards online safety is parental awareness.

The most feared risk of safety is Internet-enabled sex crimes against children and sexual predators.  Although these are very rare, it is the most seriously considered threat of the internet. A more frequently occurring event is exposure of children to age in appropriate content that may be either sexual or violent in nature. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in a 2006 document titled “Online Victimization of Youth, Five Years Later”, reports that unwanted exposure to sexual material is the most frequent incident that jeopardizes the safety of children.

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Another underestimated albeit prevalent risk for children online is their susceptibility to cyber bullying. Netsmartz411.com, an online site helps educate parents about internet safety, reports that cyberbullying is of various types and includes sending negative or hateful messages and threats to children, spreading lies about them through social networking sites, leaving troll comments on social networking and blog sites, or in the worst form, creating a website to ruin the child’s reputation. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children reports that online harassment of youth ages 10 to 17 has increased in the last five years

It is very important for every parent to realise that while the power of the Internet in child development is immense, children definitely need extra guidance in their online ventures, because of their vulnerability. Many tools are available that allow parents to monitor and/or control their children’s access to online sites and every parent must be aware of them.   But beyond entirely relying on external support to protect children from the risks of the Internet, it is very essential that the parent participates actively in the online activities of the child.  For the uninitiated parent, there are many online sites such as Safekids.com and Netsmartz411.org, and FBI’s kid safety site that can offer tips and advice to parents to ensure safety of their children online.

This is an unabridged version of the latest Mobicip Newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

Photo credit: steveonjava / Foter / CC BY

Parenting in the Digital Era

No other topic in the world could raise a tsunami of opinions, judgements, beliefs and arguments as parenting. From whether or not to have a scheduled C-section, breastfeed, use pacifiers, or vaccinate, parenting involves mental and moral acrobatics that strain the human fabric to the extreme. Add technology into the mix and we have opened Pandora’s box.

Kids watching iPad over dinner

Today’s child is a digital native, the umbilical cord being replaced by the gadget power cord. A recent study conducted by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and Hart Research - “Parenting in the Digital Age” - reveals some interesting statistics. Virtually all parents surveyed (in Maryland) admitted to their children owning or having free access to electronic gadgets: 90% of the children had a computer, 93% owned a video game console, 88 % had cell phones, 81% had tablets (81%), and 70% of parents reported that the children had their own MP3 player. According to a survey by the Internet security company, AVG, in the US, 92 percent of children have an online presence by the time they are two years old. Is it, then, any wonder that parenting a child who has learned to swipe a screen before she can hold a crayon, raises hairy issues and dilemmas? Understandably, the digital revolution of the past two decades has induced a “moral panic” in parenting.   

The challenges in digital parenting arise from the general belief that now is probably the only time ever in human history that the child knows more than the parent. This belief is, however, debatable. The Hart research reports that 80% of parents of six- to nine-year-olds think they know more technology than their child. This drops to 44% for parents of 14- to 17-year-olds.  Such figures could be a result of the fact that parents of 6-9 year olds may be young enough themselves to have ridden the digital wave, as against parents of 14-17 year olds, who may predate the revolution. Education, economic background and ethnicity also play an important role in parent participation, as expected.

A technology-run world, while allowing young people access to invaluable resources and learning opportunities, also brings forth parenting challenges that include profitable participation in digital literacy/curriculum, management of screen time, protection from cyber crimes such as cyberbullying, filtering age-appropriate content, and more. In the parent-student-teacher triad partnership, parents play a vital part in teaching children the practice of “netiquette” outside of the classroom. All these require that the parent herself be digitally literate – “e-literate”, so to speak.  

A digitally illiterate parent poses a clear risk to the privacy and safety of children. A tech naive parent may, in a moment of parental pride, post pictures, videos or information of their children online, unaware of violation of privacy rights of children, and worse, opening them up for public scrutiny. Privacy management in Internet and social networks is possibly the primary and most important e-skill that a parent must possess.  It is important for every parent to understand that information in the cyber-universe is permanent and not difficult to retrieve and may thus pose a risk for the child’s future, and often, even present.  

