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Posts in category 'Children'

17 December 2006

User interface of the $100 laptop

User interface of the $100 laptop
The user interface for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, the initiative to put $100 laptops in the hands of children around the world led by Nicholas Negroponte, the founding director of the MIT Media Lab, “uses a highly abstracted spatial navigation metaphor, an extension of the familiar desktop metaphor, for easy, intuitive navigation that makes the most of the laptop’s networking capabilities. “

“The OLPC interface is icon-based and has four levels of view: Home, Friends, Neighborhood, and Activity. Users can move outward from the Home view, where they can set preferences like color, to the Friends view, where they can chat with their friends, to the larger Neighborhood view, where they can locate other users and gather around an activity. The Activity view looks inward: children, alone or together, can focus on a project at hand. In each view, a toolbar-like frame is available that organizes navigation, people, activities and files around the four sides of the view.”

Lisa Strausfeld, Christian Marc Schmidt and Takaaki Okada of Pentagram Design are working on the design of the laptop interface in close collaboration with the OLPC development team, including president Walter Bender and designer Eben Eliason. Production on the laptops is scheduled for mid-2007.

Read full story

UPDATE – 2 January 2007

- Low-cost laptop could transform learning [AP article]
One Laptop Per Child News
Article on the OLPC Sugar User Interface emulator
OLPC Human Interface Guidelines

- Video demo of the OLPC Sugar User Interface

UPDATE – 11 January 2007

- $100 Laptop’s/OLPC’s user interface looks good, but …

26 November 2006

Participatory media and the pedagogy of civic participation

Howard Rheingold
Participatory Media And The Pedagogy Of Civic Participation – The Transformation Of Education And Democracy: A Presentation by Howard Rheingold

“Participatory media is changing the way we communicate, engage with media and each other and even our approaches to teaching and learning.”

“The generation of digital natives – those that have grown up immersed in digital media – take all of this for granted. There is nothing strange, new or even transformative about the interactive, participative landscape of blogging, social networking and Web 2.0 Read/Write media for them. This is the very starting point, the background canvas on which they live their lives.”

“The promise of participatory media is a democratic media, and a media that strengthens our democratic rights in concrete terms. Howard Rheingold has written extensively about the very real uses people have put mobile and digital media to in fighting street level battles over concrete issues. In his 2002 bestseller Smart Mobs, he writes about the ways that these technologies have been put to use in online collaboration, direct political action and the lives of young people across the planet.”

“But can the use of these emergent socially networked technologies transcend entertainment and personal expression, and push us forward towards an engaged, empowered democracy?”

In his recent lecture The Pedagogy of Civic Participation, which took place in the 3D virtual world Second Life on the NMC Campus, Howard Rheingold asks this very question.

In this special feature, which was published on the blog of Rome, Italy-based Robin Good, Good has divided Howard Rheingold’s presentation into several audio files, and brought together the key points and questions discussed. You can listen to the original verbal presentation delivered for each key point or browse through the summary notes he has posted next to each.

Rheingold’s lecture was part of the MacArthur Foundation‘s series on Digital Media and Learning, a ”five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialise and participate in civic life.”

Read full story

2 November 2006

User-centred design at the Young Tate

Young Tate
The Tate went out of its way to get young people involved in the web design process for a new site aimed at 13-25-year-olds, according to a case study on ProjectsETC.

“The Young Tate website is aimed at young people aged 13 to 25. It features different ways of learning and becoming involved with the world of art including the activities and events developed by the Young People’s Programmes curators at all four Tate galleries. Tate has run an in-gallery programme for young people outside the formal education sector since 1988. The key features of this programme are consultation with young people and peer-leadership. Tate has pioneered an approach in which young people are provided with the tools to shape their own learning experience.”

“The Young Tate website was launched in August 2006 and was designed to reflect the ethos of the in-gallery programme. It was essential that the website was driven ‘by young people and for young people.’ With this in mind, young people were involved in every stage of the website’s design and will continue to contribute to the site.”

ProjectsETC is a new resource site for people creating interactive projects in education, technology and culture, launched by Culture Online, part of the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Read case study

23 October 2006

Whitepaper: Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture

MacArthur
Peter Morville found an interesting whitepaper by MIT’s Henry Jenkins about media education, entitled “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture” (pdf, 354 kb, 70 pages), on the website of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Learning Initiative (see also here).

