Archive | February, 2011

iSchool. Are You In?

27 Feb

I’m interested in the iSchool concept developed by highschooler Travis Allen (now a college student and founder of the non-profit organization iSchool Initative.) Below is the YouTube video that launched Allen’s idea:

While I don’t subscribe to everything Allen espouses,  I think he’s definitely onto something when it comes to digital learning.  My munchkin’s generation will see a day when iPads, e-readers and similar technology will replace traditional notepads and textbooks all together. 

Teachers and schools embracing opportunities to incorporate interactive technology in the classroom are giving their students an advantage versus shools with more traditional educational approaches.  And students who learn and absorb technology at an early age will not only learn to embrace technology, they’ll also become more fluid learners and less resistant to change than kids who are limited to the physical world of paper and pencils. 

What you think about the iSchool Initiative.  Do you think this is where schools are heading?  Do you feel strongly either way about Apple’s role in the development of these platforms and apps?   How long will it be before you, as a parent, buy your kid their own iPhone or iPad for educational (vs. entertainment) purposes?


Online To-Do List Review

26 Feb

I love lists.  In fact, it’s a running joke in my family about how attached I am to my lists.  Maybe it’s because I’m a working mom and grad student and have a ton on my plate.  Maybe it’s because my house is in a constant state renovation, and since I can’t organize my physical space, I’m compelled to organize my mental space.  Or maybe I’m just type-A.   Whatever the reason, I simply can’t live without my lists.  

So, as a techno(t) parent, I attempted to be more eco-friendly AND organized, and convert my Post-its piles and scraps of old envelopes into digital lists.  I explored three digital list-building platforms – Todoist, Teux Deux and Remember the Milk.  Here’s what I learned:

Registration was free and a snap, and I like the sophistication of this tool.  It has mobile capabilities and is also in app format.   But even after watching this professional demo video twice, list building was still complicated for a late-adopter like me.  Am I just clueless?

I like the micro-manging options (indenting, color coding, adding links, bucketing priorities), but  this tool wasn’t as intuitive or easy to manage as I had hoped.  I’m sure once you learn all the features, the sophistication of this interface is helpful, (especially if you work in a task-driven arena like website design or PTA management,) but alas, the reason I need to make lists is because I don’t have time in the first place.

Teux Deux
This very visual, intuitive interface is basic and clean-looking, which is how I like my lists.  Registration was free, easy and fast. That said, the platform took forever to load and ultimately, my computer crashed — twice.  I went back and tried to reboot,  and when I finally got in, I couldn’t remember my login.  Overall, while I was attractied to the layout the glitches were frustrating, and not worth the time.  (And imagine if I took the time to draft an important list and couldn’t retrieve it!  Very ugly scene.)

Remember the Milk
The fun title alone implied this platform might be an easy list building tool.  Sadly, I was mistaken.  Registration involved a confirmation of my email address, so it took time to get started.  There was no online video demo on how to use the platform, and while the online FAQs were helpful, I was looking for a “getting started” section for the tech-illiterate like me, which I never found.  I got as far as the first task, and then gave up.  (To be fair, I get frustrated with tech easily, which is why I’m behind in the first place.)

My Verdict?
The only platform I could really figure out (Teux Deux) was the platform that crashed my computer.  And ultimately, I spent more time typing things in and reorganizing them than it would take me to scribble on a post-it.  So while I definitely see the value in digital list making tools – specifically when it comes to parenting on top of an already insane schedule – until I find an easy, intuitive list-building interface, I’m sticking with my good ole’ Post-its.

How do you make lists?  Have you found any online list-building tools that are more intuitive than the ones I reviewed?  If so, PLEASE share!

Who Knew PSAs Could Be So Much Fun?

25 Feb

I love this public service announcement featuring Disney’s Phineas and Ferb. It offers some helpful “rules of the road” for Internet use, shares some important messages and amuses at all levels. These are good points we *all* should keep in mind.  Props, Disney!

Empathy. Are You Feelin’ It?