Digital literacy also entails making informed decisions and knowing and enforcing limits.  Information is power, and power, like a pendulum, can swing both ways. Digitally illiterate parents may be naive enough to take illogical stances about technology – that it is a boon, or a bane - without fully understanding the advantages and risks. Another important skill essential for parental e-literacy is the know-how and commitment to manage their child’s technological activities. This includes being aware and/or moderating the duration, content and quality of the child’s digital involvement. All three factors are subjective and are a function of the child’s temperament, extent of parental involvement possible and the nature of the society to which they belong. For parental participation in digital literacy, it is also very important for the parent and school to have active interaction and open communication channels so that the parent clearly understands school and classroom technology guidelines, knows how and what types of technology are used in class, and if possible, obtains the tools required to complement classroom education.

Parental digital awareness hinges not only on the parent being well-informed of the tools available to children for safe and efficient use of technology but also on her personal commitment to lead by example. As James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” If parental digital illiteracy can cause one type of problems to children, parental overindulgence in technology can raise a completely different set of equally serious issues. A constantly texting parent raises a constantly texting child. But more subtle, and more serious is the psychological effects of tech-saturated parenting. With increasing use of technology and gadgets by parents themselves, there is a very real risk of a social disconnect from their children, others, nature and often, themselves. This disconnect can have serious effects on the development of the child. The use of technology by parents as a baby-sitting aid has in part been fed by the often imaginary belief that “outdoors” is unsafe and the lack of time or motivation for parents themselves to spend leisurely evenings with the children out of the four walls of the house.

A disturbing Canadian study shows that parents spend an average 3.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children.  In many homes, the room with the television has become the dining room and family conversations have languished as a result of adults and children being glued to the big box, or its smaller hand-held versions. To adapt Sheldon Cooper, the smaller the box, the more concentrated the idiocy. Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, found after painstaking research over fifteen years that parental overuse of technology fosters feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition in children.

Parenting, as is often said, involves giving kids wings to fly and roots on which to stand. Parenting in the digital age can only be more so. The only path ahead involves conscientious and conscious participation, rather than outright techno phobia or philia, to provide an inclusive life where the parents join children and schools in balanced technological engagement that does not compromise on the ability of  society in general, to stop and smell the roses.

This is an unabridged version of the latest Mobicip Newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

Photo credit: cdorobek / Foter / CC BY

Promoting Participation in Educational Technology

With an entire generation “born-digital”, children literally hit the digital ground running. Inroads of technology into all facets of a child’s life – be it education or recreation – makes it essential to set a strong stage so that the child builds on a sturdy foundation. Setting the foundation for technology-enhanced learning, even life itself, requires active participation by educators, parents and children alike. An active discussion is essential to understand the needs vis-à-vis capability of this nascent field, the word “nascent” being used in the context of time in terms of human existence, and not proliferation or impact of technology. The design of a digitally enhanced lesson plan requires constant feedback that helps better integration of technology and learning.

Parent Teacher Student Discussion

Class discussions on the use of technology are critical to student understanding and help add relevance to curriculum, broaden both student and teacher perspectives, highlight conflicts and contradictions, buttress information, and support community-learning. The level of student understanding of technology and technology-assisted curriculum can only be assessed through open discussions. Interactions with peers, both within the classroom and/or school, and in extended virtual support groups can help question preconceptions, assist in clarifying notions, enhance understanding, and help students arrive at independent conclusions. An open peer discussion can help the student develop a sense of self-identity while simultaneously placing her in a cornucopia of experience, perspectives, and opinions. Discussion forums could also help in addressing the social dimensions of education, for example, letting students getting to know one another. The true benefit of discussion forums is that the participants (including the teacher) come together as a community of learners and instinctively develop a self-help group, so that eventually the teacher becomes a facilitator, rather than a guide.

