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Technology-Enabled Parent Teacher Communication

It may not take a village to raise a child anymore, but parents and teachers certainly continue to play a vital role in the growth of the child.  Hitherto, the parents’ and teachers’ groups were largely disjoint with brief overlaps coinciding with “PTA” meetings where a five minute face-to-face was expected to exchange a semester-worth of information. With familial focus shifting from multi-children households to largely nuclear families with limited offspring, parents and teachers have come to expect more from their interactions with regard to their wards. Both sets of caregivers rightly believe now that teacher-parent communication fosters better understanding and collaboration between the classroom and home to make education a wholesome experience for the child. Indeed, research has shown that increased parent participation is a critical influence on student success.

Parent-Teacher Conference In Session

Despite the known benefits of increasing parent participation in schooling, parent-teacher conferences can be stressful for teachers, especially in a competitive society that often breeds helicopter parenting and tiger parents. But beyond interpersonal strain that such meets can cause, the sheer volume of information that must be sorted and communicated can make such meets less than pleasant for the teacher. Through experience, teachers learn the best way to deal with the stressful experience and develop their own techniques to conduct smooth parent meetings that are productive and painless. Experience dictates that the teacher prepare in advance for the meet, provide both positive and negative feedback judiciously, listen not only to the spoken word, but also the implications of parents, and be pleasant.

With the inroads of technology into education, it is but logical that educators use technology to encourage meaningful parent participation and improve the experience for all concerned.  Technology can enhance home-school communication in ways that alleviate communication challenges and barriers of time and distance that teachers and parents often face. There are many ways in which a teacher can use technology to improve the interaction, starting from scheduling to dissemination of student grade information, thus establishing avenues for parents to have a more meaningful role in education.  

The selection of the technological tools for parent teacher communication must be based on the answers to the following questions:

(a) What is the nature of the message to be communicated?  Is it a private communication about a specific student, or news/message dissemination to the parent community as a whole?

(b)   What are the types of technology that both teachers and parents have access to?

(c) What are their skills and willingness of parents and teachers to use the technology, and to what extent?

(d)   Should technology replace face-to-face communication or will it complement offline communication?

Some specific tools that the teacher can use to establish a fruitful parent-teacher-student triad partnership are as follows.

Emails:  Emails have replaced all conventional modes of communication in tech-savvy countries and are already used, especially in primary school, as a mode of communication between the teacher and students – announcements of assignments, submission of homework etc. have now already moved on in many schools to the digital classroom, to free the teacher of time, effort and paper clutter. The use of email communication between the teacher and parent can help ease the strain during parent teacher meets because any issue, problem or announcement can be communicated at the required time without waiting for a later scheduled meeting so that the issue can be addressed immediately. This also frees the teacher from remembering and collating information and messages over the year to be conveyed to the parent. The parent also benefits from being in email touch with the teacher because she can monitor the progress of her child, and know of problems that the child may be facing academically and otherwise. It must however be remembered by all parties concerned that the line between “awareness” and “obsession” is blurry and both parent and teacher must take care not to overstep limits beyond which the freedom and privacy of the child is invaded.

Apart from periodic email updates, weekly or fortnightly class newsletters could be created as a joint effort, to include examples of student work, and upcoming assignments. Such newsletters can be made a class assignment and include the syllabi in it, in terms of quizzes and creative assignments.

Web Pages and Lists:  The more tech-fervent teacher may create, or guide creation of a class webpage that provides information and updates on class activities as a whole.  This could be a joint effort by the teacher and the students, and will serve not only the purpose of communication, but also a learning experience for the teacher and student.  The students get to use, and display their creativity, in addition to learning hands-on practical skills such as web design, the teacher herself gets to know the hidden talents and skills of her students, and the parents get to know what happens in class, a win-win-win situation all around.  Again, the possible pitfall here could be distraction – the focus could get shifted from learning a curriculum to learning the technology without careful monitoring and control, and the experience of the teacher can come handy here.

Social Networking Tools:   Social networking is a dicey tool that while allowing teacher to increase the level of communication using a recognizable social media format, possesses inherently a high risk of distraction.  As a means for disseminating information and exhibiting and sharing the skills and talents of the students (through weblogs, for example), social networking can undoubtedly support the teacher-parent-student partnership.

