Archive for the 'Age 13-15/Grade 9-10/Young Teens' Category

Sandbox Summit: The Importance of Play in Learning

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Last week I attended a conference called the Sandbox Summit in New York City. The Summit was a day long event with many noteworthy speakers who are software and content creators, child development experts, and reviewers of technology toys for children. The event’s main theme? The power of play and its ability to help facilitate learning.


During the opening keynote, speaker Andy Berndt, managing director of Google’s Creative Lab, described how almost everyone can remember a favorite toy when they were young (link to audio of presentation.) Andy shared his favorite play activity, that being a creative experience which involved the process of inventing new bicycles. When he was a child, what he did was take apart many different bicycles, and because bicycle parts for the most part are standardized in terms of their bolt sizes and screws used to make them, he was able to recombine different bicycle parts into unique, unusual, and exciting combinations. One could say that Andy’s open ended experimentation with bicycle parts was on par with play experiences found in Legos, K’Nex, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, and the like. What is it about Andy’s creative experience that can lead to insights on how best to help facilitate a love of learning? Read on.

The Importance of Play and its Relationship to Learning

The next speaker who I thought did a fantastic job of providing an overview on the importance of play and the learning opportunities that come from play was Nancy Schulman, the director of the 92nd Street Y Nursery School in New York City (link to audio of presentation.) Nancy shared with the audience that one of the best things about her job for the last 18 years was the wonderful opportunity to watch young children play. With that experience she has learned a great deal about the benefits of play not just for preschoolers, but for all ages.

Nancy expressed that educators, psychologists, and even the American Academy of Pediatrics have great concerns today about the quality of children’s play, how children play, and the quantity of time children play. Parents on the other hand express a lot of concern around wanting their children prepared for success at a very early age. Through her work, Nancy speaks with many parents. One of the greatest anxieties she hears from parents is that they want to be sure their child has every advantage, making sure that before they’re five years old they’ve mastered a second language, mastered every sport they might possibly play, and excel at playing a musical instrument as well. While child professionals are encouraging more open ended play in a child’s life, sadly most parents aren’t paying much attention to these recommendations.

When Nancy was asked “What types of skills do kids learn through play? And why is that meaningful in terms of a child’s lifelong appreciation for learning or confidence in their ability to learn?” she responded first with a quote from child development expert David Elkind of Tufts University:

“Play is not a luxury, but rather a crucial dynamic of healthy, physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development at all ages.”

Nancy then discussed each of these developmental benefits and how child initiated play can lay the foundation for learning:

  • Social – “Through play, children learn to interact with others. Play prepares children for morale reasoning. They figure out how to resolve a problem with a friend independently.”

  • Intellectual – “They learn to recognize and solve problems. Children get that feeling of mastery that only comes from when they’re challenged but not frustrated at the same time. In academic areas, play is linked to creativity, imagination, and problem solving skills and it lays the groundwork for successful learning experiences in reading, writing, math, and science. If you think about what children do when they play, it’s very language rich. They are interacting with words and language all the time and learning communication skills.”

  • Physical – “In terms of physical development, they can develop through play fine motor skills, gross motor skills, overall strength and integration of their muscles, their brains, and their nerves. It sets apart a start in their lives for healthy living and fitness, which of course, can counter obesity as well.”

  • Emotional – “Play is Joyful. It is probably one of the greatest underpinnings for later adult happiness. It can’t be underestimated how much happiness and joy have in terms of learning as well.”

Survey of Kids Opinions about Play

The next speaker who offered some additional insight into what kids think about their favorite play objects was Peter Shafer, Vice President of Harris Interactive (link to audio of presentation.) Peter shared with the audience a recent online survey conducted in collaboration with the Sandbox Summit of 1,353 US children ages 8 to 18.

There was a wealth of data to digest in this presentation that spoke to tween and teen toy preferences as well as video games and digital toy products. In general I found this data interesting in that it backs up many gut assumptions about what different age groups prefer in their toy playing experiences.

