Well, I was sent these books last year for review (not with a specific deadline), and I’d been avoiding them as I haven’t really found much Christian fiction I like, and the title Babe’s Bible grated somewhat, and the cover art gave the sense that they’d be a bit Mills & Boon like…
Well, there’s definitely some romance in the first book, which I’ve just read this morning, but it’s not M&B! In the middle of clearing out the house, I decided to have a read of the first couple of chapters to see what I thought of it … and I read the whole book! I need to put down the other two, as I have other things to do, but knowing that several of my friends had thought the same thing …
The book has as it’s central character, Grace, who’s in her first curacy, and her friendship with Chloe, the youth-worker, who has just had an affair with the vicar, which has had a range of ramifications. So – we start with adultery, and in seeking to understand this, Grace refers to her Bible, and the story of the woman charged with adultery, and creates a fictionalised account of Lila (the woman charged with adultery), making very clear the man’s part in the adultery. As the book continues, weaving stories between the past and the present, we get to see Lila’s friendship with Mary, the woman who poured perfume on Jesus. What I really loved, knowing that this is fictionalised, but coming from the perspective of someone who’s ordained (and therefore had extensive theological training), is that we really get to see the – often well known – stories of Jesus, through the perspective of women – something we often don’t see in the Bible.
The book deals with difficult topics including unfaithfulness, porn, abortion, sexual abuse, rape, healing, poor church leadership, busyness (the Mary we see is Martha’s sister), angelic visions, speaking in tongues, barrenness, and at one point something reminded me of Saying Goodbye. There’s lots to chew on, and lots of well-woven storylines. I’m glad I gave it a chance, as it’s always good to find new ways of re-engaging with Bible stories (why do you think I’ve worked with bigbible.org.uk for so long!)
I’ve been having a bit of a chat with Heather and Brittany from KidsEmail.Org, so I looked at what they’re offering. Their email offers mail monitoring, time restrictions, mail queue, block senders, contact manager, remove ads, GPS tracker and custom mailboxes – a number of features that can be used, definitely with younger kids, and then gradually giving more responsibility to the child, until they move onto a grown-up option. Heather offered the following blog post:
The internet seems to get a bad rap in the media, and while some of the criticism is completely justified, could we really go back to living life without our online accessibility? Personally I couldn’t! So much of my life is centered around online activity in one way or another. Consequently, staying safe online is a top priority, and so is utilizing all that the internet has to offer.
There are many benefits to having the internet and we shouldn’t shy away from using it. With the proper tools in place we can be safer now than ever before, giving us the ability to teach ourselves and our children to respect online interactions and behaviour.
The internet is our source for fast information, and as a whole, can be rewarding and positive. Below are 9 points to demonstrate just how positive the internet can be.
- Information – we are able to access information faster now than ever before. Any subject matter is a small search away, and as a result, making it easier for students (or anyone!) to search out what they need without spending hours and hours at the library.
- Working from home is a greater possibility – My husband is able to work from home about 50% of the time, making his schedule more flexible. Bloggers have created empires simply by starting something small and creating a space for themselves online. And what am I doing as I write this? I’m sipping a latte in a local coffee shop, going mobile and working where I please.
- Communication – we’re able to connect with loved ones, business partners, and complete strangers online. Social media has made it possible for us to have conversations that we may never have broached before. We can share pictures, video, and words with anyone!
- Saving money on travel – Planning a trip is so much simpler and cost effective now, and as a result, leaves us with more room for memories and seeing the world!
- Business transactions -Small and large businesses can use the internet for almost everything needed to become successful. The internet is a win win for businesses, specifically making business meetings, advertising, selling, buying, and finding employees/employers accessible.
- Online schooling – Our yesterday’s limits to public or private schooling are a thing of the past. High school students can now work full time jobs and go to school full time, thanks to the internet. People who’ve never had the ability to attend college can now schedule it in while sitting at home in their PJ’s. There really isn’t an excuse NOT to continue your education.
- News is immediate – If an earthquake happens across the globe, we can now hear about it immediately. We have unlimited streaming news and can educate ourselves on all sorts of issues, like political, science, and entertainment.
- Online shopping – Hello!! One of my favorites. I was able to buy 100% of last Christmas online. I can order from large retailers or small and local craftsman.
- Entertainment – My husband and I haven’t paid for cable in years. There’s really no need to. Streaming video and favourite T.V. series are a click away. Reading is now simple and effortless with downloadable e-reading you can get old classics or new releases immediately. And don’t forget about streaming music. Best of both worlds!
And of course… it’s always open – This says it all. The internet is a 24/7 running machine.
