Frontline: Growing Up Online

The Breaking Ranks committee was assigned the task of watching the PBS Frontline documentary “Growing Up Online” which premiered on Wednesday night and is available here. The program looked at the effect the internet and technology is having on our children. It examined the shift in socialization from real world environments to virtual settings such as Facebook and MySpace and how these new experiences are being used in both positive and negative ways. A large focus of the program was on the effect that these new behaviors have had on the relationship between children and parents, which I think is a very important aspect of this issue. The program followed real world children and parents as they attempted to make sense of these new behaviors and the new boundaries in their relationships.

I recommend that as an educator and/or parent (or potential parent) you take the the time to watch the program and take stock of how you feel. Did it scare you? Excite you? Confuse you? Think about divide that exists between your awareness of technology and your students/children. Are there implications that effect the teacher/student or parent/child relationships? And finally, what positive impact can these new realities have on education? Can we find ways to use these new behaviors in our school?
I encourage you to comment to this entry. The true value in a blog is in the conversations that occur between the readers.

Eric Bouvier


~ by breakingranks on January 24, 2008.

23 Responses to “Frontline: Growing Up Online”

  1. I was amazed at the student who read Spark notes instead of the real literature because he didn’t have enough time. He said he owed it to himself to read the real literature, but the he went on to say “If there were 27 hours in a day I would read it, but there’s only 24. I just don’t have the time.” If he took a few minutes to do his homework instead of being on the computer he might find the time, but that’s not the point. Children need to be taught to values that include things like reading (actual books, not computer books), personal interactions (in person, not on IM), and self-esteem (so people like Autumn Edows don’t need to use the internet to fit in), to name a few.

    I also noticed a trend in each of the students featured talking about how busy teenagers are today. I graduated from high school ten years ago. I took advanced classes, did after school activities, had a part-time job, and was generally busy. The difference is that I took the time and did my assignments. Now I know that ten years ago we didn’t use instant messenger, facebook and myspace didn’t exist, but I don’t think there is that much more going on, I think students are making different choices as to what to do with their time. Students need to understand how important time management is. How do we teach time management?

  2. I am an educator and a new parent. The program left me queasy. In specific terms, it was sad to see the girl who kept up an identity associated with eating disorders, and was able to keep this identity from her parents. It was sad to hear of the boy who talked suicide with his “friends.” I was affected by the show in general, too. I’m innately suspicious of too much technology and too much dependence on any one thing. This program displayed both of these things. The reliance of those children on a cold and impersonal medium for identity unsettled me. (We’ll perhaps debate the “cold and impersonal” thing.)

    Further, the willingness of many of the educators to buckle to the pressures of a swarming media because the kids do it seemed weak. We don’t “have to be entertainers” as a first criteria; we don’t have to run a visual while texting and lecturing. If students can and do “multitask,” so be it; let them do so on their own time. Can’t we still teach focus, attentiveness, and quiet? You know that if you watch TV while on the phone, something will be lost of one or the other, if not both. You don’t want your lawyer IMing and writing a letter while he’s on the phone with you. Can’t we slow down? Read? Talk?

    Then there was the guy who suggested we should redefine “cheating.” Ugh. Maybe his comment was out of context, but I don’t want him “teaching” my child.

  3. I, too, found the program disturbing. The depths to which kids immerse themselves in this alternative reality is jarring. The parental divide struck me as particularly sad, and I, in my gut, think that therein lies some of the problem. Even the parent who seemed most engaged actually didn’t seem to get it. Offkey, out of step. I sympathized with her son, and I wanted to shake her and say, “Look, your parenting guide/instinct didn’t equip you for this. Throw away your old paradigms and find an entry point with your children that works for them because what you’re doing now isn’t.”

    That said, the program was skewed to the negative; I think that’s pretty clear. Many youths find support, real friends, and worth through this medium. Indeed, I suspect Autumn Edows’ life was saved by having an outlet through which she could reinvent herself. Her father’s grace and generosity in dealing with her needs was, to me, quite touching. Autumn Edows reminds me of a very troubled student who “graduated” (quotes for a reason because I’m not sure if she did) from AHS last year. Multiple suicide attempts there.

    As for redefining cheating, Jadams, I think I disagree. (Sorry!) What we find valuable in a book, as lovers of literature, cannot really be taught, let alone foisted by tradition. The over-scheduling of children has resulted in a generation that cannot sit still that long. They get their information differently. I think what we need to do is realize that SparkNotes is a reality we must deal with. So what do we do? Well, I suggest we embrace it. We change the question. So many teachers aren’t changing the question, and that’s why reading SparkNotes makes so many teachers feel unsuccessful. If I’m going to teach The Things They Carried, then I better know what SparkNotes has to offer to my instruction and what it doesn’t. And then, if I want to be “mad” in their faces, I supposed I could ask them to write an analysis of what SparkNotes missed in TTTC. Incoming! Heh.