23 Feb

As a parent, I tend to be down a bit on technology (hence my “late-adopter” status.)  But perhaps I’m slightly justified. This article, published by CNN and written by Gary Small, M.D. and Gigi Vorgan, discusses new research that suggests that high Internet and gaming use alters the brain, and could affect an individual’s capacity for empathy.  The authors cite the recent incident regarding Serene Branson covering the Grammys while having a medical issue as an example of our growing lack of empathy as a culture.  (Listen to the reaction of the person taping the video.  It’s laughter – not concern – for the reporter.  And many of the comments posted on YouTube along with the video are insensitive and rude.)

Now, I don’t want to fuel the “alarmist” fire, but I do think the authors raise a good point.  And that’s that in today’s media-saturated culture, kids (and adults) *could* be becoming more insensitive. 

As parents in a digital age, we should stop regulary and do “sanity checks” to see how our kids are processing everything around them.  Whether it’s video of a school bullying, images from Iraq, or a hurtful text from a friend, parents should to step in and ask our kids about their reactions.  Were they surprised?  Hurt?  Scared?  Angry?  Did they wish someone stepped in to help?  Would they have helped in the same situation?  Why or why not?

We might not have all the answers, but if we’re actively asking the questions and have an open dialog with our kids, hopefully we can help cultivate their empathy and kindess for others.

Interview With Parenting/Tech Expert Jeana Lee Tahnk…

22 Feb

Tech Parenting Expert Jeana Lee Tahnk

I’ve been crawling the cyberworld for some of the best resources on parenting in the world of technology, and I *really* dig Jeana Lee Tahnk’s Screen Play blog, which is published online as of Parenting Magazine.   Screen Play is chock-full of the latest tools, toys and news in the digital world, and written for both tech-savvy parents and late adopters like me.  I recently reached out to Jeana as a fan, and imagine my surprise when she generously offered to be interviewed by Techno(t)Parent!  I came up with a few quick questions, and  here’s what one of my favorite parenting/tech experts had to say about parenting in a digital world:

Q. What are the top 3-5 tools a new parent should have?   
JLT: With the way technology has progressed and the sheer volume of information that is readily available, all a new parent really needs now is an Internet connection and a device for accessing it, whether that is a PC or a smart phone. If you have a smart phone (I happen to LOVE my iPhone), there is literally an app for anything imaginable that a parent would need such as apps to simulate baby monitors, track allowances, keep moms organized, find local playgrounds, identify kid-friendly restaurants…literally anything and everything. And with Internet access, any question can be answered and any bit of information can be found to help a parent out. 

If parents also have a family PC in the house, it is also essential that they have security software on their systems. Not only do these suites protect the computer from the potential risks of infection, but they also have measures to fully protect children from any risks from being online. This is of the utmost importance.

Q: What are the biggest challenges parents are facing in the digital age?   
JLT: Technology is moving faster than we can all keep up with. And with that, our children are growing up in environments where technology is everywhere. I think challenges that parents face in this digital age are not only being aware of their kids’ technology usage, but staying ahead of it. I know a lot of parents who say that their toddlers know more about their iPhones than they do. Although many of them are saying that in jest, it’s going to be a continuing challenge to stay ahead of the learning curve when it comes to technology and ensure they are using it in a safe way. 
Q: How can a parent stay current with toys, tools, trends, and yet not get “swept up” in the fads?
JLT: Figure out how you want technology to serve you and then pick a few resources that will help you achieve that goal.  
Q: Is there any additional advice you’d offer to a parent stumbling around or feeling overwhelmed in the digital space?
JLT:  I would advise parents to figure out how they want to incorporate technology into their lives and start with a foundation for what they want to gain from it. You can use technology minimally to just send photos of the kids around via email, or become much more immersed in it to create movies, use it as a live calendar and messaging system and basically create a framework for it to be an integral resource in your life. It is easy to get overwhelmed with technology if you are new to it, but it is also easy to learn and adapt too. There is also such a huge support system online for parents, so if you have questions, it’s likely that a Google search will pull up more than enough information to help you.
Sincere thanks to Jeana for the advice!

