Beyond the Screentime Debate: NCTE Panel Presentation

With colleagues, I will be adding my perspectives on children and screentime to an important session at the NCTE Annual Convention in Houston, TX today.

From our proposal: “There are legitimate concerns about children’s physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being; yet conversations about screentime focus predominantly on the time spent on devices, often overlooking fundamentally important questions about what youth are learning by using technology. How do we navigate our own parenting lives when we are immersed in a field that values critical and creative use of devices, both in school and out, in order to build skills that are necessary for success in today’s world? What challenges do we as educators and parents face? How do we approach parenting in an age of screentime?

This session will bring together teachers and professors who are also parents to explore these questions and the notion of screentime itself. The opening keynote will situate the context by exploring the following questions. How is screentime portrayed in the media? Is all screentime created equal? What do we actually know from research? Then roundtable presenters will share challenges faced as parents.”

For my part, my Ignite-style talk (which, if you’ve never done one or seen one is 20 slides, timed to transition every 15 seconds) explores the challenges and opportunities that Virtual Playgrounds offer tweens going through tough transitions. Soon after we moved to Ottawa, my then 10-year old daughter started playing in a virtual world called Animal Jam. She loved it because her friends from school were playing, and as she told me in a conversation a couple of months ago, she felt successful there. At a time when everything was new, and she was always “the new girl” at school, she could be special in Animal Jam because she had “rare items” such as a coveted pair of butterfly wings. One afternoon, though, the wings were stolen by another player. Through her sobs, my daughter admitted she was tricked into giving out her account password by someone who had been her “friend” for some time in the game.

In the talk I offer five insights that align with and extend research on tweens’ virtual play in these kinds of virtual worlds. I also offer three big take-aways that could inform teaching and research.


  • For tweens, virtual playgrounds are about making and strengthening friendships.
  • Virtual worlds are an onramp to social media platforms and participation.
  • In virtual playgrounds tweens can feel more successful, powerful, liked, important and altruistic than they feel at school.
  • Getting scammed in a virtual playground can teach children important life lessons about trust.
  • Kids need grounded, lived experiences, not lectures about “not giving out their passwords”.  Kids don’t believe they’ll be scammed — but when they are scammed, they learn.

Implications for Teaching and Research

  • Creating safe opportunities for kids to experience online scams could be an effective approach to teaching online interactions, safety and citizenship. Role play online scams and then talk about it with students.
  • Open reflection over time with a loving adult, and without fear of judgment, seems important. My daughter was ashamed at first. She knew what she did. But reflection in the short and longer term has allowed her to articulate why she was tricked and learn from her mistake.
  • For tweens going through tough transitions, online games can be important social onramps. But parents and teachers need to help kids find other ways to connect with friends and community in real (rather than virtual) life too.

Online and Offline Resilience?

Going through a difficult move, and then experiencing an online deception left my daughter feeling vulnerable. However, situating stress in opportunities for connection and conversation may enable tweens to become more resilient both online and offline. As a parent, this is my hope. As a researcher, this question warrants future study.

The full transcript of my talk, with the interview that I conducted with my daughter, Zoë, can be found here.

I have published all of this with her permission, but I ask that if you use this talk, or the transcript of our conversation for any reason (research, professional development sessions etc.) that you do not use images of my daughter, or of her art, without permission from me.

Thanks to Kristen Hawley Turner, Troy Hicks, Tom Liam Lynch, Bill Bass, Lindy Johnson, Sara Kajder, Lauren King, William Kist, Ian O’Byrne, Kristy Pytash, Michelle Walker, Angela Wiseman, Carl Young and Andrea Zellner for their work for this panel and for their collaborations on this session.


Kafai, Y.B. & Fields, D.A. (2013). Connected play: Tweens in a virtual world. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Taking Delight in Graduate Students’ Successes


As a graduate student, I have thought a good deal about the nature of student-professor dynamics, and about the investment one makes or feels in students when, like, you, they are already grown up. It’s easy to feel invested in children because, well, they’re children. But what is it that graduate student advisors and instructors feel toward their students when they succeed? Pride seems a little paternalistic or even a little presumptive — can professors really take credit for students’ achievement at this level? Last week, I found myself thinking about these questions when one of my students earned some much-deserved recognition for work she did with colleagues in a class I lead last summer.

A Master’s student whom I taught in the MAET Overseas cohort in Ireland contacted me via email. She is currently taking a literacy methods course and as an art teacher, she was unsure about her approach to a literacy-focused research project. We chatted for about 45 minutes, got caught up on recent goings on, and had a very constructive conversation about how she might proceed with her assignment. During our discussion, she also told me that she had decided to present a research poster, developed with colleagues during our summer courses in Dublin, at a graduate student conference at MSU. I was absolutely delighted by her initiative and wished her the best. The poster, which reviewed extant literature on parent-teacher miscommunication also offered practical solutions for building better home-school partnerships by using digital tools. As their instructor — I was totally impressed by the work for its intellectual rigor and its applicability to classroom practice. During our open poster review session in Ireland, other members of the overseas MAET community reviewed it, and loved it, too. The students’ work generated quite a buzz of discussion around this very important issue.

