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Thursday, August 2, 2018

I, Alexa - The Final Piece

by Priyanka Raha ~ Aug 02, 2018

Alexa, stop. We are having dinner now

Engage with kids in digital interaction

Yes, we have been lately obsessed by the effects of interaction with voice activated digital assistants on kids. Last week we spoke about the not-so-explicit effects of Alexa on kids. This is the third and final piece of our series 'I, Alexa'. Please note that for our discussion, Alexa is a representation of all digital assistants.

In this piece we explore ways to prepare kids for a world that they will actually live in. We need to teach them the perpetual things, like good manners and the new things, like the truth about Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

As the digital voice assistants are becoming an integral part of consumer device usage, millions of parents have suddenly been forced to grapple with this new parental dilemma of defining boundaries on the usage around kids. Already 20 percent of U.S. households have some kind of smart speaker and research says, that percentage will rise to 55 percent within the next four years.

AI driven assistants are not 100 percent child proof, at the same time they are not the big bad wolf either. Beyond any doubt, it is important for us as parents to consider certain ways to define interaction between our children and the Alexas of today. After all, parents are gatekeepers for their children’s online experience, not just for our Alexas and Cortanas but for all digital devices.

Here are some of the things that we can do to make sure our children have a healthy growing environment amidst our Alexas. While this is not a comprehensive list, it certainly is a place to start.

Don’t Be Rude
While interacting with our humanoid helpers, as parents we run into the courtesy conundrum. Should our kids say please to Alexa or is it okay to call her an idiot? I think either is an extreme and the key is balance here.

Repeating pleasantries to Alexa can lead to over-humanization of Alexa, which in turn can blur the lines between animate and inanimate objects. With increased penetration of voice activated systems in our daily lives - from smart homes to smart cars, it is on us to help children conceptualize virtual assistants in a healthy way.

I think, for the same reasons that you don’t go kick a door after you bumped into it and got hurt, you don’t abuse Alexa.

The rule is simple here.
Don’t be bossy pants.

Limit The Time
One of the challenging aspects with Alexa is that it is available for use 24x7. Being screen-less you cannot really put it away. Being screen-less has its upsides of not having to stare at a screen or be sedentary.

“These devices certainly offer more engagement and interaction than just passively watching a TV”, mentions Solace Shen, a psychologist at the Cornell University. “But that interaction is still impoverished compared to talking to a parent or a teacher.”

It is imperative to remember that at the end of the day Alexa or Home Pod is a digital device. Like any other device of technology it is a great tool for learning but it is not a replacement for human interaction. In general, it helps to think of these devices as tablets. We have to make sure that there is a balance between the time kids are interacting with the systems versus interacting with humans, doing physical activities and getting enough rest.

Keeping that in mind, there can be certain times during the day when we can avoid interacting with Alexa. Our questions, however inquisitive they are, can wait until we finish our conversation with real people or playing ball with our friends.

So it is okay to say,
Alexa, stop. We are having dinner now.

Engage In The Dialogue
“One solution for families with smart speakers is to stay intentional about deepening their relationships through intentional, loving interactions”, says Peter Kahn, a psychologist at the University of Washington.

Alexa can sing lullabies to children, remind them of bedtime and provide positive reinforcement when kids say please. But a machine cannot know a child the way a parent does.

As parents we need to be aware that Alexa is a passive system. If she doesn’t have the answer to a question, jump in and suggest other ways of attaining that knowledge. Digital assistants are amazing tools to gather information but don’t let them implicitly teach children that knowledge is easily attainable.

As immediate adults in the vicinity of Alexa we can enrich the dialogue by asking our own questions or mixing it up and asking the kid a few questions. If we are not around when the kids are talking to Alexa (and that is totally okay), we can certainly follow-up afterwards to see how they have been using it. It can be a very nice conversation starter as well, something different from asking, ‘How was school today?'

