Almost all teenagers in first-world countries have a strong Internet presence and extensively share personal content and opinions online. The 2011 Pew Internet survey reported that 95% of U.S. young adults between ages 12 through 17 are online, of whom, 80% have profiles on social media sites, as compared to only 64% of the online population aged 30 and older.
Why is there so much media use among teenagers? The answer lies largely in the change in lifestyle of the upwardly mobile population where increasing numbers of single working parent and dual-working parent households raise latchkey kids, and after-school programs that eat into play- and socialization-time of the kids. The lack of time for face-to-face socialization is compounded by practical issues such as mobility difficulties, curfew legislations and parental restrictions that stem from fears of predators, drug dealers, and gangs. Changes in society, market and law, along with the advent of Internet and its various applications, have thus resulted in the emergence of a decentralized social life in a virtual setting.
The increased presence of youth online has raised serious concerns about the safety of Internet and social media use. Difficulty in self-regulation, lack of awareness of repercussions of privacy compromise and susceptibility to peer pressure are listed as reasons for teenagers’ cavalier attitude towards online risks such as sexting, cyberbullying, “Facebook depression,” and exposure to inappropriate content as they navigate the tricky waters of social media. On the other hand, there has also been criticism of the moral panic that surrounds the safety of extensive digital (in particular Internet/social networking) use by youth. So, is Internet really a minefield or is it just a digital-extension of the pervasive stereotype that demonizes youth?
Moral panic notwithstanding, the risks of Internet and social media to teenagers is just as real as the risks in society. Internet addiction is now a real disorder, and like all forms of addiction, it adversely affects academics, family time, physical and mental health and finance. Internet addiction has been exacerbated by social media applications that house chat rooms and instant messaging among youth. Current research indicates that ego-identity achievement among middle school students is negatively related to pathological and extreme Internet use.
Cyberbullying, in the forms of name-calling and gossiping, spreading rumors, making threats, or otherwise sending malicious messages through emails, message boards and social media, has augmented offline bullying and estimates of the incidence of cyber bullying range from 23 to 72% in various studies (see here, here and here). Exposure to age-inappropriate sexual content is another serious risk because it causes much damage to an age-group that is already prone to sexual uncertainty and uncommitted and possibly unsafe sexual exploration. Dangerous communities that support self-harm activities, such as anorexia, drug use, and such other disruptive concepts are also serious pitfalls of unsupervised Internet usage among teens.
Of course, seeing the above risks as stand-alone perils will raise mass hysteria against youth or Internet or more likely, both. It must be remembered that the online risks to adolescents is a subset of overall teenage hazards. Youngsters already emotionally imbalanced or prone to disruptive behaviour are obviously more vulnerable online and are more likely to commit to unsafe or irresponsible actions in the virtual world. However, there are some risks that are common to all youngsters and such risks are largely built on the attitude and behaviour of the youth themselves, rather than them being victims of an unfair attack.
Research has shown that there is a positive correlation between parents’ level of privacy concern and that of their teenaged children. Thus parents can influence their children’s attitudes and behavior through advice and perhaps monitoring the media presence of these teenagers. However the latter could be a double edged sword, as teenagers, naturally inclined to rebel against parental insurgence into their private space, may practice deception which may override any parental measure to increase safety. For example, adolescents may use pseudonyms and false identifying information like age and location to protect themselves, on the advice of their parents. Ironically, the same technique could also be adopted by them to insulate themselves from the eyes of parents.
Many youngsters suppose that security through obscurity is protection enough. Teen bloggers, for example, often believe that their audience is limited to their friends and (less likely) family and could reveal compromising information and exhibit themselves in provocative and socially unacceptable forms. The personal anonymity of the Internet is, however deceptive, especially for teens, who are the focus of two groups of people - parents, teachers, local government officials, etc., who may wish to protect them, and marketers and predators that do harm.
Peluchette and Karl from the University of Southern Indiana found that young adults in the U.S. expressed little concern about sharing updates and pictures on social network sites such as Facebook. Women were more concerned about future employers seeing some of their pictures and comments, especially those related to alcohol, than men. The women were justified by a 2013 survey that reports that 1 of every 10 young job applicants was rejected because of content they had posted on social media, including “provocative or inappropriate photos or posts,” and “content about drinking or using drugs”.
