Digital Smarts Blog

You are here


Just Can’t Get Enough

Nearly three-quarters of teens say they know social media companies are manipulating them into spending more time online—but they’re using apps like Snapchat and Instagram more than ever. According to a new survey, 70 percent of survey respondents say they check those apps multiple times a day, compared with just 34 percent six years ago. Despite their awareness, they don’t find it particularly harmful to their wellbeing. Check out what else the teens divulged about their digital lives.


Free Video Game App Teaches Students About Autism

College students in Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center have developed a free 30-minute video game called Prism that helps elementary-age students understand the experiences of their peers with autism. The game uses animal characters that demonstrate some of the challenges faced by individuals with autism. Prism is now available to play for free online, as well as in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. The game takes about 30 minutes to play and comes with a downloadable discussion guide for teachers and parents.


Data Privacy, Technology Tools and Homework Projects

Let’s say your child wants to use a technology tool for a homework project but the program or app is not approved by your school district. Where do you start in helping them get permission? Usually, as long as the technology is being used strictly outside the classroom and your child has their parents permission, there is no issue. But in this day and age of concern about data privacy, if your child suggests a tool that might good for the whole class to use, it is important for you to know about how schools think about these kinds of issues. The Educator’s Guide to Student Data Privacy on the Connect Safely site can give you the kind of insight on issues and concerns that might come up especially if you encounter a teacher who is less than excited about the use of technology in the classroom.


Digital Devices and The Brain

Scientific American online recently posted an article summarizing some of the latest research on how digital devices affect the brain. Although people who multitask online are ultimately less effective at navigating between tasks, findings also show that multitasking does not alter our brains. They also suggest that although video games and brain training influence aggression and cognitive performance, the extent of that influence is much less than many would think. What is the best way to counteract any negative influences of violent games? Go and do something that doesn’t involve digital devices. And here is something to consider for schools and parents: the risks of digital devices can be minimized by educating people on enhanced concentration techniques, self-control and critical-thinking skills.


Rethinking Posting First Day of School Pictures

Security experts are urging parents to reconsider posting photos of their children on the first day of school to their social networks. These photos can facilitate ill-intentioned people in gathering information about children, including name, age and where they attend school, says Raj Samani of McAfee.


Parents Ban Together to Figure Out Fortnite

Parents and educators alike are noticing the addiction kids are having with the popular online game Fortnite. Parents are joining Facebook support groups to trade tips about how to limit the time their preteens spend playing, according to NBC News . Teachers, on the other hand, are trying to take advantage of their students enthusiasm for the game by using it to teach math and English lessons.


Why is Working on a Computer All Day So Exhausting?

It is uncertain why working on a computer all day long is so physically exhausting, although studies point to a couple of possibilities, writes Brian Resnick for Vox. One hypothesis is that the mental energy used sitting still in front of a computer has a draining effect on our bodies. Another theory suggests that tension caused by being drawn to the things we want to do (scrolling Instagram or reading blogs, for instance), rather than the things we have to do could is the cause of fatigue, and could very well explain the struggle of trying to get homework done!


Teacher- Student Texting: Growing Trend, Growing Concern

Texting is often the communication method of choice for teens when communicating with peers and adults alike. But what about texting between teachers and students? In a recent article on the topic, Laura Zieger of the Department of Education Technology at New Jersey City University suggests schools should exercise caution about letting educators text with students, but should not prohibit the practice. Meghan DeCarlo, a high-school teacher and track coach who texts with student athletes, suggests the texts be for information purposes and always sent to a group. Is there a policy at your school for texting between teachers and students? Should there be?


More Teens Using Social Media

About 70% of teenagers say they use social media multiple times per day (about twice as many as reported in 2012), according to a Common Sense Media survey revealed in USA Today. Teens also say social media can be distracting, with 57% saying it distracts them from doing homework, and 54% saying it distracts them from paying attention to other people.

Despite the distractions, the majority of teens still feel social media has a positive effect on their social lives.  Vicky Rideout, founder of VJR Consulting in San Francisco and the author of the Common Sense report, says this is a valid discussion point, however she also adds “I do not think for a minute that the only metric we should use to measure what type of impact social media is having on teens is what they say they think it is having.” 


Facebook is the Most Popular Social Site For Everyone But Teens

The number of Americans who use Facebook will reach 169.5 million in 2018, making it the most popular social site among all ages, except for teenagers, who prefer Snapchat, eMarketer reports. Some 16.4 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 will use Snapchat this year, compared with 12.8 million who will use Instagram, and Snapchat will remain the most popular social site for teens.


Should You Digitally Track Your Teen?