The stage for discussion could be real or virtual, but the environment itself must be safe, while free enough to allow sharing of opinion, thoughts and experiences without fear of derision or exploitation. The convener of the discussion must therefore be trustworthy and competent enough to direct the four A’s that govern discussions – Approach, Attitude, Atmosphere and Action. She must also excel in moderating counterproductive reactionary responses and inappropriate activities. While spontaneous discussions could be very relevant to the course matter, it is essential to also have a well-planned forum that addresses concerns and questions periodically.

Technology can be used to enhance the discussion itself. Digital discussion boards can offer a versatile platform for interaction between students and teachers. With careful moderation, discussions can be highly interactive, and the fact that the discussion is recorded enables archiving and provides a fertile ground for the academician to design and direct the course. A less “open” and more private form of communication would be the use of mobile phones and emails which offers a certain amount of anonymity that the student may be more comfortable with. Interactive technology such as Clickers can be of great use between student and teacher and could foster a healthy discussion environment in the classroom.

But it takes more than the teacher and student to define education. Parents are essential part of the mix and have traditionally participated in the shaping of the educational system of the era/location. A recent survey by MetLife Survey of the American Teacher shows that parent engagement in American schools has increased in the past 25 years. This is true with technology-assisted education as well. The goal of parental involvement with technology enhanced education is to not only keep the parents informed, but to also establish contexts to strengthen learning and development. Given the newness of the concept of digitally driven education, schools may still be uncertain about the quantum of technology involvement in education and may want to obtain parental consent or input for the use of technology in the classroom. Although there are no set rules and legislations that prescribe the extent of parental say in designing a tech-enabled curriculum, the underlying understanding is that children are given technology exposure and education in accordance with parents’ approval.

It is impossible for educators to stay abreast of technology trends without support and help from parents and this critically depends on maintenance of running conversations, establishment of house rules and making wise choices on the use of technology. This in turn entails that the parent be given a platform to interact with the school and children on the digital arena. Programs like Connecting Families are designed to enable parent participation in school and encourage schools and communities to be technologically connected through careful researched data, hosting guides, conversation topics and printable resources to share.

Schools must also take steps to ensure parents participation such as implementing digital use policy agreements as some schools already do. This is a classroom technology contract, so to speak, that describes in detail to the parent how technology will be used in class, the basic guidelines that both teachers and students must know and keeping parents regularly updated on tools their wards are using. This gives parents an opportunity to learn about the technology their children use, which can, in effect bridge the digital generation divide. Encouraging parents to participate in school-centric social networking groups and blogs can also help establish the school to home connection.

Unlike well-established traditional modes of education that are governed largely by academicians, parents, teachers and children collectively define tech-enabled education; their roles complement and reinforce each other and enhance education through continuous discussions. Thinking of parents, students and teachers as “partners” in a discussion rightly reflects the route toward a shared goal of a technology-ready future.

Image credit: Darien Library | FlickrCC BY-ND 2.0

Parent Mobile App Helps You Stay in the Loop

Setting up parental controls like Mobicip is the easy part. The hard part is staying in touch with and managing your kids' digital habits over weeks, months and years. At Mobicip, we have been hard at work trying to reduce this burden on parents. If you have any iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, all you need to do is download the parent companion app - aptly called the 'Monitor' - and you can stay in touch with your kids' online lives on the go. 

How can it help you?

  • Stay informed about which websites kids visit
  • View usage across multiple users and devices.

Mobicip Monitor Screenshot

  • Receive notifications when any unsuitable content is blocked.

Notification screenshot

Stay in the loop with your kids' online lives. Download the Monitor app today.

