Should children under 13 be allowed their own Google accounts? December 2, 2014Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education, Primary Education, Role of the family.
Tags: parenting, technology and education
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from Joanne Orlando
You might have seen reports that Google could offer children under the age of 13 years a simple and safe way to access their internet services, including Gmail and YouTube. But will this new strategy really make a difference to the way the younger generation use the internet?
Google’s accounts are currently only available to individuals 13 years and over, but the move to let children create their own unique presence is uncommon in the online world. The organisation has made this decision under the premise of safety, that parents will be able to monitor their children’s activities when using these accounts. An anonymous source at Google has also said that the company is working on a children’s-only version of YouTube allowing parents to control the content their children can watch online or upload themselves. As a major player in the online world, Google’s consideration of children’s wellbeing is important.
Data mining and advertising
As Google’s decision reverberates through the media, the debate is focusing on the privacy of children and the best ways to ensure their safety. Is Google’s rationale of providing children greater safety a mirage, considering they may now need greater adult supervision regarding what types of information they should and shouldn’t post online when using services such as Gmail or YouTube?
There is also the concern of data mining. There are currently strict laws such as US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) governing what internet companies can and can’t do when it comes to tracking the online behaviour of kids for marketing purposes. Advocate groups such as the US-based Center for Digital Democracy worry this move will see Google’s digital marketing apparatus target kids for junk food and other potentially harmful products.
Protecting children online is an important social issue, but we must also take into account the fact children are already active users of the internet. Some 93% of children between the ages of three and nine go online for eight hours a week.
Jumping the age-gate
It’s no surprise that children are already avid viewers of video sharing sites such as YouTube, and many will tell you they prefer to watch YouTube to television as they can choose the content themselves. They can watch videos available to view anonymously (without signing in), as well as those racier videos requiring a sign in.
YouTuber star PewDiePie, a Swedish video game commentator, has millions of followers to his YouTube channel, with a huge number of these children. While pornography is not permitted on YouTube videos, swearing and adult themes are, and many parents are worried that popular internet stars such as PewDiePie are simply not appropriate for their children.
Children are also avid uploaders of their own content to sites such as YouTube. There is a swathe of videos on YouTube of kids taking part in the ice bucket challenge sweeping the world.When I talk to children as part of my research about how they watch videos online, they explain they can easily access this content and breach the age-gate imposed by sites such as YouTube. They confide they simply sign into such accounts with a false (older) age – one told me he stated his birth year as sometime in the 1800s, and added that he never gives his correct age “as it’s the internet”.
A 2011 study undertaken by Microsoft Research and US universities showed while some parents are aware of their children’s false account age, others are not, and instead rely on these internet companies to police their sites. Of course, not all children are using a false age to obtain these accounts, yet my discussions with 12- and 13-year-olds indicates the majority sign up to accounts at least three or four years before their 13th birthday.
So what should we do?
Whether we want it or not, many contributors to the discussion about Google’s plans suggest we must block it to protect our kids. Yet the fact that millions of children under the age of 13 are already using these services indicates this line of thinking is naïve. Guiding children through cyberspace should not be pitched as a beginning point – this ignores their already extensive online experience. Deliberately dismissing their knowledge counteracts the potential to adequately support children as they encounter adult material online.
A crucial starting point for parents and educators is the need for children to understand the funding model driving online content. While some adults are up in arms about personalised advertising that will now target children thanks to sophisticated data mining strategies, we must consider the other types of personalised advertising offline already in existence. There are vending machines in schools, broadcast advertisements and the use of commercial content in classrooms. It can be argued that harvesting kids’ information online is merely a natural extension of the ongoing exploitation of our younger individuals, and some parents may say that political and business references to “children as the future” really refer to children as “future cash flow of business”.
Parental controls over online behaviour is also an issue that needs raising as we naturally expect or assume parents will monitor children’s actions online. But expecting parents to police children 24/7 is unreasonable and naïve, and expecting technology to do the job for us via nanny-type programs is careless. Experience tells us that such programs are not a foolproof option, and many children are adept enough with technology to work their way around these safeguards.