So do not just watch your kids interact with Alexa,
Be an active part of the Alexa interaction.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Alexa, Can I watch TV now?

by Priyanka Raha ~ July 26, 2018

Good digital citizenship habits

Last week we talked about the importance of niceties when interacting with Alexa.  And if you read that article you know that Alexa is a representation of all voice activated A.I. systems. Should we say all of her cousins in the same family. 

Technological evolution is happening so fast that it has left us - parents, educators and concerned adults feeling a bit unbalanced. We haven’t had a chance to gather long range data about the impact of interaction with Alexa on kids. 

Psychologists and A.I. experts are working round the clock to decipher, as much as they can, the effects of humanoid helpers in our lives, especially in young kids. Peter Kahn, a psychologist at the University of Washington, has done research on how children perceive the humanoid helpers. Parents shouldn’t worry about their child treating their friends like they do Alexa, at least not in a direct way. 

The consequences are slightly more subtle and complicated than that.

Indulgence Dilemma

Alexa complies to requests without delay and at all times during the day. Interaction with the virtual assistant leads to instant gratification over continuous conditioning - when you are subjected to a given scenario repeatedly how you respond becomes habit even outside the situation. But that has been true for all technological gadgets, right? What is interesting about Alexa is that she does this 24-hours a day and through a screenless voice activated system. This means she is available to be controlled by toddlers who have not yet learnt to operate a hand-held digital device. 

Are we amplifying our kids’ tirade of ‘I want it now’?

Anthropomorphize Alexa

A slightly deeper concern is about imparting human-like features to our virtual assistants. Manners and etiquette teach our kids a sense of respect for the sensibilities of other people. In encouraging our kids to say ‘please’ are we suggesting that Alexa needs to be respected for  doing something that we asked her to do? Does that mean that Alexa has rights, and that one of these rights is to say ‘no’? 

Are we teaching our kids that machines have sensibilities?

Robotic Nicety

Here is another thought - telling children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to machines inculcates a robotic or mechanical like lifelessness to the rendition. I am afraid to say, I find the argument compelling that teaching kids to treat a piece of software, however intelligent that is, like you would treat people opens up questions about differentiating animate and inanimate objects. 

Are we, in the process, teaching our kids to run through the polite words like courtesy routines without the importance meaning, effect or purpose?

None of the above is of course the intent of bringing in a humanoid helper into the house. Having a virtual assistant is powerful, fun and certainly the future. I am not for reversing the wheel ever. What I want for my kids is a world where they can thrive and not just survive. 

If you have been reading our blogs, you know this by now that we, at PopSmartKids, are all for mentoring and not monitoring. This is true for every aspect of growing up, and this is especially imperative when it comes to navigating the increasingly quasi-digital world around us.

If we let Alexa teach our kids good habits, can we let our kids ask Alexa any of the following questions.
Alexa, Can I watch TV now?
Alexa, Is it bedtime yet?
Alexa, what is 12 times 24?

If your answer is no, then where do we draw the line? What is allowed and what is not? Also, the big question is how should we decide that?

Next week we are going to make an attempt to answer some of these questions or at least discuss some of the ways that we can help our next generation apprehend the human-humanoid interaction.

Watch this space next week.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

I, Alexa

by Priyanka Raha ~ July 19, 2018

Should you say 'Please' and 'Thank you' to Alexa?

Good digital citizenship habits

I say Alexa because I am so used to hearing it a number of times during the day at home but really this could be for any digital assistant that you may have - Google home, HomePod etc. So if you are reading this simply replace Alexa with your assistant of choice. 

Now let's talk about how we interact with our digital assistants

This is a 3-part series. In part one, I want to talk about if we should be polite to our digital assistants? Should you say 'please' and 'thank you' to Alexa?

At home my kids have a lot of fun asking Alexa a ton of questions:
Alexa, what is the weather today? 
Alexa, what are volcanoes? 
Alexa, sing Believer. 

They love how she can magically burst into a song and be a know-it-all or mention whether it's going to be sunny. For the most part, she does a good job of complying to all of these requests. The irony hasn't been lost on me that I am referring to Alexa as 'she'.