And so, I was simply delighted to learn that judges at the graduate student conference also saw great value in this work. My student and her colleagues who co-authored the work were honored with one of five poster session awards for research excellence! Hooray! Hooray!

And then, I started to wonder why I was taking such delight in their success. I didn’t create the poster. I didn’t write a single word that went on it. I certainly didn’t present it — in Dublin, or in E. Lansing. So why was I feeling so pleased? Why, even now, as a teacher of teachers, do I derive such joy from their achievements? In thinking about this, I have come to realize that the best I can do as a graduate student instructor is to create opportunities and learning structures that enable excellence to flourish. Come to think of it, this has always been what I have tried to do, whether teaching young children, adolescents or adults. Although there is always content that needs to be communicated from me to students, the truth is, that in most cases, I mostly try to frame the learning activity and get out of the way so that students can create things.

And so, I guess the delight I took in this poster session award  was deeply connected to a feeling that the activity itself had some value and that the learning ecology in which it was developed allowed these students to show the world their best. In some way, I guess there is delight to be taken in the knowledge that work I have done behind the scenes created a stage on which others could succeed.IMG_2500

I offer my sincere congratulations to Blair, Pilar, Jillian and Laura — and also my thanks, because their successes have prompted me to reflect on my work as a teacher educator. Always learning…

33 Skills for Teachers in the Digital Age — A List I Like


I’m not usually one for “Top 10 Lists of Tech Tools” or “21 Things every 21 Century Teacher should know”. It’s not that I don’t think that these lists offer useful tips — they most certainly do. I just find that these lists (a) quickly become outdated and (b) seldom generate the kinds of conversations that I’d like to have about when and when not to use the tools, why and why not to use the tools, for whom and in what contexts the tools should be used and/or not used at all.

The lists, it seems, are so compelling that they become an end in themselves.

Without discussion of the tools’ affordances and constraints for teaching, I fear that these lists offer teachers a yummy tech treat…much like a Mars bar after lunch that leaves you feeling drained once the quick sugar rush wears off. It’s great to know about the latest student-friendly search engine or the best iPad app for pre-school math but usually, surface-level knowledge won’t help any teacher to implement the tool effectively with students.

And so, when my fabulous colleague Sara Beauchamp-Hicks shared a link called The 33 Digital Skills Every 21st Century Teacher Should Know via FaceBook tonight, I nearly skipped over it. Except, I didn’t, because Sara recommended it — and Sara knows stuff.

What I found was a bunch of prose about how kids are different because of technology (see my fantastic colleague Penny Thompson’s dissertation for some data that challenges this particular over generalization) an ad or two, and a total lack of author information (red light, red light…maybe not a valid resource?) And yet, as I read the list, I found myself liking it quite a lot. It is a really good curated list of tools grouped by skill. Even the curmudgeonly old critic in me was appeased. I especially appreciated the multiplicity of tools cited — it’s not a list of “top tools”. Rather, it’s a list of skills teachers need with an accompanying list of applications (generally free and web-based) that teachers can use. Would it be better with a break down of the pros and cons of each tool for instruction — yes, absolutely. But, I admit, the list is sort of useful.

So, as I prepare to teach first-year ed-tech Master’s students in Ireland this July, I say thanks to the authors of the post (whoever you are — you really should publish your names) and thanks to Sara for sharing it.

Even though I’ll add a few caveats, I will add it to the list of resources I share with my students.

Spreecasting: A new frontier in online learning?

Two months ago, I didn’t know anything about My indefatigable ed tech mentor, Leigh Graves Wolf (who is generally awesome and knows a lot of stuff about a lot of things) sent me a tweet from the SXSWEdu Conference in Austin, TX in March. It went something like this:  @mshagerman check out Use it in CEP 820?

As with anything Leigh recommends, I check it out straight away. I was immediately hooked. It had been a long time since I had explored a tech tool with affordances that were so immediately obvious for teaching and learning online.

At its most essential, spreecast is a social broadcasting tool. As an instructor, you can broadcast yourself, talking, to students who, upon receiving the link to your broadcast, can join in the conversation via IM. Instructors can invite students directly into the video broadcast to speak as well. In fact, you can have up to four speakers in the spreecast video window at once — for free — and the entire conversation is on the cloud, and being recorded. Although you do have to sign up for a spreecast account, nobody has to download a thing. Once the conversation is over, you can embed the spreecast in your course website/CMS and send out the link in an email to students who were not able to join the live conversation.

