Emergent Literacy

“For 3- to 5-year-olds, the imagery and default mode networks mature late, and take practice to integrate with the rest of the brain,” Hutton explains. “With animation you may be missing an opportunity to develop them.”

When we read to our children, they are doing more work than meets the eye. “It’s that muscle they’re developing bringing the images to life in their minds.”

Hutton’s concern is that in the longer term, “kids who are exposed to too much animation are going to be at risk for developing not enough integration.”


The other day I posted about “emergent propaganda” in which the idea of propaganda that emerges from a particular environment. Now, this about “emergent literacies” in which skills to read and write technology emerges from the environments that we provide for kids.

As an educator, this makes me think of scaffolding, yet there seems to be a difference – in the example here, kids are going to grow and advance regardless of the scaffolding present or not. There’s a larger context here apart from any given learning goal.

Anyway, the takeaways in this paper, for me at least, is that books (especially children’s books) will never go away completely, and that in rushing kids too much into digital environments at a young age parents might miss opportunities to develop robust literacy skills in their children.

Literacy Ataxia: Overwhelmed by the demands of processing language, without enough practice, they may also be less skilled at forming mental pictures based on what they read, much less reflecting on the content of a story.


The story about this paper is worth a read (via the Katexic newsletter):



Strange Animations on Youtube

“These videos, wherever they are made, however they come to be made, and whatever their conscious intention (i.e. to accumulate ad revenue) are feeding upon a system which was consciously intended to show videos to children for profit. The unconsciously-generated, emergent outcomes of that are all over the place.”


I was walking around campus one day, a month or so ago, and in the market I saw an obviously exhausted woman with two children sitting at a cafeteria table. The woman was just resting, reading maybe, while the kids were glued to a laptop, watching one of these 3D animation Spiderman/Elsa videos on youtube (the ones near the end of this article).

My first thought was to go over there and explain to the mom that these videos are not good. But, of course I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t do something like that.

Then I thought, she probably thinks these are just some strange North American cartoons that are all the fad right now, if she thinks anything about them at all. Being from another culture, how could she even tell this cartoon from one that wouldn’t be described as ‘disturbing’?

Would you ever intervene in a situation like this, one where there’s no imminent danger?

Yokai Apato

Yokai Apato (Elegant Youkai Apartment Life) is a show about relationships. There’s not a lot of overarching stories in the 26 episode series, but several short 2-4 episode events. There are too many characters to keep track of, especially because many of these only show up here and there. YA is light, serious, and great.

The events in YA are backdropped by a ghost-filled apartment, a high school, a delivery warehouse, an extended uncle’s family, an eccentric best friend, or with a spirit filled book of magic. Did I mention that it’s also a colorful series?

A high school teen, through these short storylines, learns how to navigate the world of human relationships, finding out what it means to make decisions and to accept responsibility for the consequences.

There’s a slower pace to YA, which I really like. The people hanging around the ‘youkai apartments’ spend time talking about the different expectations and reactions that humans have of each other in all types of situations. The show is tuned into a sense of Emotional Intelligence that isn’t always present in anime suitable for kids, and this is why I love it.

There are a lot of laughs and enough action in the show so that my kids also loved it. I can’t think of a better anime that I’ve watched with them. Life is limited and we don’t have the time to experience it all – YA is a good substitute for talking about experiences we might have and people we might meet, in small ways.

I often post about the the division of “how” and “what” skills/questions, and the tendency for my generation to focus so much more on the “How” of life. YA contributes to the much needed “What”, giving my kids some substance and some humanity to go along with all that digital connective stuff they’re supposed to prefer.

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.

Language Natives – It’s Complicated

I recently read “It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens” by Danah Boyd, a book I sought out because I have two children of my own who will become teenagers a lot earlier than I want and will be prepared to deal with. The book is excellent, Boyd succeeds in providing exploration and explanation of the subject from the teenager perspective. This perspective creates understanding more than critique. I recommend it, even if you don’t have kids.

In one of the final chapters, she tackles the concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants. These two terms were popular a decade ago, but haven’t really stuck around since the initial meaning for these concepts haven’t really held up. From the book:

It has become popular in public discourse to promote the idea that natives have singular technical powers and skills. The suggestion that many take from Barlow’s proclamation is that adults should fear children’s supposedly natural born knowledge.

Boyd spends time dispelling but also exploring this idea, and almost shifts the discussion from natives and immigrants to a discussion of literacy. Which I wish she would have. Another quote brings up language and language learning, only to focus back on the native vs immigrant divide:

He [Rushkoff] metaphorically describes the differences in linguistic development between older immigrants and children who grow up in a society who’s dominant language is different than their parents native tongue. He uses the concepts of immigrants and natives to celebrate children’s’ development in the digital age.

The word ‘literacy’ has probably evolved in meaning during my lifetime, and this is where the real distinction lies when we think of how children develop in the digital age – there’s a certain degree or culture of digital literacy that many youth are born into. However, similar to how children learn language incidentally, ‘literacy’ is something that must be learned intentionally. Even still, ‘being literate’ says nothing about the degree to which that literate person can use language.

People learn mother tongues in daily life, starting from before birth. But does this mean for these ‘language natives’ that literacy development will take care of itself? No, because not everyone can write like a novelist or a journalist, and not everyone can give speeches like a sports team coach. People need to learn these skills. The same could be said for digital literacy.

It’s probably true that the concept of digital natives doesn’t offer very much. Digital literates and degrees/specializations of digital literacy might be a better concept to explore.