All things considered, the internet is what we make it. It can be one of the most rewarding tools in our day to day life, and can be seen as significantly positive experience.
Week 3: Learning to Think in a Digital Age
What subtle changes are there in our behaviours after being immersed in digital device usage?
Video: Learning, technology and all things digital
People sometimes problem solve through pre-thinking (focused learning), sometimes experiment (which games particularly use), sometimes observe, interact & learn (literacy).
Article: A Pyramid of Digital Engagement
We’re looking at Steve Wheeler’s pyramid of digital engagement, in that we often start with watching, lurking and reading, as confidence is gained, we engage more:
So, don’t be surprised if a lot of what children initially do online is very passive, as they become more involved, they start to engage more meaningfully in ways that seem more transformational.
Article: Learning Through Communication
We learn huge amounts through social interaction – are children inventing new forms of communication, for example through text-speak – which offers speed/immediacy, and is evidence of creativity, although many are worried about digital ‘dumbing down’, especially of language literacy.
Video: Texting is Killing Language
John McWhorter, linguist & political commentator, sees texting as positive: a creative & energetic activity. See his TED talk:
He identifies how recent (written) communication is, the differences between speech/writing (including in pace, structure), where the blurring of lines has come between texting (easy communication in your pocket) and written speech, and the worries that so many have about the ‘loss’ of punctuation, etc. We see the power of ‘LOL’ and how it’s being used as a mark of empathy, rather than an indication of humour; the power of ‘slash’ or other markers to indicate a change of topic (which many of us do with hmm, etc. in spoken speech). We have complained over the last 2000(+?) years that people are not well-versed in language skills [but people survive]. Texting is a linguistic miracle, happening right underneath our noses.
Discussion: A Generation of Texters?
- Are there any advantages for children learning to use text abbreviations as a way of communicating with friends? Are they really as ‘miraculous’ as John McWhorter suggests?
- Is there a risk that knowing and using text abbreviations may have a detrimental effect on children’s traditional written language skills?
I commented: I have seen students undertaking creative exercises (university level), in which e.g. Shakespeare scripts, Bible stories, and creative writing in general has been given a succinctness that is often not visible. It’s not the only form of communication that children (or many of us use), as always – it has affordances, and it has constraints.
Article: An epidemic of distracted youngsters?
See a report the 2013 version of this survey which indicates even higher numbers indicating study is not possible without technological devices, and that so many schoolchildren “can’t” go more than 10 minutes without checking their phones.
We’re looking at the issue of multitasking – does it aid learning, or is it a distraction?
Problems are identified with task-switching and lack of focus, and the possibility of paying only superficial attention to what they are doing because their attention is divided. But expert opinion on this is divided…
I commented: I wrote this in my book Raising Children in a Digital Age (Lion Hudson, 2014 http://drbexl.co.uk/writer/book-raising-children-in-a-digital-age/):
Attention spans and multitasking
By the age of eleven, the majority of children are online for two hours or more every day. For younger children, those visits tend to be driven by a specific activity, but many of the older ones have online sources on constantly, multitasking with them in the background. Younger children are more likely to be sharing their machine and to have a greater range of activities that require time. “Multitasking” is often described as something new to “millennials”, but Gina Maranto from the University of Miami says that information multitasking is not a new phenomenon: “My father, a corporate editor, used to watch television, read magazines, and listen to the radio at the same time long before computers, cell phones, or iPads.”20
Professor Livingstone defines two different types of multitasking:
- Constructive: having Instant Messenger, music or search open, which contributes to something they are working on
- Distractive: watching TV on demand, videos, or playing games, which pulls them away from study.
Article: Multitasking as a new way of learning
Referring to Cardoso-Leite and Bavelier, 2014; Granic, Lobel and Engels, 2014, whose research has highlighted, that in gaming, children can learn strong multi-tasking skills, the rewards of trial and error, alertness, quick reactions and brain development as people keep an eye out for new opportunities in a game.
Article: Brain Development in a Hyper-tech world
Are children’s brains changing in relation to their use of games, etc.?
A central discovery of neuroscience is that the brain continues to develop its ‘wiring diagram’ well into a person’s twenties at least. The frontal lobes, regions critical to high-level cognitive skills such as judgement, multitasking, executive control and emotional regulation, are the last to develop fully.
Commented with some more material from my book: Brain change?
There are constant references in the media to the “fact” that digital media are “rewiring children’s brains”. Journalist Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows has been particularly influential in this context. He discusses changes in the brain, and how, as a child, he used to get lost in the twists and turns of a book, but now “can’t concentrate” as he clicks among the data his brain has become hungry for. As his old computer turned him into a word processor, so the new machine has made him into a high-speed data-processing machine.5 Technology certainly does make it possible for us to change our practices, but I am a notorious “polymath”, and a good book or film, or even (dare I say) the writing process, can draw me in for several hours, so I’m not convinced by his arguments.
