200 minutes a night online - but what do they do?
The main objection today was that I thought it was better to spend 200 minutes online than 200 minutes in front of the television, which is the swapover that is currently sweeping the UK teenspace. And as I've already said, I don't really think it matters what we think, because the kids are doing this anyway.
The criticism has, however, pushed me into asking another question: what is it that kids do in those 200 minutes? From the Prenskys, Robinsons and Novembers of this world we would be under the belief that it is nearly always cognitively demanding stuff. But is there any observational research out there which tells us what proportion of time is spent IM-ing, blogging, Bebo-ing, researching for homework...? The chances are we would end up with a total pie chart of more than 200 minutes, with all the multitasking going on.
Well, the research is there and it is high profile. This 2005 E-Society Paper (download as PDF) shows that most use of the net by kids is what most sensible people would call, well, sensible. Most of their use (on page 10) is for researching the web for homework. The references to IM and email are probably going on simulataneously meaning that an even larger chunk of time than is stated in the research is actually being invested in learning. And the sites they choose to look at (page 18) are invariably noble in their causes: environment, charity, human rights and, yes, government.
As I said before, it's not that these kids are not interested in politics - they clearly are - it's just that we haven't shown them how to use their own self-publishing platform (Bebo, MSN Spaces, MySpace) to mobilise themselves and make their individual voices count as a collective. Now, instead of making kids power down when they enter school (a good Prensky-ism, that one) why don't we let them use their mobile computing devices and iPods to continue their high-powered learning.
But here's the crunch - why don't we allow them use their online social spaces in school to do what they are apparently interested in: to engage with their society. It won't work just by opening up the ports to their sites, but we will have a wonderfully engaging educational experience showing them how to harness the power they already wield for the good of society. Then we would really have responsible citizens and effective contributors.