Mobile Apps: Mobile apps are increasingly gaining acceptance as a medium of communication between parents and teachers. Mobile apps such as Remind (formerly Remind101) and ClassDojo are being used by millions of teachers, parents and students, without doubt a staggering rate of adoption for apps that were launched but a couple of years ago.

Video Conferencing and Video Podcasts: Occasional live video podcasts of class activities can make the parent feel more included in their child’s education.  This can give the parent first-hand account of how the class is conducted, how the students behave and what improvements could be needed to make the class better.  This particular use of technology in the classroom is, however, fraught with practical difficulties. On the technical end is the setting up of a video capture system and transmitting it to the parents, but the more difficult task is to obtain permission from all parents because of privacy issues.  Even if such videos are shared only with class parents, there may be objections from the parents, and often even students themselves, which must be taken into consideration.

Live Chats: The other side of video podcasts are live chats and video conferencing with parents. Video enhanced chat options are now aplenty and the parents and teachers can set up a convenient time to meet online to avoid schedule clashes and unnecessary travel. There are even free tools that allow live online collaborative sessions.  Such tools allow multiple participants to communicate with one another to share ideas.

Portal (or Apps) for Grades, Events and Calendar:  This is perhaps the least “social” and most utilitarian part of technology in the area of parent-teacher interactions.  Rather than wait a semester or year to share grade information to parents, such information can be sent to parents as and when required so that any followup discussions are more relevant and apt. Many schools already use student management.

Susana Juniu has published a research article on computer-mediated parent-teacher communication and succinctly summarized the needs vis-à-vis application of technology in the classroom in the following table:

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Technology allows parent-teacher interactions to be practical, positive and personal.  Technology mediated communications tools such as videoconferencing, phone conferencing, online chats,and emails are already being discovered as efficient mediums to enhance school/home communication that allow teachers, parents, and students to stay connected and informed. Of course, there are occasions when teachers and parents must engage in a face-to face dialogue and online chat may not offer that level of “personal” touch and motivational spontaneity of a real-life interaction. Lack of computer access, and knowledge and skill in using technology and absence of interest in a new form of communication, by both teacher and parents, are some barriers to tech-enabled parent-teacher interactions. In such cases, a bare minimal use of technology must be encouraged that may include text-based and instant messaging and the use of tools that are more personalized to encourage active engagement.

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

Photo credit: Innovation_School / Foter / CC BY-NC

A Story of a Brain Freeze and a Lollipop Crush

Thanksgiving collage

A new version of the Mobicip Safe Browser for iOS was rolled out via the App Store last week. Today, a freshly minted Safe Browser for Android is available on the Google Play Store. While we do update apps once in a while, the latest updates are significant in more ways than one.

Unfreezing the Brain Freeze

When the last update of the Safe Browser for iOS went live in August, it was a fairly routine one that was developed, tested thoroughly and deployed with confidence. Little did we realize the mayhem it would cause over the next several weeks. Apparently, the browser would freeze randomly, crash occasionally, and do it so unpredictably that it confounded users and developers alike. It took several weeks to understand that code that was carried over from older versions of iOS was causing the app to brain-freeze. And so it was back to the drawing board to painstakingly recreate the app using the latest and greatest offered by the iOS SDK (Software Development Kit), followed by several rounds of testing and bug-fixing that drove our QA engineers to the edge of crazyness. After a week of release, judging from the noise that has died down, and the silent applause from anonymous users, it looks like we did it. You see, we rarely hear from users when they're happy. There is an ominious and sweet silence, with only the download numbers acting as proof of said happiness. It appears that the freeze is gone. Phew! What a relief.

Download the latest update from the App Store on each of your kids' devices. Simply unlock / open the App Store on the device and select Updates > Update All.

The Lollipop Crush

The Android L aka Android 5.0 aka Android Lollipop update was announced at the Google I/O conference in June. It was not immediately obvious that a whole lot of APIs had changed. In fact, so much had changed that it took several months of development effort to create the same user experience as on Android KitKat 4.x. And as the official release date approached, Google chose to release another devleloper update of Android L that led to another round of scrambling to reinvent the wheel. Suffice to say that 'Lollipop' has come to represent a moving target that can hardly be reached. Some heroic effort and sleepless nights later, the update was published today. Phew, again! What a relief 2.0.