Online victimization of youth is only one head of Janus. The youngster, without proper guidance, could be a perpetrator herself; indeed. A recent study by McAfee reports that 15% of teens have hacked a social network account, 30.7% access pirated movies and music, 8.7% have hacked someone’s email online, 16% of teens having admitted to looking for test answers on their phone, and 48.1% of teens having looked up answers online.
It is very essential for a child to know of the potential risks even before she enter tweendom. Early intervention and education enables the teenager to make responsible decisions on how to use the net and its various functions. For this, open communication between the adult and child is extremely important from early childhood. It is indeed tricky to find the balance between setting boundaries and giving freedom but it must be done early on to enable easy and safe transition of the teenager into adulthood.
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Regular users of Mobicip know that our biggest goal is to make life easy for you as a parent while allowing your kids to experience the wonders of the Internet safely. That is why we constantly churn out new features, updates and platforms over time as the technology evolves. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at some goodies being cooked.
Monitor App for Android
Review your kids' browsing history and make changes conveniently from your own Android smartphone or tablet. The iOS version has been immensely popular, and we hope the Android version is just as handy and useful.
Get notified, and take action, when your kids install a new app or request access to a blocked page or content, via the Monitor app.
Mac Parental Controls
We hear you! With Apple growing to be the 3rd largest PC-seller, its about time to add Mobicip's best-in-class parental controls to Mac OS X.
Windows Parental Controls
Look out for revamped edition of Mobicip for Windows that works efficiently, has a slick new UI, and blends in seamlessly with AV programs that you already have in place.
There is more where these cool new features are coming from. We are constantly adding more tools to help foster a healthy partnership between parents and kids as they navigate the new technology landscape together. Stay tuned!
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The second of Howard Gardner’s eight forms of intelligence that combine in different ratios to define an individual, is that of mathematical and logical thinking. Logical mathematical intelligence may be formally defined as the capacity to reason, calculate, apply logic, think critically, and sometimes abstractly, all of which draw their basic principles from mathematics. Educational communities around the world recognize logical and mathematical reasoning to be essential parts not only of education, but of literacy itself. The American National Literacy Act of 1991 defines literacy as “an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, and compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job and in society to achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential”.
The role of technology in fostering mathematical and logical intelligence is obvious in that technology is built on the same mathematical principles and logic that drive life itself. The ancestors of modern digital gadgets – Pascal’s and Leibniz’s mechanical calculating machines, Napier’s logarithms, Babbage’s difference engine, Newman’s Colossus and Turing’s Bombe – have all been built on principles of logic and mathematics and in turn support mathematical developments. Jeanette Wing, in a seminal article, states that solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior in real life can be closely related to the concepts fundamental to computer science and technology and coined the term “computational thinking ”, which must, in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, be added to every child’s education.
Technology can support mathematics education through dynamic software, anchored instruction, networked devices, participatory simulations, games, and construction kits. The challenge lies in developing technology that engages students with interesting and stimulating applications of mathematics that are relevant to the real world.
Concrete manipulatives – objects such as the Abacus, Cuisenaire Rods, Base 10 Blocks, and Fraction Circles – that have traditionally been used in teaching mathematics, can potentially be replaced by virtual manipulatives that are dynamic virtual representations of the concrete manipulatives, but with the added advantage that they can go beyond the capabilities of physical objects. The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (NLVM) for example, offers interactive, web-based virtual manipulatives and concept tutorials for mathematics instruction. A comprehensive study by researchers at the Clayton State University on the use of concrete and virtual manipulatives in math education showed that while pre-service teachers found concrete manipulatives to be easier to use, students found both types of manipulatives useful to understand mathematical concepts. This is to be expected, as the teachers typically belong to the digital immigrant generation with a steep learning curve, while the students, in all likelihood, are digital natives, at home with technology. The study concluded that incorporating both types of manipulatives into the instruction of mathematics helps build better conceptual understanding and provides sound pedagogical strategies for use with future students.
Gaming offers a rich ground for mathematical and logical training. However, the use of games and simulations to teach and train in mathematics and logistics cannot follow the carrot-in-stick routine, such as the technique proposed by Michael Grove, the education secretary to the UK Government, where equations are solved “in order to get more ammo to shoot the aliens”. Mary Matthews of Blitz Games Studio, UK, aptly responds as “Using games for motivation is only one facet, [...] exploration, experimentation, team building, problem-solving and independent, personalised, differentiated experiences [will tap into] the full potential games can offer for learning”.