Here is what Morville wrote about it:

Henry presents eleven new skills or literacies

  • Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem solving.
  • Performance – the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery.
  • Simulation – the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes.
  • Appropriation – the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.
  • Multitasking – the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition – the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.
  • Collective Intelligence – the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal.
  • Judgment – the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.
  • Transmedia Navigation – the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.
  • Networking – the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information.
  • Negotiation – the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

…and three concerns:

  • The Participation Gap – the unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare youth for full participation in the world of tomorrow.
  • The Transparency Problem – the challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways that media shape perceptions of the world.
  • The Ethics Challenge – the breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants.

Henry also argues that “textual literacy remains a central skill in the twenty-first century” and that traditional research skills “assume even greater importance as students venture beyond collections that have been screened by librarians into the more open space of the web.”

In considering goals and challenges regarding the education of our two daughters over the next decade or so, this feels like a pretty good roadmap.

21 October 2006

MacArthur launches $50 million digital media and learning initiative

MacArthur
The MacArthur Foundation launched its five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative in 2006 to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialise and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to developing educational and other social institutions that can meet the needs of this and future generations.

The Digital Learning Initiative is exploring the hypothesis that digital media tools now enable new forms of knowledge production, social networking, communication and play. Through the use of such tools, young people are engaged in an exploration of language, games, social interaction and self-directed education that can be used to support learning. They are different as a result of this use of digital media, and these differences are reflected in their sense of self, in how they express their independence and creativity, and in their ability to learn, exercise judgment and think systemically.

The Digital Learning Initiative acknowledges the emerging vernacular of young people who are “growing up digital” and embraces the writing, thinking, and design tools of the digital age. It is seeking to answer questions such as: Are young people fundamentally different because of their exposure to technology? What environments and experiences capture their interest and contribute to their learning? What are the implications for education? It includes ethnography, the development of media literacy, and the connection between games and learning.

2 October 2006

Futurelab on learning, social software and games

Futurelab
Futurelab is a not-for-profit organisation in the UK, passionate about transforming the way people learn. Tapping into the huge potential offered by digital and other technologies, it is “developing innovative learning resources and practices that support new approaches to education for the 21st century.”

Three reports and two projects offer some valuable recent insight, but the website contains much more:

The report Social Software and Learning explores the relationship between the emergence of social software and the personalisation of education. It suggests that there is a changing view of what education is for, with an emphasis on the need for young people to develop the skills necessary for today’s evolving global knowledge economy. Alongside this development is the rapid growth of social software, characterised as software that supports group interaction, and by combining these two trends there is significant potential to see a new approach to education.
Read online version
Download report (pdf, 994 kb, 71 pages)

Learner Voice is the title of a report on giving more of a voice to the learner. “Despite the vast number of changes in the education system in recent years, learners are seldom consulted and remain largely unheard in the change process. If education is to become more personalised, then the views of learners must be heard. This handbook draws on examples, case studies and research to provide learners and educators with information and ideas for promoting the voices of learners.”
Read online version
Download report (pdf, 816 kb, 42 pages)

Teaching with Games was a year-long project supported by Electronic Arts, Microsoft and Take-Two, as well as the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE), investigating the place of mainstream commercial computer games in the classroom. The project aimed to provide practical and informed evidence of the implications and potential of the use of these games in school, and an informed strategy for future educational development requirements, based upon collaborative discussions between industry and the education community. A report, outlining the context, objectives, methods, findings and key messages arising from the Teaching with Games project, is now available.
Read online version
Download report (pdf, 1.3 mb, 65 pages)

Enquiring Minds is a three-year research and development project investigating how children can shape their own learning, by changing the emphasis from what they learn to how they learn. Run by Futurelab and funded by Microsoft through its Partners in Learning initiative, the project is essentially trying to put into practice the theories of fully personalised learning.

Create-A-Scape is a new website that provides free resources to enable teachers and pupils to create digitally-enhanced, personalised learning experiences, using HP’s Mediascape authoring toolkit.
Read project article
Download article (pdf, 68 kb, 2 pages)

Finally, an article on the BBC website today reports on a Futurelab survey that shows that video games could have a serious role to play in the classroom. The survey, which covered 1,000 teachers and more than 2,300 primary and secondary school students in the UK, found 59% of teachers would consider using off-the-shelf games in the classroom while 62% of students wanted to use games at school.

27 September 2006

Fab Labs deliver innovative solutions to local needs [Christian Science Monitor]

Fab Lab
Fab Labs are different than the myriad other nonprofit programs working to introduce technology to disadvantaged communities. The MIT professors who came up with the Fab Lab concept believed that rural villagers in India, sheep herders in Norway, and impoverished teens in the Pretoria township of Shoshanguve – anyone anywhere, really – could learn to create technology, as well as use it.

