Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kids Online: Report Now Published!

After many months of collaboration, writing, workshop-ing, revising, editing and polishing, my co-authored white paper/report with Deborah Fields, written for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center @ Sesame Workshop, with support from Cisco and the DML, is now

The paper, Kids online: A new research agenda for understanding social networking forums, is a first step to documenting pressing questions about children's involvement online, namely:

  • Which children are using social networking forums and what are they doing there?
  • What do we know about how online experiences influence children's social, cognitive, and creative development?
  • What kind of research do we need to do now, in order to understand more deeply who is going online, what kinds of things they are doing, and what opportunities or challenges are involved?
  • And finally, what should designers, educators, and parents be aware of as they navigate these new environments and try to help children make the most of them?
A big part of the report ended up being a discussion of how many gaps we - surprisingly - found in the large scale surveys and reports we were reviewing when it came to younger children (especially children under age 8). Another factor is that although there's lots of anecdotal and qualitative evidence that kids are using popular social media such as Facebook even when they're not supposed to (COPPA-related age restrictions, etc.), there's a lack of critical analysis on how those decisions about age restrictions are made, and what impacts outright bans might have on kids' access to important social interactions and opportunities. 

We also found that common definitions of what qualifies as a "social networking site" were quite limited, and often excluded the types of forums younger children tend to populate, and the types of social networking they engage in...including playing on virtual worlds or through gaming consoles, creating portfolios on project-sharing sites like Scratch, decorating igloos and Monster houses as an alternative to the traditional "profile page." This discussion was one of the most exciting for Debbie and I, as we used our significant experience with children's digital culture to outline a new, alternative definition - social networking forums - with a set of shared characteristics inclusive of the types of sites, platforms, activities and interactions younger kids engage in (see pp.36-47 of the report).

I'm a bit late to the game in writing about this - the report came out a couple of weeks ago, and I've been busy spreading the word in other ways. Debbie and I wrote a blog post about the report for the JGCC blog, which you can read here.

There's been some press about the report, including this recent article in the UT Bulletin by Kathleen O'Brien, as well as an article in the Huffington Post by Michael Levine. 
School Library Journal
Education Week
Barking Robot

Such great coverage so far, and it's been especially amazing to see the discussion continuing, both in public fora, as well as through the many emails (and one phone conversation) we've received from media makers and educators about the report and - awesomely - potential next steps.