The NRICH Project, perhaps meets the goals of Matthews. It aims at enriching the mathematical experiences among learners and focuses on strategy games to develop essential problem-solving skills in a stimulating environment. NRICH’s strategy games are defined as being low-threshold, high-ceiling tasks where the child can easily access the game at its basic level and play ‘randomly’ while developing a winning strategy.
A simple search for online math tools produces hundreds of sites that offer various kinds of math training and education. Sites like A+ Click Math, Math Worksheets Lands, NumberBender , Get the Math and Math Worksheet Generator are some of many that offer supplementary practice problems in primary and secondary level mathematics. Math Pickle, featuring mathematics videos for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, approaches mathematics from the standpoint of a problem solver instead of from the standpoint of a rules follower. These sites are but tip of the iceberg.
The current barriers to the use of technology in furthering mathematical and logical thinking include the general mindset that digital technologies are an add-on to learning mathematics and inadequate guidance on the use of technological tools in both statutory and non-statutory curriculum. According to a recent report by UK’s National Centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics, the main concerns among teachers of mathematics on the use of digital technologies are:
- lack of confidence with digital technologies;
- fears about resolving problems with technology;
- insecurity of knowing less than their learners who are digital natives;
- access to digital technologies;
- inappropriate training;
- lack of time for preparation;
- lack of awareness of how technology might support learning;
- not having technology use clearly embedded into schemes of work.
John Seely Brown, cofounder of the Institute for Research on Learning , and an expert in digital youth culture, digital media, and the application of technology to enable deep learning, states that the Web may be the first medium that honors the notion of multiple intelligences. Among the different types of intelligences classified by Gardner, Brown’s notion is best suited for mathematical and logical intelligence. But the sheer volume of “help” available online for mathematical and logical training could potentially render the effort futile. It is up to the instructor and user to use their judgement to choose tools that are relevant to their needs and development.
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Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences proposed in 1989, which may be grossly summarized as “students possess different kinds of minds and therefore learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways”, despite eliciting much controversy, has had a profound impact on education, especially in America. With technology making inroads into education and changing the face of learning, is this theory still relevant?
Intelligence, according to Gardner, is of eight types – verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic; existential and moral intelligence were added as afterthoughts in the definition of Intelligence. This is the first in a series of posts that explore and understand how each of the above forms of intelligence is affected by technology-mediated education.
Verbal-linguistic Intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish goals. Such intelligence is fostered by three specific activities: reading, writing and interpersonal communication – both written and oral. The traditional tools that have been used to efficiently develop verbal/linguistic intelligence - textbook, pencil, and paper - have given way to technology in many schools. eBooks, Internet lesson plans, online assignments and word processing software, or a subset of the above, are now ubiquitous in schools. Technology allows addition of multisensory elements that provide meaningful contexts to facilitate comprehension, thus expanding the learning ground of language and linguistics.
Research into the effect of technology on the development of the language and literacy skills vis-à-vis reading activities of children has offered evidence for favourable effects of digital form of books. Moody (2010) for example, shows that digital reading materials have become common in developing countries in early childhood classrooms to support engagement in storybooks while enhancing the emergent literacy among children. Zucker et al., (2009) show that e-books are also being increasingly used to teach reading among beginners and children with reading difficulties.
Technology can be used to improve reading ability in many ways. It can enhance and sustain the interest levels for digitial natives by allowing immediate feedback on performance and providing added practice when necessary. Case and Truscott (1999), show that students are able to improve their sight word vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension through computer-based reading.
Technology can also help in improvement of writing skills. Word processing software promotes not only composition but also editing and revising in ways that streamline the task of writing. Desktop publishing and web-based publishing allow the work to be taken beyond the classroom into a virtual world that allows more constructive interactions.