Now there are more than a few occasions when it's not an ideal scenario. We hear 'I am sorry, I don't understand the question'. Apparently this is Alexa's most uttered phrase. In a nutshell, this happens when Alexa didn't understand the words either because there was noise interference or due to the lexicon. I am not going to dive more than that into why that is or what are the ways that this can be avoided.

I am here to discuss what happens after Alexa has spoken those words.

Here is how it goes after that. My kids would blurt out one of the following phrases.
'Oh come on.'
'Alexa, you don't know anything.'
'Mommy, she is not very smart, is she?'
And the extreme (I think) is - 'Alexa, you are dumb'

I would retort back saying, 'That is not a nice thing to say!’ My kids would promptly remind me that Alexa is not a person, so it is okay. Is it though? 

Kids learn behavior through repetitive conditioning and practice. Will they remember to not say these things if they run into a similar scenario in a more social layout? Will they remember to interact responsibly over an email or social media in the future? Will this affect in a not-so-positive way in inculcating good digital citizenship habits? 

I know we are probably far away from a scenario of humanoids walking around amongst us with indiscernible features and functions to us humans. But we are certainly getting closer and closer to having more virtual assistants becoming infused with our homes, cars and accessories. I think empathy should be an obligation in the digital world, especially when we are interacting with our humanoid helpers. It is up to us adults to help children conceptualize virtual assistants in a healthy way.

Amazon is certainly playing its part in this quest. It has recently launched a kids version of Alexa, they are calling it Echo Dot Kids. It is powered by kid-friendly content, easy-to-use parental controls and can call kids to dinner or tell them it's bedtime. What is remarkable is if kids add please to their question, Alexa adds positive reinforcement by mentioning, 'By the way, thanks for asking so nicely'

This is all very encouraging, it really is. But does this mean that we as parents or educators can rest easy and have no role to play? Experts at the crossroads of pediatrics, psychology and A.I. say there is a lot we don't know about how virtual assistants might affect young, developing minds and the effects are more subtle than saying 'please' and 'thank you'.

Wait, it is not all bleak. I certainly love my Alexa and my kids think she is pretty cool, except for when she doesn't understand but that is the beauty of A.I. - she will get better. For now, as parents we can take proactive steps to help children better understand and interact with our Alexas. 

Next week, I am going to dive deep into the delicate nature of what are the not-so-explicit effects of the likes of Alexa, Siri and Cortana in our lives. 

Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Are digital apps helping overcome the language barrier?

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ July 12, 2018

Digital Apps that foster engagement

An overcrowded, concrete classroom with rows of children sitting on wooden benches and repeating sentences is my earliest memory of learning a language. The monotony of the daily classroom exercise made it seem like children were chanting instead of learning. This technique of imparting language skills was a manifestation of the audio-lingual method of learning based on repetition and memorization of sentences until the student can use it spontaneously. Understanding grammar or use of a native language was not part of the learning process.

Decades later, learning multiple languages has become common, easier and thankfully, fun. Hundreds of eLearning platforms and smartphone apps enable you to learn a language in the comfort of your home. Duolingo, Mosalingua, Busuu and Memrise are just a few popular language-learning apps for adults. The popularity of digitally learning a language brought with it a wave of language-learning apps for children too; an area I am now treading my way around quite unexpectedly.

Our family is bilingual, and all of us switch between speaking English and Hindi, a language commonly spoken in India, with ease. I thought my job was done as far as teaching languages was concerned. The school along with some support from us at home would take care of it. I was in for a rude shock when my husband’s new job relocated us to a city in south Florida after seven years in the Seattle area. This cross-country move was more like an upheaval in our lives and was a lot of hard work but we were ready for most of it.

What we were not ready for was that in this predominantly Spanish-speaking area, not knowing the language was beginning to be a hindrance. Never did I think that my kids would be unable to talk to other kids in the park because of the language gap, or that I would have to use hand actions to explain my question about garbage collection to my neighbor. All preschools in the area are bilingual, people complimented my daughter’s unicorn headband in Spanish, and I got looks of bewilderment when I said, “I don’t understand what you are saying”.