One observation, it appears the definition of a “toy” was intentionally left undefined in this survey. Did survey respondents think a toy was a traditional toy, a technology toy, or maybe even a video game? Parts of the survey appeared to suggest what the differentiation of a toy was while other questions were not as clear.

Here are a few pieces of data I found interesting to pull out of the Harris Interactive Sandbox Summit survey press release:

“How much do you agree or disagree with the following?”
Summary of Strongly/Somewhat Agree


8-12 Year Olds

13-18 Year Olds









The most important part of a toy is that it is entertaining.





Toys that involve technology, like video and computer games and handheld games or toys, are more fun than other toys.





I enjoy toys or games that make me think.





I would rather have a toy or game that is fun to play even if it does not help me learn.





Toys are important in our lives to help us learn.





I call your attention to a couple of specific items from the survey (colored in light blue.) For the 8 to 12 age group the most popular response for a toy product was that it should be “entertaining” whereas with the 13 to 18 year old group there is a great appeal in products that “make me think”.

Best Practices for Developing Playful Products

After the Harris Interactive presentation, Carly Shuler, a Cooney Fellow from Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center and educational technologist Carla Engelbrecht Fisher delivered a presentation called “Fun Follows Function: Ten Tips for Developing Quality Toys”. Below I briefly outline each tip, but you can download an audio recording or download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation here.

  1. Bridge the gap between industry and academia – This first tip strongly suggests the benefit of bringing together multidisciplinary teams (child development experts, content experts, pedagogy experts, etc.) This first tip is one my company follows frequently. There’s a great paper by Brian Winn and Carrie Heeter, both from Michigan State University, about the important balance needed (and often the necessary heated debate) that comes from working collaboratively with multidisciplinary teams. A copy of this paper can be downloaded here.)

  2. Incorporate research and testing in your product development and discovery process – Any amount of testing, large or small, will have a beneficial impact on your product’s development. From informal focus and user testing groups to serious product research efforts there’s a research approach that can fit your budget.

  3. Track what users do in your product – There’s lots to be learned from watching how your target audience interacts with your product either informally or through data collection. Spend time analyzing what you find.

  4. Read some research – Become familiar with the basics of developmental psychology for the specific age group your developing for. Doing this will help avoid reinventing the wheel. A handout was shared at the conference with many great places to jump start your research reading list. A copy of this reading list can be downloaded here.

  5. Become an observer – Watch kids at play in the real world or even on YouTube (a cool suggestion offered by Carla). Watch how kids interact with products, visit playgrounds, schools, toy stores. Note what’s on the shelf and where it’s located. Also be aware of what’s on sale, it may provide a tip for what’s not selling.

  6. Break the traditional model of one child per screen – Think outside tradition single player models. Think multiple players, or better yet, how can you actively encourage inter-generational participation! Think outside the keyboard box, consider alternative input devices (dance pads, guitars, balance boards.) Consider how you could combine virtual and physical worlds in new ways (like the success Webkins achieved with dual play patterns online and offline.)

  7. Leverage consumer market trends for learning – Consider user generated content, online video, or casual game approaches. Be aware of these every changing trends and you just might find one that will greatly elevate the success of your product.

  8. Go beyond the “3 R’s” – Think 21st Century Skills: Creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication. For more on 21st Century Learning Skills, download this presentation from the May, 2008 Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s first annual symposium.

  9. Become familiar with various game mechanics – There are many different game mechanics that could increase interest and engagement in your product. Some old mechanics can be made new again with the newest technologies.

  10. Tap into your own childhood – Everyone has childhood experiences that can help shape your product for the better. Tap into your own experiences as well as those around you.

Note about Virtual Worlds

Kids and virtual worlds was touched on a few times throughout the day but I thought the following statement was worth calling out in its own section. Peter Shafer of Harris Interactive indicated that we will see explosive growth in the area of virtual worlds specifically for kids. The numbers cited were that there are about 80 virtual world destinations for kids today and by the end of 2010 there will be more than 150 virtual worlds to choose from. For a current list of virtual worlds available, I have the following link to share.