Internal Images and Popular Images

I found myself at a curious decision point with my daughter’s upbringing yesterday. It might seem like a small thing to be concerned with, and I don’t mean to make it into a bigger decision that it actually was, but I do think it’s an important one because there are probably many ways to consider the situation – I’d be interested in any educators’ opinions out there – here’s the synopsis:

I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books with my daughter. We started this summer, finished book #1 about a month ago and now we’re about half-way into book #2. My daughter is turning 6 next month, and these are the first novel-style books that she has engaged with, and the first books for her that have no illustrations.

When we first started reading I was prepared to cut-bait on them if she wasn’t interested, or couldn’t keep up comprehensively (we’re reading them in English, which isn’t her first language). She was fine, and actually loved the stories from the start, peppering me with question after question which I dutifully answered. Especially at first, many of her questions were about what the characters look like, expressing some frustration about not being able to picture Hagrid or Harry in her head because she didn’t know what she should picture.

This was exactly what I was hoping for, to try to develop her independent thinking and creativity, and it was one of the reasons I decided to start reading the books with her. I walked through this process a bit, and we talked in some detail about “creating images of the character in your head”.  I returned many of her questions about this with questions of my own: “What do you think Hagrid looks like?” “How tall do you want Harry to be?” “How long do you think Harry’s hair should be?” – always, I was sure to mention something like “You’re in charge of your own mind. You can choose what these characters look like in your own head.” She got the hang of it, it was great.

So, along come the Harry Potter movies.

It was a significant decision, I feel, about when to start watching the movies with her. I know that once we watched them, those images that she created in her mind would be forever replaced with the movie interpretations of the Harry, Ron and Hermonie characters.

I was ok with this, for several reasons. One reason being that we exist in a world with both individual interpretation AND mass culture – and, in this world, we all experience each at different times. It is worthwhile to participate in both types of information creation, the matter falls on how to balance the participation. Another reason was that she had already gone through the process of forming these images in her head, which was my main purpose – not the clinging to her created images. And another reason was that conceptually, she was missing out on a lot of the story. Because of her age and her limited vocabulary, there was much she couldn’t understand in the book, and I think having more images to associate with the language will now actually help to improve her conceptual abilities and her language abilities (perhaps at the expense of her creative thinking some…but, learning is always a balance).

So, yeah, yesterday evening we watched the first movie. It was fun and she enjoyed it greatly. There were many points where I could see the light bulb flash in her mind. I only wonder about the timing of it. Would it have been better to wait for a few more books? Or, until the end of the series?

Dwelling on the Future of Educational Technology

The videos A Day Made of Glass and Productivity Future Vision depict some wonderful ideas in them. The medical scene in ADMoG is an example of future communication technology that can benefit the medical wold, and not to mention transfer over into the world of politics, crime and punishment, or countless other areas. As well, the educational scenes in both shorts show some amazing applications of future technology. Is it all a bit too much? A bit too early?

It’s obvious that the videos are intended to be utopian. It’s also obvious that since these videos are commercials, they portray a certain level of unrealism that is timeless – it’s no coincidence that both feature tress and plants dominantly throughout, avoiding one of the biggest dangers of modern technology in its ability to alienate and separate us from a natural world, rather than bring us closer to it. But, such is the nature of commercials, with their heartwarming sense of family, overabundance of laughter, bowls of popcorn, and ridiculously good-looking taxi drivers.

At the risk of focusing on the negative, I can think of three points why I wouldn’t consider these videos to be utopian.

1.Too much, Too Early

Technology doesn’t replace, it adds to. There’s something about the age of the kids in the educational scenes that bothers me. For my kids, I hope they develop the skills of face-to-face interaction, reading and writing on paper and in books, and even the tiresome task of selecting their own clothes from the closet. The scene in the forest with the dinosaur, although very cool, kind of forgets the fun that kids can have in simply letting loose in a forest or park to discover things as they will. Teaching this type of reliance on mediation too early will make kids dependent on it for their connections with the world…and how we mediate ourselves with the world creates who we are. It’s better to build a variety of communication tools, than to simply start at the top. Good Communication is a skill that is getting more and more complicated a society becomes reliant on higher-levels of multi-literacy.

2.The Absence of the Self

Again, I realize that these are just commercials but…the lady in PFV finally arrives to at her hotel, has to take care of some sort of business, then right away has her kid on the phone asking her about something. Now, we’re all good parents here, I would assume, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy a little alone-time. When the same lady is in the taxi driving by that building with the augmented reality sign screaming at her from the sky “You meeting tomorrow is here”, she’s gotta be thinking “ok, I get it all ready…gimme a break”.

There’s something about not knowing. It gives us time to think things through, to let ideas connect in your head or randomly letting your mind wander. To wonder. We don’t always need to know everything right away, and I often wonder if modern technology (not even to talk about future technology) promotes the opposite.

3.Dwelling on the Future

I’ve found over the past few years a steady streams of articles, blog posts, presentations, lists, you names it geared at describing what the future holds for this or that. Any given day on Twitter or in my Reader I can find these articles – I’ve never done any study on it, but I would guess that they out number articles on the present significantly. On one hand, this is a normal charateristic of curious humans who want to know what cool things are ahead for humanity, I can understand that. On the other hand, this is unfortunate because there’s been so much change so drastically over the past few decades and years, that we still haven’t really figured out where we are at.

Last year I was in a course at my school on some aspect of Education. The professor, quite well known (Unfortunately, as I later realized this isn’t always a good thing) didn’t seem all that interested in the class. The class was a failure, in my opinion, and quite a frustrating experience. The professor did be sure to communicate his advertisements for the Future of Higher Education MOOC course that he was involved in. The message to me was this: the future of education is more important than the present.

When our vision for the future affects our ability to act soundly in the present, it becomes difficult to guide ourselves towards that vision.

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.