“The capabilities are there,” says Sherry Lassiter, program manager for MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, which developed the Fab Labs. “What we’re trying to do is to give them access to the knowledge and the tools.”

The labs are part of what the Center for Bits and Atoms believes is a trend toward widespread personal fabrication. This is the idea that, not long from now, individuals will be able to manufacture goods at home in the same way they now use personal computing.

The Fab Labs are filled with modern manufacturing equipment [and] show how personal fabrication can empower communities. Once people learn the basics of the Fab Labs’ computers and manufacturing equipment, they can start developing their own solutions to local problems.

In rural India, for instance, inventors at a Fab Lab are developing a machine to measure the fat content of milk and to sound an alarm when that milk is about to turn sour – important for local dairy farmers. In the mountains of Norway, the local Fab Lab inventors are developing a monitoring device for herders to put on sheep, which would give the animals’ location, body temperature, and other statistics. In Ghana, inventors are working on portable, hand-held solar panels to charge appliances such as televisions and refrigerators.

Read full story

14 September 2006

The Principles of Play [Metropolis Magazine]

The Principles of Play
A thoughtful piece by Peter Hall in Metropolis Magazine ponders the question how to reach a generation of students reared on technology and resistant to traditional methods of teaching through innovative game design.

The article takes as an example Game Designer, an educational software program currently under development that introduces junior high school kids to the craft of video-game design.

“Part of a three-year research and development project backed by a $1.2 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the program’s loftier goals are to help equip students with a foundation of technical, artistic, cognitive, and linguistic skills—which some educational researchers argue are neglected by current standardized test-based curricula.”

“The educational aspect of the design is being overseen and tested by the University of Wisconsin’s Games and Professional Practice Simulations Group (GAPPS). Leading the GAPPS group is Jim Gee, a sociolinguist and professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison whose several books include the pleasingly provocative What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Gee is an engaging thinker and avid gamer who discovered video games in his early fifties.”

“In the appendix to What Video Games Have to Teach Us, Gee lists 36 learning principles that he believes are built into video games. His argument is not that video games are good teachers, but that playing good video games is often good learning. [...] Play, according to Gee, requires a four-step process of probing, hypothesizing, reprobing, and then rejecting or accepting the hypothesis—the very foundation of the scientific method. [...] Gee [also] rgues that video-game players naturally form “affinity groups” for sharing goals, endeavors, and practices, often across cultural and ethnic divides.”

Interestingly, the article then continues discussing whether more established design disciplines learn something from game design.

“Games are played for no other reason than for the experience of playing them—unlike a software application, in which the experience or enjoyment of the user is a by-product. If the experience of the interface is not pleasing, players will walk away. By contrast, the interfaces of many cell phones, software applications, digital cameras, microwave ovens, cars, and even wayfinding systems are maddening to use. In some situations—famously the VCR—the interface has been bad for so long that we expect operation to be frustrating and difficult. “

“A good game interface will not bombard the user with information at the outset or rely on a complex instruction manual; it will teach the user everything he or she needs to know on a need-to-know basis. This convention is so entrenched, in fact, that gamers trust the system and never read the manuals. Figuring out how it works, whether it’s boosting your cyborg hero’s bomb-disposal skills or downloading a cheat code that makes her invisible to flying aliens, is part of the game. “A game’s system itself generates meaning, and the way it changes over time begins to modify your understanding of that system,” Salen [a game designer and the director of the graduate Design and Technology Program at Parsons School of Design in New York] says. “It’s a basic principle that can apply to all kinds of design.”

Read full story

8 August 2006

Children’s Museum of Manhattan emphasises play as foundation of learning [The New York Times]

PlayWorks
“PlayWorks” is the title of a new permanent exhibition at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan aimed at children under 5.

“Beneath each image will be a second canvas, a textural and three-dimensional rendering, which a child can touch. And this installation will be just one in a series of interactive exhibits: a huge transparent wall whose surface is for fingerpainting; a climbing structure with hidden dioramas; a sand laboratory with buried “treasures”; a construction area for building gadgets; and, among many other displays, a mechanical baby dragon that will say words when children drop letters into its mouth. The exhibition’s emphasis is not the old saw that learning is fun, but that fun is learning.”

“The idea is that in moments of everyday play children are really getting a tremendous amount of education,” said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and an adviser to the project. “The significance of play as a foundation for learning is a critically important cultural message.”