App Store Badge

This is a copy of the latest Mobicip Newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

The Hour of Computer Science

Mark Zuckerberg endorsing computer science education

Considering that less than half a century ago, the idea of using computers was considered fantastic, if not ludicrous, the proliferation of computer and technology not only into offices, but also into homes, schools and even handbags is nothing less than magical. Users of computers, in fact, technology in all its forms, now transcend age, nationality and gender. In most nations of the world that are economically and politically stable, technology is used in almost all facets of daily life and thus computers and software impact lives and society every day. The use of computers and other forms of technology at home has seen an exponential increase, as seen in the data collected by the American census bureau in 2011. While the data is for USA alone, it is reasonable to expect a similar trend in other nations as well.

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The growth in technology use has resulted in the need to teach computer skills to children. Thus, the three R’s of learning – Reading, (w)Riting and (a)Rithmetic has, in the past decade, expanded to encompass a fourth “R” – (p)Rogramming. But has computer education kept pace with the growth of technology itself?

Apparently not. According to a study conducted by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), the situation is not encouraging. In the US, computer science is not considered by states and/or local school districts as part of the “core” curriculum offered to students at the secondary school level. In many states, computer science courses are still not counted as a separate core course, but are grouped along with mathematics or science courses. In fact, a study by the National Center for Education Statistics reports a disturbing trend that computer science is the only one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields that has actually seen a decrease in student participation in the last 20 years, from 25% of high school students to only 19%.

Even more disturbing is the fact that there is a clear gender and racial divide with respect to the type of students who are offered or who take computer science based courses. In 2008, although 59% of students who took the Advanced Placement test in 2014 were women, only 25% of those that took the Advanced Placement (AP) computer science test were women [AP Program Summary Report]. Even more disturbing is the participation and success rates of ethnic races in computer science based AP tests. In 2012, only 8% of Hispanic Americans and African Americans took the computer science based AP tests, and the situation has not improved significantly since then.

Interestingly, countries such as RussiaChina and India have been offering computer science as a core course in schools and colleges and/or have separate schools that teach computer science and programming out of school hours, for more than a decade now, with excellent student enrolment. In the US, there are many factors that contribute to the alarming mismatch between need for computer science education and offerings of this subject as a core course. The current federal, state, and local government policies underpinning the K–12 education system are conflicted in the area of engaging computer science as an academic subject. The shortage of well-prepared teachers, on instructional materials and adequate resources and infrastructure to support teachers and student learning also contribute to the poor state of computer science education in the K12 system in America.

There are now efforts to repair the situation. Joint efforts by computer industry, academia and government policy makers have resulted in the introduction of programs such as the “hour of code” project to disseminate computer science education to kids, and encourage them to learn. The “hour of code” is a one-hour introduction to computer science, organized by Code.org and CSEdWeek, and backed by the likes of ACM, IEEE-CS, CA Teachers Association, National Center for Women and Information Technology. Statistics show that in 2013, over 15 million students worldwide participated in the hour-of-code to learn various aspects of computer science and coding, and going by the response of both teachers and students, it has been enormously successful. Although the one-hour introduction to computer science was held during the computer week in 2014 (December 8-14th), its success and acceptance points to expansion of the program into other times of the year.

The acceptance of computer science as a core course in the K12 curriculum depends on participation by policy makers, academicians and parents alike. Demand from parents for introduction of computer science courses to children will induce policy makers and academician at all levels to review the place of computer science in the core curriculum.  When introducing computer science as a core course in schools, it is important to keep in mind that computer science education must teach fundamental concepts of computing, just as a mathematics course must teach everything from number theory to geometry before embarking on calculus and higher math. So also, a computer science course must be a continuum, starting from basic concepts to advanced topics such as programming or even hardware design. It is obvious that such a vast breadth of topics requires an expanded time frame. Therefore it is essential that computer science not be introduced suddenly at higher classes, but started at the elementary level to allow the student to get a continuous and comprehensive feel of the field by the time she finishes school.

But why should computer science be introduced in school? A more compelling reason than the fact that when you are surrounded by something, it is only logical to understand it, is the fact that the computing sector will have 1.5 million job openings over the next 10 years. This number is not as staggering as it would be when read along with the following statistic. According to a study by Bureau of Labor Statistics, NSF, computer science is the only STEM field where there are more jobs than students [Source].