Until social media sites took over at the turn of the century, electronic mail had been a good way to promote verbal/linguistic learning, through letter writing. The widespread complaint among language experts on the deleterious effects of technology on written skills arises from the use of homophones and new acronyms in messaging that creep into formal writing as well. A Pew Internet and American Life Project entitled “Writing, Technology and Teens,” reports that although 60% of youths aged 12-17 do not consider electronic communications appropriate for formal situations, 64 percent admitted to inadvertently using some form of shorthand in formal documents. However, the web cannot be discounted as being “bad for language”, considering that it also offers very useful tools such as blogging and microblogging that can help the student improve her writing skills with dynamic feedback. The possibility of incorporating other media into a written document (e.g. figures, graphics, videos etc.) can enhance the joy of writing using technology.
While there is indeed a hue and cry about the adverse effects of social networking sites on youngsters, there are people who believe in several benefits to language learners from social online communication. Margaret Hawkins, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison School of Education, states that online communication offers more opportunities for expression and meaningful discourse than face-to-face discussions, greater linguistic production, more student engagement, and multi-directional interaction. She also believes that schools do not consider Internet activities as educational, especially in the realm of linguistic education.
Technology enhanced oral communication is indeed useful in that it allows students from remote locations, or from all over the world to communicate orally through video and audio conferencing tools. For example, students of languages in Australian universities overcome the problem of insufficient contact with native language speakers by using online audio and video tools that allow the development of aural, vocal and visual-cognition skills that are important in verbal and linguistic education. Oral group discussions in the form of video conferencing can help non-native speakers of a language with natural language negotiation and cultural intonations in ways that have hitherto not been possible due to geographic isolation/distancing.
As with anything to do with technology, there are also detractors who propose negative influence of features like animation, sound, music and other multimedia effects possible in digital media, which may distract young readers from the story content. The complaint that constant use of digital technology hampers attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, is also commonly heard. However, to be fair, such a complaint encompasses all fields and is not specific to Gardener’s seven types of intelligence.
Such complaints notwithstanding, the symbiotic ties between linguistics and technology cannot be ignored. The award winning Bluetooth-enabled glove that converts sign language into spoken languages, speaks volumes of the close connection between technology and linguistics that benefits humanity as a whole. No less impressive is the Endangered Languages Project, that strives to develop technological tools to document marginalised and/or dying languages.
There is no doubt that computer aided language learning and computer mediated communication enhance teaching and learning experiences in the areas of linguistics and language intelligence. Although there have not been comprehensive studies on the use of technologies to aid K-12 English-language learners, there have been many individual computer programs and other technologies that accelerate the acquisition of phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and reading-comprehension skills and other language building blocks.
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The brain is a neuroplastic organ that is constantly changing in response to external stimuli. Given the enormity of the stimulus caused by the Internet, it seems logical that it can cause significant cerebral adaptations. Or is the digital era too recent to be able to cause significant changes in brain structure yet?
On one hand are neuroscientists such as Susan Greenﬁeld, who believe that the digital era could be detrimental to the human brain. Greenfield argues that the prefrontal cortex would be damaged, underdeveloped or underactive in technology addicts, just as it is in gamblers, schizophrenics or the obese. Researchers from Xidian University, China have recently reported that long-term Internet addiction does result in brain structural alterations, which could contribute to chronic dysfunction in subjects with Internet Addiction Disorder.
There are others who differ. Jeff Jarvis, author of “Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live” believes that technology will not change our brains and how we are ‘wired,’ but affects and changes how we cognate and navigate our world, which could in fact, be beneficial. A study by Gary Small at UCLA in 2008 showed that Internet browsing activities triggered key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning. It is little wonder then that digital natives are better at snap decisions and juggling sensory input than digital immigrants. This could indicate that technology and gadgets do possibly rewire the brain to function better, especially during adolescence, which is considered a sensitive period for cognitive developments. Studies have also demonstrated that playing action video games can enhance visual attention and improve decision making skills for youth and the aged alike. It is the content of the video games, i.e. the amount of violence and/or inappropriate, unethical scenarios that could adversely affect the player’s psych.
Sparrow and co-workers of Columbia University recently studied the memory of college students vis à vis Internet use and found an interesting pattern. While extensive users of Internet (search engines, in particular) could not recall information itself, they could easily and accurately recall where to find that information online. Thus, the Internet has become an external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside us. But this in and of itself is not a new concept. The notion of “transactive memory” proposed by Wegner has been around since 1985 (“no need to remember birthdays, just remember that the wife does”) and the Internet merely subscribes to this form of memory.
