Archive for the ‘informal learning’ Category

Setting up a contract about tech use with your kids

January 8, 2013

The holidays are a time when lots of parents give gifts of technology to their children. And so, when a mom in Cape Cod created and then blogged about an 18-point contract for her son as she gave him an iPhone for Christmas, I guess I wasn’t too surprised to see that her contract went viral.

As a response I thought I’d post the contract that’s in the back of my book, The Parent App: Understanding Families in a Digital Age.

I got some of the ideas for my own contract from Common Sense Media, which provides great age-appropriate resources for parents who want help figuring out how to positively integrate technology into the lives of their family members. Like the contract that Janell Hoffman wrote, the contract in my book is meant to encourage conversation between parents and kids around technology. Mine includes not just mobiles but all kinds of family technologies and it also reflects a broad way of parenting in the digital age that emphasizes mutual respect.

I really liked that Hoffman’s contract included lots of fun. The one suggestion I’d add to that contract: I think it’s a good idea to create something that both the children and the parents can sign. From my research, I learned that young people learn a great deal from what they observe among their parents, and sometimes we have a hard time putting the tech down even when we really want to prioritize time with our precious family members (I speak from experience as an easily distracted multitasking mom of two teens!). So what’s below is not just a contract for a young person to sign – parent(s) need to sign it, too.

Here’s to navigating a media-saturated world together!

Time Together

1. I agree to spend ___ hours each week doing activities with only my family members.
2. I agree that when I am at the dinner table with my family (whether at home or elsewhere), I will put my hone and other devices away and I will not return to them until we have finished cleaning up after the meal.
3. I agree that the following locations will be no-technology zones:__________________

Mutual Support

1. I agree that I will tell someone in my family if I experience something online that makes me feel bad or if I find something that I feel is inappropriate.
2. I agree that no matter what I am doing, I will answer the phone when I see that a family member is calling.

Respecting the Rights of Others

1. I will download or use copyrighted materials only when they are legal to download or I have sought permission to use them.
2. When filling out surveys or questionnaires online or on a mobile, I will not give out specific information about where I live or where I go during the day.
3. I will give credit to others when I cite, quote, or copy their ideas or images from an online source.
4. I won’t copy, paste, and send a message to someone else if that message was meant only for me.
5. I won’t text and drive. Ever.


1. I agree that I will ask permission when I’d like to view what someone else has been doing online, with texts, or elsewhere. I agree that I will not hide what I am doing online and on my phone from other members of my family.
2. I agree that I will not share personal information that I wouldn’t be willing to see broadcast on our local television news.
3. I agree to limit play time on the computer to ____ hours each week.
4. I agree to limit game time on game devices, mobiles, or tablets to ___ each week.
5. I agree that I am responsible for remembering my own password, and I will not share it with anyone beyond my family.
6. I agree that I will practice respectful and responsible behavior, and I will not insult other people or send mean or inappropriate messages online, in a text, or in a comment.
7. I agree that I will not purchase anything online or enter a credit card for any reason without asking another family member first.


1. I agree that I will ask _______ (someone in my family) how to do _______ (e.g., how to play Minecraft, write a blog essay, set up a ring tone, etc.)
2. I agree that I will help _______ learn how to do __________.

Do you have some other items you’d like to add?


Bringing Up the iKid Generation

September 21, 2012

Chicago Tribune ran this story by Heidi Stevens that’s helpful for parents who are trying to sort out how to use technologies for education and family bonding. Cites me & Michael Levine of the Joan Cooney Ganz Center, and gives a positive mention to!

August 21, 2012

The new online magazine Amplify has some thought-provoking and helpful material for educators and parents with articles by Marc Prensky, Scott Steinberg, and Marilyn Price-Mitchell, among others. I’ve got an article there (scroll down to see it) titled, “When Parents Aren’t Comfortable With Technology.”

Everything I Learned About Parenting I Learned in the Classroom

February 14, 2010

I’ve been teaching college students for more than 15 years now, and in that time, I’ve learned a lot about parenting. Here are some of the main things I’ve learned:

1. If you trust young people and give them a challenge, they’ll surprise you with how well they can rise to the challenge. When you’re hoping they can do it but you or they are in doubt, act like you believe that of course they can do it and they’ll trust themselves enough to figure it out – especially if what they’re doing is fun.

