Note: This is the first of a series.
#2 Getting the Band Together
#3 A Busy Week or Two
#4 Parent Surveys
#5 Editorial Choices
By Bill Shribman
I’m a Senior Executive Producer at WGBH in Boston, and I’ve been making digital content for kids for about twenty years. My work has spanned CDROM and early kids’ chat rooms (when I was working at Headbone Interactive in Seattle) through extensive web site development for TV series like ZOOM, Arthur and Curious George for PBS KIDS. Increasingly my work – and that of my team of about a dozen writers, designers and programmers – is mobile-focused. Recent work includes over a dozen apps, along with mobile web sites and digital comics. So although I’m by no means a media literacy expert, I am steeped in kids’ evolving use of technology and media. And now I’m lucky enough to have secured funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to create a pilot project at PBS KIDS that’s focused on digital media literacy.
And PBS KIDS is the perfect venue. Perhaps unusually, this project is aimed squarely at kids – wherever they happen to be – rather than at teachers. I’ve decided to get to kids directly in part because by the time they reach the target age of this project (6-9 years old), many are online by themselves. A survey of my prospective audience (polling over 4,000 kids) showed that only 22% had their media use always monitored by their parents, with even less being asked about their online use by the parents. That’s nearly 80% running free. Over half the kids have no rules whatsoever about their media use.
The plan is for this project to introduce topics that are nuanced enough to be able to spark discussion and debate. As a father of two teenage girls, I’m acutely aware of the pitfalls new technologies offer, but I also recognize the fantastic opportunities kids have if they are well guided. A simple analogy is that we teach our kids to ride a bike with the hope that they will one day be independent riders. But we start with training wheels, and we don’t start on the street. And as they grow and learn to cycle by themselves, we hold out the possibility that we can sometimes ride along, exploring together. As we model good media and technology use, we’ll be trying to strike that kind of balance.
And so I’m proceeding with this pilot. It will feature one of WGBH’s beloved characters, Ruff Ruffman, in a new web-only reincarnation as a Humble Media Genius. Active work is moving us towards a launch on the PBS KIDS web site in fall 2014.
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making a project about media literacy. I’ll keep you posted as to how it’s going and what kinds of decisions are going into such an exciting, complex, and challenging project.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to see some more of the survey results, I wrote them up (when we just had 2,000 replies) at GeekDad.
Thanks for listening,
(To keep up with Media Literacy Now’s work to raise the level of public discussion on media literacy, please join our mailing list.)