Read full story (permanent link)

30 July 2006

Techno Tots – why computer savvy users are getting younger and younger [BBC]

Techno tots
Worldwide research on very young children and their use of IT is limited, but one recent report from Sheffield University in the UK called Digital Beginnings makes for interesting reading.

For instance by the age of four, 45% of children have used a mouse to point and click, 27% have used a computer on their own at home, rising to 53% for six-year-olds, and 30% have looked at websites for children at home.

The Child Computer Interaction Group (ChiCI) studies the dynamic relationship between children and computers and feel that children should not start using computers too early in their development.

ChiCI’s Janet Read says: “My own opinion is that 18 months isn’t a good age.

“It’s a little bit ridiculous to think of an 18-month-old child sat in front of a traditional computer.

“That’s not to say there might not be technologies that are adapted to them in the future, but the traditional keyboard, box, monitor and mouse doesn’t seem to fit a child very well.”

So where do the techno tots like to go online?

Not surprisingly, the most popular sites are based on children’s TV shows.

Read full story

19 July 2006

Business Week special report on tech toys

Miuchiz
Working for Clams in Whyville
In a world where kids are spending a significant portion of their lives online, Whyville has pioneered mixing entertainment and education. The virtual world, founded in 1999 by CalTech biology professor James Bower, uses a wide variety of games to teach kids how to manage their money, hone their math and science skills, and even learn how to eat better. It’s a kid’s version of the popular Second Life cyberworld. A growing group of sponsors, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Getty, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Toyota, have created areas within the world where kids can play games to learn about ions or the undersea world, and even customize and arrange financing for a new Toyota Scion. This combination of fun and learning is exerting an undeniable appeal: Over the past year, the service has grown 41% and now has 1.7 million members.

Tech Toys for Today’s Kids
Today toy companies face fierce competition for kids’ attention, not just from traditional industry players, but from video game, consumer electronics, and computer companies. Forget about Santa’s elves banging out wooden soldiers at the North Pole. These days toymakers have to act more like Apple’s Steve Jobs—constantly reinventing their products in sleek labS in Silicon Valley.

Re-inventing HotWheels
After a six-year interlude at toymakers Jakks Pacific and then Best Pals, designer Gary Swisher returned to Mattel in 2005 as vice-president of wheels design. There he oversees the HotWheels, Matchbox, and Tyco lines—the top three in the vehicles category. But a lot has changed since Swisher’s G-Force days. For one thing, today’s kids have grown up with technology. As Swisher says, “it’s just a given for them.” The toy industry has responded by giving classic brands a high-tech twist and introducing all new products that blur the line between toy and tech gadget. Recently, Swisher spoke with BusinessWeek.com’s Jessie Scanlon about the challenge of stewarding an old-school brand like HotWheels in our tech-driven age, the emerging technologies that will affect the toy industry, and Mattel’s Web strategy.

The Tussle Over High-Tech Toys (slideshow)
For a glimpse of [the high tech toys[ you’ll see on toy retail shelves well in advance of the crucial year-end shopping season.

Toys for Tot Testers
At Fisher-Price Play Lab, in the heart of the company’s headquarters, on the outskirts of Buffalo, N.Y., local children get first crack at the toys Fisher-Price will eventually sell throughout the world. And while it may be fun and games for the kids, the testing that goes on here plays a serious, critical role in the development of the products that helped Fisher-Price, acquired by Mattel in 1993, rake in $2.02 billion in sales last year.

More Than Child’s Play
Go behind the scenes at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, where students design the physical and interactive aspects of toys.

Super Design Powers, Activate!
A childhood dream of becoming a superhero fuels the [Mattel sponsored] development at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program of an interactive toy that encourages girls’ imaginations.

14 July 2006

Report: The next step in brain evolution [Sunday Times]

Teens online
Technology is dividing us into digital natives and digital immigrants, says Richard Woods in a long story in the Sunday Times that ponders the impact of rapid digital change on the way we think.

“Emily Feld is a native of a new planet. While the 20-year-old university student may appear to live in London, she actually spends much of her time in another galaxy — out there, in the digital universe of websites, e-mails, text messages and mobile phone calls. The behaviour of Feld and her generation, say experts, is being shaped by digital technology as never before, taking her boldly where no generation has gone before. It may even be the next step in evolution, transforming brains and the way we think.”

