Adobe’s Exciting Journey

“And now, we’re pleased to announce that beginning May 15, 2018, the full suite of Adobe Creative Cloud apps will be available to K-12 schools via their authorized Adobe reseller for $4.99 per user license, per year, with a minimum purchase quantity of 500 licenses for a single school, or 2,500 licenses for a school district.”

“We are on an exciting journey, collaborating with educators to empower the next generation to be lifelong creators.”

So, Adobe is giving their Creative Cloud Suite to K-12 schools for next to nothing.

I’ve already started teaching my 10-year old Adobe Audition and Photoshop. She picks it up easily, and I honestly think that these are the sorts of skills that kids can learn easily if you just help them along with some fun projects.

That being said, I also try to maintain a balance. I keep her time limited in front of the screen and in using these programs. I’m not worried about her “keeping up to date with 21st century skills” or stuff like that, mainly because there’s so much non-digital things that she can use her time to experience now while she’s a kid, before her life gets taken over by virtual environments as she gets older.

This is nice news from Adobe. I would be a bit worried that this is one company, getting kids culturalized to one type of literacy, but that worry might be taking it too far (despite the red flag that comes up from that “exciting journey” sentence). My bigger worry is that introducing digital too much too early will detach future generations from our physical world and physical space.

There’s nothing wrong with scissors, glue, and cardboard paper – I hope schools are not so quick to discard such fun, fulfilling, and slowed down activities.

More: When Real Worlds Collide


Replacing Screentime

The key is to not just say, but do. Offer more attractive alternatives. And don’t just encourage other activities; actually get involved. Do things your kids like to do. Take them places they like to go. Help them learn a sport. Help them learn to play an instrument.

Make it easy for friends to visit, and for them to visit friends — in real life, not virtually.

And don’t just get involved in their lives; let them get involved in yours. Have your kids help you plan the next family vacation. Ask your kids to give you advice. Discuss a problem you’re facing and ask how they would solve it. Few things are more flattering than being asked for advice. (That’s true for kids as well as adults.)

Perfect advice in this article about not only limiting kid’s screentime, but also readily replacing screentime.

It seems simple enough, although not always. It is easy to fall into habits of escape and routine, especially because many digital media are designed to be habit forming.

Constantly breaking habits is a useful mindset to be in, when thinking about family dynamics in the modern age.

I love the part here about letting kids help plan the next vacation (for example). I am always amazed at kids when I challenge them with tasks much higher than what they are used to. It’s that zone of proximal development – don’t worry too much about the level of the task, be concerned more with the scaffolding.

All or Nothing Tech Narratives

Then we began to worry about screen time. As we watched our own adult relationships suffer, rather than flourish, because of screens, we thought the same might be true for our children.

This CoDesign article looks at some of the failures that laws in the US have for protecting privacy on social media websites at apps, especially for children. These types of articles are always great reminders that help me maintain technology balance.

However, the imperative title (“Don’t let your kids use apps!”) feels like a pause in the pendulum swinging between Let Tech!/Let’s Not Tech!

Such dichotomies are given momentum by the narrative that if anyone is using tech, then they are using tech to addictive levels. They also flow from the idea that “I’ve written about design and technology for 13 years…” so therefore I will assume the position of spokesperson for such a wide ranging topic.

There are many so many narratives when it comes to the use of technology and social media/smartphones, just talk to the people around you (as long as you’re not surrounded by tech writers) and you’ll hear so many stories about how people use technology to suit their life, in moderated ways.

The narrative that “we” are watching our relationships suffer because of screen addiction applies to a segment of high volume users. Any narrative about tech use that include “we” needs to be scrutinized for who that “we” represent.

My own narrative is to help my kids with tech moderation so they won’t define them self in all or nothing ways.

Choosing Consolidations and Detachments

From time-to-time I log into my daughter’s facebook account, with her at my side, and we cruise through some of the features as I help her use it to communicate with the few people that have friended her. When we moved across the globe last year, I thought it was a good opportunity for her to use a site like facebook to keep in touch with people who have been a major part of our daily life, but would now be too far away. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to teach her about things like facebook, and more importantly, digital communication.

Here’s an excerpt from our last facebook session:

Me: What do you want to say to everyone?

Her: I dunno, just “how are you?”

Me: ok, well, you tell me what to say and I’ll type it as you tell me. go.