To move forward, we need to educate children to differentiate the types of content available online (and offline). Put simply, we need to teach children to understand the difference between advertising and editorial content.Advertisements are not always packaged up obviously and clearly as such, but rather can underpin content in a more subtle fashion. Supporting children to develop the type of astute analytical skills to be able to tell the difference between the two is crucial, considering they are spending more and more time online.
We must also initiate tough conversations with children to help them understand what online content is not child-friendly. We may not want our children to view this content, but the diverse and largely unpoliced nature of the internet suggests it is likely they will at some stage.
Google’s move to open up accounts to children is a good point of reflection for modern society. It helps to clarify where we stand in understanding children’s engagement with technology. Policies and support programs that have children’s well-being as their focus must acknowledge and respect children for who they are. And children today are skilled technology users – more skilled than many adults.
The support we provide must focus on giving guidance that assists them in understanding more fully the world they live in. Rather than letting them fend for themselves, we have to give them strong, real and consistent guidance that is meaningful to them. In a world where children can list their birthdate as in the 1800s, perhaps Google’s plans aren’t really that shocking after all.
UWS: A success story in teacher education and educational research November 18, 2014Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
Tags: academic service learning, being a research student, teacher education
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from Steve Wilson
It has been a good year for the University of Western Sydney (UWS). Recognition of the university’s reputation as a quality institution has recently been captured by the recent publication of the Times 2014 World Higher Education Rankings. Here, UWS is noted as being amongst the top 100 of the world’s ‘young’ universities (under 50 years of age). It has also been included for the first time in the rankings of the top 400 universities in the world, marking it in the top 2% of all universities around the globe. These are great achievements for a university marking just its 25th anniversary in 2014.
There is also reason for the academics and professional staff in the School of Education at UWS to be justly proud of their own achievements in teacher education, research, and their engagement and leadership in the community. This is because a 2013 Report resulting from a high level external cyclical review of the UWS School of Education (2012), has concluded that:
The School of Education at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) has evolved into what can be considered a success story in terms of education faculties in Australia (Report, p.i).
In their report the review panel, comprising highly placed Education senior managers from other Australian universities and education systems, provides advice to the School on ways it can improve: this is, after all, a fundamental purpose of such reviews. Significantly, having consulted with UWS university students and graduates, school principals, teachers and community members during the review process, it congratulates and validates the School for the quality it is achieving, and points to a number of features of the School’s degree and research programs which have led to highly successful outcomes in teacher education and educational research being achieved by the School.
It is this success I wish to focus on here, particularly as teacher education programs across many universities often receive bad press from detractors (particularly some politicians and people in the media) who seem to often lament the quality of graduates of university teacher education, but who do not usually take the opportunity to investigate and understand what really happens in university teacher education. This is an alternative, and evidence-based good news story, from UWS.
The features of the UWS School of Education programs which are evaluated and praised by the review panel in its report include the following.
UWS’s ‘clever’ and effective course design
UWS has a postgraduate model of teacher education, meaning that students enter teacher education having completed a Bachelors degree. Through this pathway they bring an experience and maturity into their teacher education which assists them in becoming critical and classroom ready teachers. At UWS, facilitated pathways through Bachelors programs leading into the Master of Teaching degrees provide students with certainty in accessing postgraduate teacher education. According to the Review panel,
Introduction of the Bachelor of Arts pathway into the Master of Teaching was an especially smart move as this helps to prevent large numbers of students completing four years of study in education only to realise that they do not want to become teachers. This is a powerful model for linking undergraduate to postgraduate courses (p.22).
Course content and teaching approaches are also recognised by the panel as high quality features, and are addressed below.
Engaged learning and teaching
The panel’s Report commends the School on the experiences it provides to its student teachers through its program of service learning. Describing service learning as “one of (the School’s) great strengths” (p.7), and quite distinctive to what is offered in other universities, it praises the School for the range of community service projects in which student teachers can participate, and for the vast numbers of student teachers engaged in these programs (who each gain course credits for undertaking voluntary work). Commenting on the value of student teachers having the opportunity for deep engagement with people in the community, it notes that:
The Panel heard that the process of ‘getting to know people one-on-one’ through programs can be transformational – both for the UWS students and for the members of the community participating in the program (p.7).
