Thursday, December 08, 2011

Effects of Television on Child Development

While many parents are aware that having the television on constantly around their children can have a negative impact on their young child, the degree of television's impact is often ignored or thought to be negligible. In a recent study published in the professional journal Child Development, it was discovered that even as background noise, television has a measurable impact on a child's cognitive abilities.

Attention Span and Television

Frequently, parents will watch television or have it on in the background while their kids are playing in the same room. Although the children may show little or no interest in the television programming,
the study published in Child Development indicates that even as background noise, the simple fact of having the television on can impact a child.

In this study, children were allowed period of time where they played with the television on, and then a period of play time with the television off. The primary difference between these two play periods was in the amount of time their attention was engaged in play. With the television on, children spent far less time looking at toys and in focused engaged play activities than they did when the television was not on.

This finding is significant because it may be an indication that having a television on at home, even if the children do not appear to be watching or interested in the television programming, can be extremely distracting for children. With a constant barrage of changing visual images and sounds, it may be that children have difficulty filtering out this excess stimulation, making it hard for them to concentrate on developmental tasks such as learning through playing.

Cognitive Function and Television

In a study with similar findings published in
Pediatrics, researchers discovered that the type of programming also had a significant impact on cognitive function in children. In this study, children were allowed to watch a fast-paced cartoon and then asked to perform several executive level cognitive tasks that involved delayed gratification and simple stacking activities.

Researchers discovered that children who watched the television programming performed more slowly on executive level cognitive function activities than control children who sat quietly drawing for the same period of time. Although the effects of watching fast-paced television programming appeared to be temporary in this study, it cannot help but beg the question of the impact that constant bombardment of television has on a child's development.

Recommended Hours of Television for Children

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, American children under the age of six watch an average of two hours of television a day. Children over the age of six watch an average of four hours of television daily. Also, older children tend to  spend
two hours of additional time either in front of a computer screen or playing video games. This is a large amount of time that children spend every day watching television, instead of playing, reading or being engaged in other healthier activities. High amounts of sedentary activity, such as playing video games and watching television are also associated with higher incidences of obesity and other health problems.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two watch zero hours of television daily. Further, they recommend that children over the age of two watch no more than one or two hours of television daily.

During the early years of a child’s development, children need to be allowed to play in environments free of unnecessary or overly stimulating distractions. Even as children get older, large amounts of television can prevent children from needed developmental tasks such as physical activity, academic pursuits and socialization with other children and their family. Parents should limit the amount of time their children are exposed to television, even if they are not actively watching the programming. Instead, encourage your kids to engage in healthy play that simulates their imagination, creativity and social skills.

Elaine Hirsch

Monday, December 05, 2011

What are the Top Five Apps to Help Prevent Distractions?

If you work from home, you know how little distractions that take fifteen minutes out of your day can really add up. These can come in the form getting lost surfing the web, playing a quick game of Angry Birds, or listening to your favorite radio show, which are all detrimental whether you're trying to meet a deadline in the office or complete your dissertation. While these are all important aspects of daily living, finding the time to manage your schedule so you can get things done can be hard without the proper guidance. Check out these top five anti-distraction apps that will help you stay on track while you work from home.

Stay Focusd

Have you ever told yourself you would take a five-minute break to watch a video on YouTube but still find yourself glued to the monitor watching cat videos an hour later?
Stay Focusd addresses this issue by providing you with an easy-to-use blacklist for sites that you find too distracting. You can set the maximum allowed time you want to be able to use these distractive sites in a 24-hour period and after that time expires, the extension will no longer let you browse those sites. It is easy to set up and is seamlessly designed for Google Chrome.

Focus Booster

The pomodoro technique has long been thought of as an easy means to give yourself a small break while getting more work done throughout the day. The general idea is to give yourself 55 minutes of work time and five minutes of break time so that you stay focused on the task at hand. Focus Booster is an Adobe Air application that runs on your desktop. You can customize the time to give yourself as much as 15 minutes of break time. Focus Booster also comes in the form of a web app called Focus Booster Live if you don't want to download anything to your desktop.

Read It Later

If browsing RSS feeds causes you to lose a lot of time during your day, then
Read It Later is the perfect companion to minimizing distractions. If you find a page you want to save until later, you can install one of the many extensions for Firefox, Chrome, or Safari and click a small button to add the page to your Read It Later account. When you have time to read everything you saved throughout the day, simply open the page. Read It Later also offers iOS and Android apps and cleans up unnecessary clutter so you only see the content you want to see.

Mr. Number

One of the most annoying things about smartphones is that they can be distracting when you need to get work done. If you want to prevent being distracted by someone constantly calling you or sending you texts, Mr. Number can help. You can block any phone number for any period of time. Mr. Number is available for Android smartphones.

Shush! Ringtone Restorer

One of worst things about silencing your phone to avoid distractions is forgetting to turn it back on when it is needed. Shush! solves this problem by allowing you to silence your phone for a specific period of time. Simply use the volume rocker to silence the phone and a window will pop up asking how long you would like to keep the phone silenced. Once that time period has passed, the phone will return to its previous volume level. Shush! is available for Android phones.

Of course, minimizing the distractions you suffer while using your computer depends on your own willpower. Apps like Stay Focusd include methods to keep you from circumventing their settings such as having to type an entire paragraph of text error free, but sticking to your guns and using these tools as a supplement rather than a crutch is always the best way to get things done in a timely manner.