Download the latest update from the Play Store and you should be all set. If you have auto-update enabled, it should be installed already.

Happy Thanksgiving

After weeks of burning the midnight oil, we are coming up on a well-deserved break. Wish you all (well, if you're in the US) a wonderful weekend and a great time with your family. Oh, and if you wish to thank us, a super-nice review on the App Store or the Play Store would be some sweet icing on the cake... er... gravy on the turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo credit: The Coastal Chick / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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Of Teachers and Educational Technology

Teacher assisting student with a tablet

Introduction of any new tool into academia is a matter of great interest among educators, students and parents. This is particularly evident when the tool is technology and the domain of academia is the school. The drive to develop technology-assisted classrooms has been driven by  the goal of providing easy access to information coupled with the need to prepare children for a tech-intensive future.

The introduction of technology into the classroom eventually hinges on the skills, attitudes and belief systems of the facilitator, the teacher. Teachers already shoulder tremendous responsibilities; they have to be impartial and objective judges of students, with insights into their needs and progress in addition to understanding expectations from parents and following the norms and rules that govern them. Thus, the equation of education is already intricate, and the addition of a new variable - technology - into this equation, not only complicates it further but raises many questions and doubts. Understandably, no academic advancement in the history of humankind has ever elicited as much controversy as the use of technology in the classroom and both sides of the debate have legitimate points of view. There are teachers who swear by technology, and there are those that must be dragged kicking and screaming into a tech- enabled classroom. Most teachers however fall in the intermediate region where they are still testing the waters as seen from their responses following the issue of laptops to all students and teachers by the government of Maine.

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The “to tech or not to tech” controversy is fueled by conflicting reports.  The research at the University of Southern Maine, found that math performance of seventh- and eighth-graders taught by teachers trained in using the laptops improved significantly. In another survey by the Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP), most teachers reported that digital technologies helped them in teaching middle school and high school students but the distractions of the internet, mobile phones, and social media were challenges to deal with. In contrast, another review by the Education Department in 2009 on online courses offered to millions of K-12 students found that there is “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.

The aye-sayers visualize a classroom where the teacher is a guide rather than the dispenser of information, who nudges the students into the path of self-paced learning through Internet-connected devices. The detractors are apprehensive mostly because of the need for time and resources to train, or doubts in their ability to master available technology. A 2010 survey by Grunwald Associates shows that despite more and more new teachers entering academia with far more advanced technology skills than senior teachers who have been in the field from much before the tech boom, only 39 percent of teachers report "moderate" or "frequent" use of technology as an instructional tool. The disparity in tech use in schools is also related to the financial stratum to which the school belongs; 70% of teachers working in high income areas found schools good in providing them with resources and support needed to incorporate digital tools in the classroom, compared to only 50% of teachers working in the lowest income areas as reported by the Pew Internet Research Project.

With the digital revolution spreading its wings into all aspects of society, its inroads into academia is unavoidable.It is therefore essential that teachers be prepared both mentally and skill-wise in the use of technology in the classroom. In order to be tech-savvy, a teacher must first be aware of the fine line between the use and abuse of technology; For instance, asking “why?” is the first step towards becoming an efficient tech-enabled teacher. Flexibility to new knowledge and skill, willingness to change, an open mind set, enthusiasm and genuine concern are traits that follow the first “why”.

For a teacher to ease into technology-powered education, it is important for her to understand that technology can create an equitable and efficient system that supports both teaching and learning. It is also a universal language transcending geographic, cultural and professional barriers. Technology enhanced learning can accommodate the diverse learning styles of students and enable them to work in ways that are not possible in conventional classroom instruction, e.g. flexible learning, personalized pacing etc. Technology can improve educational productivity by accelerating the rate of learning because of absence of time boundaries and can thus utilize teacher time better.   