The Blogging Rabbit Hole

21 Feb

This blog was created for a grad school class, and the expectation is that we’re blogging five times a week.  For my readers’ (are you out there??) sake, I’ve been killing myself to draft well-written posts that offer value, insight and guidance in the world of technology and parenting.  So before I complain, I must preface my thoughts with the following: 

I *love* the blogging platform.  It allows me to express my creative (and not-so-creative) self.  It’s a free, immediate, easy way to share my ideas and thoughts with others, and get their feedback.  And I’m thrilled when someone takes the time to weigh in on something I’ve written or a broader discussion ensues.  As a writer, I also cherish the chance to write something other than press releases, company statements or white papers.  And I hope the few people I am reaching find my posts valuable and interesting.

But penning a regular blog is also stressing me the hell out!

From researching unique topics and finding credible experts to interview to selecting appropriate graphics and obsessing about sentence structure, I find the blogging process a *huge* time suck.  I’ve been up since 6 a.m. today – on a vacation day no less – drafting and editing blog posts while my mom and sister play with my baby girl in the next room.   (Did I mention it’s now 2:31, and I have yet to stop for lunch?!)

See, I think blogging is great for people who are casual writers. Or people who don’t mind mistakes.  Or people who’ve been able to draw a solid, paying audience.  Or experts sharing info in a field they have expertise in.  Or people who like to throw things out in the Universe and see what comes back.   Or people who aren’t obsessive editors or self-critics.  But I’m learning that I’m not that type of person.

I’m a perfectionist, and I don’t want any less-than-solid writing representing me in the public realm.  And so the blogging process becomes a time-consuming, politically correct, research-driven, grammar-obsessed monster that gobbles up huge chunks of my time.  Time I simply don’t have.

As one of my fellow classmates shared when discussing the blogging experience, “I start down one path, and then I link to something else, and then something else, and then I have so much information I don’t know where to stop.”  I feel her pain.  And I raise her ten.

And since I have yet to learn how to market this beast of a blog, I’m also feeling the proverbial tree-falling-in-the-woods frustration.   Why am I killing myself to deliver quality stuff if no one is reading it??!  

So I’ve decided to cut myself some slack,  and if my grade suffers because I need to dial back, so be it.   Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experience, it’s that the blogging process – while rewarding – can also be all-consuming.  And I need to figure out how to set some limits or I’ll be sucked down the blogging rabbit hole faster than I can yell “feed the baby while I’m gone!”

Oh, and I’m starving.

Tech Toys from 2011 Toy Fair

21 Feb

I just read an article  published by Time magazine that highlights the top 10 tech toys from the 2011 Toy Fair.  I found two particular toys interesting, not necessarily for what they do, but what they say about parenting in a digital world.

The first was the Laugh and Learn Baby iCan Case.  The review claims this colorful, rubber smartphone protector will help parents “breathe a little easier” when forking over their iPhone to their kids.Now, I *love* the idea of having a protective device that will keep any smartphone safe if it’s dropped from less dexterous kiddie hands.   But I’m going to assume that if you’re tossing Junior your $450 iPhone, it’s because he/she is in “meltdown” mode, or that you’re in a situation where you may be too occupied to interact with your child, like in the car.  If that’s the case, would you have the time or extra hands it takes to put your iPhone in this type of protector?  Just sayin’…  Good idea if you have the time, but not sure Fisher-Price market-tested this in real-life situations.

The second “tech” toy is an example of “reverse technology”… So, remember a few posts ago, I talked about a three-year-old obsessed with the “Angry Birds” game on his mom’s iPhone?  Check this out:  the folks at Mattel have come out with the Angry Birds Knock on Wood BOARD GAME.   Looks like a great way help our “tech-addicted” 3-year old transition into the physical world of table top games.  Like Torrey, Stacy and Andrea recently commented, parenting in the tech world is all about balance. This game takes the fun and familiarity of the digital game and translates it into physical skills like building a structure, drawing cards, and knocking the building down using a bird-launching catapult-type contraption.  Cool concept, and  I wonder how many other ideas conceived in the “tech” world will find new life in the physical world.

