From The New York Times: EDUCATION
Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using the Tools of Social Media
Published: May 12, 2011
A small but growing cadre of educators is trying to exploit Twitter-like technology to enhance classroom discussion. Read more


New Research from Tween Online Life

TweenLifeThe latest findings from Tween Online Life were released last week. The new research explores behaviors and usage for a variety of digital and online sites including online video, e-commerce, gaming, communications and entertainment destinations.

YouTube, ESPN, Google and AddictingGames remain the most visited sites for tween boys. Tween girls favor YouTube, Disney, Yahoo and Facebook.

Where the tweens are

Well, over 60 percent of tweens said they viewed at least one video on YouTube during the past month. Hulu is also catching on too… about one in six tweens said they watched a TV show or movie on Hulu. Over the past two years, tweens have become the heaviest consumers of movies and TV shows online

Game on
For tweens gaming is increasingly popular in social media. Nearly nine out of ten tweens participate in regular (monthly) online gaming for either casual online play, multi-player games or console-based games. Today online gaming is fairly gender neutral. Things don’t start to be male-oriented until the early teen years.

Born to shop
E-commerce is also gaining as Tweens have become loyal online shoppers, with more than a third shopping (and buying) online at least once during the past month, as compared to only 25 percent just a year ago.

We all know that kids need to be at least 13 years old to register for social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Tweens who really want in just need to fudge their birth date to register. And the research confirms that the “fudging” becomes all the more common as kids approach their thirteenth birthday.

Writing in the Digital Age

Boy writing on laptop

In an age where college applications are mainly accepted online, some universities and colleges now accept videos instead of essays. Our educational concept of literacy is evolving and so is the definition of “writing.”

Schools are beginning to recognize that students are writing in new ways. Our culture is no longer about pen and paper so writing teachers are seeking new ways to teach writing in the digital age.

Collaboration is a key component in digital writing, defined as a combination of words, images, audio, and website links. Students are collaborating in different ways. Often they create a text jointly, through shared documents or wikis. Other projects may involve taking turns posting on a collective blog. Teaching this type of collaborative writing is new to most classrooms.


In tech-savvy elementary and middle school classrooms the students are required to include digital content in their oral presentations. They may show a word cloud created with Wordle or an interactive poster made on

Digital Content Tools
Students are using many different websites and apps to add digital content to their writing projects.

Using photos, video clips, text, and music, students can produce a short video. The finished product can be uploaded to YouTube, Facebook, and other sharing sites.

Combine text, audio, video, animation, data, and other multimedia elements to make interactive posters and collages. Facilitates online collaboration on projects.

Google Docs
This free document-sharing program allows users to create, store, and share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online. Multiple users can work on the same piece at once.

Puppet Pals
This iPad application allows users to create and record their own animated story. The author(s) can select characters, a setting, and a title and narrate the story into the microphone while moving the cartoon “puppets” manually.

Students create wikis, or collaborative websites that are managed and edited by groups of people, through Wikispaces.

Users can create a “wall” or Web page, where others can add their own messages to this “online notice board.” Each new message looks like a post-it note. Videos and images can also be added.

Skype in the Classroom

Skype ClassroomIn the beginning of the semester my Communications 3.0 class tried using voicethread to share our thoughts on various websites. My daughter was kind enough to show me the ropes. Turns out her third grade class is full of online collaboration experts. Many classrooms are discovering creative new ways to learn, connect and collaborate on projects. Kids have so many tools to work with… now they can add Skype to the list.

Skype announced last week that it has built a dedicated social network for classrooms around the world. Skype wants to carve out a place as the platform that helps teachers and students connect, collaborate and exchange information online.

To do this Skype launched a free international community site dubbed Skype in the Classroom, an online platform designed to help classrooms connect and collaborate on projects. Classrooms around the globe can search by grade level, location and subjects or interests.

Check out this video they created to help classrooms get started:

Skype Video

Digital Playtime

Social GamingDo play and learning go together?

According to the Pew Study on Teen Gaming and Civic Engagement, teens spend about half of their screen time playing games. Some of the most popular games have to do with racing, puzzles, sports, action, adventure and learning.

The new wave of gaming is highly social. Teens (and tweens) are becoming hooked on games that are a working model for online collaboration and problem solving. Some games even incorporate aspects of civic and political life.

My favorite interns from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society created a video on this topic that covers this topic very well.

I have seen some of this social gaming first hand since my son participates in Future Cities competitions through his middle school. The participants start out by creating cities using Sim City software. The students work in groups to develop the infrastructure of their future city. Sometimes they go online to consult with teams in other parts of the country. Eventually each team builds a model of the city and develops working prototypes of their infrastructure projects. My son’s team went to a regional competition where they won an award for their transportation system.

What is interesting about the future cities program is that the kids learn how to build models to represent their virtual cities. They learn how to adapt their designs to real-world conditions, much like an architect or engineer must do. Then they meet with other kids and the engineers that judge each entry at the Future Cities competition.

Do T(w)eens Tweet?

Twitter t(w)eens

Harvard social media researchers ask the question: Do t(w)een digital natives use Twitter?


Their answers are revealing about how many t(w)een social media users use various social media platforms and adapt their messages to the medium. They theorize that teens and tweens are developing code to avoid parents from spying on their conversations.

According to Harvard researcher, Dana Boyd, “Teens turn to private messages or texting or other forms of communication for intimate interactions, but they don’t care enough about certain information to put the effort into locking it down.”

Texting tweets

Photo courtesy of Media Shift

Twitter is becoming a preferred platform for private communication among tech-savvy teens in affluent communities. Boyd has found that these teens keep their their Twitter accounts under wraps, sharing only with their inner circle of friends. They find that Twitter offers better crowd control (aka privacy) than Facebook. “Facebook is like shouting in a crowd, Twitter is like talking in a room,” stated one teen she studied.

Teen Chat Decoder

The Harvard research indicates that teenagers have adapted to social media by developing their own private language which is based on song lyrics, personal jokes, na’vi etc. They communicate in code so that only insiders and close friends will understand the true meaning of their messages. There is even an online decoder to help parents understand what their t(w)eens are chatting/tweeting about.

Socrates offered up this critique on the youth of his day: “children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise… They contradict their parents, chatter before company… tyrannize their teachers.” Sound familiar?

Born Digital

Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society has a new crop of interns each summer that work on research projects relating to the Youth and Media project. I recently discovered this great collection of videos the 2010 interns created and was inspired.

Working with the Center’s digital media producer, each intern created a video to illustrate each chapter of Born Digital by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.

About the interns

About Born Digital

Based on extensive original research, including interviews with Digital Natives around the world, Born Digital explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical: What does identity mean for young people who have dozens of online profiles and avatars? Should we worry about privacy issues – or is privacy even a relevant concern for Digital Natives? How does the concept of safety translate into an increasingly virtual world? Are online games addictive, and how do we need to worry about violent video games? What is the Internet’s impact on creativity and learning? What lies ahead – socially, professionally, and psychologically – for this generation?

Videos and About Born Digital description:
©The President and Fellows of Harvard College