So what’s the key take away for developers, innovators and creators of playful learning products for kids, whether traditional or technological? Here’s the secret sauce that was repeated over an over again through words and through examples:

  • Make the play experience as open ended as possible. Think about opportunities for vast exploration, not a limited path of play. Include opportunities to fail as well as ones to succeed. Let each child develop their own unique path to play, one that is customizable enough that it appeals to a single user and flexible enough that multiple users can find their own unique approach.
  • Bring together a variety of child experts.
  • Become familiar with research.
  • Watch your audience, get familiar with your audience, test with your audience.
  • Try something new! Break the habit of relying on the same old technology and user input solutions.
  • Think 21st Century Skills

Nancy Schulman also offered this sage advice:

“If your child can’t play with a toy in at least three different ways, leave it behind.”

And one last thought for making the next greatest learning toy, digital or otherwise… Think bicycle parts.

Referenced Products and Videos

Here’s a list of digital products and online YouTube videos that were referenced throughout the Summit.

Apple Ad Andy Berndt from Google reference this old Apple ad called “Industrial Revelation” that looked at computers and their power to significantly enhance learning empowerment

Dizzywood Scott Arpajian’s latest virtual world environment. In Scott’s presentation, he touches on how schools are using Dizzywood to promote student diversity
Huru Humi Mike Nakamura of Senario, demonstrates his company’s latest digital avatar toy that is designed to encourage self-discovery and social skills by using technology to spur real-life interaction among tweens and teens.
Kerpoof Kerpoof is an empowering online creative tool for kids.
Kidthing Kidthing CEO Larry Hitchcock presents his safe digital online environment which can be used for distributing entertainment and learning material
LeapFrog’s Learning Path Jim Gray, Director of Learning for LeapFrog, discusses LeapFrog’s Learning Path, and online component to LeapFrog’s consumer products that lets parents see and shape a child’s learning.
Backyard FX – How to make Movie Rain Erik Beck, who is a producer for NextNewNetworks develops an online low budget video show called Backyard FX. Erik’s work is wonderfully creative and the audience cheered his YouTube presentation on how to make “movie rain”. It was an excellent example of how best to combine a technology and creative vision. The example video is a must see!
Sabi Games Margaret Johnson, CEO and Cofounder of Sabi Games, discussed her upcoming learning games release that is worth keeping an eye on. Stay tuned for more from Sabi in October.
Scratch Mitchel Resnick’s online creativity and collaborative learning project called Scratch. For an interview with Mitchel about Scratch and his learning approach embedded throughout the product, click here.
Sesame Street Makeda Mays Green discusses the newly relaunched preschool learning website at

Tween Social Networking and Other Media Trends

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

The New York Times recently ran a short article called Preferring the Web Over Watching TV which cited a few stats regarding TV and web habits of 10 to 14 year olds. The article was based on a study conducted by DoubleClick Performics. In the article it stated:

  • 83% of children ages 10 to 14 spent an hour or more a day using the Internet
  • 68% of children ages 10 to 14 spent an hour or more a day watching television
  • 72% of the children online have at least one social networking profile on a site like MySpace
  • 60% of this online group said they never or rarely read blogs (Don’t latch onto this stat. Read more below.)