Gary Small and co-workers have also reported that Internet searching engages more neural circuitry than, say, reading text pages. Thus, among middle-aged and older adults, Internet use may favourably alter the neural circuits controlling short term memory. However, since our brains use information stored in the long-term memory to facilitate critical thinking, there may be a certain loss in this area upon extensive Internet usage.
There have also been studies on the connection between brain and technology-induced multitasking. Multitasking does not mean “performing multiple tasks at the same time”, which is not possible, but “switching between tasks at an extreme rate of more than four switches per minute”. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 8- to 18-year-old youths carry out extensive “media multitasking” and the compulsive need to rapidly switch between multiple media has led to the belief that there may be a greater incidence of ADHD type disorders among youth. There is also the school of thought that given the brain’s limits to the ‘‘cognitive load’’ it can handle, multitasking leads to loss of efficiency. Switching attention across tasks occurs in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that is one of the last regions to mature in children and one of the ﬁrst to decline with aging. However, Carrier and co-workers of California State University, Carson, did not find any relationship, positive or otherwise, between brain function and media multitasking.
Kep Kee Loh and Ryota Kanai of the University of Sussex report differently. They have demonstrated that brain structure CAN be altered upon prolonged exposure to novel environments and experience. They have confirmed through MRI studies that people who extensively media-multitasked had smaller gray matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain. This could possibly result in decreased cognitive control performance and socio-emotional regulation in heavy media-multitaskers. However, the researchers also disclaim that it is not yet clear if media-multitasking causes changes in the brain or whether people with less dense gray matter are attracted to media-multitasking in the first place - a classic chicken-egg scenario.
The digital era has, since its conception, continuously elicited various types of moral panic that have engaged scientists, psychologists, sociologists, educators, policy makers and most importantly, media. The anxiety around technology and Internet has provoked intense debate on its effects on the biology of the brain. ‘‘Neuroplasticity’’ has been a powerful word in arguments both for and against the effect of technology on the brain. Studies in neuroscience have supported and challenged the proposed negative effects, thus leading to neuro-alarmism and neuro-enthusiasm respectively. But the real situation lies probably somewhere in the middle. Before succumbing to media frenzy in denouncing or hailing technology/Internet as bane or boon in terms of human evolution and brain conditioning, it is important to remember that the human cognition is distributed across brain, body and the tool (digital or otherwise) and is not a stand-alone quality, but one that is critically influenced by the surrounding as much as by the system itself.
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The millennial generation in developed (and rapidly developing) countries, also called “screenagers”, are prolific users of the Internet and engage in the Internet for four categories of activities: entertainment, education, and edutainment/infotainment and as the neo-portmanteau goes, “gamevertising”. Amongst such youngsters, the Internet remains largely a home based activity. This means that family plays a critical role in the interaction between children and the Internet.
How much and how does family affect the proliferation and consequences of Internet insurgence into the home? A simple web search with the keywords “family”, “affect” and “Internet” spews out eleven million pages, almost all of which deal with how Internet affects family life and not vice versa. There have been few scientific studies on the effect of family on the Internet use among children; much of the existing studies largely deal with familial background vis-à-vis Internet addiction/overindulgence – e.g. this, this and this – and point to the obvious fact that a dysfunctional family causes Internet addiction in children. At best, there are a few studies that relate the effect of parental attitudes on the general Internet use in children. Quoting Barkin et al. (2006) “Little is known about parents’ role in mediating their children’s media use”.
The use of the Internet by children is directly related to the availability of Internet at home. This is, in turn, significantly influenced by the age, educational level and economic-status of the parents. Parents with a good knowledge base of the Internet and technology typically focus on guidance, control and support. Such parents are usually younger, educated and economically comfortable. The number of children in a family also affects Internet parenting styles. In larger families, less control and support is observed in relation to Internet usage. The gender of parents clearly affects the Internet usage among children as well. Valcke showed that parental control differs between fathers and mothers, with mothers providing more guidance and support. More interestingly, at least in developed countries, there seem to be no differences in Internet parenting control and style between boys and girls. Valcke and co-workers report four “Internet parenting styles”:
“Laissez-faire” points to “low levels of control and low level of involvement”. The effect of parenting style on Internet usage was found to follow the pattern below.