Angry Birds Knock On Wood board game

Some of the other toys included in Time’s review were typical – yet another iteration of Elmo doing something interactive and loud, and there’s the always popular remote-controlled cars and kid-friendly cameras.  There was one really unique toy – a game based on mind control – that I’d be interested in hearing more about, although I’m somewhat skeptical, and would like to see it in action.

I think the most  interesting thing  about this review is that the reporter broke out the “Tech Toys”  section from the regular toys, giving them their own sub-category – a concrete illustration of how tech is securing a bigger and bigger footprint in our kids’ playtime.

What other tech toys do you recommend? What are are some toys (tech or not) that your kids simply won’t put down?

I’m Here. But I’m Not.

19 Feb

As a working mom in the 24-hour media industry, I’m always plugged in.  I compulsively check my Blackberry, even if it isn’t vibrating off the table.  I constantly troll business websites for the latest news and information, and I keep my cell charged and within arms’ reach.  While not tech-savvy, I’m definitely “networked.” 

In my professional world, not responding to a call, text or email within an hour or two of its receipt is frowned upon, and justifiably so.  Media todays is 24-7, and reporters don’t have hard and fast deadlines.  News is a constant stream of information, and most reporters would agree that news is about getting it out, and then going back and filling in the holes.  And that’s assuming the scoop hasn’t already been Tweeted by a “citizen journalist” on the corner.

I understand the ramifications of a delay in a media-driven work response, and acknowledge the importance of immediacy and responsiveness in that realm.  But I’m starting to see this “immediacy” expectation permeate my personal life as well.  I always pick up my cell (and hit speaker phone) while I’m driving.  I’m compelled to respond to every text message the instant it comes in.  And I sleep with my cell on my bed stand.

All this connectivity and immediacy has certainly made me a more responsive worker, partner, daughter and friend.  But it begs the question, “Are we ‘better’ because we respond faster in this tech-savvy culture?”

I’d argue not.  Because while immediacy drives a media call, every reporter knows accuracy is what drives the story.  A fast response is part of the equation, but it’s also critical to take the time to gather the facts and share accurate, quality, in-depth information.  A well-crafted or engaging story often isn’t usually a hastily written one. 

And while my family knows they can reach me on my drive home from work, they also know I’m more distracted, that the cell service always cuts out about 15 minutes into the drive, and that I’m trying to make the transition from “work brain” to “mommy brain” with plenty of hiccups along the way. 

So, despite being increasingly “connected,” I feel less and less “present” in my life.  I’m here, but I’m not.  And I’m not the only one. 

How many times have you seen a parent pushing a kid on swing on the playground while texting?  Or someone driving while tapping out an email?  How many times have you seen kids and parents at the same table at a restaurant, both engaged with smartphones and gaming systems? Or girlfriends shopping together, but chatting away on their cells with other people?  Or someone gabbing on the phone while interacting with cashier.  And how *annoying* is it when you’re talking to someone and they just pick up their phone and start texting?  (Girlfriend, you know who you are!)

What does the constant interruption and “immediacy” of your response to technology say about the quality of your relationships?  Or the value you place on other people’s time and attention?

While my professional expectations for immediacy won’t change, I’m making a vow today to be more present in my personal life.  And I may sacrifice “immediacy” for quality, so if you don’t hear from me for bit, you’ll know why. 

But when we do connect, you’ll have my full focus and attention.  I promise not to pick up my cell while we’re out for lunch.  Or text you while I’m driving. (Nevermind the danger!) Or try to have a serious conversation when I know I only have a minute before my cell service cuts out.  I will be present on walks with my daughter instead of multi-tasking, and my husband won’t get distracted half-answers or be put on hold so long he hangs up. 

And if you live across the miles, when we do chat by cell, I will be focused on you, our conversation, and what you have to share and say.