I thought these stats were great to find, but I wanted more. Much more. So I started searching online for any additional information about this DoubleClick Performics report. While I didn’t find the full report, I did find this gem of a release many weeks earlier called New Data Shows the Tween Scene is Online written by Stuart Larkins, VP of Search Operations at DoubleClick Performics. The article was posted on a site called Chief Marketer. This report appears to have been written from data gathered in an online survey of more than 1,000 tweens in the 10 to 14 age group. In this post the following additional stats could be found:

  • Almost 50% of this group go online more than three times a day with each visit lasting at least a half an hour.
  • 29% of children ages 10 to 14 spent an hour or more a day listening to radio
  • 10% of children ages 10 to 14 spent an hour or more a day reading newspapers
  • 5% of children ages 10 to 14 spent an hour or more a day reading magazines

As it relates to social networking for this demographic, the article states:

  • 54% have a profile on MySpace
  • 35% have a profile on Facebook
  • 45% have a profile on some other social networking site
  • 64% visit social networking sites at least once per day
  • 34% spend four or more hours a week on social networking sites

In terms of this demographic reading blogs:

  • 8% frequently read blogs
  • 31% occasionally read blogs
  • 40% rarely read blogs
  • 20% never read blogs

What I find interesting about these stats in terms of this demographic having a MySpace or Facebook account is that both online services state in their Terms of Use (Myspace, Facebook) that users must be at least 13 years of age or older to use the site. Since the publicly available information from this report is not broken out by individual age, you have to wonder:

a.) What percentage of kids ages 10 to 12 report using MySpace and Facebook?

b.) Should we assume that the majority of these social networking statistics only apply to 13 and 14 year olds?

c.) Could it be possible that kids in the 10 to 14 demographic are over reporting their actual use of these sites because it’s a “cool” thing to say you have a profile on MySpace and Facebook?

Jennifer Kotler, AVP of Domestic Research at Sesame Workshop, presented a similar report a couple of months ago at the Joan Ganz Cooney Symposium and the Kid Power Xchange conference, but with a focus on 6 to 9 year olds. I’ll share more on her findings in a future post.

Calling Peggy Charren – Recent Conversations with a Children’s Media Visionary

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Photo of Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children's Television When I first became aware of Peggy Charren, I had been creating children’s media for only a short time. What I learned in those days was that Peggy founded a child advocacy group in 1968 called Action for Children’s Television (ACT). ACT challenged broadcasters to offer endless choices of quality television content for children. Her organization fought for content that was diverse, for all ages, and void of any censorship or hidden agenda. It advocated content rich with benefits for children and as free from the influences of advertising as possible. Ultimately Peggy and her organization pushed legislators to pass the Children’s Television Act in 1990, a law still in effect today that requires television stations to include at least 3 hours of “core” children’s educational content per week and, at the same time, limit the amount of advertising found in children’s programming. Peggy’s vision was bold, her voice strong, and her determination unstoppable.

I remember the moment I first spoke with Peggy many years ago. I searched online for a day or two to find her phone number, took a guess out of a handful of possibilities, and called her out of the blue. I introduced myself, told her I ran a company that creates learning products for children, and listed a handful of client names to demonstrate the quality of our work. Peggy immediately responded, “Are you one of those religious producers?” I was caught off guard. I didn’t expect her response. One of the clients I mentioned had often been misinterpreted as having religious leanings. “No, that’s not really what our organization is about” I replied. Peggy was sharp, quick, and to the point. I quickly learned that Peggy would tell it like it is, and she would be direct, and sometimes blunt, with me in our discussions. I realized these just might be the qualities needed to change the landscape of children’s media for the better.

Over the years I learned that Peggy loves the theater, that she developed arts programs for school children before ACT, that a member of her family was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era, that her organization had fought off attacks from religious organizations, and that Peggy was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom under the Clinton Administration, the highest government honor that can be awarded to a civilian.

After the passing of the Children’s Television Act, Peggy closed down ACT, saying the organization had fulfilled its mission. In the thirteen years since it closed, a lot has changed within the media landscape for children. Today there are 24-hour channels dedicated to children’s content, online videos, screened technology toys, iPods and family cars with individual screens. Having recently read Dade Hayes’ new book, Anytime Playdate, a book that examines the development, research and production of children’s preschool content, it prompted me to check in with Peggy about her views on today’s media landscape. Unlike my first call with her, this time I scheduled an appointment for our conversation.