Her: How are you? Write me back if you want.

Me: Good. Now I’ll type this in here, hit enter, then all of your friends can read it….er…I mean “facebook friends”….uh…

Her: …

Me: You see, on facebook they use the word “friend” but it doesn’t actually mean friend, well, it’s kind of a friend but it’s just someone who can see your…well, some might be friends, but some might just be people you’ve met…or people me and mommy know. It’s…the word “friend” can mean many things…

…and I probably babbled on like this for a few more minutes, trying to explain a definition of “friend” that is different from what she already knows – a definition of the word that brings a wider range of trust that what she is used to….dangerous to her, because she might assume that the term “friend” carries with it a certain level of trust, rather than the other way around.

One thing that jumped out at me from this exchange is the changing definition of the word “friend”, or even better, the expanding meaning of relationships that exist in the world. What was once “friend” now needs to be qualified maybe as “close friend” or “information feed friend”. Curse you Facebook for hijacking the word – couldn’t you have used something better suited, like “follower”.

Upon deeper reflection, something else jumped out at me in this exchange with my lovely daughter. She instinctively wanted to include the statement to “Write me back if you want” in her message – a message not necessary, since the way facebook works carries with it this message in itself.

I once had a friend, new to facebook, who would sign his status updates and wall writings, unaware that his profile made this signature unnecessary. It’s the same sort of thing with my daughter, except she’s only 6…apparently growing up with this technology, a digital native, unlike my real-life-friend using facebook who was around the same age as myself.

Do we distinguish between print natives and nomads? Yes we do, but the distinction comes when someone somehow has reached adulthood without learning how to read or write. Because print literacy is so embedded in many of our cultures, to mature without a strong sense of it seems unnatural.

And, in one sense, this distinction is unfortunate – it shows the bias of print language and the privilege that we place on it: if you don’t have print literacy encoded into you, then there’s something wrong with you…you are defected. If you come from an oral society into our own western one, it’s going to be difficult.

Children aren’t born with print literacy, they learn it. And for centuries, they have learned it at such a young age that the bias of language and especially printed language has been very difficult to understand in our selves. It helps communicating, for sure, but embedding print literacy at so young an age also hinders other types of non-linear communication…

…anyway, I don’t mean to argue against print literacy here, that’s not my point – there are enough ways to continue to teach children all types of literacy, or an open mindset on literacies, at the young age that we do. This is my point, that there seems to be a push for digital literacies to be the new bias that we embed into our culture – that we need to rush to “prepare children for their future, not the one we grew up in”. That instead of realizing our biases (which our western society has actually done a lot of over the past century) we are now ready to just trade old biases for new ones.

It’s a liberation of communication tools our society in undergoing in recent times, not a shift. Hopefully.

I love the fact that my daughter wanted to include “Write back if you want” in her social media message. I don’t like how the edtech world seems pointed to a future where we have digital illiterates who ‘have something wrong with them’. Life is a continuous process of consolidation and detachment…and the greatest separation feat of all is when someone manages to gradually free oneself from the grip of unconscious culture.

That ability to control our consolidations and detachments, my blog-post-reading-friends, is the more essential skill that we need to embed into our children. The skills of choice.

*The consolidation and detachment line is adapted from: Hall, E. T. (1989). Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor Books.

Children and Communication Technology

I got asked an interesting question by one of my students the other day: What do you think about children and communication technology (smart phones, laptops, PCs, etc)?

We had been talking a bit about connective devices and the way it has changed education from our day. He’s a bit older than me, a doctor, has two kids, knows that I have two myself, and his views are pretty conservative on the topic. His kids are older than mine (approaching double digits in age), so I think he knows that this issue is one that he’ll need to confront sooner or later.

His main concerns are about safety and control – he feels like he can’t always know what (or, who) his kids might be exposed to, and he would feel unable to control how they use their devices. He didn’t expand on his opinion so much, because of language restrictions, stating basically that he wanted to hold out on getting them their own laptop or smart phone for as long as possible. Interestingly, my wife shares the same opinion as my student, except for different reasons. She believes that children need more space to work through problems on their own – they shouldn’t always rely on adults or technology to show them the answers, and don’t always need such close supervision. They learn and grow into better people when they are forced to problem solve on their own. Even for extreme situations like confronting dangerous strangers or bullying, she believes the best way to teach kids is through social interaction with peers, and empowering kids by placing them in various situations in which they can excel.