    I…think…I firmly believe that what we need to be doing in English is changing the question. The old paradigm just doesn’t fit. It’s not about reading the book anymore; they can fake that. So, my response might be, “Oh yeah? Well, then let’s have you show me that you can actually master and apply the content in a way that is meaningful to both of us. As an educator, I have to sleep at night in this brave new world.” At any rate, it’s about something else, and, I guess, we’ll have to have a discussion about what that is. I suppose, too, that the goalposts have moved, and the kicker is we’re not at all clear who’s doing the moving.

    The rest of this year will be experimental for me in American Lit. Let’s see what happens.

  4. I like your approach on TTTC and your idea about changing the question in general. I was actually referring to the writing side of this. The teacher in the program seemed to say “oh well” to the practice of cutting and pasting and presenting it as work, original work at that. I know we have seen that. There may be room for such a paper, but it shouldn’t become the commonplace, and we (students and teachers) should recognize it for what it is–a presentation of research, but not a piece of original scholarship. What do you think?

  5. On the writing, I definitely agree. I’m not averse to software like Turn It In at all. Frankly, I think such software would be helpful because students can begin to see where they blur the lines of intellectual property. IOW, we can use it as a tool, not as a trap.

    In the digital age, we will have to find new ways to introduce the notion of academic integrity, especially in writing. I watch my 10-year-old son writing so-called reports the same way I did 38 years ago. He sits at the dining room table, has the text in front of him, and gleans the information he needs to include in his “report,” careful not to say it in “exactly the same way.” What results is an exercise in paraphrasing, and I become the talking thesaurus. Not cool, but I’m not teaching his class.

    I think I’m becoming convinced that issues with academic integrity would diminish greatly were we to focus—as we’re supposed to—on depth over breadth. If students felt more authoritative over their literature, they would plagiarize less. And we have circled back around to our teaching methods (and goals) again.

  6. I think a more basic question we should be asking is how do we get the students to come to school every day and WANT to learn?

    How do we get them to WANT to do things the right way and not just do the bare minimum to pass the class?

    How do we inspire them and make them realize that they (most of them) completely waste the time they have in high school by only going through the motions?

    The fact of the matter is that they are not emotionally or intellectually ready to learn and “education” has been so concerned with the WHAT (the curriculum) that the HOW (best practice instructional methods) have been grossly neglected.

    This isn’t just a matter of utilizing and embracing technology either. I think we need to find concrete ways of helping our students realize the GIFT that they have in a free education and to remind them of it EVERY DAY.

    Only by finding a way to make a MAJORITY of the students realize this can we hope to foster a climate of academic excellence and pride. If we can’t conquer that basic concept, all the curriculum writing and technology in the world are useless.

    Many teachers (Not here at AHS of course) are more concerned with making sure they “cover” all the material than whether or not they are reaching and inspiring their students to care enough to actually LEARN the material and WANT to learn more.(As opposed to simply memorizing what they have to only to forget it 5 minutes after the test)

    I don’t necessarily blame the teachers for this either as they receive a lot of pressure to make sure they “get through” a certain amount of material in a certain amount of time.
    This doesn’t seem educationally sound to me. Cover it because you HAVE to even if no one truly understands the material. Why are we still allowing this to happen?

    What does my post have to do with this thread? Not a whole lot…but it is food for thought. I hope you enjoy.

    Also, How do we get more than three teachers to read this blog? (that’s for you Jim, Cynthia and

  7. I have to agree with Mr. Lizotte on the issue of teachers being more concerned to cover all of the material rather than actually being concerned with the students’ desire to learn the material. Evidently, it is important for the student to want to learn, but the teachers need to contribute. No matter what, teachers will have those students who do the work the “right way” and others who use Sparknotes. Using Sparknotes isn’t necessarily the “wrong way.” Therefore, I agree with Mrs. Bazinet on the issue of changing the question. Here’s some advice for teachers: Check out what’s going on in Sparknotes and figure out what kids will acquire from it, then ask a question much more in depth than just “theme” or “setting” or “character analysis.” There are several different factors out of control and hopefully teachers have accepted this and altered the way they are teaching literature.