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But that is not all. The knowledge and skills gained through basic computer science education enables innovation and deeper understanding in the other traditional fields of STEM. Computer modeling, for example, is an inherent part of any academic field, and involves many of the fundamental concepts of computer science.  The word “computational” is now a standard prefix to almost all areas of science, engineering, business, finance and perhaps even art!

It is imperative therefore that K–12 schools introduce computer science early and at all levels to make students college- and career-ready.

This is an unabridged version of the latest Mobicip Newsletter. Click here to subscribe

Image credit: code.org

Happy New Year of Tech, Gadgets and More...

The coming of the new year, like the air of cinnamon, fills our being with cheer and joy. The thrill of the season infects all, and the calm of the silent nightfall of the year fills us with eager anticipation for a new dawn that brings with it more joy, more hope. And more technology.

Kid with toys and gadgets

This year, more than any in the past, has been digitally driven. Technology is undoubtedly a blessing during the festive season in more ways than one. Take the simple phone call, for example; this apparently old-fashioned technology is so ubiquitous now that it is hard to believe that less than half a century ago, people away from home on New Year had no way to wish and be wished by their loved ones. Now, all it takes are a few numbers and a low-earth orbiting satellite to connect to any part of the global village that your loved one inhabits.

recent poll by the Barna Group shows that in America, 82% of people are likely to phone absent friends or family members. Even youngsters are just as likely as their parents and grandparents to pick up the phone on a festive day to wish loved ones – now if that is not the spirit of the season, what is? Close on the heels of the “ancient” technology of telephone comes social networking – facebook, emails, g+, blogs, skype etc. - especially among the millennials. E-cards have taken the place of paper cards that once adorned the fireplace, and as they say, a card-is-a-card-is-a-card.

But of course, it’s not all ho-ho-ho with the techie-celebrations. The 24% of the millenials, in the same poll, who prefer to wish people virtually than in person, could point to a social dysfunction that negates the camaraderie of the season. A holiday text or emoticon-rich e-mail, while convenient indeed, cannot replace the human moment of a face-to-face smile or the lilt of the voice. Living in the virtual world, tweeting, facebooking and emailing, when there are flesh and blood people who chose to share the special day does no one any good either. “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor” said Charles Dickens; why not spread this contagion during these holidays rather than viral posts that insult the physical presence of human beings?

Technology can be a boon or a bane during the festive season in ways other than communication as well. While shopping for gifts is made easier in the comfort of one’s home and a few numbers on a plastic card, it can, for some, destroy that “personal touch” involved in searching for and choosing gifts at a real shop. For others, this small drawback is overpowered by the obviation of finding a parking spot in the same zipcode as the mall! Although sales in brick-and-mortar stores have not lost their sheen, online shopping and in-store browsing are increasingly overlapping as many of the physical customers often research products online before making an in-store purchase or vice versa. Online sales on Cyber Monday this year hit a record $2.68 billion  – and this number will only keep rising as the holiday season proceeds.

Online shopping for the holidays with all of its frenzied activities stretches the limits of business technology as well. Increased online traffic and e-commerce sales can put enormous pressure on the infrastructure of the supplier. By staying one step ahead of the rush, the virtual shopkeeper can circumvent expected problems. Routine evaluation of the site and software, updating the design and front end to reflect the seasonal spirit and beefing up cybersecurity to prevent hacking and other mishaps are essential for the retailer to make most of the holiday rush.

Where does the equation lie when you add kids to a tech holiday? Do the benefits outweigh the risks or the other way around? Like everything else, it depends on how we, the adults, manage the mix. Children are indeed a vulnerable target and marketers overtly or surreptitiously target children through social media, websites and viral ads. It is very important to teach kids to think logically and objectively about consumerism and brand pressure during the holidays and help them find the joy of the season rather than the expedient pleasures of “buying stuff”.  