Scott Traylor: Looking back on the passing of the Children’s Television Act of 1990, do you think it was a success?

Peggy Charren: Fifty-fifty, because that kind of change in how things work is never completely successful.

ST: Do you say fifty-fifty because of the negotiating necessary to pass the Children’s Television Act, that it resulted in making the law weaker than you had hoped?

PC: No, I never expect things to be perfect.

ST: Have the Children’s Television Act and subsequent amendments and rulings been effective?

PC: I think the answer is pretty much ‘no’. In a funny way they’ve been more effective than most people would give them credit for. There are some who think it had no effect at all. A lot of people feel it was better than nothing. When push comes to shove, I don’t think it was really very effective. In a lot of ways it had zero effect.

ST: Do you have any thoughts on how it could become more effective?

PC: Yes, I suppose that the major way to change it is to focus on what we haven’t thought about before. Some people in industry are thinking about how it could be more effective. I think technology may be part of the answer. We haven’t spent enough time thinking about how we could use technology in this regard. When we do the world is going to be more interesting.

ST: ACT was always an advocate for more media choices for kids.

PC: Yes, that’s absolutely true.

ST: Today there are multiple round-the-clock channels dedicated to children as well as video on demand, online offerings, and technology-based games and toys that have screens. What are your thoughts on the degree of choice and the quality of choices today?

PC: I think there’s never enough choice. I think the sense of choice is just very important and we’re not doing enough for kids with that priority. We’ll get along fine anyway but I think the world of children’s media would be more beneficial if we devoted more time to the kind of issues that ACT worried about in the old days. We don’t do that anymore.

ST: What changes have you seen in media advertising to children?

PC: Well, I think it would be nice if there weren’t any media advertising to children. I’ve always thought that and it’s a little hard to just accept the fact that advertising to kids is a reasonable thing to do. I never thought it was reasonable. I’m not a big one on advertising to children. I think that the goal of advertising to kids is wrong and I don’t like it, I never did like it, and I don’t like it now. It’s not that I worry about it being the end of the world, its just that I think it’s an inappropriate goal.

ST: Can you speak to the pros and cons of advertising regulation for broadcasters?

PC: I’m a big one for advertising regulations. I’ve always been focused that way when it comes to advertising. I think advertising doesn’t hurt kids as much as it sounds like it does but I think it’s manipulative and we keep doing it. It’s amazing how little it has changed actually.

ST: How little has changed over the years with regulation?

PC: No, with children’s advertising. In terms of regulation there’s a limit to how much regulation we’re going to see. I think advertising by itself is nauseating… she says mildly.

ST: Let’s continue with this question. It’s said that young children under the age of seven are not capable of understanding the difference between ads and programs, or the persuasive intent of ads.

PC: That’s right, they can’t tell the difference. This must have been the first thing I ever said in my life.

ST: So should the FCC forbid advertising to children?

PC: I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Just get rid of it entirely. We almost did it you know. We almost had it. It’s a real shame that it just sort of vanished into the quiet part of everyone’s life. I mean advertising to children is so dumb. It’s just a dumb thing to do.

ST: How do you think changes in ad requirements would impact the range of media available to young children?

PC: Oh I think it could have a big effect actually. I think there’s an opportunity for an enormous effect relating to not selling to children and I don’t know why it’s taken so long. It’s probably my fault.

ST: What do you think of the baby video phenomenon and the Kaiser Family Foundation report that one quarter of children under the age of two have a TV in their bedroom?

PC: Oh I’ve always thought that was idiotic. To set up a baby’s room with a television set in it says more about the parents than it does about anything else. Some day we may find that children will really suffer because of this.

ST: What advice would you offer parents today for making positive media choices for their children?

PC: Let’s see. Let me turn this back to you. What do you think is the most difficult question parents have to answer regarding media and their child?

ST: Lately I’ve been thinking a parent might ask, “Is viewing media hurting my child?”