Spanish is the default language here and learning it became priority.

My intention was to introduce my kids to the new language in a fun and interactive way. The digital space is a treasure trove for learning resources for children and language apps have far exceeded expectations. So I was certain an app or two from the plethora of language learning apps would be useful.

The apps we have used are engaging and easy to use for the kids as well as grown-ups. We are hooked on to Endless Spanish and Gus on the Go. The kids (and I) have been quick to pick up many words and sounds. Later on, the option of a more comprehensive app like Rosetta Stone which uses voice-enabled technology to help perfect your accent, or Studycat, which combines conventional learning techniques along with fun games, will help us advance in the learning process. 

Whether they are able to learn to read, write or talk in Spanish exclusively by the use of digital technology remains to be seen. For now the apps have set the ball rolling in the right direction by creating interest and building familiarity with a new language, which makes for a good start. 

So when it comes to living in this multilingual new world, is digital learning technique the way to go?


Shikha Das Shankar is a storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Is your kid ready for the Digital Driver License?

by Priyanka Raha ~ June 28, 2018

Practice good digital citizenship

A few days back I read a discussion on the interwebs about having a ‘digital driver license’. It did sound extreme at the beginning but the more I thought about it the more it made sense.  Do we tell our kids to never cross a road no matter what OR do we make sure we teach them good practices while crossing the road? When they are young we hold their hands. We say things like ‘Look left, look right and then walk’, or ’Wait for the walking man sign to show up’. When they are old enough we teach them how to follow the traffic rules, the signs, and the difference between the green and the red light. Many times we practice these standards with them even preemptively, when they are not old enough to be on the front seats of the car. Then why not do the same to help them navigate the digital world? While technology continues to evolve like a roller coaster without brakes it is far more imperative to define best practices for the digital world. I have come to realize there are quite a few similarities and analogies between a regular driver license and a digital driver license.

Let’s say, we had a system in place where we could hand out a digital driving license, what would that entail? I pulled out a few things that stands out as qualities of a good driver on the road and used them as guidelines for defining healthy practices to steer the digital world.

Use good judgement - As we make sure that kids use their good judgement on the road, we need to teach kids to make good choices while online. I cannot stress enough on this that digital tools are not just a medium of entertainment, they are tools to advance their learning and keep up with the changing technologies. In USA alone, 62% of working adults use the internet for their job and 96% use technology. This is the world that the current students need to be prepared for. We need to coach our kids on spending meaningful time on the digital devices besides just games and fun, programs that will supplement learning.

Think about safety - It is our duty to make our kids aware of the risks that online exposure can bring and hence teach them about safety. Tell them to be mindful of what they are posting online, never share passwords and never steal or damage others’ digital property. Six million teens report that they have received inappropriate images from someone they know. It is crucial to make appropriate decisions when communicating through a variety of digital channels. We must also help our children make responsible online purchasing decisions and protect their payment information. A typical teen reports having lost an average $400 to cybercrime.

Display respect and empathy - As you would practice to be respectful to other drivers on the road, model and practice digital citizenship in the classroom. Kids can use platforms like Seesaw or Google classroom to post work online and provide constructive feedback to each other. While commenting online, have kids use words as they would feel comfortable saying out loud in front of their peers. Encourage positive communication. 88% of social-media-using-teens have witnessed someone being mean or cruel. It is important to realize that harsh words through a computer screen can hurt as much as when they are said directly to us. These practices are not limited to the classroom environment. Practice and display the same behavior when discussing social media at home.