With the marketplace, both real and virtual, bursting at its seams with gadgets that beckon kids and adults alike, it is little wonder that 2014 holiday season was expected to see the highest levels of consumer spending to the tune of $33.76 billion on consumer electronics yet. It thus becomes challenging to choose gifts for kids (and adults) that are constructive and reinforce positive beliefs and practices instead of addiction and rampant consumerism. Books, board games (both old-school and digital) and handmade gifts may not speak louder than the din of branded toys and gadgets, but they undoubtedly make the experience of holidays more wholesome.

The Center for a New American Dream reports although most Americans (72%) believe that there is no need to spend money to have a fulfilling and enjoyable holiday, 4 in 5 people polled continue to mindlessly complicate gift giving. The pressure of festival shopping is driven by the need to meet real or imagined expectations and can be overcome through the simple belief that gift giving is only one way of sharing the sense of gratitude, joy and abundance. A simple verbal declaration of appreciation, homespun simple gifts and charity are perhaps better ways of sharing the spirit without the pressures of materialism.

Technology can be put to good use during holiday season without intruding on the spirit. Letting kids design their own new year cards in the computer adds personal touch and warmth. Kids can also be encouraged to make a difference to another’s life through donating online. Sites like We Give Books and Free Rice can change lives of children around the world by simple activities like reading and playing, and what better season to give than the dawn of a new year.

How can you make technology safe during holidays? Keeping your money safe by not using public WiFi hotspots to access your financial platform, ensuring that all financial transactions go through “https” sites, enabling your firewall, updating the antivirus software, and logging off any e-business website before closing the browser are common-sense steps to safeguard your purse and peace. Keeping the wallet and other valuables physically at a safe location and storing pin numbers and passwords in the head rather than cookies are rules that must be taught to children early on.

At Mobicip, the holiday season is literally the busiest week of the year. Little wonder, as parents are typically overwhelmed by the technology gifts their kids receive and therefore wonder about what they expose their kids to. After all, smartphones and tablets today are no less than full-fledged computers in what they do and what they allow one to do. The need for some sort of parental controls is felt by parents sooner or later, and the Mobicip team braces itself every year for an on-slaught of customer enquiries and support requests during this time of the year. The goal is to provide the tools that you need to equip yourself and help sustain a meaningful dialogue with your children on the challenge of staying abreast of a very tech-savvy generation.

Any festival is, as Coolidge said for Christmas, not a season, but a frame of mind that spreads joy and mercy. It is all about preserving traditions and creating meaningful new ones that transcend the mélange of matter. Let us, echoing Dicken’s sentiments, honor the new year in our hearts and try to keep it all year round.

Here's wishing our dear readers and customers a wonderful 2015!

This is an unabridged version of the latest Mobicip Newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

Photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov / IWoman / CC BY

Mobicip Just Keeps Getting Better!

Happy Holidays

The holidays are upon us. And there is no better way to celebrate than by giving you a bunch of new features that give you the peace of mind you so deserve!

App Monitoring for Android

Android smartphones or tablets in the household? You can now keep a watchful eye on the apps your kids install, without touching the device. If you're a Premium user, login at mobicip.com and select Apps to get started.

Android App Monitor

Access Requests

Say some content is being blocked, and your child disagrees with it. She can now request an override. You receive an email and respond. As simple as that. If you're a Premium user, simply login at mobicip.com and select Requests.

Blocked page with access request button

Expand each request to decide if that content should be allowed. Allow that URL or the entire domain and it will be added to your whitelist.

Access requests screenshot

Filtering Levels Simplified

Login at mobicip.com and select Filter Profile to check out the brand new filtering levels and what they do. Available to both Premium and non-Premium users. Right now!

New filtering levels screenshot

Like what you see? Let us know. A whole lot of sweat and labor went into building these for the holidays, and we hope it helps you meet the challenges of parenting the hyper-connected generation. The entire Mobicip crew wishes you and your family a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year!