Photo from Juniata College

2. If you remind them to trust their instincts, be conscious of their choices, and always be respectful of themselves and of others, then if something doesn’t feel right, they’ll know that they can choose not to do it or they can remove themselves from a situation and pursue a better option.
3. If you help them to see that they are responsible for the choices they make, and you’re clear about your expectations so they know what’s expected of them, then they’ll take responsibility for what they choose.
4. When they don’t meet expectations, if you let them figure it out by suffering the consequences (whether it’s a bad grade or a playdate that needs to be rescheduled because a room didn’t get clean), then you can help them to focus on what their choices are from this point forward.
5. And the biggest learning: always put the focus on them, not you. It’s what they’re learning, not what you’re teaching, that’s important.

Parents at SUNY New Paltz

I think the last point is especially relevant. As teachers and as parents, we think a lot about who we are and what we should do in those roles. It’s easier to focus on what we’re doing than on the more elusive, less measurable question of what they’re getting out of it.

But the key is to not just to focus on them, but to focus on where they’re headed and who they’re becoming. The question of what they’re learning is a dynamic one. As parents and teachers, when we focus on what they’re learning, we’re oriented to look for and to expect positive change and growth. We can love and enjoy them just as they are while also recognizing that life brings about changes for all of us — and both we and they need to recognize that as they get older they’ll have more and more responsibility for how they will respond to those changes.

As a teacher, I’ve noticed that this orientation to dynamism is what seems to separate the young people who are curious and willing to take responsibility for themselves from those who are narcissistic and think the world should either serve them or tell them exactly what to do.

Future college student

Young people who expect that there will be challenges and who trust that they can respond to them responsibly are very well-suited for the challenges they’ll face as a young adult and beyond.

I’m thinking about this because I’m having the most rewarding teaching experience of my career right now, and a lot of it is the result not of what I’m doing, but of what they’re doing and learning. All I did, I think, was create an environment in which they’re challenged to meet high expectations – and I was able to use digital media to create that environment.

The story about what I did and what they did is recounted in this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. I challenged my students to work collaboratively to produce a video essay on their own experiences of technology use in the classroom, although I think the specific topic was less important than the process of working collaboratively to produce something they all felt was worth putting up on YouTube.

With the help of my university’s Center for Teaching and Learning, the process got started when I provided them with some survey results that told them how students and faculty on their campus were experiencing frustrations related to technology in the classroom. Then, I asked them to talk about what they thought, and I asked a few of them to come up with some ideas they could “pitch” to the rest of us as possible story ideas for our video. I’m fortunate to work in a university where there are some terrifically talented, smart, funny, and collegial young people. So, by the third class session, we were hearing pitches, brainstorming possible directions, and then deciding on the “container” that would hold our ideas, while also reflecting on some readings about how technology is changing everyday life and why some might be more comfortable with these changes than others. Then in the fourth and fifth sessions, after they had a chance to think about how today’s technological changes were like and not like those of earlier time periods (e.g., the printing press), they wrote a script and then did a “dress rehearsal” and recorded the video. A few of the students took on the task of editing the video, so that by the fourth week of classes, they were premiering the video.

Once expert in education and technology Mike Wesch recommended the video on his blog, things really started to get moving, and the video went viral. As of Valentine’s Day 2010, we’ve had more than 22,000 views.

This has been an amazing experience for the students, because I think they feel as if people have heard something they wanted to say in the way they wanted to say it. They’ve been invited to speak to faculty about their experiences. They’ve talked about what they want out of their educations. And they’ve also found that by rising to the challenge of working together to produce something funny and meaningful that speaks out of their own experiences, doors are starting to open for them. In an economic environment in which they’ve had to be very reserved about their expectations, this is a really empowering thing.

And in the meantime, what’s happened is that we’ve all become more open to learning than I think any of us would have thought possible. We’re having meaningful conversations in class. They’re writing deeply and thoughtfully, capably relating fairly traditional course content to their own experiences. They’re making connections. They’re trusting each other. And we are all really enjoying the experience. I love going to class every day because I look forward to learning from them.

It’s made me look at my home life differently, too. I’ve always liked to play with my kids, but now I really see the connection. When we can have fun together, and when I trust them to do interesting things and to share them with me, they are really participating in fostering a home environment of learning, love, and mutual respect.

Maybe I should’ve titled this, Guitar Hero’s Made Me a Better Teacher and Parent. But I guess that’s what I’ve learned from parenting that I’ve taken back into the classroom, so maybe I’ll save that for a future post.