Archive for the 'Presentations' Category

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

Boom or Bubble? The Rise of Social Networking Websites for Kids

Monday, November 26th, 2007

As I was preparing my presentation for the Dust or Magic conference mentioned in my previous post, I couldn’t help but notice how much new activity there is in the kids’ social networking world. As the researcher Peter Grunwald shared with me last month, social networking as a concept has always been available on the Internet. Even so, it seems to have some newer meaning in the context of an activity kids express interest in. Last year at this time, I was only familiar with maybe four sites for kids. Fast forward a year, and I am amazed at how many more companies are playing in this space, some of which have been around for years but are only now gaining visibility. Not all of these sites are of equal quality and, right or wrong in their approach, each has a different set of assumptions about how to engage children. Below is a list of the social networking websites I am aware of today. It is not a complete list. My definition of social networking sites is a little broad, but there’s no denying the growth in this space.


Site Launch Site Launch Site Launch
BarbieGirls Apr 2007 Mokitown Jul 2001 SuperClubsPlus Apr 2006
Be-Bratz Aug 2007 MyNoggin Oct 2007 ToonTown Jun 2003
CityPixel Sep 2006 Neopets Nov 1999 Webkinz Apr 2005
Club Penguin Oct 2005 Nicktropolis Jan 2007 Whyville Mar 1999
Club Tuki Jul 2007 Panwapa Oct 2007 YoKidsYo Dec 2006
Gaia Online Feb 2003 Postopia Apr 2001 Yomod May 2007
Habbo Hotel Aug 2000 PuzzlePirates May 2002 Zwinktopia May 2007
imbee Jun 2006 Runescape Jan 2001
Millsberry Aug 2004 StarDoll May 2004


By graphing these sites by the year in which they launched, one begins to see the growth trend of social networking websites for kids.

Growth with social networking sites for kids over time

Since March of this year, my company, 360KID, has received a number of requests to build new social networking websites. More calls started coming in after the Club Penguin acquisition by Disney. Some people who call are driven by one thing- to create a Club Penguin-like website that’s better than Club Penguin. While Club Penguin has many great things going on within its service, there are certainly other avenues within the social networking world to explore. After comparing different sites currently available for kids, I see many unique opportunities to take advantage of, especially ones that touch on different areas of learning. Below is a matrix showing different content segments and age groups that are covered (or not) within the social networking world.

Opportunities within the children's world of social networking

The blue shading indicates age groups that are less motivated by social features but are interested in community-based activities. Companies listed in italics offer activities that are much more community than socially driven.

While reviewing all of these sites and speaking with many different people interested in building social networking sites for kids, I have put together a short list of do’s and don’ts that put the interests of the child first and will ultimately create more successes with your intended audience:

  • Don’t design by committee – Keep the integrity and the strength of your design strong by defining with small teams. Have anywhere from one to three strong visionaries of equal voice define the broad strokes of your product.
  • Be open ended in your design – If you can avoid it, don’t force children to play in a specific way. Think how you can allow for multiple ways for children to interact and play within your environment.
  • Think emotional connection – Offer activities or avatar characteristics that will create a sense of empathy with your user.
  • Design for a very specific audience – Pick a specific age range, like 3 to 5 or 7 to 9. Then learn as much as you can about that audience, like its developmental strengths, play patterns, interests. Don’t design a product with the intent of appealing to a large age range, like 3 to 300. Designing for a broad audience tends to have the outcome of appealing to no single group.
  • Competing against a community vs. competing against yourself – I’m asked a lot about my thoughts related to leader boards, which are areas of gaming sites in which the top score places high on a list of other members of a community. While I understand the motivation of leader boards for certain audience segments as a motivator, a game mechanic like a leader board, can also turn away other audience types. There are some instances where leader boards can be used effectively, like in classroom vs. classroom competitions, but generally, I am opposed to using such features, especially when a desired outcome is informal learning.
  • Text – I am continually surprised as to how often a web product designed for very young children doesn’t take into consideration that their audience may consist of prereaders or emerging readers. Be thoughtful with your use of text and instructions. Consider visual, iconic, or audio instructions as opposed to text with younger audience members.