Beyond direct classroom applications, technology can help the teacher communicate with students and parents on a continuous basis, and this in turn creates a teacher-student-parent triad partnership that can further academic causes. Committed teachers can, through newsletters, announcements, virtual tests and assignments, calendars, discussions and tips extend learning beyond the classroom. Most of all, the introduction of technology into the classroom is a collective learning process; often the teacher becomes the learner and this can create better bonds within the classroom. Learning is fun at all ages, and showing students that the teacher is willing and excited to learn can do wonders to the child’s attitude towards education.

The use of technology in the classroom is not without its pitfalls; distraction and safety are issues that the teacher must be aware of and know how to handle. Teachers are responsible for maintaining a safe environment in their classroom and with the introduction of technology, safety goes beyond the four walls. Possible risks include exposure of students to objectionable and inappropriate material, cyberbullying and harassment. The teacher must be aware of possible security breaches and must be trained in ensuring safety of the students in classroom. Technology-induced distraction can be overcome by integrating the Internet with instruction, careful planning of the day’s lessons and a certain amount of monitoring. It is important for both teacher and student to know that technology is merely a tool to teach the curriculum and cannot replace the curriculum itself.

There are various types of technology that cater to individuals and groups, and synchronous and asynchronous educational activities that can be combined in the classroom as the teacher sees fit. Development of technology for the classroom must take into account teacher needs and is best when there is input from the teacher during development. While the teacher’s primary goal is indeed to teach the curriculum and not the technology, a complete disconnect between technology development and teacher use cannot serve any purpose.

The use of technology in the classroom can be a liberating experience for both teacher and student. In a tech-enabled classroom, the teacher becomes the coordinator, or even partner, in learning rather than the traditional “foster helicopter parent”. Such a shift in teaching style can indeed move the focus from the teacher to the student and expand learning from its traditional confines. 

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

Photo credit: Kathy Cassidy / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Introduce Your Kids to Internet Ethics

There are some basic ethical values that transcend the mélange of cultures and peoples sizzling in the melting pot of the Internet and many of the maxims that define human society hold good, perhaps even more so, in the virtual world. “Thou shall not steal”, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and the mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru apes that see, hear and speak no evil are three specific truths apt to this environment.

Kids Using the Internet

“Thou shall not steal” is a much clearer concept in the real world than in the virtual world. This is obvious; the real world deals with physical objects. It is easy to teach a child that stealing other people’s pencils, crayons  - “stuff”- is unacceptable and, more importantly punishable. But in the online world, the idea of stealing becomes murky because there are no physical objects to steal. It is often not even clear what constitutes theft. According to Digital Citizens Alliance, 62 percent of online users were unaware of the legal status of movies, music, games, or books they had downloaded. To complicate matters, the idea of punishments in online theft is vague – there are no virtual corners in which your child can be made to stand for downloading a movie without paying for it.  A child must be taught that pirating is, as the name suggests, theft, although not quite as romantic as Hollywood makes it out to be, and is very much like walking into a video store and pocketing a DVD in stealth.

Pirate downloads are the more obvious of thefts. What is more subtle and almost invisible is theft of ideas and words. With the internet becoming the veritable repository of almost all known human knowledge, idea theft - plagiarism - is rampant. A verbatim copy of a professional document, with claims of it being one’s own, starts with school homework reports copy pasted from Wikipedia.  Ctrl C, Ctrl V are probably the most widely misused shortcut keys in the history of the PC. Given the enormity of information available online, it is next to impossible to trace the theft, without proper tools, but that does not legitimize it. Just as the child is taught that copying in an exam is wrong, she must also be taught the inconsonance of mindless copy-pasting of stuff from the net. It is also important to teach the child to offer credit where it is due, and the idea of referencing someone else’s work must be taught early on. This little lesson on acknowledgement is applicable to the big picture of life as well.

A child learns early, and sometimes painfully, that doing unto others what she does not want done unto her, is not a wise move, in the real world.  However the cushion of anonymity offered by Internet obviates this reciprocity clause. While the medium is virtual, its effect on reality is indubitable. The Internet allows us to live and interact across extensive physical spaces with no boundaries. Thus, while in the past, we shared our life with those geographically close to us, we are now part of, pardon the cliché, the Global Village, with unknown faces peeking into our lives.