The Internet can be a tremendous help to parents in parenting. Studies have shown that the Internet can not only enhance knowledge but also attitudinal and behavioral aspects of parenting; Knowledge can be improved by web-based training programs, while changes in attitude and behavior may be positively influenced through web based intervention programs guided by therapists or coaches. Information pages, e-mail consultations and digital training modules are some ways by which professionals may disseminate current knowledge and offer tailored advice, which can easily be augmented by peer support through group forums and discussion boards.
Nowhere else in history has there been a reverse relationship between parent and child as in the domain of the Internet. The common belief that the child learns from the parent and influence primarily flows from parent to child is often negated in the area of Internet. There is now “reverse socialization”, where younger people influence and alter their elders’ views and behaviors. Mead (1970) described societal and cultural conditions that lead to reverse socialization. The youth in a prefigurative culture, where people are faced with unfamiliar and significantly changed circumstances, primarily focus on the present and future and are less bound to the past than their elders. Thus, children lead the way rather than follow in the footsteps of their elders in such fields, arguably creating a significant reversal in the parent-child knowledge hierarchy. Considering that the generation divide favors children, with 92% of kids confident in the Internet playing field, as against only 62% of the parent generation, there is a drastic role reversal with children often donning the garb of a “home guru” in matters pertaining to the Internet.
The effect of such role reversals depend on the general character of parent-child relationships. Optimal socialization occurs in families in which respect between parents and children are mutually high. Authoritative and permissive parents communicate more with their children about consumption than authoritarian and neglecting parents and thus children of the former are more apt to teach their parents about the Internet and act as Internet brokers to their parents.
The effect of the Internet on family, as mentioned before, has been worth 11 million pages on the Internet and these studies often provide conflicting insights. A survey of American households reports that new digital media technologies negatively impact family life. Ironically, the same study also reports that networked parents and children connect with each other in new ways such as email, IM, and mobile phones, resulting in better emotional health. The Internet has undoubtedly enhanced parents’ monitoring capabilities, even when they are geographically separated from their children. However, the very same connectivity can adversely affect the autonomy of the “tethered” child due to helicopter parenting.
The insurgence of the Internet into childhood has indeed caused a paradigm shift in parenting, affecting interactions among family members, parents’ role in their children’s lives (and vice versa), and the definition of parental authority. The evolution of new family systems and values will be a natural outcome of this change, and after trial and error efforts, an optimum setup will eventually emerge to preserve the health and sustenance of the human race. Until then, it is up to adults to cautiously test the waters and develop systems best suited for them and their families.
Data Credit: Source
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A recent (2014) report, “Keeping Pace with K–12 Digital Learning” by the Evergreen Education Group points out that in the past academic year (2013-2014), more than 316,000 students attended online schools in USA. Virtual schools are operative in 26 states in the country, and digital learning encompasses fully online schools, supplemental online courses and schools that have integrated digital content and tools into their existing instructional setup. This is not surprising considering that a meta-analysis and review of literature conducted by the U.S. Department of Education found that students in online learning conditions (especially under blended instruction but even in 100% online schools) performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction in technology-unassisted educational programmes. This study has by large provided the impetus to design and implement online and blended approaches to school level education.
The types of digital tools used in blended or fully online education vary significantly between high schools, middle schools, and elementary school levels. In elementary school, digital tools are used only in a classroom, with full teacher control (or parental control, in the event of homeschooling), and mainly in the areas of math and ELA. Middle school uses slightly more digital tools to set the stage for high school that uses the widest range of digital options including online courses, credit recovery courses, independent online study programs and supplementary digital content to augment face-to-face classes.
Online schooling is not new as a concept as it falls within the purview of distance learning that has been around for many decades now; it is considered the fifth generation of distance education. However, online education is very different in its scope from earlier generations such as correspondence courses, and televised broadcasts and video conferencing in that it can offer both synchronous instruction where students and instructors interact in real time and asynchronous instruction where students learn at their own pace and with their own time schedules. A judicious combination of these two types of learning enables both cognitive and personal participation.
A recurring theme in educational literature is that digital technologies offer better forms of teaching and learning than conventional educational settings. For the sake of brevity, the advantages of digital education will be mentioned as bulleted points here, because detailed descriptions of the advantages are available aplenty online (e.g. here, here, etc.)