  8. Please don’t misunderstand me on the Spark Notes issue. I think students AND Teachers are SMART to use Spark Notes…as a tool. That is all it is, a tool. If we have tools, we should use them. Same goes for sites such as In this day and age, I feel we are wasting time “teaching” how to “format” a citation when you have a tool that will do it correctly for you every time. (Why waste time learning a mundane formatting task that is easily and correctly done by a computer that never gets it wrong? Not to mention having to pull teeth to get students to pay attention. There is nothing exciting about what to underline, where a comma goes, etc.) The time would be better spent helping the students with how to do actual research; put it into their own words; properly site where they got that information; and how to avoid plagiarizing. With that said, using these “tools” should not take the place of actually reading the text and properly using research to support your own ideas in writing. (Doing it the “right way”)

  9. Meme writes,”Check out what’s going on in Sparknotes and figure out what kids will acquire from it, then ask a question much more in depth than just “theme” or “setting” or “character analysis.” I’m thinking: is what they acquire from Sparknotes different from the text itself? It’s got to be. There’s no experience of the text there. There’s _information about_ the text there. It’s like the difference between eating ice cream and reading the list of ingredients in the ice cream. Eat more ice cream!

    How do we invite teachers from other disciplines into this? What are the things we do best to get students to grapple with ideas, find answers (and questions), and learn for themselves?

    Here is an interesting article about the Click.

  11. This is where performance based assessments need to come into play more with students. Allowing students the freedom to display knowledge in their own unique way (thanks, Howie Gardner) may be one of the keys to getting students to engage in the curriculum. At this age, yes, the desire to learn has much to do with the student’s desire to learn; however, we can do better with how we ask them to demonstrate knowledge, and frankly, how we teach this knowledge to our students.

    What I see is a major obstacle is that many students now nothing other than open mouth, insert knowledge, get full, and vomit on a test. Asking them to think is totally foreign to them. We need to look top to bottom about how to change this. Certainly, it will not happen overnight.

    I also find it so interesting that we talk about changing the structure of the American high school, yet colleges are mostly chalk and talk institutions. Isn’t it ironic that exactly what we are trying to get away from is exactly what our kids will face when they graduate to an institution of “higher learning.”

    Hmmmmm . . . Dr. Allen, can you right Breaking Ranks III: Changing the American University System?

    Okay, off to a school committee meeting. Yah Whooooooo!!!!!!!!

  12. I agreed with you Mr. Lizotte. Sorry, I didn’t make it clear that I felt it was a good tool, rather than a student’s only resort.

    You make a great point, Mr. Adams! I do agree with the fact that students are not experiencing the text. I have to admit that I’ve used Sparknotes before, but only because I read the text constantly and could not understand it. Reading Sparknotes gave me an understanding of the concept, so that I could delve deeper into the meaning of the text. Do you think that’s a bad idea?

    Mr Handfield is right!!! “We can do better with how we ask them to demonstrate knowledge, and frankly, how we teach this knowledge to our students.” =D!

  13. Mr. Handfield is right on as far as asking students to think but it HAS to start at the bottom. Students need to be not only asked, but TAUGHT how to think for themselves starting in Pre-K. (Yes, TEACHING how to think seems oxymoronic but it can be done) There should be a section in the curriculum on how to systematically teach students how to conceptualize, how to learn, how to study etc. The inherent problem with this of course is that the more students think for themselves as adolescents the more they will think they know it all and resist authority. THAT is part of the problem with education today as well. Because of the nature of the laws, as well as the “this is the way it has always been done” mentality we end up treating our young adult learners as subordinates rather than as partners in learning. This inherently creates a sense of resistance to learn within the student.
    I too was baffled sitting through college courses that were being taught in the same chalk and talk manner. Most surprising were courses that were supposed to be teaching you how NOT to teach that way, yet somehow it is still ok for college professors to teach this way. Certainly they are aware of best practice teaching methodology and simply ignore it because… “this is the way it has always be done”.
    The biggest thing I see as a factor to stopping AHS from becoming innovative and LEADING the charge towards a new way of teaching and learning are the current laws, the way teachers contracts are set up, and the implications to the budget. This high school should be a center for learning 16 hours a day. Doesn’t it seem odd that school we begin school at 7:30 am when all the research suggests that most adolescents’ are night owls and really need to sleep until 8 or 9 am to function at their best? Doesn’t it seem odd that school ends right when most teenagers’ brains are hitting their stride? Why can’t we offer courses in the afternoon, or in the evening? Is it simply because no one has done it before?

  14. Hi,
    Two in a row!
    I meant to add this to the end of my last post.
    It’s 20 minutes long (so don’t watch it during school!)
    It is really the last 2-3 minutes where points that are relative to this conversation are made) It is worth a watch.

  15. Meme, I want to start by saying that I think you bring up a number of good points. However, you also have to realize that as soon as you take school and put it into kids’ afternoons and evenings, you’re now on very thin ice. I just can’t imagine the overall reaction to that idea being any less than appalled. I think that that would turn a group that is already indignant and who care little for school, and worsen the problem sevenfold, because it will only appear to be ever more of an obstacle. Though that is only a continuation of the present problem that kids in the whole view school as little more than a necessary evil, and that’s the ones who even admit that it’s necessary.