Best of the Mobicip Blog

Have you visited the Mobicip Blog lately? Check out some of our most recent popular posts:

This is a copy of the latest Mobicip Newsletter. Click here to subscribe

How to Interact With Your Kids Using Mobicip

One of the most important benefits of parental controls is that it enables open discussion. Mobicip allows your kids to request access to blocked content, right from within the browser when any content is blocked.

Blocked page with interaction

With the Premium upgrade, you can review the requests at any time and approve or deny each one.

To review pending access requests, simply login at mobicip.com and select Requests.

Mobicip > Requests menu

You will see a list of requests, along with the associated filter profile. Click each request to review it.

Access Requests feature screenshot

You can choose to allow that particular content, or the entire domain.

Access Request

You can also choose to receive alerts by email for each access request. Simply click on 'Notify me' at the top right, and enter the email address at which you wish to receive the alerts.

Access Requests notification settings

App Monitoring for Android Available Now!

Yes, one of the the most popular Mobicip features on iOS is now available on Android - App Monitoring. You can now keep track of apps installed on your kids' Android OS-based devices, and setting it up is a breeze!

Unlike on iOS devices, there is no extra step required to enable this feature. Simply install the Mobicip Safe Browser for Android and it comes with App Monitoring built-in.

- You may then login at mobicip.com, select Apps and the device you wish to check.

Mobicip App Monitor menu

- Thats it! You should see all the apps installed on that device. You can then sort by Play Store category, maturity rating, etc.

App Monitor for Android

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The Art of Learning by Doing

Aristotle’s wisdom that “the things we have to learn before we do them, we learn by doing them”, while being common sense, is often ignored in the realm of conventional education. Ironically, “learn by doing” is an instinctive activity, as can be seen by the role-play games by children that help them understand complex systems and dynamic processes in real life. Role play is a classic mix of simulation and emulation wherein a real situation is enhanced through imagination and helps in better perception of spaces and scenarios; Einstein knew a thing or two when he claimed imagination to be more important than knowledge.

Students playing computer-simulated game

Somewhere along the way, theory replaces experimentation and erudition becomes an alias for knowledge. Such a situation has been largely driven by lack of time, resources and innovation, or merely by the impracticality of designing hands-on experiments. This is where technology can help. Computer-based simulations can be used to provide a fertile ground for experience and the use of simulated activities is slowly being recognized as an important tool in education. The use of computer simulation in education is particularly relevant now because school students in tech-aware countries, unlike their predecessors, were born into a digital world where technology is an artifact of culture.

Computer simulation-assisted education has been broadly categorized into two – simulation focused learning wherein the student learns to simulate to solve practical problems and simulation-based learning, where computer simulations, in combination with animation and other visualization techniques are used to understand a topic. Such simulation-based learning is interactive where the student actively participates in the simulated environment.

Computer simulations are cognitive tools in education because they are practical, especially in cases where theory cannot provide the full “experience” of learning, and experiments are impractical or costly to setup. They are designed for trial and error learning and help in transitioning the student from novice to expert understanding of the subject matter. More importantly, they provide firsthand experience to the student who becomes an active participant, not merely an observer. This inspires and encourages active learning because the student assumes a responsible role, finds ways to succeed and develops problem solving tools by herself.

A unique feature of interactive simulation-based learning is that results change in response to input signals and students understand various scenarios and their effect in a seemingly chaotic world, without the risks associated with real life experimentation. For example, the effect of vehicle speed on crash damage is best understood through simulation rather than experimentation, for obvious reasons. Such dynamic simulations are often seen in what are considered (sometimes derisively) “games” (e.g. flight simulators, auto racing games etc.). Considering that 92% of children ages 2–17 play video and computer games, it is only logical to extend this “infotainment” into “education”. Computer simulations are already used in a variety of practical contexts, such as weather forecasting, analysis of air pollution, noise, logistic system, flight simulators, etc. and it is but one small step to move them into the classroom.