Is this race to develop social networking sites for kids a boom or a bubble? If you asked me a couple of months ago, I would have said a bust is on the horizon in this space. But the more I think about it, the more I’m seeing a new play pattern emerging which kids will really enjoy when developed correctly. That doesn’t mean that everyone will succeed. There will be many failures and few successes, but I believe the future successes will keep this sector of interactive products for children growing strong for many years to come.

These are a few thoughts I shared in my recent presentation at the Dust or Magic conference. To see the full presentation I delivered, you can view a video of my presentation below.

The Evolving Nature of Youth and Media

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Dr. Ellen Wartella, executive Vice Chancelor and Provost of the University of California at Riverside, and youth media expert, spoke in Boston recently at a conference put on by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). Ellen has been involved with many important studies regarding kids, young and old, and their media habits. During her presentation, Ellen discussed the ever expanding nature of media use by youth audiences citing three different studies that collectively span almost 100 years.

The first study presented was conducted in 1911 in New York City. 1,140 youths age 11 – 14 participated in the study and were found to be spending 4 to 5 hours a week watching movies at the nickelodeon. It’s worth pointing out that movies were the primary media format consumed at the time by younger audiences; Radio and television were not available yet, and magazines specifically targeting this demographic had not yet been discovered as they would be in later decades.

Next, Ellen referenced a study conducted in the 1930’s outside of New York City in Westchester County. 795 high school youths were asked to keep a diary of their media habits. The results of this study showed that this audience had an average of 7 hours of leisure time during the week on weekdays and 11 hours of leisure time averaged over the weekend. This group listened to the radio on average for almost 5 hours a week (4 hours and 40 minutes) and watched about 5 hours of movies per week. Collectively this group consumed about 10 hours of media a week, out of a total of 18 hours of leisure time within that week.

The latest study discussed was that of the Kaiser Family Foundation on Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year olds, published in 2005. More than 2,000 children were asked to keep diaries of their media habits. The results of this study found that this age group spends about 6.5 hours a day consuming media, primarily screened media, and of that, about 26% of this time is often spent using multiple media types at the same time. (Also surprising in this and related research at Kaiser which I discuss in a prior post that children ages 0 – 2 were found to be watching about 2 hours of screened media a day.) In another post I reference a 2007 NPD Group study that found kids ages 5 – 12 have about 6 hours of leisure time per day with about 14 hours per day over the weekend. While these two different studies were not conducted using the exact same age group, the research suggest about 45 hours of media consumption a week out of about 60 hours of leisure time a week.

If you would like to hear an audio recording of this entire presentation where Dr. Wartella touches on other aspects of media use, like the type of content viewed and food advertising to kids through media, click here.

Mapping the Learning Games Playing Field – A Serious Games Taxonomy

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Later in the day after seeing technology expert Robin Raskin speak as mentioned in my prior post, I received news that Ben Sawyer, pioneer in the Serious Games movement and founder of the company Digital Mill, would be speaking at MIT. Little did I know the presentation he was about to deliver was a preview of new material for the upcoming USC Annenberg Workshop on Games for Learning.

Ben began the presentation with a very fitting poem by John Godfrey Saxe about six blind men who went to see an elephant. Each blind man found a part of the elephant; it’s sturdy side by one, a tusk by another, an ear by yet another, and so on. Each blind man thought they had come to understand the true meaning of what an elephant is. Each person was partially right about what they thought was an elephant, yet all of them were wrong in their understanding.

I found this poem helpful in describing my early frustration with Serious Games. I consider myself part of the learning games community; Yet, as I read through the serious games online posts and meet other community members outside of my space, like in corporate training or the military, I’ve asked myself many times, are we really working towards the same common goal? Do we see the same elephant? After hearing this poem I’ve felt a sense of deja-vu, having been in the same place maybe fifteen years prior as multimedia and the interactive industry tried to define itself as a new business worth pursuing. Now that we can better classify different parts of that earlier beast, and see and understand the whole as well as its parts, we begin the process again, unfolding this new chapter in the digital domain.

Ben unveiled his taxonomy of Serious Games, a matrix that attempts to define the different parts of this industry (Click to download an Excel copy of the Serious Games Taxonomy). When speaking with Ben after his presentation, he mentioned how this taxonomy is indeed a work in progress, that this information not only had a height and width, but a depth that’s not reflected here. In discussing this early version with others, a few holes and additional serious games classifications appear to be missing. None the less, this effort is an excellent first mapping of the field.