So, then are you ready to help your kid pass the digital driver test?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

How not to drown in an ocean of kids’ apps

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ June 21, 2018

Digital Parenting

A sense of responsibility bestowed upon me when I came across the term digital natives -- a generation exposed to technology from their formative years. Times have changed and so have our responsibility as parents. Marc Prensky coined the term in 2001 while talking about the difference in the thinking process of the generation of early technology users to those who were not. And in explaining his viewpoint, he also introduced us to the term digital immigrants -- a generation who were not born in the age of technology but introduced to it later in life. Think random requests from grandparents and parents to create email ids: worrying about internet speed as you get ready for a video interview with your prospective b-school, and the drive to earn well enough to earn your first smartphone so you can check your emails on your phone and download Bejeweled. That's us, the digital immigrants. The parents of digital natives. The one who felt proud of creating email ids for our folks but find it hard to keep up with all the new apps your child gets to hear at school.  As a mother raising two children in this ever-changing digital world, I am flummoxed by the problem of plenty. Blink an eye and you are sure to miss ten new children's apps launched in that nano-second. Once you start skimming through the plethora of children apps, a sensation similar to drowning engulfs you. For support, you read the reviews and review the ratings, and soon after a huge tide completely submerges you in water. How do you resurface? How do you conquer this wave of language, learning, art, music and gaming apps? By going back to the basics and remembering our rules of keeping it simple. While academic professionals, teachers, occupational therapists, and caregivers have elaborate criteria for choosing an app for students, we as parents can keep the following three points in mind without getting overwhelmed while downloading the next children’s app.

Simplicity: Easy user interface with simple directions that will enable the child to do most of the talking or typing in this case. If an app looks like a scene out of your child’s favorite tv show, he or she doesn't have much to do on it anyway.

Collaborate: Parents don't have to be passive spectators to what a child is doing on his tablet. Add another dimension to learning and fun by choosing apps that allow you, a sibling or your child’s friends to participate actively in what your child is creating. Apps that encourage collaboration have the potential to change classroom learning and is a thrust towards building long-term collaborative skills.

Empower: An app that empowers the child to steer his imagination in all directions without distraction is a winner. Children respond to and assimilate information better when it comes to them in a relatable and impactful way. More is not necessarily better. Less is not always boring.

Shikha Das Shankar is a storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she is seen scaling heights, literally, with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband—around the hills of beautiful Seattle suburb or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Human Factor in Technology

by Priyanka Raha ~ June 14, 2018

human factor in technology

Raise your hands if you think that we should take away ALL (and I mean all) the technology from our daily lives. I don’t see any. Don’t worry I actually can’t see you, we are not there yet but I didn’t think you would raise your hand. In all seriousness though I didn’t have my hands raised either. I am pro-technology but what I strongly believe is the human factor in technology. Last 20 years has seen unprecedented growth in tech. At 3.6B the number of internet users has surpassed half the world’s population. Let me ask you this - What is the most powerful tool in your vicinity? Here is a hint - Over 40% of the adults living in this country check it within 5 mins of their waking up and again look at it at least 50 times during the day. That’s right, it’s your phone. Children 8 years old and younger spend an hour each day on their digital devices. Yet we haven’t harnessed the digital medium when it comes to creating a valuable connection between parents and children.

Thus was born PopSmartKids. Before I had PopSmartKids I had 2 boys. Raising two kids, being responsible for two human beings made me realize how important and powerful that phrase is - the human factor in technology. It brought all of that into focus - of not letting technology own your life but you owning it instead. This is important because our kids are growing up researching on google and submitting projects on google docs. They will be exchanging ideas, building companies and creating masterpieces using technology. It is crucial that as parents we embrace the presence of technology in our children’s lives and go beyond that and teach the best practices. If not us, then who? PopSmartKids was forged out of this necessity to participate in our child’s creative endeavors leveraging the digital medium. My audacious goal is to build an offering of apps that will target specific aptitudes in the growth spectrum of a child’s development, but like any child PopSmartKids has to learn to walk first. So starting with one app that you will be able to run on your phone or tablet. 