Newspaper headlines have promoted the idea that the internet is changing our brains, typically for the worse. In the Pew 2012 “Hyper-connected” survey, a number of experts highlighted how every activity we undertake will affect our brain functioning or our thinking, but that doesn’t make it inherently bad. Communications consultant Stowe Boyd said:
The reason that kids are adapting so quickly to social tools online is because they align directly with human social connection, much of which takes place below our awareness. Social tools are being adopted because they match the shape of our minds, but yes, they also stretch our minds based on use and mastery, just like martial arts, playing the piano, and badminton.
Blogger, journalist, and communications professor Jeff Jarvis said we are experiencing a transition from a textual era, so we are thinking differently, but that doesn’t mean that the physiology of our brains is different:
Before the press, information was passed mouth-to-ear, scribe-to-scribe; it was changed in the process; there was little sense of ownership and authorship. In the five-century-long Gutenberg era, text did set how we see our world: serially with a neat beginning and a defined end; permanent; authored. Now, we are passing out of this textual era and that may well affect how we look at our world. That may appear to change how we think. But it won’t change our wires.6
Video: Your Brain and Video Games
See Daphne Bavelier:
Video gaming is pervasive, but the average age of a gamer is 33, not 8! Parents worry about the amount of time that their children are playing games, but wouldn’t have similar worries for kids with their heads in Shakespeare or Sudoku [because it’s ‘educational’].
Testing out some of the ‘Friday night pub conversations’ in the lab –
- Extensive game players have increasingly good vision
- Action video gamers have an ability to track objects well (6-7, rather than 3-4)
- Gamers are better at multi-tasking (can see changes in the attention areas of the brain)
- Not all multi-tasking is equal – those using a range of media have much poorer attention spans – so need care with ‘comprehensive’ statements.
- Those who think they are good at multi-tasking are often surprised at how poor they are.
- Like wine, there are poor uses, but the right quality in good doses can be good ‘for health’.
- Seeking to use lab results to learn how to use games well for learning and brain retraining… but having to fight with a games industry that is [solely seeking ££?]
Article: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
See Raise Smart Kid website article The Positive & Negative of Video Games – an extensive list of pros/cons.
Discussion: Your View on Video Games
- In your experience is there a link between video game playing and negative behaviours, such as violence, aggression and social isolation?
- Being more of an optimist, what do you feel are the benefits of playing video games?
Great range of comments re which direction does negative behaviour flow – is the game the cause, or are those who behave that way attracted to aggressive games? If time is spent away from games are there other factors that may be improving behaviour, e.g. spending more face-to-face time with others?
Video: The Strengths of New Technology
Paul Howard-Jones, educational psychologist and optimist about digital technology – seeing it as reshaping neural connections in the brain & strengthening acquisition of new skills.
- Games are teaching us: improved visual motor response, improvements in switching attention, even improvements in being able to not be distracted
- People haven’t really understood the underlying processes of ‘gamification’, and often when educational materials have been ‘gamed’, children don’t understand why they are not ‘fun’ & don’t work as learning tools
- The importance of rewards/dopamine, and the uncertainty of rewards – lead to engagement and excitement. [Reminds me of Martin Saunders recent piece in Christian Today]
- Importance of sleep & nutrition, in which technology/caffeine can be disruptive.
- Paul thinks about how he manages things with his own children – the younger are restricted to before 7pm, but older children are learning to manage their own communications/with friends so is more NEGOTIATION.
Article: Prescribing Video Games for ADHD
See McKnight and Davies, 2013 for examples of how technology is improving life for those with additional needs. Studies have shown that game-playing with children with ADHD has led to improved success in engaging in clinical support, and also increased ability to stay on task – but with a warning that all games are not created equal!
Article: Costs & Benefits
The hope is that people have learned that technology can be used in innovative/creative ways to be positive.
Next week “In the final week, you will look to the future for the digital child as a learner and what the learning environment might look like for them.”
Onto week 2 on Childhood in a Digital Age from the OU.
Video: Children’s Development
How is digital technology changing children’s relationships and shaping their online identities? Looking at online/offline relationships and connectivity – what is it doing to children’s development, and what’s positive/problematic ‘compared to’ face-to-face relationships.
Video: Homo Interneticus
Drawing upon the work of Aleks Krotoski, Susan Greenfield, and Sherry Turkle, I think this is a segment of ‘The Virtual Revolution‘ (2009 or 2010?), but for some reason the video’s aren’t playing, so I’m drawing on the transcript!