Since March, I have either hosted or participated in six spreecasts. Three of the spreecasts were conversations with new literacies scholars whose work our CEP 891 students had read. This, by the way, was super cool. Julie Coiro, Doug Hartman and Mike DeSchryver each agreed to have informal conversations with Paul Morsink and I about their work. We invited our CEP 891 students to join in live, if they could, but we then shared the links to the recordings with the whole class.

Paul, Rand Spiro and I also hosted our final project exhibitions for CEP 891 in spreecast this past weekend. Normally, this synchronous event would have happened in Adobe Connect. Spreecast was so much easier. Students just joined in the conversation. Now, to be fair, Adobe Connect does have certain affordances that spreecast does not. Coordinating conversations was a little more challenging without the “raised hand” feature that Adobe provides. That said, we decided to promote all students to the “producer” level in spreecast which meant that they could add themselves to the spreecast window when they wanted to contribute via video to the conversation.

Finally, for CEP 820, Ammon Wilcken, April Niemela, Sean Leahy and I recorded a final thank you message to our students using spreecast. Since Sean lives in the Netherlands, April in Idaho and Ammon and I live about two hours apart from one another in Michigan, spreecast let us come together in a common video space to provide some concluding thoughts to our students. We did it in one take — and in 10 minutes, we had recorded the message and sent it out to our students who also live around the globe.

In two months, spreecast has become a very important instructional tool for me. Here, at MSU, the semester is nearly over but I’m already thinking of ways to integrate it in new and different ways in my online courses this fall. I’d love to hear from others — have you used it? And if so, how?

The Simple View of Online Reading — It’s Time to Push Back

Screencast Gallery - CEP 891Reading comprehension researchers will know that the simple view of reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) presents reading (and reading comprehension) as a function of two factors: (a) decoding ability (D) and (b) language comprehension (LC), a composite skill that is not well articulated by the model,  but that is generally understood to include vocabulary knowledge and auditory processing skills that permit comprehension of oral language too. As Paris & Hamilton (2009) discuss, the simple view falls short for several reasons. First, the equation R = D x LC suggests that D and LC should be weighted equally. Developmental research, however, suggests that as children grow, decoding and language comprehension skills will grow at different rates (e.g., Paris, 2005). The contributions of decoding and/or language comprehension to the index of reading comprehension should therefore vary according to developmental stage. Plus as Nell Duke outlined during a presentation she made to our Reading Comprehension doctoral seminar last semester (CEP 912) the simple view doesn’t take into consideration the many variables outside of language comprehension that have been shown to influence comprehension. Motivation to read, interest in the topic, genre, background knowledge about the topic, executive function, knowledge of reading comprehension strategies and the reader’s ability to apply them, cognitive flexibility, text structure, culture, reading context, the reader’s epistemic stance…all of these variables and many many others have support in the literature as correlates of reading comprehension. In brief, the simple view of reading fails to capture the true complexity of reading comprehension processes.

This week, in CEP 891, a Master’s in Educational Technology (MAET) course that I’ve been invited to co-teach with Paul Morsink and Rand Spiro, we are investigating definitions of online reading. Students have been asked to respond to the following discussion prompt grounded in quotes from Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

Given the empirical, theoretical and observational evidence that you’ve read and explored so far, how do you now respond to these two claims from Nicholas Carr’s book?

(1) “the digital environment tends to encourage people to explore many topics extensively, but at a more superficial level” (p. 138) and (2) “skimming is becoming our dominant mode of reading […] scanning is becoming an end in itself — our preferred mode of gathering and making sense of information of all sorts.” (p. 138)

Do you agree with these claims? Are these descriptions of online reading sufficient? deficient? or something else entirely? Please share your thoughts!

So far, several students have expressed agreement with Carr’s definitions of online reading. They agree that we are skimmers and scanners; they agree that online, we read more, but less deeply. A few dissenters, however, see that this may be too simple a view. Admittedly (though perhaps I shouldn’t be showing my cards just yet) I agree with them. I don’t disagree that skimming and scanning are hallmark online reading strategies. To me, however, reading online — a term that tends to be used in the singular — is much more dynamic and complex. Like its print-based analogue, ways of making meaning online cannot be simply defined by a such a narrow view. It’s time to push for broader, plural definitions of online reading that take into account the reader, her purpose, her context, culture, background knowledge, motivation, interest, executive function and cognitive flexibility, her understanding of internet text genres, structures and symbols.

Our students will also be posting video clips of two different types of online reading as a way to see how dynamic our online reading comprehension processes are. With their permission, I’ll see if I can post links to their screencasts next week.


Carr, N. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton.

Gough, P.B. & Tunmer, W.E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7(1), 6-10.

Paris, S.G. (2005). Re-interpreting the development of reading skills. Reading Research Quarterly, 40(2), 184-202.

Paris, S.G., & Hamilton, E.E (2009). The development of children’s reading comprehension. In S.E. Israel & G.G. Duffy (Eds.), Handbook of research on reading comprehension (pp. 32-53). New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.