PC: I think parents have to pay close attention to what’s helping and hurting their child. If parents care enough about their child in terms of their media viewing choices, I think it’s probably not a terribly serious issue.

Peggy and I talked about a number of related topics in the children’s media world. During our conversation we discussed noteworthy figures in the industry. Vicki Rideout, VP of the Kaiser Family Foundation was a strong favorite. Alice Cahn, VP of Social Responsibility for Cartoon Network received high praise for her smarts as well as humor. We also discussed the work of Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT for his thoughts on society and media. Peggy didn’t share her thoughts about who are the leading child advocate voices of today, but it was clear she was on top of the conversations and the people involved in shaping the discussion. Thinking about the challenges of quality media for children today I asked:

ST: Maybe we’re just missing those strong voices today that can fight for children?

PC: I don’t think so. I think that there are other kinds of voices we just let happen. It may never get fixed. People just aren’t upset enough.

Special thanks to Joe Blatt, Alice Cahn, Sue Edelman, David Kleeman, and Ellen Wartella for their help in preparing questions for Peggy. The ACT archives can be viewed at Harvard University’s School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Thoughts for Designers: Announcing the Web 2.0.1 Patch

Friday, June 6th, 2008

[The following is an article I wrote for the May 2008 issue of Children’s Technology Review. For those unfamiliar with this monthly magazine, it’s a great information resource to all the latest software, gaming, and technology products being released for children.]

Last month, I was presenting at a conference for education publishers when someone raised his hand and asked “What’s a Webkinz?” Hmmmm, I thought. Doesn’t everyone know about Webkinz World? Shouldn’t everyone know about this site and others like it without the excuse “I don’t have kids.” The next day, somebody asked me, “What’s an avatar?” I was starting to understand that there were still plenty of publishers firmly stuck in yesterday’s Web 1.0 world. But don’t worry. We’ll fix the problem the way we developers always do – with a Patch.

The Web 2.0.1 Patch is designed to help you become more thoughtful when creating interactive experiences for children (and it works well for school or library websites, as well). Installing this Patch in your brain is a quick and painless process as long as you have a USB 2.01 port just behind your left ear. Or, you can follow these three steps.

STEP 1 – Create an account for yourself in a virtual world like Club Penguin, Pirate’s Online, Nicktropolis, Second Life or any of the many virtual worlds that are popping up all over.
Once you have an account, test it out and play with it. Keep in mind – like many other Web 2.0 products available you may not see the benefits immediately, but you will see incremental improvements every time you come back to visit one of these virtual worlds.

STEP 2 – Upload digital photos to Flickr or a video to YouTube.
Don’t forget to include some tags that describe what you’re uploading so for others can easily find it. Once you have posted something, control your excitement, pat yourself on the back, and email friends and family with a link to your newly posted UGC (User Generated Content)!

STEP 3 – Create a personal profile on Facebook, LinkedIn, or any another similar social networking site.
If you don’t know one that’s right for you, ask a smart computer friend what she uses (chances are she will have already installed the 2.0.1 Patch and will be familiar with the requirements). If your techy friend is not available, casually ask someone under the age of 20 what sites they use. Don’t tell them that you are setting up a new account. If you do, he or she might give you that “Web 1.0 look” and then slowly back away.

Here are just a few of the benefits you’ll be able to enjoy from downloading and installing this Patch:

  • You will start from, and work from, a central plan.
    If you’re designing a site or service with social features, there will be no more “winging it” or making it up as you go along. Thinking through the design of your new web idea, writing it down, and sharing it with all of your team members are more important now than ever before.

  • You’ll test your work with your target audience.
    The Patch works best when testing is considered at the very beginning of your product’s definition on paper and throughout the development process. Some of you might explain “We never had to test our products during the Web 1.0 days!” Yes, in many ways the Web 1.0 days were a simpler time, and a time we will all look back on with nostalgia. However, the hustle and bustle of today’s fast-paced Web 2.0 world demands ongoing testing.