“That’s what makes Emily a ‘digital native’, one who has never known a world without instant communication. Her mother, Christine, on the other hand, is a ‘digital immigrant’, still coming to terms with a culture ruled by the ring of a mobile and the zip of e-mails. Though 55-year-old Christine happily shops online and e-mails friends, at heart she’s still in the old world. ‘Children today are multitasking left, right and centre — downloading tracks, uploading photos, sending e-mails. It’s nonstop,’ she says with bemusement. ‘They find sitting down and reading, even watching TV, too slow and boring. I can’t imagine many kids indulging in one particular hobby, such as birdwatching, like they used to.'”

The article goes on to quote Lord Saatchi, Marc Prensky, an American consultant and author, Steven Johnson, author, Dr. Anders Sandberg, who is researching “cognitive enhancement” at Oxford University, Helen Petrie, a professor of human-computer interaction at the University of York, Pam Briggs, professor of applied cognitive psychology at Northumbria University, Nathan Midgley of the TheFishCanSing research consultancy, Andy Clark, a former director of cognitive science at Indiana University and Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University

Read full story

21 June 2006

Play Today – an Experientia report on the latest trends in electronic toys and games

Play Today - current trends in electronic toys and games - by Experientia
Over the last few months, Experientia, the experience design consultancy, has been exploring the latest trends in electronic toys and games and gathered the results in a small internal report.

Rather than just keeping it all for ourselves, we decided to upgrade the report into an external document, which is now publicly available.

Report author Myriel Milicevic (who worked with editors Jan-Christoph Zoels and Mark Vanderbeeken, both Experientia partners), introduces the report as follows:

Technology is not just propelling the adult world, its forces have also set a driving spin on the worlds of toys and fantasy.

How will our children’s development change as they journey into life, softly wrapped within responsive illuminated blankets? How different will their perceptions be of themselves and their world, from the ones that we once had about ourselves and our world?

This is not an exhaustive document. It merely tries to gather some observations of what is out there, what the masterminds of the toy industry are cooking up, what makes kids and adults go crazy, and how the small rebel players in the game try to break the rules and make up their own.

Feedback is warmly welcomed.

Download report (pdf, 4.7 mb, 71 pages)
(updated link)

20 June 2006

Tech creates a bubble for kids [USA Today]

Bubble kids
USA Today has a long story on the effect of technology on the social mores of children and teens, particularly on their self-identity and the need for social approval.

“Raised by parents who stressed individualism and informality, young people grew up in a society that is more open and offers more choices than in their parents’ youth, says child and adolescent psychologist Dave Verhaagen of Charlotte.

Unlike their parents, they have never known anything but a world dominated by technology. Even their social lives revolve around the Web, iPods and cellphones. So they dress down, talk loose and reveal their innermost thoughts online.

“Put that all together and you’ve got a generation that doesn’t have the same concept of privacy and personal boundaries as generations before,” Verhaagen says.

“They’re tuned out in some ways to the social graces around them and the people in their lives, in their physical realm, and tuned in to the people they’re with virtually,” says psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

On top of that, young people don’t care as much about making a good impression as their parents and grandparents did growing up, says Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University.”

Read full story

12 June 2006

Are virtual worlds the future of the classroom? [CNET News]

Whyville
This summer, as many as a million virtual kids could catch an infectious virus known as Whypox, causing them to break out in red welts and spout “Achoo” whenever chatting with friends.

Meanwhile, at the beach, crowds of “tweens,” 8- to 12-year-olds, will see their popular hangout beset with so-called red tides, as the seashore changes from blue to red with phytoplankton blossoms.

Are these two signs of a crumbling world? No, they’re learning tools for Whyvillains, the residents of an online virtual world whose population of kids has grown to about 1.6 million since its inception in 1999. Children in Whyville earn “clams” through activities and games, and use that virtual money to buy face decorations for their otherwise plain avatars. Then, they typically socialize with peers via chat, bulletin boards and the city’s mail system.

In educational circles, Whyville’s private universe is known as a multiuser virtual environment, or MUVE, a genre of software games created to inspire children to learn about math and science, among other subjects. Unlike most game software and social networks, which elicit negative associations for some parents and teachers, MUVEs are structured environments with rules for behavior, yet no pat formula for action. Designed to provide problems to solve that don’t involve slaying monsters, MUVEs compel kids to figure out the issues to succeed in the environments or have time to socialize.

Learning-based virtual worlds are growing more popular in schools and among children, thanks to ongoing efforts by universities and private companies.

Read full story

8 June 2006

Arts and crafts for the digital age [The New York Times]

Pico-Cricket Kit
At first blush, the PicoCricket Kit resembles a plastic box of arts and crafts supplies, crammed with colored felt, pipe cleaners, cotton and Styrofoam balls.

But this is a craft kit for the digital age. It includes electronic sensors, motors, sound boxes, connecting cables and a palm-size, battery-powered, programmable computer.

By combining the traditional materials with high-tech ones, children as young as 9 can invent interactive jewelry, fanciful creatures that dance, musical sculptures and more, said Mitchel Resnick, an assistant professor of learning research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

Mr. Resnick, whose work with children and learning at the Media Lab helped the Lego Group create its highly successful Mindstorms robotic construction kits in 1998, said he wanted to produce something in which the emphasis was not on the building of mechanical objects.

Instead, he said he was more interested in encouraging the creation of something artistic, and delivering a technology and programming language that would let young people take more control of how their creations would behave.

Read full story

28 May 2006

Cultural anthropologist Mizuko Ito on kids’ participation in new media culture

Mizuko_ito
Cultural anthropologist Dr. Mizuko Ito recently published a draft about kids’ participation in new media culture, reports Nicolas Nova in Pasta & Vinegar.

The paper, entitled “Mobilizing the Imagination in Everday Play: The Case of Japanese Media Mixes”, addresses the question of how young people mobilise the media and the imagination in everyday life and and how new media change this dynamic.

The paper will appear in The International Handbook of Children, Media and Culture, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Kirsten Drotner.

Download paper (pdf, 281 kb, 17 pages)

8 May 2006

Welcome to the new dollhouse [The New York Times]

The Sims
As far as we know, children have always played with dolls of one sort or another to act out variations on their own lives, or lives they observe or imagine. Today, a vast and growing number of kids are doing the same thing — but with a very new tool. Instead of dolls, they are using video games. And perhaps most of all, they’re using The Sims.

Some video games let players battle aliens or quarterback a pro football team; The Sims drops the player into an even more fantastic environment: suburban family life. Each Sim, as the characters are known, is different — one might be an old man, one might be a young girl; one is motivated primarily by money, for instance, while another may want popularity — and it’s up to the player to tend to those needs. As in real life, there are no points in The Sims and you can’t “win.” You just try to find happiness as best you can.

And though video game players are often stereotyped as grunged-out, desensitized slackers, it is the nation’s middle-class schoolchildren, particularly girls, who have helped make The Sims one of the world’s premier game franchises, selling more than 60 million copies globally since its introduction in 2000.

Among psychologists and education experts, it is widely accepted that playing with dolls is a safe and perhaps even essential part of self-discovery and growing up for many children, especially girls. Now, some of those experts are catching on to how quickly video games are moving into the territory formerly dominated by a slim blonde named Barbie.

“It’s not that surprising when you look at the game,” said James Paul Gee, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin who directs a program that studies the intersection of learning and gaming among both adults and children. “It’s a great resource for them to design and think about relationships and social spaces.”

Read full story

3 May 2006

Girls take over tech revolution [The Guardian]

Girls and technology
“Girls mature more quickly, are said to be more responsible and do better at school”, writes Owen Gibson, the Guardian’s media correspondent. He adds “now media-savvy girls are putting another one over the boys by leading the digital communications revolution.”

“After one of the most comprehensive studies of the effect on children of the explosion in media choices of the past 15 years, the regulator Ofcom said girls aged 12 to 15 are more likely than boys to have a mobile phone, use the internet, listen to the radio and read newspapers or magazines. Only when it comes to playing computer and console games do boys overtake girls.”

“The study, focusing on children aged between eight and 15, also showed the extent to which mobile phones and the internet are taken for granted by primary school children. Their 11th birthday appears to be the tipping point, with eight of out of 10 children having their own handset by that age.”

- Read full story
Read Ofcom press release
Download Ofcom report (pdf, 618 kb, 69 pages)

29 April 2006

Designing usable sites for children and teens

netsmartzkids
Just as any audience presents certain challenges and affordances, new considerations must be made when designing effective sites for a young audience. However, it is often difficult for an adult designer to accurately remember what it is like to be 10 years old, and so it is important to turn to research conducted with children and teens to get a sense of their preferences.

The Nielsen Norman Group conducted two separate usability studies with children (ages 6-12) and teens (ages 13-17). Based on the results of their two studies, The Group compiled 70 design guidelines for developing more usable sites for children and 60 guidelines for developing for teen audiences. While much of what they found is intuitive, other findings offer new and interesting insight.

Read full story

(Related: Evaluating the usability of educational websites for children)