With the first app, one thing I can promise you is that it is going to be a collaborative experience for parents - for when you are away or in the other room making dinner. It will allow you as parents to have an immersive experience in the creative pursuits of your kids and inspire them. This is built with the younger kids in mind. There are two explanations to this. First, kids this age respond and need the adulation of their parents the most. The greatest thing that motivates them is the fact that their parents have seen or witnessed their work. If you have an elementary schooler, how many times does he run to you in a day asking you to acknowledge the amazing drawing he made or the lego he built? You know what I am talking about. I am keying in on the two acts of love - words of affirmation and quality time. Second, this is also the age when kids are beginning to use the digital devices without their parents monitoring them and it is crucial to bring in the mentoring aspect of handling it. Think stop, drop, roll. Where have you heard it? Caution against fire, right? I think of the digital devices as fire, it is dangerous but we never reverted back to eating raw food because fire burns houses. With internet and digital medium we have discovered new fire. So instead of banning it I want to turn it around and evangelize screen time so that it is more than just entertainment. it is a channel of development for young minds. It does not need to be a black hole that our kids get sucked into.

While PopSmartKids is taking shape watch this space for more details.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Why we must make space for vulnerability?

by Priyanka Raha ~ June 7, 2018

Space for Vulnerability-inspired by Kate Spade

Today I cannot write about anything else but the recent happenings. The Kate Spade story left me rattled. The fact that she leaves behind an 11 year old girl makes me sadder than ever. She was a mother, a wife, a successful career woman and an icon. But above all she was a human. And like us all humans she was fighting her own battle against personal demons. This story by no means is the-one-and-only one. We see this happening to people we love, people close by and people who we look up to. Our upbringing as well as society teaches us to show ourselves as bold, courageous and strong. That makes us afraid to talk about our shortcomings. We have our guards up all the time. We are scared someone might think less of us. There is no space for vulnerability.
Social media amplifies this today. Our Facebook and Instagram posts are always our happiest selves. Getting likes on our tweets and posts make us happy. Our 24 hour access to the world means that we are constantly bombarded by tales of people who have crushed it and people who have got it all together. I read in an interview guide once to be prepared to talk about my weakness but to put a positive spin on it. It also mentioned that we need to sound authentic but come across as strong at the same time. I cringed! We are persistently managing our image, mending our words and revising how we feel. It shouldn’t be this exhausting. We are beginning to measure each other by how happy and powerful we are. But doesn’t it take utmost courage to be vulnerable and to accept failure. No, I am not talking about giving a positive spin to failure, just accept that I failed and it’s okay to flounder.
As I thought more and more about this I wondered how can we let our kids know that it’s okay to fail. It is okay to be wistful. How can we allow space for being vulnerable, to be a little foolish and to be a little silly?
No, I don’t have an answer, I just know - we must make space for vulnerability.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Freedom of the Digital Citizen

by Priyanka Raha ~ May 31, 2018

If you read my last blog you know we are eager about mentoring safe practices to the digital citizens. This week we are diving straight into talking about freedom of the digital citizen. Why? Because being a citizen entitles one to have the rights and privileges of a freeman. The Memorial Day this week got me thinking about the significance of freedom, the sacrifice it takes from our brave soldiers to establish that and how we must protect and honor it. We live in a free world. As free citizens it is a little hard to comprehend the subjection to foreign domination or despotic government. So as I was speaking to my 7-year old about the power of freedom we went through hypothetical scenarios of what it would mean to not have freedom. It could be freedom of any kind - speech, act or thought. We relied on stories from history. The more I thought about freedom I realized that I will have to educate my child on what freedom means in the digital world as he is growing up in an age where online presence is as significant (if not more) as one’s physical presence. 73% of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 have social network profiles. 93% of teenagers use the internet to go online. Digital Citizenship is no longer an add-on term, it is how we should be teaching our children. Freedom goes hand-in-hand with responsibilities. As free digital citizens we have responsibilities, ones that we must not ignore. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a nonprofit membership association for educators focused on educational technology, vehemently focusses on Digital Citizenship as a component in it’s standards for students. Students understand human, cultural and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior. So how do we teach our children about responsible digital citizenship.

I realize the following is not a comprehensive list but it is a good one to begin with. 

I will use my personal device for educational purposes only when I am at school.
I will make sure I am safe and appropriate when I am online.
I will protect my private info and the information of others.
I will respect myself and others when I am online.
I will use kind words on social media and remember that my ‘digital footprint’ should not harm others.
I will stand up and say no to cyberbullying. I will tell an adult if someone is being unkind or harmful.

What do you think are other things that can be added to this list?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Can we fight FOMO while raising digital citizens?

by Priyanka Raha ~ May 24, 2018

Apparently ‘Fear of Missing Out’ is a real term. All throughout this article I will be using the acronym FOMO, well because it sounds much cooler. FOMO first originated in the early 2000s in a Harvard Business School article*, to describe grad students’ frantic, text-driven social lives. Facebook did not exist then and neither did a million other social networks. The arrival of social media has definitely supercharged FOMO. In 2013 this clever term was officially added to the Oxford Dictionary. It reads ‘Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media’. 

I have thought about it - Am I a victim of FOMO? But then I tell myself ‘Nah, I am just keeping in touch with everyone and everything.’ There is a fine line between staying in touch and being anxious about it. Don’t worry, I am not here to paint a grim picture. Quite the contrary, I love how social media adds value to our lives, besides the obvious ‘connecting with your friends’ - recruiting, career building, raising money for a just cause - the list is endless. Never before has an artist had the power to get into a conversation directly with their audience. What a solace it was for me, as a first-time mom, to read from other mom-posts that my 3-year-old’s behavior is nothing out-of-the-ordinary. Technology provides that mom-in-need the power to reach out to her community, beyond the constraints of geographical boundaries, to tap into the collective knowledge. Tell me you haven’t searched - ’10 fun things you can do with kids’ or ‘Find the best summer camps in town’.

While this is all great, we all worry about distraction and focus. So now we have this important job of teaching our kids to be mindful and responsible while tapping into the social media. Let’s not forget, there is no escaping this and if preached it can truly be very powerful. My seven year old did a multi-media presentation of him talking about planets as part of a class project. I wasn’t there. His teacher shared it with me and now I can share it with my parents. In terms of teaching our next generation to be better digital citizens, I am going to lean in to the slogan that Common Sense Education uses - ‘Don’t Make a Ban Have a Plan’. 

Now I want to lean in to all the parents and educators and conscious adults out there,
What are some of your suggestions for meaningful things that kids can do with their devices?
How do you teach your kids to not be afraid of missing out?
How do you teach them better digital practices?

Friday, May 11, 2018

Have you thanked the 21st Century Teacher?

by Priyanka Raha ~ May 11, 2018

A quick google search will reveal that the following terms are very common - ‘the 21st century teacher’, ‘the 21st century learner’, ‘the 21st century school’. On the other hand terms like the 20th century teacher or learner, not so much. I think the following statistic has something to do with that. Today almost all public schools are connected to the internet, that number was 91 percent in 2008 and 15 percent in 1997. Which means the teachers who are teaching in these classrooms today did not grow up in a classroom like this. On top of that they have to prepare the next generation who will most seemingly live in a world that looks different from what it is today. Technology brings it’s own set of rewards and challenges. If you thought your job was difficult hand-holding just your child and helping him navigate in this quasi-digital world, then think classroom management of 20 or more kids. The difference is scale and theme. Besides just teaching content, teachers now have to teach digital citizenship, connectivity and social responsibility with respect to the physical and digital communities. The teacher appreciation week that went by got me thinking the uber important role that teachers play in the ever changing dimensions that technology brings. Teachers are responsible for giving the students the tools to learn most effectively on the web. Teach them to take command of their learning by using technology. Teach them to be responsible while making technology a conscious choice. 

Wall Display from an elementary school in Washington
Wall Display from an elementary school in Washington

Allowing a space for discovery through technology, coaching the class that technology is one of the many choices of activities, and educating the digital natives to own their technology and not the other way around - these are a few of the challenging tasks that the teachers perform to prepare the next generation for the future. There are a million reasons to thank a teacher but today I am going to be thankful for their adaptability in the changing times and for preparing the next generation to live and prosper in a future that is more seeming than present.

So, have you thanked the 21st century teacher?