  • After you install the 2.0.1 Patch, you’ll have zero tolerance for UI (user interface) mistakes.
    If buttons or other interactive controls don’t function as they are supposed to, your product will be in violation of the User’s Agreement. It is important to think through the entire user experience fully before launching an interactive product. This requirement can’t be overstated. You can’t blame it on Flash, Microsoft or some browser error. That’s the 1.0 baby talk of the past.

  • If you are a Web 2.0 savvy developer, keep in mind that it is possible your audience is not acknowledging that he or she is a Web 1.0 user.
    Education outreach and friendly intervention is an important component of the Web 2.0 vision. Take the time to gently explain how their actions are hurting others around them. Also explain the benefits of the Web 2.0 universe. (Note: This should be apparent in the development documentation you will have recently created for your plan). To keep your Web 2.0 chops fresh, try out the latest ground breaking technologies, like the iPod Touch interface, for example. You may not know how to find it at first, but be diligent.

These steps can avoid wasting countless hours and dollars, and they can prevent you from having to install the 2.1.1 Patch and a 2.1 Update. In the end, keeping your Patches up-to-date can result in better products and happier users.

Kids, Technology and Learning:
The First Annual Joan Ganz Cooney Symposium

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

On May 9th, the first ever Joan Ganz Cooney Center Symposium was kicked off at the McGraw-Hill offices located in New York City. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center is the newest addition to the Sesame Workshop enterprise. Its mission is to offer guidance, research and insight into how children can learn through emerging media. The symposium itself was an amazing event. A stellar list of speakers and influential attendees from diverse areas of education, broadcast, gaming and the toy world came together to discuss the future of learning and technology for children in the 21st century. This jam-packed event included presentations from over 34 different industry insiders. Over 150 invited guests filled the room. Included on the guest list was Congressman George Miller (D-CA) who is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

All of the presentations offered many important perspectives and voices that are shaping the learning and technology conversation today. A number of speakers served up new research and valuable insights to chew on long after the event concluded. While there was significant take-away from all of the speakers, I would like to call out two specific presentations. These include the presentations of Connie Yowell of the MacArthur Foundation and Jennifer Kotler of Sesame Workshop.

First and foremost, Connie Yowell‘s presentation on new learning paradigms was simply amazing, passionately delivered, and has given many folks the most food for thought about the future of new media and learning. Connie expressed the importance of seeking out the right questions to ask at the beginning of our journey, stating that in order for us to realize the opportunity in front of us, we must be ready for a significant paradigm shift in the existing learning conversation. I heard many attendees echo the importance of Connie’s words at the conclusion of the event. In the matrix below, I have included an audio recording of Connie’s presentation. A transcription of her comments can also be found in my next blog article.

During this part of the symposium, both Ellen Wartella (of UC Riverside) and Connie Yowell’s words were offered in succession and both speakers expressed a great need for more research and a significant rethinking of our current approach to education and learning. Their comments were vital ones to be heard by policy makers, and while Representative George Miller attended the event for most of the day, sadly he left just before Ellen and Connie took the stage.

The next presentation I’d like to call attention to was that delivered by Jennifer Kotler. Jennifer presented two reports, but one in particular has an important story to be told. This report gathered information from interviews conducted with children ages 6 to 9. It asked them about their favorite games and websites. Included within this report was a very clever validity check that, when its findings were presented, calls into question any other self-reported findings from other organizations asking similar questions about kids and online preferences.

In the study, kids were asked about their technology preferences. Included within the interview question sets were six non-existent website and game names. That’s right, online products that were completely fictitious and do not exist. What this report revealed was that 56% of those surveyed claimed to have played these non-existent games and websites. How could this be?