After seeing this Serious Games Taxonomy, I can more easily see where communication breakdown occurs. I can also see the differences and similarities of my own company in context to others. I think we can now begin to see the whole elephant and are on our way to more meaningful dialog about the differences between a trunk and a tail.

Serious Games Taxonomy

Observations with Kids and Popular Social Network Destinations

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Robin Raskin, featured columnist for Yahoo Tech and youth technology expert for many nationally syndicated newspapers and magazines, was recently in my area speaking about Internet safety and kids. There were about 300 people at the presentation. Half of the group were sixth graders (ages 11 – 12), the other half were parents. The event was held at a local university just outside the Boston area.

I’ve heard Robin speak many times about technology. Her latest presentation, as always, was great. She pointed out all kinds of Internet safety tips of benefit to both parent and child. Robin did not shy away from the tough topics to discuss with kids like online predators, scams, identity theft, and pornography. She offered some excellent advice about what kids and parents can do, both together and apart, to avoid being taken advantage of or exploited in this ever changing digital world.

One part of her presentation left me thinking long after its completion. It started when Robin asked the kids in the audience a few questions. The first was “How many “texters” do we have here in the audience?” (Or how many kids communicate with text via instant messaging or by cell phone?) Practically no parents raised their hands but more than 60% of the kids responded yes. This first question made it quite clear that computers and cell phones are common communication tools for both young and old, but each group uses these technologies to communicate in significantly different ways.

After the show-of-hands about texting, a couple more questions were offered. “How many of you use the social networking site Club Penguin?” Surprisingly, only about 8 hands went up in the audience. This question was followed up by “How many of you use Webkinz?” This time, only about four kids raised their hand.

In this day, it’s pretty hard not to know about these two successful social networking sites for kids. Club Penguin first came on the scene in 2005 and states that it’s an online service for kids ages 8 – 14 ( grades 2 – 8 ). Webkinz also started in 2005 and claims it’s target audience is for kids 6 – 13 ( grades K – 7 ). Social networking sites for kids are growing very fast in their appeal. Other kids’ social networking sites beyond these two include such destinations as imbee, Runescape, StarDoll, BarbieGirls, and Whyville. (Whyville being the strongest educational player of the bunch. To read additional thoughts I have about Whyville, take a look at a recent interview I had with a Boston area online magazine for tech saavy women called Misstropolis.)

The number one most popular destination for kids online today is Webkinz as reported by HitWise (HitWise is one of many different web research services available to businesses). Nieslen//NetRatings, another web research firm, reports that Webkinz had 3.6 million unique visitors in April 2007 with Business 2.0 Magazine reporting an average visit length of 128 minutes long. Those are some pretty impressive stats! As for Club Penguin, their numbers are equally impressive. Nielsen//NetRatings reports Club Penguin as having 4 million unique visitors in April 2007, with the Business 2.0 Magazine article also citing the average visit being 54 minutes long. Not too shabby!

So, if these two extremely popular websites for kids overlap nicely with the sixth grade demographic in the audience, why weren’t more hands raised? I found the response by this group of kids fascinating. Assuming that all the students heard the question, and I believe they did, here are a few theories:

  • As these social networking sites begin to age, the target demographic shifts younger, from tweens 8-12 (grades 4 – 6) to kids ages 5 – 9 (grades K – 3). This may imply that when a new kids’ web destination first becomes available, an older demographic will lead in the use of these sites more often than their younger peers. As more and more younger users discover the product, the older crowd moves on to find the next new destination.

  • As older tweens enter into their early teen years, it’s possible there’s a negative stigma attached to publicly admitting the use of these sites even though privately this older audience will continue to spend time at these destinations.

  • It could be that sixth graders in urban areas may not be using these specific social networking sites as much as those in suburban areas. I wonder if it’s possible that the likes and dislikes of kids from the same age group in urban versus suburban areas or coastal versus heartland parts of the country differ from one another.

  • It’s possible these sites never did have much appeal for an older audience as originally claimed by the owners of these companies (though I doubt this.)

  • Or maybe the answer lies in some combination of the above or other possibilities yet to be defined.

Whatever the answer, it’s amazing to see how the responses of kids answering as a group might differ from that of carefully analyzed web data and claims from many individual users of the same demographic (in the same geographic location).