- Frees the learner and instructor from limitations of time and space.
- Enables dynamic interaction that helps establish constructive learning and provide opportunities for cooperative learning.
- Virtuality eliminates awkwardness associated with face-to-face communication in traditional classrooms, especially for introverted or shy students (references here, here and here).
- Helps overcome teacher shortages and in addition enable access to high-quality teachers, because of obviation of geographic constraints.
- Enables customization and optimization of education
- Allows innovation in that new learning tools could be envisaged and developed that use the digital tools available to make education more interesting and efficient.
But it is not all roses, the challenges to digital schooling are very real, and ironically, the benefits listed above can themselves become deterrents. For example the geographic, temporal and psychological isolation can result in limited opportunity for the transmission of non-verbal messages, especially in primarily text-based courses which can foster feelings of disconnectedness in students. This could adversely affect learning outcomes.
Beyond the obvious “availability of technology”, there are other factors that affect digital schooling. An important factor is the attitude of the learner towards digital education. A positive attitude toward technology, for example, when the student is not intimidated by the complexity of technology, will obviously result in a better and more constructive digital school environment.
A dynamic interaction between teacher and student is possible in e-Learning, but is not a requisite. Without conspicuous exchanges between teacher and student, there is higher risk of distractions and difficulty in concentrating. Thus, it is imperative that the mechanism for interaction in a digital school be meticulously designed to improve frequency, quality, and promptness of interactions.
Teacher effectiveness is a strong determiner of differences in student learning that far outweighs the effects of class size and heterogeneity. There is no reason to expect that teacher preparation is any less critical in digital schooling. While it is possible for an online student to access the best teacher in the field, there may be very few such teachers, who may be burdened with a large number of students benefiting from her expertise, resulting in reduced dynamic interaction, much like a brick-and-mortar school that has a large student to teacher ratio.
Another serious concern when dealing with a cyber school is the possible lack of social life for virtual students. Or is it? A few years ago, there were serious concerns about socialization behaviour among home schooled children. Conflicting results were seen in scientific studies, but the majority of the studies seemed to point to the fact that home schooled children are not socially any more backward than mainstream school students or are perhaps even better because of absence of damaging peer influence. There is thus no reason to believe that digital schooling would adversely affect social skills any more than general digitization of life itself does.
What is the verdict then? Is digital schooling better than conventional schools? The question is ideological and is built on the encompassing argument of what education itself is. Although it is easy to denounce the digital school (or brick and mortar school) with compelling reasons, we should be wary of outweighing the interests of technology over other social, cultural, and political concerns (or vice versa). Given that the conventional academy has existed over centuries and withstood the travails of time, there is no reason to believe that “digital schools” would overturn the conventional face-to-face schooling system in the near future, but will undoubtedly serve to compliment it.
Image credit: Educause Quarterly
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MeetAdvisors is a business advisory service and website, and their blog features interesting and innovative businesses once in a while. Rachel Pollard, in her blog post on 'Innovators with I.Q.', features Mobicip on her list. This is what she has to say:
How often do we notice upcoming companies and firms incorporating state-of-the-art technology with an intelligent strategy? Today, we present to you a list of such companies that have used the versatility of technology in their respective sectors to achieve optimum growth, ensuring customer satisfaction through excellent services.
Mobicip was founded in the year 2008 and it has since emerged as the most popular content filtering solution for smartphones, tablets, and computers. Mobicip aspires to foster the safe use of technology for learning. Its best-selling content filtering service has been... Read more
Thank you Rachel and MeetAdvisors. You made our day!
Mobicip was featured on TV news recently. Yay! Thanks a lot to WBIR, an NBC affiliate. Also Katie Roach and tech expert Dan Thompson, we couldn't have said it better. You are awesome! Here's an excerpt from the article:
Tech expert Dan Thompson with Claris Networks says there are some apps out there that can help parents control when their kids are on the internet and what sites they are visiting.The first one is Mobicip . Thompson says you can set restrictions for multiple users and multiple devices. Features include a time table to restrict access, content blocking and a report that shows what sites each user visited. Mobicip is a subscription service, but Thompson says it gives you the most control and the most features.