What the research suggests is that kids may be more likely to exaggerate their actual use of technology because of the apparent “cool factor” and/or the aspirational aspect of these technologies. How does this cool/aspirational factor play out within the data? Here are just a couple of examples: When kids were asked if they have ever visited a MySpace page, the “clean” data suggests that only 19% of those surveyed have visited the popular online destination whereas the non-valid data states the number is 54%. When asked about posting video on YouTube, the numbers are 7% (valid data) vs 42% (non-valid data).

These findings suggest that similar studies conducted by other organizations would benefit greatly by the inclusion of a validity test in their research. If not, the numbers reported could be significantly skewed from what they should be. Now that we’re all armed with this information, go back and look at all the claims regarding other popular children’s destinations, like Club Penguin, Webkinz, and the like. Hmmmmm.

I would also like to call out presentations made by Bernie Trilling of Oracle Education Foundation about 21st Century Learning Skills, Allison Druin for her work with the International Children’s Digital Library project, Krista Marks of Kerpoof, James Paul Gee and his report on Getting Over the Slump, and Jim Styer of Common Sense Media for his report on how parents and educators view the educational potential of new media.

The matrix below offers audio recordings, papers, and related websites collected from the event. Friends and colleagues who know me well will tell you that I’m rarely without a camera or recording device at such events. I believe it’s important to capture and share such information with everyone so that industries can move forward together. The list below includes audio recordings from most of the speakers. However, my apologies go out to the last 8 or so speakers, mostly from Warren Buckleitner’s Dust or Magic panel, for by the end of the day my recording device lost power.

All of the audio clips can be downloaded as a single zipped file here.

Audio PDF Site Speaker or Description
Yes Opening video (audio recording only)
Yes William Oldsey – EVP, McGraw-Hill Education
Yes Gary E. Knell – President and CEO, Sesame Workshop
Yes Joan Ganz Cooney – Co-Founder, Sesame Workshop
Yes Yes Michael Levine – Executive Director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center
Yes Yes Jim Steyer – Founder & CEO, Common Sense Media
Yes Yes James Paul Gee – Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, Arizona State University
Yes Questions and Answers
Yes Claudia Wallis – TIME Magazine
Yes Buwon Tran – Director of Consumer Research, Casual Entertainment, Electronic Arts
Yes Jennifer Kotler – Assistant VP of Domestic Research, Education, Research and Outreach Department, Sesame Workshop
Yes Susan Neuman – Professor of Educational Studies, University of Michigan
Yes Francie Alexander – SVP of Scholastic Education and Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic
Yes Questions and Answers
Yes Lisa Guernsey – journalist, author of Into the Minds of Babes
Yes Marilyn Jager Adams – Research Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Brown University
Yes Yes Bernie Trilling – Global Director, Oracle Education Foundation
Yes Nichole Pinkard – Senior Research Associate & Assistant Professor, University of Chicago
Yes Margaret Honey – SVP, Strategic Initiatives & Research, Wireless Generation
Yes Lesli Rotenberg – SVP, PBS KIDS Next Generation Media Initiative
Yes Jayne James – Executive Director, Ready to Learn, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Yes Questions and Answers
Yes U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) – Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee
Yes Gabriel Zalzman – SVP and General Manager, Fisher-Price
Yes Bing Gordon – Chief Creative Officer, Electronic Arts
Yes Linda Roberts – Former Director, Office of Educational Technology, US Department of Education
Yes Rob Lippincott – SVP, Education, PBS
Yes Ellen Wartella – Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost, UC Riverside
Yes Connie Yowell – Director of Education, MacArthur Foundation
Delia Pompa – VP for Education, National Council of La Raza
Yes Warren Buckleitner – Editor, Children’s Technology Review
Yes Allison Druin – Director, Human-Computer Interaction Lab, University of Maryland
Michael T. Jones – Chief Technology Advocate, Google, Inc.
Yes Krista Marks – CEO & Co-Founder, Kerpoof
Yes David Rose – Chief Scientist, CAST
Kathy Shirley – Technology and Media Services Director, Escondido Union School District
Michael Levine – Executive Director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center