I sometimes feel I am an edublogosphere intelligence agent, fortunate to often be slipped new bits of “intel” from others “in the know” that I’m able to pass along. Rather than write these up in a classified “eyes only” report for higher ups, however, I’m able to share these with the world via this blog! Interesting times in which we live…..

This evening, my latest bit of intel to pass along comes from Derek Baird— and this is an article series with a theme we’ve needed for a long time. CBS has published a new series titled, “Teens Are Wired … And, Yes, It’s OK.” I’m thrilled to see a headline that is not primarily negative about youth use of digital tools and the web.

Of course the first sub-headline in the piece isn’t positive, “Poll: 1 In 5 Teens Use Web To Cheat.” Maybe many of our teachers in classrooms continue to ask students the wrong questions– or questions that bore them, that remain at a knowledge/comprehension level instead of ascending higher along Bloom’s taxonomy? Students often want to be challenged with complex inquiry, but too often teachers are so busy preparing for an objective test with didactic, industrial-age teaching methods that they fail to notice this reality. Unfortunately this perspective is not included in the article.

The main article is excellent, however, and a good one to include in any hotlists you may be sharing with others about Internet safety and digital citizenship. Based on other research on teen computer use I’ve seen and read, I think the authors of this CBS piece are underestimating student use of IM, gaming, and other digital resources by LARGE margins, however. Graphs of these are included with the plagiarism article. As someone now looking more rigorously at quantitative research, it seems ridiculous that no information appears about the survey’s sample size. Did they survey 100 kids, 1000, or 10,000? This should matter to us, but following along the observations of Neil Postman in his excellent book “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology,” CBS apparently thinks it is sufficient to tell the US public merely that “the survey says ____” and have faith that we’ll take the results on faith. Give me a break.

The article “The ‘Mash Up’ Culture” is worth checking out, but in the opening paragraph the reporter shows they may not really “get” the digital culture / mashup phenomenon:

Teens don’t have to work very hard to be entertained anymore. Rather than trekking to the record store, they can buy their favorite music with a few clicks — and maybe try out something new while they’re at it. Reality TV, the preferred genre of many, is always on the air. They don’t even have to get up from their chairs to share photographs and gossip with friends.

The main goal of teens online is NOT just ENTERTAINMENT. I contend it is engagement. Interaction + Meaning = Engagement. Students on the internet are not just watching a broadband version of television that is one-way, transmission-based. They are interacting, socializing, publishing, and seeking to further define their own senses of identity and group membership through these processes. This is much more complex than merely SEEKING ENTERTAINMENT.

I also question the following assertion from the article, which appears to be entirely unsubstantiated by survey data or other evidence beyond the opinion of the author and several people who were interviewed:

The number of channels may have increased dramatically, but reality TV dominates the teen market, and MTV still reigns supreme.

Was a survey done that supports this assertion? The article just includes a few opinions, but I would like to see the actual viewership statistics for MTV. My perception is that students are watching less TV as they multi-task with multiple media input streams, but I could be wrong. At least the closing paragraph of this article paints a more positive picture of youth digital culture, compared to most mainstream press articles I’ve read lately:

Parents may worry that they’re raising a generation so preoccupied with gadgets designed to make life easier that interpersonal communication skills are being jeopardized. But teens insist that technology enhances, rather than detracts from, the ancient art of human interaction.

Teens are not the only ones insisting this is true. I am an adult, and this is my contention as well. Of course teens are interacting personally with digital technology. That is not an assertion, it is a fact backed up by reliable research. Not everything kids are doing online is appropriate, but the bulk of what they are doing is interactive and does cultivate literacy skills.

We need more articles like this that can help better inform adults about the realities of online youth culture, and allay many of the alarmist fears stirred up by more common articles about MySpace dangers. Blocking access to social networking sites at schools is an insufficient response. We need more education efforts for teachers, administrators, and parents– and we need to remain more engaged in conversations with students about their activities online and offline. I’d say that’s a basic lesson from Parenting101, and many of these fear-laden articles we read seem to drive that point home more to me than the assertion that “the problem is the technology.” Our problems tend to be ones we’ve had for a long time, and many of the solutions that can best address them are often low-tech rather than high tech. Talking together and having actual F2F dialog can work wonders.

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2 Responses to Teens online: It’s OK!

  1. […] CBSNews.com is posting a series of articles called "GENTECH: The Wiring of Teen America". It looks like an attempt by mainstream media to delve a bit deeper into modern teen culture rather than just hyperventilating about MySpace. Wes Fryer also has a good critique on the series: Teens Online – It's OK!. […]

  2. Bob Berry says:

    My wife and I try to balance constructive online activities with the fun. So much homework is online now; we count email as a constructive activity as it builds writing skills. We also encourage online programs that build job skills and life skills, especially in the area of careers and finances, because the schools are too overworked (or underfunded) to focus enough on these.

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