This is such a simple, common-sense vow, but it’s such an important message in our tech-driven society – especially as parents model for their children.  This vow teaches them:  I value my relationships.  I value your time and attention.  And I want to be here.  But I also want to be present.

Have a Minute… Or 4,500??

18 Feb

This brief, interesting ABC News segment  discusses kids’ media consumption and technology’s impact on school performance.  Some of the highlights:

  • The average kid engages in 75 hours of media a week, and spends an additional 1.5 hours texting and another 1/2 hr talking on the cell phone
  • Among heaviest media users, roughly half get grades of “C” or lower in school. 

While I’m not sure what study is being cited, or what age groups were surveyed, the segment makes a case for parents setting limits/guidelines surrounding kids’ media consumption.

Do you think we should leave it up to kids to balance the tech world around them, or should parents step in to help set media and tech guidelines/boundaries for school-aged children?  Has anyone had any trouble setting or enforcing boundaries?  What determines where to draw the line?

Going Online With Kids’ Medical Records

17 Feb

My little munchkin was born with some health issues and I’ve spent a ton of time in doctor appointments over the past six months. From pediatricians to physical and occupational therapists to neurologists, it’s been a challenge keeping all the appointments – yet alone the information and records – straight. For this reason, we chose a pediatrician who can securely post pateints’ medical records online.  Here’s some helpful things I learned about parenting in a world with online medical records:

The good:

  • I can access my child’s information from anywhere, anytime, as long as I can get on the Internet. If we’re traveling and I need to know when she had her last tetanus shot, I can just look it up. Or if I’m going to another doctor’s appointment, I can print out her records at home and bring them with me.
  • There’s no guesswork after the appointment. (E.g. “What was that he said about solid foods? How many diapers should she be going through at this age?) It’s all there.
  • The records are thorough. From general behavioral reminders (Keep kids away from small objects) and eating guides (Introduce yellow vegetables first), to customized, specific notes (Still seeing Dr. X for physical therapy 3x week) the records are lengthy and in-depth.
  • Our entire family’s records are available. Because it’s a family practice, not only does the doctor have her records, he knows who in our family has had chicken pox, a history of allergies, etc.
  •  It was the deciding factor.  Comparing pediatricians, when all things were equal, the online medical records are what tipped the scale.

The not-so-good:

  • The online interface isn’t that easy or intuitive. If I just want to find her inoculations dates, I have to comb through an entire record to find them.
  • There’s no alert mechanism. If I email the doc a quick question, I don’t get any notification that he’s responded. The onus is on me to keep checking back. (And he only answers emails through this tool.) Also, there are no alert reminders about appointments or milestones (shots, etc.)
  •  The records come pre-populated with standard info, and the doc customizes for my child by adding info as we talk during the appointment. This presents not only a tech hurdle (some things aren’t accurate/specific to my child) but also a personal one (doc spends as much time hunting and pecking on a keyboard as he does checking out my kid.)
  • Only one of my doctors has the tool. So while I can get her pediatric records, I still don’t have access to her physical therapy or occupational therapy records online.
  • Dialog and patient interaction suffers. Have you ever asked someone a serious medical question while they’re trying to update a document in real-time?  (And a screaming 4 month old in your lap?!)   Doc often focuses on getting the paperwork done before I leave the office, and the report is often at the expense of a more personal “bedside manner”.

Overall, if you don’t have access to online pediatric records now, I’d recommend having the discussion with your doctor. Despite the glitches, the convenience of being able to access your child’s medical records anywhere, anytime is a big win for parents. (Especially when it’s 3 a.m. and you can’t remember how much Tylenol – if any – your doctor said you should give a feverish baby.)  And being able to print out hard copies – especially when trekking  from doctor to doctor – helps keep everyone on the same page.

And while this “tech tool” doesn’t help me get her to her appointments on time or amuse her in the waiting room, it’s a valuable tool that will help me as a parent be a better medical treatment advocate for my munchkin.   Hooray for technology.