    Also, Mr. Lizotte, to address that great movie (every one of those manages to amaze me). I think his best point may very well have been made when he said that the kids are not like their parents. I think we have a huge generation gap. And I think that technology may very well be the driving force or reason behind that gap. The question then becomes this: How do we deal with that? I’ve been researching a secondary ed major in math for my personal college planning. The first thing taht jumped out at me as a similarity between every school’s program was the urge not only to teach their students how to teach math to kids, but how to use technology to do it. I know my Pre-Calc class has many times been shown technology that WE didn’t know existed, and in my English class, we’re currently using blogs exactly like this one to communicate with each other on the attributes of modernist literature. And you know what? It’s a lot more fun than sitting in a room and writing essays, but we’re still learning the stuff, maybe even better thatn we would have been. Taking the technology that students use constantly outside of school and using it to make learning entertaining works, and it works well. The Tell Me More program in the foreign language lab is cutting edge and the students love it. Appealing to the students interests in technoology may be a big part in getting kids to enjoy learning again.

  16. Wow, Jeff. That was a really good analysis of the situation. Oh, and the idea of having school at different times was Mr. Lizotte’s.

  17. Just to clarify my comment about what time school should take place, I am not suggesting that all students go to school during those “extended” hours. All I am pointing to is the research that shows when teenager’s brains are typically functioning at the highest levels isn’t necessarily when we force them to be in school.

    I would ask you why you feel offering courses that meet at other times would make us “on thin ice”. My guess is that it is because you are still looking at things the way they are and have been rather than evaluating what could and perhaps SHOULD be in order to get the results that are being demanded of today’s students.

    Imagine instead of having to be at school from 7:25-1:58 you had options as to when you could take your classes. (Similar to the way colleges schedule is run) Imagine motivated students graduating in 3 years. (Because they could take early morning, afternoon, or evening classes) Imagine those students who can’t function at 7:30 in the morning (and consequently end up failing courses or dropping out) being able to take afternoon or evening classes but taking 5 or even 6 years to graduate. Many students would get a much better education if they could learn the material at their own pace. Who says it takes four years to cover High School Material and prepare you for college.

    I’d argue that from looking at the data from college freshman who need to take remedial coursework (or who don’t make it through their first semester of college) many high school graduates are not really LEARNING anything other than how to memorize and regurgitate information, and how to beat the system in order to slide by.

    If we really want to make change that will make an impact, we need to remove all the obstacles and preconceived notions and determine what the IDEAL learning situation will be no matter how far fetched it may seem. Once we know and agree on what that situation would look like, it is our own fault if we do not sit down create a plan to implement it.
    NO MORE “Think outside the box”!! Let’s throw away the box and just think about the possibilities.

  18. Mr. Lizotte, I really like the idea of going to school at non-appointed times, but I can assure you that it would be very difficult for kids to get to school at different times. Think of the hassle that parents, school buses, and constant traffic of kids on the streets throughout the day could cause. Also, can we be sure that all students are motivated to the point that they can leave one class and return a few hours later to another? High school is different from college because kids HAVE to go to high school, whereas in college, kids make the decision and effort to go. You really cannot trust teenagers with that kind of schedule… Nevertheless, I think going to classes like college students do is FABULOUS, but it wouldn’t happen for high school students. Nuh-uh..!

  19. Meems, I would argue that all the reasons you listed for it not to work are merely excuses that have been used for decades and quite frankly they are at the root cause as to why NO changes have come and consequently why public education is in the state that it is currently in. But, to appease your concerns, there could still be a “traditional” day for those families and students who need to go during the “regular” hours, but there would also be other classes available at other times. It could actually be LESS of a hassle for many families. I’ll refer you to the last paragraph of my last posting. If you don’t remove the excuses(the obstacles) then you can not really arrive at an ideal educationally sound system. If we were to do that, then build a system from the ground up, I think there would be ways around all the issues you bring up. We will only do what we decide is important to do. It is really nice to see students posting and THINKING. Let’s get some new postings going. THINKING IS GOOD!

  20. Let’s start a revolution in high school hours, then! hahahaha

  21. Worth a look.

  22. Jeff,
    Thanks for these links!
    I found this passage in the Ed Week piece fascinating.

    “And content creators aren’t so wrapped up in the virtual world that the real world suffers—they’re more likely than their less-creative peers to participate in school clubs and to hold a part-time job.”

    This sort of flies in the face of what the Frontline special told us about our kids and their online habits. I’ll have to read the Pew study but this seems to indicate they are not trading an offline world for an online world. Rather they are able to justify their place in each.

    It also speaks volumes about the importance of creativity in their lives. Getting these kids to be creative, whether it is through art, music, or blogging does have a positive impact on our students.


  23. Check this one out! Great stuff!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: