As promised, here is a second posting from Heather Staker of the Innosight Institute. Although this touches only tangentially on online education, I think her observations about children’s media make great sense.
“Let’s look at children’s media use with our eyes open,” said Dr. Michael O. Rich, Mediatrician and Director of the Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) at Harvard Medical School. He was offering advice to a gathering of Harvard alumni, and his outlook was not cheery. He reported that 44 percent of youth have been exposed to online porn and that 70 percent of the top 20 TV shows for teens contain sexual content of some kind. At the same time, research shows that adolescents tend to imitate sexual behaviors they see in the media.
Violence in the media is also a problem. CMCH research shows that children’s exposure to violent media is correlated with anxiety and strongly correlated with increased aggression. Despite these risks, 92 percent of all kids from ages two to 17 are playing video games, and nine out of 10 of the best sellers reward violence.
Video games are especially potent influencers because they allow the player to direct the narrative. “They are different from TV,” Rich said, “because they create behavioral scripts, whereby the player rehearses and is rewarded for specific behaviors.” The behavioral-scripts concept explains why public health scientists at CMCH worry about the fact that over 50 percent of the youth in one of their studies preferred online “first-person shooter” games.
“What we feed a child’s mind is as important as what we feed a child’s body,” Rich said. He encouraged the alumni to engage in digital media consumption with kids in positive ways.
Rich’s statistics called to question how our society has allowed so much investment to pour into creating bestseller shooter games instead of into creating games that teach kids positive objectives. Why are there not more games like Florida Virtual School’s Conspiracy Code, an espionage-themed adventure course that challenges kids to save U.S. history from corruption? Why is educational online learning only now starting to take off, when violent digital games have been flourishing for years?
Somehow the creative types have streamed down the wrong pipe, zapping the digital universe with society draining gore, when all this time they could have been helping kids get to college.
On an optimistic note, many people are finally realizing that the technology that rewards violent behavioral scripts can also reward positive rehearsals. Hundreds of ventures have launched in the past few years to create online content that aligns with education standards. The quality seems to be improving gradually, but will it ever be Electronic Arts or Spielberg?
Rich needs more voices beyond the public health crowd worrying about feeding kids’ minds a healthful diet. The cause of fighting for high-quality, edifying digital content needs more champions.