On the flipside to this perspective would be those who think that children need to be exposed to technology early and often. I remember a video (sorry, can’t find it now) I saw a year or two ago of an elementary school child exclaiming to the camera (the video was produced, not candid) that teachers need to prepare students like him for the future, or else they weren’t doing their job as educators. The message was clear: teach kids latest technology, teach them a lot, and at a fast pace, and through a high level of technology – we have to get them ready for the future, high-tech world.

I even think the pro-technology side has a version of reasoning similar to my wife’s. Teachers provide students with the means to connect, communicate, create and then back-off, letting them do as they wish with the idea that they will learn more by figuring out the technology for themselves, and by finding ways to accomplish and create goals that suit them, and make sense to them.

My wife thinks I disagree with her, but actually I disagree with both sides. Not introducing children to technology will only make it more difficult for them to learn it later on. It’s true, they aren’t growing up in the world I grew up in, they need to grow up in their world. Waiting too long can put children at a disadvantage and maybe even make them feel uncomfortable in their own generation. On the other hand, providing too much, too early promotes a view of technology as a progression, viewing past technology as inherently inferior to modern ones. This view promotes behavior like in the Bendito Machine video. This view forgets that children are the ones who develop progressively, not technology.

One of the advantages of latest technology, I answered my student, is that now we are seeing many of the functional and access gaps between devices filling in. It’s not a question of letting my son or daughter have a smartphone or not, but in what way can I lead them up to autonomous, and responsible use of such a device. And, even more than ‘responsible use’, there’s a judgment call I need to make (as with many parental decisions) as to what kind of technology use do I want to encourage in my son and daughter that I think will give them the most potential for happiness.

I gave the example of the kids-phone I’ve been seeing more of lately. One of my 6 year old students has one of these, it’s limited so she can only call her mom with it at any-time, and her mom can call her (there may be some sort of emergency call feature built into the physical design of it, as well). This is a great way to introduce kids to technology, not to mention the main purpose of increased safety for the child. She can walk the 7 minutes to my house, and her mom can call her once or twice along the way, if she feels the need to. Maybe in a few years there are certain restrictions on the phone that can be unblocked (texting to her family?), or a more advanced phone that she can get, gradually exposing her to more complex connective technology that she’ll eventually need to be familiar with.

When we can scaffold at increasingly smaller gaps, we are able to fine tune development potentials. And without such scaffolding, we’re not building on the knowledge of the past. It’s part of the education liberation, not shift, that has taken place over the past generation, a distinction that hopefully hasn’t been (although, lately I’m losing faith) lost on the technology-for-a-young-age advocates. This stepped progression builds tools in children – they learn to write letters, to write words, sentences, styles of penmanship or calligraphy, they learn not to nod when talking on the phone because the other person can’t see you. As they grow older they learn typing, how to form arguments, shorthand, academic writing, manners for texting, emails, blogs and microblogs. They become multi-literate, in a full sense, able to create an ecology of connections that features access to distributed interaction from any age, not just their own. They learn that technology doesn’t replace, it adds to existing. It’s a point as simple as knowing that e-books, as convenient as they are, will never extinguish paper books because…kids love books.

It’s situational. When technology use suits what is already there, it works – and not only does it work, it teaches kids this important point about technology: use it to suit it to what is already there.

I often think about setting up a facebook account for my 5 year old daughter. She’s not overly interested in computers, but we watch some things, she sits with me at the screen once or twice a week, maybe. I’m worried that if I set up a FB page for her she’ll develop a tendency to sit at the screen more, and on summer days and at times when she would be better off (happier) doing other, kid-like stuff. So, why do I consider it? Well, for one, I think Facebook is kind of like networking, or interneting, with training wheels – it shows some of the ways in which we can communicate at an easily controllable speed and manner. For another, we live on the other side of the world from a lot of her family and a lot of my close friends. She doesn’t get to interact with them, they don’t know her in any intimate, daily way. This is why I think it would be a useful addition to her life. It’s part of the situation.

My wife, also part of the situation, thinks differently…so we’ll probably find a compromise and wait a while. And, I’m happy with that – there’s enough for her to learn out there that isn’t mediated through an iPad screen.