While in the physical world, people who affected us were largely friends and family, in the online spaces that we inhabit, those who affect us are often people that we repeatedly observe without direct interactions – Stanley Milgram’s concept of Familiar Strangers could never be a better fit anywhere else. Thus, our ethics and belief systems are readily influenced by the strangers we “meet” online and in turn we influence faceless people in ways we could not imagine. Anyone with a blog would have experienced at least once, trolls who topple their emotional balance. Contrary to the popular lore that words, unlike sticks and stones, need never hurt, they do, and this sentiment must be instilled in the child. Cyber bullying and anonymous harassment are actually crimes punishable by law, and the child must be aware of this, but beyond law enforcement, it is basic human courtesy to “be nice” to people both on and off-line.

Of the three apes, the mizaru, the one that sees no evil, was probably created by the wise people of the East just for the Internet, either by fluke or with really far-sighted vision. The Internet is like a knife that can be used to cut that apple that keeps the doctor at bay, or to inflict pain. The choice is not easy, even for an adult; it is hardly surprising that the child needs mentoring to use and not abuse the net. The net is the source of knowledge (if not wisdom), but not all knowledge is good. While we are still a long way from being consumed by “all the knowledge”, like Irina Spalko, age-inappropriate information can cause just as much damage to the child’s psych. The “good touch bad touch” talk to every child must necessarily be accompanied by the “good site, bad site” advice.

There are no generalized censors in the Internet, just as in real life. That, however, does not justify anarchy. While customs, beliefs and ethical laws may vary across geographic boundaries, there are some universal truths that are essential for order and balance. It is up to us to use the right tools and techniques to instill such a balance in our children.

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When Enough Really is Enough

Parenting is a tight rope walk. A slight tilt to one side, you are too lax, and a lean to the other, you plunge into the abyss of tiger parenting. While there is no absolute definition for balanced parenting, there are some common sense rules that have guided parents through millennia, without which we would have been an extinct species. Of the numerous issues and dilemmas today’s parent faces in the course of raising a child, a relevant and important question is – how much tech-time is enough for the child.

Browsing on the boat

Tech-time can be defined as the time spent on technological/electronic devices – the non-essential ones; pacemakers, hearing aids and such life-sustaining devices are not included here because, obviously, limiting their “tech time” is not the smartest thing to do. With increasing use (or often, abuse) of electronic gadgets for daily activities, their effect on children cannot be overlooked. The good news is that it is not. Many educated parents are now concerned about the amount of “screen time” the child  enjoys, and attempt to restrict it to durations they choose based on various reasons.

This is especially true with “techie” parents who are well aware of the ill effects of long-term tech usage in terms of mental and physical health; Steve Jobs was reported to have been a low-tech parent, restricting technology times for his children, as are many technologists turning the wheels of the gadget industry. However, the “many” is still not enough; a recent study has shown that 78% of parents allegedly have “no conflict” with their children about their tech time, a number that points to either overuse of technology by parents themselves, or ignorance of the safety issues associated with technology overuse among children, or possibly both. While each parent has her own reasons to restrict tech times, there are a few compelling facts that every parent must know before introducing her child to technology.

Physical health

Apart from the obvious, much talked about health issues such as Carpel Tunnels and eye strain caused by extended screen operations, there are many subtle adverse effects on health. Whether used for educative purposes or entertainment, devices eat into physical play time and the child is often cooped inside the house, slouched on her chair, staring into the screen. A 2010 study found that the amount of non-screen playtime decreased 20% from 1997 to 2003, while screen activities (i.e., watching television, playing videogames and using the computer) increased. A child from a tech-savvy country spends on an average, 7 hours and 38 minutes on electronic gadgets, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This translates to 7 hours and 38 minutes of largely sedentary existence at an age where playing hide and seek or baseball could be burning more calories and sending more blood all over the body.

The result?  Childhood obesity. 30% of the children in the US are obese and, believe it or not, TV and video games have been reported to account for 60% of childhood obesity in Canada, a number that is likely to be true of other tech-enriched nations as well. Obesity is followed, like Mary’s little lamb, by the rest of the metabolic-syndrome-group of diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure, heart problems and cancer, that has been steadily increasing among children in recent years.