Another advantage of computer simulations is that graphics and animations can allow better visualization and offer an emulative feel. Use of three dimensional dynamic models is particularly useful in visualizing creative processes, such as building of molecules.  Simulations also provide an environment in which learning is fast-moving, self-determining, demanding, graphically oriented and proactive [i]. Blake and Scallion, in an article in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, report that computer simulations allow time saving, easy manipulation of experimental variables and provide support in understanding representations, such as diagrams and graphs [ii].

Game-like simulations provide an opportunity to attract students who are otherwise indisposed to engaging in the classroom. It has been shown that game-based learning has the biggest impact for low performing students – students who do not engage through the textbook, lecture and other classroom activities [iii]. This could be a result of the opportunity offered by simulations for peer tutoring and task focus.

The management and implementation of simulated learning is very similar to “practical” experimental labs and involves the teacher providing content expertise and focus to move it along. Obviously, this entails that the teachers be not only knowledgeable in the content area that the simulation will anchor, but also adept at using the simulation itself or at least willing to learn it along with the students. The teacher must be aware of the aspects or phases of the simulation that will meet specific goals of the lesson. Apart from merely “having fun” going through the motions of the simulations, the student must be able to generate specific results and understand the fundamentals of the simulated scenario. Simulations must offer parallel learning experiences that connect the learning experience that is structured into the learning unit or lesson plan.

Computer simulation-based learning shifts the focus of education from “teacher centric” to “learner centric” and this discovery learning approach has become very popular. However, there is a limit beyond which the control cannot be transferred from the teacher to the learner. Insufficient “theory” support for the processes of discovery learning results in difficulties in generating and adapting hypotheses, designing experiments, interpreting data and regulating learning [iv]. On the other hand, over-guidance that condenses the simulations to a step-by-step recipe approach undermines their potential and restricts creativity in a richly contextualized environment. Balanced guidance is essential for inquiry learning and provides the scaffolding for simulation-based learning.

Simulation based learning carries with it the risk that the engagement of students could lose balance and could become a mindless addiction rather than the educational activity it is aimed to be. According to Dr. Heather Coffey, when the goals of simulations do not align with the learning goals of the classroom, students only waste time “playing” rather than becoming educated.  Some other drawbacks include deterioration of interest in the simulation, driven by natural disinclination towards simulation, perceived cognitive challenge and decline of human interaction leading to lack of communication, discussion and feedback [v].

The costs and technical issues associated with simulation based learning could be a serious deterrent.  The insufficiency of technology to support a digital simulation-based learning may lead to unequal access by students to this type of instructional tool. The availability of a myriad of educational technologies necessitates careful and informed assessment before integration.

Driven by the synergy of technological advancements and instructional innovations, simulations are rapidly gaining importance in the classroom in tech-savvy nations as robust add-ons, either as a supplement to traditional teaching methods or as a substitute for sections of the curriculum. Merging traditional methods with simulations can potentially enhance the experience of the learning process.

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[i] Elizabeth Simpson & Frances A. Clem, Video Games in the Middle School Classroom,  Middle School Journal, 39(4) March 2008 pp. 4-11

[ii] C. Blake, E. Scanlon, Reconsidering simulations in science education at a distance: features of effective use, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23 (6) (2007), pp. 491–502

[iii] Best Practices for using Games & Simulations in the Classroom, Guidelines for K–12 Educators, Jan  2009: A Publication of the Software & Information Industry Association (Siia) Education Division

[iv] T. de Jong, W.R. van Joolingen, Scientific discovery learning with computer simulations of conceptual domains, Review of Educational Research, 68 (2) (1998), pp. 179–201

[v] Lowe, K., Lee, L., S., R., Cummings, R., Phillips, R., and Lake, D. Learning objects and engagement of students in Australian and New Zealand schools. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41 (2), (2010) pp. 227-241

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