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that while most parents don’t track the locations of their 13- to 17-year-olds, a full 16 percent do. Where do you stand on the issue? Before you make up your mind, you might want to read an article from The New York Times Family section entitled Should You Track Your Teen’s Location? that poses an interesting question: how do you learn to take care of yourself if you know someone else is always watching?


Turning Off Social Media – Generation Z

It seems that some members of Generation Z are abandoning some social media platforms or are considering doing so. Several teenagers interviewed for an article in The Guardian said they stopped using social media because they were tired of presenting a false persona on platforms such as Instagram or watching others being bullied online. Is this a trend or an aberration?


How Many of Those Facebook Friends are Real Friends?

Despite having hundreds of "friends" on social media, people can effectively maintain only about 150 acquaintances, says Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford in an article in the Scientific American magazine. Beyond that larger group, research shows people can maintain about five intimate relationships and 15 close friends.


Digital “Time Well Spent” Movement Spawns New App Features

YouTube is the latest of many digital platforms giving momentum to the industry-wide time well-spent movement, an initiative that aims to help people reduce the amount of time they spend looking at their phones and scrolling through their social media feeds. YouTube is rolling out more features designed to help users “take charge” of their digital well-being. The ‘Watch History’ screen within a YouTube profile’s account will show how much time the user has spent on the app that day, the previous day and over the past seven days. This latest feature comes after YouTube released the option for users to set a timer that would remind them to take a break from the app, a feature that was first introduced in the YouTube Kids app.

Similarly, Apple and Google both recently announced a range of functions designed to help users monitor the amount of time they spend on their iOS and Android devices, and Instagram just released a “You’re all caught up” message to notify users when they have seen every post in their feed from the last 48 hours. In August, Facebook announced it would be rolling out activity dashboards for both Facebook and Instagram where users could track the amount of time they spend on the apps.


Should Schools Track What Students Type?

As reported by Quartz, some schools are tracking, word for word, anything an individual student types on a school computer using safety management platforms (SMPs), such as Gaggle, Securly, and GoGuardian. These platforms use natural language to scan each document looking for words or phrases that might indicate bullying, violent or self-harm behavior, sending flagged documents to a team of humans to review. The practice, however, is raising questions about how to balance school safety and students' privacy. Critics say that this kind of surveillance, even if students understand this kind of scrutiny is in place, normalizes a “Big Brother” state depriving students of the chance to control their own data. How is your school handling this issue?


Another Approach – Issuing Tickets To Kids for Cellphone Use At

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a Wisconsin school district is seeking a village ordinance to issue citations to students who violate its cellphone policy a third time. Across the country, school districts have a mix of policies that include outright bans on campus to allowing phones in the classroom for schoolwork on a classroom by classroom basis. What policy does you school district follow? Do you and your kids think a policy like being given a ticket and facing a fine would be successful in curbing cellphones at school?


Apps for Back to School

Looking for guides to the best apps for back to school? An article of interest that has a broad range of apps, is Best back to school mobile apps for Android, iOS on the Znet site. Scroll left and right to see a list of apps that help with studying, staying organized, avoiding procrastination and more.


Giving Your Old Computer New Life

As the new school year starts you may be thinking about what you can do to give your old computer new life, or how to enhance a computer you are handing down to your kids. A recent Tech Tip column in The New York Times covers just that topic and discusses how adding RAM (Random Access Memory) or a new hard drive can revamp an old machine. A simple but useful one-stop shop for Macintosh users looking to upgrade can be found on Other World Computing’s My Upgrades page. There, you can enter the computer’s model number and it will generate a list that shows you all the components of the computer that can be upgraded. You can even buy the parts right there.


Home-School Communication – The Digital Route

According to a 2016 report, there’s been a steep drop in the number of parents who believe that more intimate forms of communication—face-to-face meetings with teachers, for example—are the most effective means to convey important information about students. The study in fact found a growing acceptance of digital methods. Enter simple communication apps like ClassDojo, Spotlight, Remind, and Seesaw that allow teachers to send mobile texts, video summaries, and other alerts to parents about important school activities or their child’s recent academic or behavioral progress.

Taken together, these new ways to communicate are giving parents a deeper look into their childrens' performance and experience in the classroom, while forging tighter relationships between schools and families. Educational apps have even played a vital role in updating parents about snow days and disasters, while advanced features translate report cards into languages from Arabic to Vietnamese. Is your school using one of these apps? What has been your experience?


Creating Your Own Emojis

Did you know that there is a world of emojis beyond what comes on your phone or tablet? Both the Google Play store and the iOS App Store have a selection of emoji-making apps that guide you through creating your own characters. Some, like inTextMoji for iOS, can insert custom characters into messages through their own built-in emoji keyboards, while other apps create small images you can send, like pictures. As with any app, make sure to read its reviews and permissions requests first, as security companies warn that some third party apps allow access to a lot of personal information.