The panel also notes the very positive responses to these programs from both student teachers, and community agencies and their clients. It notes the positive outcomes these programs achieve, including, as just two examples of many, preventing high school students from dropping out, and helping refugees improve their learning success through tutoring programs. The panel notes that feedback from external agencies and individuals involved in the service learning programs is extremely positive:
Feedback from this group was overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing gratitude and thanks to the School (including its students). One external partner that has received over six hundred student volunteers from the School spoke of the “clear commitment of UWS to build capacity in the region” … It became clear to the Panel that exemplary results are being achieved through community and regional engagement and the Panel wishes to congratulate the School on its outstanding engagement performance (p.i).
High graduate satisfaction
A clear outcome of the review is recognition that the School of Education is marked by outstanding teaching, indicated by high levels of student satisfaction with the programs and teaching. In expressing this, the panel notes that:
The Panel received many reports of the School’s outstanding learning and teaching performance, including the programs, focus, quality of teaching, and content of curriculum. The School has strong results in the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) [an Australia-wide instrument for measuring graduate satisfaction with university teaching] and Student Feedback on Units (SFU) surveys, as well as excellent scores on the My University Website (p.21).
A notable element of this feedback from the panel is that it took the opportunity to meet with many present students and former graduates before making this assessment of the quality of UWS courses and teaching. Some of the comments from present and former students relayed in the report include: ‘the course was wonderful’; ‘our tutors are excellent and provide the most unbelievable amount of resources’; ‘lecturers go out of their way’; ‘teaching is excellent at this university’; ‘some subjects are cutting edge’; ‘academics try so hard’, and that the School is ‘such a better atmosphere than my first (other) university’ (p.24).
More generally, the panel reports that student comments noted
The outstanding support provided by academics within the School, including the levels of empathy and understanding shown to students experiencing stress and/or personal difficulties (p.24).
In a summative comment, the panel notes that the “overall quality of the School’s teaching and learning is excellent” (p.21). This is something about which the School’s staff should be very proud. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the Review indicates that while some politicians and others may choose to criticise and even disparage university teacher education programs, the quality of their graduates, and point to low levels of student satisfaction with their teacher education programs, this is certainly not the case with UWS, as just one example in the university sector.
High employer and community satisfaction
While staff in the School of Education have always felt that the quality of their graduates was high, the review and report confirms this. Noting that many UWS graduates find employment in highly culturally diverse areas of Sydney, the Panel notes that:
feedback from external partners also testified to the quality of the School’s graduates and their work-readiness for highly diverse settings … (and) it was impressed that students were confident of their preparation for the diversity of the region” (p.21).
The general capacity of UWS graduates, as identified in both classroom practicum and service learning settings, is praised by external stakeholders. Some of their comments tendered to the review, as mentioned in the report, include:
The Panel also heard that that the School’s students and graduates are viewed as being enthusiastic, caring and “very knowledgeable about the needs of children”. Others commented that “UWS students are of a very high standard”; “students are fantastic”; “I am amazed at the quality and enthusiasm of the students”; and that students on practicum “know what they are doing” (p.3).
Quality and engaged research
The UWS School of Education has built up a strong research program which is both theoretically sound and of high relevance and impact (particularly, though by no means exclusively, through its engagement through research with social and educational issues in the greater western Sydney region). In reviewing the scope of educational research conducted within the School and research centre, the panel’s report
notes that the School’s research concentrations focus on: educational psychology; global children, families and communities and education; transnational knowledge exchange; equity of educational outcomes; youth transitions and high school completion; and, social ecology (p.13).
More recently, the Centre for Educational Research in the School has strengthened its research program by adding in the theme of sustainability through education.
Endorsing the quality of educational research at UWS, the panel comments that “the School has on its team a number of the best educational researchers in Australia (and in one or two cases with global reputations)” (p.13). It also notes that, relating to results in the national Excellence of Research in Australia (ERA) 2012 research evaluation process:
It is the Panel’s view that research in the School is being done well … and the Panel congratulates the School on achieving an improved overall ranking of ‘3’ … which is classified as average performance at world standard, and … now clearly above the sector average of 2.4 (p.15-16).
The panel also comments on the School’s “good reputation for graduating” students undertaking research higher degrees such as doctorates, and on the “high degree of support provided to them”, including “regular meetings with mentors who were clearly busy; opportunities to attend conferences and workshops; and, opportunities to take part in project planning of programs” (p.17). The panel concludes that “overall, the message from research students was that the School has a strong focus on the future and is “a fantastic place to be a researcher” (p.17).
The motivation for reporting these achievements at UWS is that teacher education within universities is sometimes subject to uninformed, and often quite negative, criticism. This is a good news story out of UWS which is worth reporting because, as just one example in the higher education sector, it shows a different and successful narrative for university-based teacher education. Such stories enable those who work within universities to be proud of what they do, and those outside of them to have confidence in what universities are achieving.
The message from this review of the School of Education at UWS and its recent report is that academics and professional staff in the School of Education at UWS are achieving quality outcomes. They should feel justly proud that they have a good, successful model of teacher education, supported by outstanding university teaching, and a world class program of educational research. They are achieving high quality outcomes in each of these areas.
This review indicates that current UWS students, former graduates, schools and learning institutions who employ these graduates, teachers who work with them, and the community at large, have every reason to be confident in the education that graduate teachers and researchers who have attended UWS have received. They should be equally as confident in the capacity of these graduates to make lasting, positive impacts on their professions, on the lives of children and the general population, and on the world, during their professional lives.
There’s more to education than spelling and numbers November 4, 2014Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: curriculum, democracy and education, holistic education, national curriculum, values education
from Associate Professor Sue Roffey
Headlines in newspapers on a recent Monday morning said much of the curriculum review that has been welcomed across Australia. The removal of the four “general capabilities” from the curriculum is a travesty many are yet to recognise.
The four “general capabilities” are personal and social capability, critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding. Are thinking and creativity now considered irrelevant for education?
Research suggests these are critical skills for innovation, problem-solving, empathy, evaluation, knowledge application and mental health. These skills are also necessary for the promotion of a democratic society. Young people need to be able to think for themselves and make up their own minds about their values, who they become and what they do.
The reduced focus on personal and social capability also makes little sense. Relationships are not the soft and fluffy end of education; they are the central plank of how we learn and how well we live our lives. They determine our ability to contribute to both the world of work and society.
Confederation of British Industry director-general John Cridland says that over half of British firms are concerned about the self-management and resilience of school leavers, who must be better prepared for life outside the school gates.
Eton College headmaster Tony Little has expressed concern over the narrowing of the curriculum:
A sharp focus on performance is a good thing, but there is a great deal more to an effective and good education than jostling for position in a league table … Most of us as parents want our children to become capable adults, able to look after themselves and their own families, but we want them to be good citizens, too.
The US Department of Defence funded research leading to the Wingspread Declaration on School Connections, a document highlighting the need for a sense of belonging for effective education.
There is now a raft of Australian and international evidence for what constitutes authentic well-being for young people and how a focus on student well-being underpins universal learning outcomes, mental health for the vulnerable and pro-social behaviour. Healthy relationships with teachers, families and peers are integral to this.
Many of our young people are not learning the values and skills needed outside of school. Most teachers are doing a great job, despite the pressures on them to focus on test results. The evidence for the benefit of social and emotional learning in the curriculum is overwhelming. In the US a meta-analysis of 213 social and emotional learning programs showed that academic outcomes for participating students had an 11% improvement in academic skills compared to control groups.
It is hardly surprising that some of our most privileged and advantaged schools are taking student well-being – “learning to be” and “learning to live together” – seriously. Prestigious and successful schools such as Geelong Grammar, The Knox School and St Peters in Adelaide have a heavy focus on these attributes.
We need to go beyond the economic, rote-learning mindset, which is singularly concerned with the acquisition and regurgitation of facts. There is great concern that the race to the top in PISA rankings is undermining the education our children and our country really needs. What is the point of top marks in all subjects if you are unable to live a fulfilling life?
And what about valuing all of those children who are never going to be academic stars, but have other things to offer? Don’t they count?
Our education system is about the future of Australia, our democracy, our future mental health and our ability to contribute within our community. Relationships matter, resilience matters. Teachers, researchers and many parents know this, so why don’t the reviewers?
Sue Roffey is an adjunct associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is also Chair of Wellbeing Australia and co Lead Convenor of the Student Wellbeing Action Network which is part of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. This article was originally published on The Conversation.