Poor sleep hygiene (insufficient sleep, delayed sleep-wake behavior, and sleep disturbances) is also a serious consequence of tech-overuse by children/adolescents. This affects both physical and mental health of children.

Mental health

Overindulgence in television and video games could deprive children of the essential connection with themselves, others, and nature, to the extent that some children even develop fear of the outdoors. But the more serious effect of tech overuse among children is the deterioration of attention span. The rate of detection of ADHD among American children has increased by 15% in the past six years, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Although it is too early to directly correlate this increase with the increasing use of mobile devices by children, the connection cannot be overlooked.

A research paper in Pediatrics shows that children and young adults who overdo TV and video games are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a variety of attention-span disorders. Dr. Ned Hallowell of The Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health, and retired professor from Harvard Medical School, calls gadget-induced attention deficit in children as “pseudo ADHD” to differentiate it from genetically derived ADHD. The good news is that pseudo ADHD is caused by behavior patterns and can be reversed by behavior modifications, aka, restriction of screen time.

Social Health

Over-existence in the virtual world obviously damages the perception of the real world.  When socialization is restricted to online hang outs, the essential human connection is broken, leading to poor social health. An experiment involving pre-teens in a “tech-free” five day camp examined the effect of face-to-face interaction on nonverbal emotion–cue recognition.  As expected, the imposed tech break significantly improved recognition of nonverbal emotion cues for both facial expressions and videotaped scenes, indicating that damage to social interaction caused by too much tech-indulgence.

It is very easy to justify screen time with the excuse that “devices can be educational”. A recent report by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that as children spend more time using gadgets and screens, there is a measurable fall in educational activities.  After all, Oscar Wilde was not too far off the mark when he confessed to be able to resist everything except temptation, and what greater temptation to children than a glowing screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children between the ages of 0-2 years not be exposed to any technology, including television, those in the age group of 3-5 years be restricted to one hour total technology per day, and 6-18 years be restricted to 2 hours total technology per day. This is a far cry from the running average of 7 hours 38 minutes.

That said, digital media is not quite the fire-breathing dragon all set to destroy humankind. The problem, as with anything, arises when there is injudicious excess. It is logical to believe that parental guidance is absolutely necessary in the use of electronic gadgets/devices/screen by children; indeed systematic research has shown such to be the case. Dr. Gentile and coworkers at Iowa State University have recently shown that when parents monitored and guided children through screen usage, significant improvements in physical health (body-mass-index, better sleep), mental health (grades) and emotional health (less aggression) were observed.  It is, thus, up to the parent to analyze carefully the benefits and risks of technology, vis-à-vis the nature/temperament of their wards, and limit tech time accordingly.

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Children and Online Spending

Back in ancient times, children were given a paltry, but princely-to-their-eyes amount of “pocket” money, usually small change that their parents couldn’t use, which was spent on ice creams and candy. They were often chided for not having the “saving habit”, which, given the fact that the pocket money would be “borrowed back” at the end of the month, wasn’t really an attractive investment opportunity. Times, as Bob Dylan sang, they are a changin’. Beyond the fact that there is no longer any “small change” in existence, a few numbers embossed on plastic now empowers the child to succumb to momentary expediencies beyond frozen treats, and their parents sometimes to credit card fraud and possibly bankruptcy.

Caution children sign

Think I am exaggerating? According to T. RowePrice, six in ten kids shop online (presumably in USA); 54% of kids purchase mobile apps and make in-app purchases, and 41% use a mobile device to make general purchases. Take a look at the breakup of financial activities of children.

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But that isn’t the big news. The Guardian reported, in as early as 2010, a finding by CPP that in UK, children spent £64 million a year online without their parents’ knowledge. A rather disturbing data in this report is that one in seven children in the 7-16 age-group bought stuff in stealth.

This raises some common-sense questions:

One: How does a child have access to money?

The answer depends on the age of the child. In many families belonging to “middle class” and above, a child of 11 is often given her own bank account with a debit card, or is added on to an adult’s credit card. Although banking and credit card laws restrict the amount and type of credit offered to minors, the often gullible youth remains a coveted target for marketing, which makes it difficult to establish balance and boundaries to spending. While it is indeed prudent to expose the child to money management, unless the parent/guardian invests the time in monitoring and guiding the child in using it, financial mishaps are bound to happen.  