In 2004, Achieve, a nonprofit education reform organization, published a research report titled “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts” that pointed to the fact that in USA, high school standards were not meeting the expectations of employers and colleges. This led to the development of a Common Core State Standards initiative in 2009 to improve the standards of high school education. With 46 of 50 states of USA adopting the common core, there has been a paradigm shift from rote-based learning of yore to interaction-, collaboration- and communication-based learning. Such a shift has necessitated the insurgence of technology into the classroom which was, prior to the initiative, an optional addendum. Consequently, the concept of “blended learning”, which was introduced as early as 2000, has assumed more importance than ever before and has transformed from a theoretical concept with rudimentary applications to an essential part of mainstream education, encompassing a wide array of technological tools, gadgets and concepts.
Blended learning, which once referred to use of computer and web based training in class, has now evolved into a mammoth education program that merges traditional classroom-based instruction with technology enhancements such as electronic whiteboards, Internet devices, multimedia assistance, digital textbooks and online lesson plans.
Blended learning, in its current avatar, is a complicated endeavour that requires meticulous planning before and during implementation. It goes beyond just providing schools and students with computers, and entails creation of personalized learning models that match the student, school and societal needs and competencies.
Blended learning models largely fall into one of two categories – rotation model and flex. In rotation models, the student alternates between face-to-face conventional classroom learning and guided computer learning. This is usually practiced at the primary school level. The flex model is preferred in high schools where a digital curriculum comprising projects and online tutoring allows students to work independently and at their own space and pace. A third model called “self-blend” model is described by Innosight Institute, where the student chooses additional online courses to supplement her school curriculum in order to gain credit or recover a missed credit. Innosight Institute also proposes a fourth model, the Enriched Virtual Model, where an entire course or class is taken online with occasional face-to-face meetings with the teacher or convenor.
The U.S. Department of Education reports that instruction combining online and face-to-face elements was found to be better in terms of student outcomes than purely face-to-face instruction or purely online instruction. With that in mind, the best model for a particular school is chosen based on its vision and goals, student levels and infrastructure/human resources available. The first step towards establishing blended learning is to answer a few key questions:
- Why would a school want to engage in blended learning? Will it meet the goals and objectives of the school vis-a-vis societal expectations?
- What student benefits are sought? Academic success in terms of grades? Time savings? Preparing the student for college?
- Which model will suit the school, its students and the community and why?
- What is the support (monetary, technical) available? How much of community engagement will it entail?
Blended learning has been gaining acceptance in the high school level throughout America. What started off as 45000 K12 students taking online courses in 2000 has grown to over 4 million students participating in some kind of formal online-learning program by 2011. Two factors, beyond the need to comply with common core standards, drive the adoption of blended learning by schools – the growing shortage of teachers combined with cost and time savings possible with replacing some of the human resources with digital media, and the “the No Child Left Behind Act” that has elicited competitiveness among schools and students in statewide summative assessments. Another subtle, but important influence is the morphing of many technology companies into providers of learning management systems, online assessments, digital gradebooks, and education data systems, who have, by their aggressive marketing strategies, increased public awareness of alternatives to traditional learning methods.
Being a nascent field, there are naturally many technical, organizational and design challenges to blended learning that include the need for teachers and schools to adopt a different approach to teaching, complexities in managing the dual learning environment and the importance of preparing the setting. But these can be surmounted by methodical, diligent and consistent effort. What can be more difficult to surmount are attitudinal blocks, in that blended learning challenges the status quo and can be perceived as collapsing the integrity of the traditional academy. Attitudes not only hinder (or advance) the technical, organizational and design activities, but can also significantly influence policy planning decisions.
Blended learning is an evolving, dynamic organism that cannot be forced into a custom template. For example, is there a golden ratio to face-to-face and online learning activities? There obviously cannot be, given that there are unlimited possible combinations, all perfectly valid or invalid given the learning, social and cognitive needs of a community. While this fuzziness can complicate policy planning, the very same flexibility enables tailorability to maximize potential. Good blending comes from establishing equilibrium between the learner and the learning objective.
Whether blending is a simple process of combining two learning methods (face-to-face and virtual) in judicious proportions, or as complex as completing an entire education program, the “classroom of the future” has undoubtedly evolved from being a disjoint adjunct it was a decade ago, to mainstream education.
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Image credit: Blended Learning Implementation Guide