- Episode opens focusing on fears that we will become screen-dominated creatures, detached from ‘the real world’.
- Charlie Leadbetter describes this as a middle-age, middle-class panic, whilst Aleks seeks to understand if the web is really trivialising our relationships.
- Susan Greenfield is a strong voice behind ‘the internet is not real’, that actions don’t have consequences. [As online/offline condenses surely this becomes even less of a truth]
- Kids interviewed about life before the internet think it must have been ‘really boring’, and that people must have ‘read books’. [All repeated messages that help increase fears.]
- Sherry Turkle – the seductiveness of the real-time update loop, seeking validation for what we are doing/sharing.
- Aleks Krotoski – we have little time on our own, both producing acres of micro-content, and consuming the content of others.
- Stephen Fry “This is astounding technology; we should just take a moment to celebrate the power and the reach that it gives us across time and across ideas, and across continents both past, future and present to connect with people.”
“Children thrive on forming connections with other people in their immediate social environments, and psychological theories have consistently reinforced the importance of children’s social and cultural environment in allowing them to communicate and interact successfully.”
Article: Social media: positive, negative or just different?
Linked to a 2012 article ‘The Effects of Social Media on Children‘
- Creation, interactivity, learning
- Connectivity with peers (especially for those who are shy)
- Connectivity with those with similar (niche) interests
- Support and advice in the challenging TV years
- Positive change – e.g. political/social change campaigns
- Mental health, and social interaction
- Cyberbullying, by those known and strangers
- Privacy issues
- Advertising influence
- Need to use in moderation
Article: Assessing Positives & Negatives
via this Huffington Post article.
- Time & distance have been reduced (between communications), and this has implications for children’s social and emotional development.
- Maintain friendships & strengthen family ties
- Deeper insight into children’s lives (esp in the ‘grumpy teenage’ years)
- Shy children – find those with similar interests
- Promote inventiveness & creativity
- Potential for increased empathetic connection
- Exposed to wider range of people/risks (may not be emotionally developed enough to deal with e.g. trolling, cyberbullying, sexting)
- Lacking in maturity and judgement – more at risk of marketing, inappropriate contact, ‘addiction’ and identity theft
- Video games & violence (what direction is the causality?)
- Narcissism (again, which comes first, tech of personality?)
- Lack of research over a long time-frame
Article: Friendship Made Easy?
With access to a wider range of connections, is it really changing the nature of children’s friendships:
Friendships made through coincidence and proximity may offer a different experience to online friendships. Virtual friendships cut across boundaries and can be more immediate so being online is creating a different type of friendship requiring a new skill set.
Video: What is a friend?
Robin Dunbar = Dunbar’s number – is it possible to only have 148 friends, or is it even less? How do you define friend? How much time/geographically, how long do you remain connected?
See also ‘The Limits of Friendship‘
Article: Play in an Online World
See Lydia Plowman video – allow children to explore with parental guidance. It’s not just about educational benefits, but also space for play (should this be allowed independently?)
Article: What is a Virtual World?
A range of definitions, including platforms such as Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin, Habbo Hotel – which makes many parents feel safer in allowing their children to play (platforms stress the safety aspects of the site, the moderation, etc), rather than on the more general social networks [which legally, under 13, they shouldn’t be on]. Many buy into the idea of ‘educational games’…
Article: Forming an Identity
Do online spaces allow children the space to experiment, creating/reinventing their online identity, etc.
Children identified freedom, self-expression, creativity and interaction as essential ingredients of a virtual world. They wanted an avatar which reflected their religion, culture and interests and they wanted a space away from adults where they could play with their identity through dressing up, could exchange views with others and could ‘rehearse having responsibility for looking after things’ (Jackson et al., 2008, p. 46).
Article: Experimentation and the Virtual Self
Exploration of identity, especially in younger years, is nothing new, but virtual/online worlds are offering new opportunities, through a range of avatars, etc. playing with aspects of their identity, from appearance to politics.
Article: Identity and Social Behaviours
Optimists – freedom to explore; pessimists – misrepresentation (whether intentionally or not):
Palfrey and Gasser (2008) suggest that children do not distinguish between their ‘online’ and ‘offline’ identities. Increasingly, the identity of just about anyone living in a digital era is a synthesis of real-space and online expressions of self.
Be aware of inbuilt restrictions – e.g. is not a free space to create new identities, as still restrained by their offline world, and the content that friends post about them. A ‘disclosure decision model’ balances what is given, with what is received, whether that is social approval, intimacy, or relief of distress.
Article: Navigating the Digital Landscape
Summarising the ways that children’s lives are being impacted, positively and negatively, by the digital.