Perhaps a safe route to allowing financial independence within bounds to children is to open a bank account with a fixed monthly balance and no overdraft facility, but even this requires careful supervision and a certain amount of micromanagement by the adult to gently nudge the child into responsible spending. While it is certainly helpful to build a credit history for the child when she piggybacks on the adults’ card, this definitely requires extra effort in monitoring and guidance. If credit card information has been provided in a site, it is advisable to choose the “one time password” option so that the adult is informed of any activity on the credit card, before a payment is made.

Two: How/why does a child spend money online without parents knowing?

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) stipulates that companies selling products online must offer options for online membership/activity to children under 13, after obtaining verifiable consent from a parent or guardian.  This is a good scheme because it allows the adult to be fully aware of the sites the child visits, and perhaps buys from. However, according to The Hill, a blog by the American Congress, many online companies do not allow children under 13 to register/participate, even with adult consent, and this forces parents or children themselves to fake age information online and provide information of credit cards belonging to the parents. It is now an established fact that more and more children are permanent fixtures on social network sites. Age limit rules are freely disregarded due to the absence of a foolproof way of checking, a fall out of the vicious rules vis-à-vis privacy tug-of-war.

Three:  What does the child buy online?

The CPP survey found that 51% of the children who admitted to buying stuff online bought computer games, the rest bought books, movies and phone applications in varying percentages.  While the stuff purchased appear fairly harmless, the fine print is that nearly a quarter of children bought games, books or movies inappropriate for their age, and equally disturbing is the fact that quite a few children purchased cigarettes (1%), alcohol (1%) and even weapons and solvents (1%). An even earlier survey shows that of 1000 teenage boys questioned, half admitted to trying to buy adult DVDs or violent games online using a credit card – their own, or their parents’.

Computer games are rapidly giving way to what’s now dubbed the “app-trap”.  Children are addicted to interesting apps that are introduced as free-downloads, but once the kid has finished a certain level, a purchase is made necessary. Sometimes, when the credit card information is already entered by the parents into the store, the app can be bought by a mere click of a button or touch of screen, that sometimes the child is not even aware of. In a Microsoft study on British children and apps, 28% of participants confessed to in-app purchases made by their wards without their knowledge.

Big companies involved with making smart phones and their software offer various tools to parents to control such undesirable activities by kids. However, the Microsoft survey shows that most adults are clueless about the use of such tools – a whopping 77% of respondents admitted to needing help from technology companies to manage their children’s app activities on their smart phones.

Technology is the modern Janus. Its enormous utility is mirrored by enormous risks. As consumers, it is up to us to teach our children to use, and not abuse technology. For this, it is but natural that we demand that the companies that make smartphones, tablets, and the software that run on them provide us with tools that comply with the laws designed to protect our children and knowledge/training on how to use these tools.

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

Image credit: Annual Parents, Kids and Money Survey, March 2014, by T. RowePrice

The Virtualization of Childhood

Internet usage amongst the world’s population has more than doubled between 2005 and 2013, from 16% to 39%. Given that the world population was 6.916 billion in 2013, this statistic points to a whopping 2.7 billion people entangled and engrossed in an expanding mesh. A recent study of media literacy among children shows that although children (ages 5-15) in general continue to watch television more than going online, tweens and early teens spend more time on the web than the box. 

Parent and child browsing on laptop

These children are most concerned about their image online – according to them, there were three frightening things about the net viz (a) “Bad things friends have written” about them (b) “Friends being nasty mean or unkind” to them and (c)  the pressure to “appear popular or attractive online”. The risk of gender stereotyping notwithstanding, girls appear to be more influenced by the internet than boys perhaps because of their natural proclivity to social image.

It is interesting that while parents restrict smart phone use time for children, there aren’t as many restrictions placed on the tablet, which, going by the many ‘l-o-l’-worthy online videos of infants and gadgets, has apparently emerged as a baby-sitter among many things. There is now also an increasing trend of using the tablet and other online devices to obtain information and knowledge for home and school work, a library-on-the-go, if you will.  This is a positive use of the internet among children but carries with it the onus of recognizing useful and reliable information against falsities. The absence of peer-review and censorship on the web makes it very easy for chaff to be sold as seed.

