SMS, social media in for kids; blogging, Twitter out

Lengthy communications and, paradoxically, Twitter, just don't enter the communication picture for kids. The question this raises, though, is not why kids don't use Twitter, but how can we tap this easy, often asynchronous communication in education?
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Thanks to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, we now have lots of statistics that confirm what we already knew. Kids communicate in short bursts, via either text, instant messaging, or social media status updates. Lengthy communications and, oddly, Twitter, just don't enter the picture. The question this raises, though, is not why kids don't use Twitter, but how can we tap this easy, often asynchronous communication in education?

Don't worry, this won't be a post advocating the end of the essay. Real writing skill is sorely lacking in many high school (and college) graduates and whether you force them to blog for you or run writers workshops is irrelevant. Clear, detailed, articulate writing has to be a core part of our curriculum.

That being said, if interpersonal communication is increasingly brief, parallel, mobile, and asynchronous, it seems that we're doing ourselves and our students a disservice if we don't step into their information stream. One noteworthy point that the Pew Center made was that kids' access to the Internet is becoming centered around their phones and, to a lesser extent, laptops. So what's going to be more effective for reminding students about an assignment? A paper handout at the end of class? An updated blog entry on a teacher website? Or a text message linking to a mobile-optimized site with assignment details? Probably the latter.

Have you seen the new Motorola Android Devour? It's all about managing these streams of messages and data and connecting to a rich mobile web optimized for touch and small screens. How many of your students have cell phones? The Pew study was telling in this respect as well:

Overall the computer remains the most popular way for teens to go online, with 93% of teens with a desktop or laptop computer using the device to go online. But other more portable technologies are also now providing new paths to the internet. Among teen cell phone users, more than a quarter (27%) say they use their cell phone to go online. Similarly, 24% of teens with a game console (like a PS3, Xbox or Wii) use it to go online. Other handheld gaming devices also allow internet connectivity—among teens with a portable gaming device, about one in five (19%) use it for this purpose.

Yes, blogging may be out. Twitter may be dead among Millennials before it even found a business model. But these kids are online all the time. They can carry on 5 conversations at once, two of which may involve multiple friends, and they access messaging capabilities that are both synchronous (e.g., IM) and asynchronous (e.g., Facebook messages or SMS) with aplomb.

It's time that we responded as educators and took a critical look at the ways in which we reach out to students as well as our 1:1 efforts. In many areas, netbooks and tablets will provide useful 1:1 computing solutions. However, we're approaching a tipping point at which smartphones may provide better value and a platform that resonates better with our students for anytime/anywhere access to knowledge.

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