As with any emerging technology, there are more brickbats than bouquets to children using the net. The biggest concern is safety. The cyberworld mimics the real world, and the intersection of the two has been growing exponentially. The danger to children in cyberworld is just as real as in real world, or perhaps even greater because of the anonymity possible on the web and the lack of unifying rules and laws that govern and manage this parallel universe. Age-inappropriate information, cyber bullying and harassment are very real risks and must be taken seriously by the parent when a child enters cyberspace.

The internet media insurgence into childhood is a natural and real event.  As with any event involving childhood, the responsibility of safety and utility lies with the parent. The study shows that a parental role in educating children on internet safety is essential, and this, in turn, hinges on thoroughly understanding the risks and benefits of this medium.

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Photo credit: GSCSNJ / Foter / CC BY-NC

iPads in K-12. Short-cut or Detour?

At last count, there were 10 million iPads deployed in US school systems. Overcoming initial resistance, schools are increasingly embracing mobile learning, specifically iPads. Experts like Dr. Elliott Solloway and Dr. Cathy Norris question the frenzy. The goal of such initiatives should be to change the education paradigm from a 'memorization-oriented pedagogy' to an 'inquiry pedagogy'. The question is whether it is making a real difference in the student's journey.

iPads in classroom cart

"To support 24/7 inquiry, a student needs a mobile device that is ready-at-hand," argue Dr. Solloway and Dr. Norris. "A 10 inch-screened device is not truly ready-at-hand; or more likely, it is sitting in the iPad charging cart in the classroom."

It is true that most mobile learning initiatives in schools restrict usage to the classroom. And that is a shame because it undermines the goal of "inquiry pedagogy"! At Mobicip, our founding mission is to support ready-at-hand learning, anytime, anywhere. Here's to unleashing the cart-bound towards true mobile learning.

To report issues or feedback, please get in touch with us. If you're happy with Mobicip, leave a happy review on the Apple App Store or Google Play store! Your feedback and support will be greatly appreciated!
 
The Mobicip crew
 
This is a copy of the latest Mobicip newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
 
Photo credit: stevegatoz / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Educated Parents & Successful Kids

There is no question that parents are the first role models for kids. But a recent study makes a claim that a father’s level of education is the strongest factor determining a child’s future success at school. The report from the Office for National Statistics in the UK claims that children are seven and a half times less likely to be successful at school if their father had a low level of education, and three times less likely to have a low educational outcome if their mother did so.

Student reading and writing

Previous studies have indicated such a link between parent-child education levels, but the latest study shows a marked impact of a father's attainment level on the child's education. “This report shows just how important education is in breaking that cycle of poverty across generations and ensuring that poor educational achievement is not transmitted from parent to child,” says Conor Ryan, Director of Research at the Sutton Trust, a think tank that addresses educational inequality. Learn more.

To report issues or feedback, please get in touch with us. If you're happy with Mobicip, leave a happy review on the Apple App Store or Google Play store! Your feedback and support will be greatly appreciated!
 
The Mobicip crew
 
This is a copy of the latest Mobicip newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks / Foter / CC BY

The Screen Time Paradox

One of the many challenges faced by the digital parent today is the question of how much screen time is good, or not good, for our kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics says the average kid spends 7 hours a day across television, computers, tablets and smartphones.  It also recommends that parents should try to limit screen time to 2 hours a day at most. Critics of such one-size-fits-all studies argue that not all screen time is the same.

Kid with the iPad screen

"The idea of telling my kid he can only have one to two hours of computer time a day makes me laugh. Seriously?" argues Dresden Shumaker, a writer and parent who makes some valid counterpoints. "When it comes to screens, time isn’t what needs to be monitored. What needs monitoring is content and how involved we are."

To report issues or feedback, please get in touch with us. If you're happy with Mobicip, leave a happy review on the Apple App Store or Google Play store! Your feedback and support will be greatly appreciated!
 
The Mobicip crew
 
This is a copy of the latest Mobicip newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
Photo credit: aperturismo / Foter / CC BY-SA

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