Elaine Hirsch

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kenya pays up with M-PESA

M-PESA and Personal Finance

Since its inception in Kenya in 2007, the M-PESA mobile finance technology has become a widely-used and cost-effective tool for managing personal finances for many developing areas. This small-value electronic payment method was introduced by Safaricom, part of the Vodafone group and largest mobile phone operator in the country. M-PESA transactions in Kenya alone have surpassed those conducted via Western Union throughout the world. It doesn't take a PhD online graduate to see the power of this personal finance solution and realize it's value in developing countries.

“M” stands for “mobile” and “PESA” is the Swahili word for money. M-PESA is literally a “mobile money” service that allows people to make deposits, withdrawals, and transfers without bank accounts. Many businesses have realized its potential and made it possible for customers to pay their bills via M-PESA.

M-PESA is currently available in several other countries, including Tanzania, Afghanistan, South Africa, India, and the UK. It provides a simple way for people abroad in these nations to send money to friends and family members at home.

The service has transformed the way people carry out their personal financing, particularly in the developing nations where more people have mobile phones than bank accounts. It's estimated about 300 million previously “unbanked” people will be using some type of mobile banking by 2012.

Although there are different types of mobile banking services, M-PESA has become more successful because it provided the core of what people really wanted: a way to send and receive money. Other systems offer standard banking services through the mobile phone, but M-PESA doesn't require users to have any bank accounts at all. All they need are their IDs and mobile phones to register for and use M-PESA services.

The initial concept of M-PESA was to provide microfinance institutions a means to collect loan payments easily. However, Vodafone and Safaricom soon realized that was a mistake and reconstructed the program, changing its slogan to “Send money home.” This gave them the opportunity to offer their customers what they truly wanted, which is the major reason for its success.

Before M-PESA, customers used to have quite a difficult time sending money to their rural homes. They would use such unreliable means as putting money in envelopes and sending it through the postal service, public transport systems, or with friends. Alternatively, they had to make personal trips, which was costly and time-wasting. With a vast network of about 28,000 agents in both urban and rural areas in Kenya, M-PESA has helped people do away with such methods and enabled easy access to their money almost anywhere.

M-PESA’s simple user interface coupled with free registration, free deposit, and no minimum balance has made it attractive to customers who previously may've shied away from banking entirely. Many people use the system for personal business transactions without worrying about carrying a lot of cash. With more than 14 million customers in Kenya, its success has prompted the World Bank to pick Michael Joseph, the former Safaricom CEO, to help replicate the model in other developing countries.

Academic studies have shown that a lack of understanding personal finances leads to further externalities such as lack of funding for education. With conventional financial institutions in America and other developed nations funded by public taxes, such a no-obligation, totally mobile personal finance solution might well become appealing worldwide.

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Integrating Cellphones into Classrooms with Positive Results

I'm happy to announce that the post below is the first guest post on this site. Natalie is clearly enthusiastic about the use technology in the furtherance of education. I hope to see many more insightful posts from her. Natalie's bio is at the end of this post. TT

The use of cellphones within the last decade has changed to include more than simply a single mode of communication. As technology continues changing rapidly, educators need to explore the possibilities for using cellphones to enhance learning in online and conventional classrooms, especially on a secondary level. Rather than being a disruption to teaching, cellphones could actually be used by teachers with students as a technology to expand possibilities in the classrooms, if educators are open to changing traditional paradigms.

With the rise of text messaging among all cell phone users (not just young people), educators can recognize the value of this exercise in orthographic knowledge and ability. Some educators regard it as a major distraction, but many want to integrate a popular mode of communication with education and are realizing that text messaging can actually be used to boost learning. Recent studies have shown that texting in the classroom has a positive effect on students' ability to write lengthier and more creative papers in general.

More teachers are harnessing the vast power of texting as an educational tool in a variety of ways. For instance, teachers can have students send in their answers to projected questions for quizzes or discussion as text messages. This simple strategy turns students' phones into a simple and flexible classroom feedback system. Software used to receive text messages from students collects responses and may even give teachers options for managing and displaying collected data.

Student responses are then more easily gathered together and made accessible both to teachers and students themselves. This type of student input can be made anonymous, which can encourage students who might not otherwise participate to do so. By the same token, tracking specific students' responses gives teachers a clear view of who's struggling with comprehension and needs additional help, or who's getting ahead with the material and needs extra challenge.

This sort of constructive use of mobile technology can and should be used in all subject areas as a dynamic tool for learning. Taking advantage of technology students already have and will be using one way or another really is one of the most valuable means of harnessing that technology for educational ends. Whether teachers like it or not, technology is the future of schooling on all levels.

Indeed, cell phone use in the classroom isn't just limited to secondary schools: elementary teachers and students are also finding similar uses. For example, texting has led to the development of a new literary form known as the "cell phone novel." This type of literature is written entirely using text lingo, such as "Ur" instead of "you're." The novels are written in the form of a text message conversation between any number of interlocutors, include minimal punctuation, and are completely open to the shorthand that characterizes text messages. Young students can use this creative and entertaining form of writing to learn narrative structure and even grammatical mechanics (albeit without the usual focus on spelling and punctuation) much more effectively than they would with the rote drills usually reserved for such topics.

It may become increasingly important to take once distracting technologies like cell phones and harness their power for the benefit of the classroom. The transition may be fraught with bumps in the road, and the boundaries of technology use clearly drawn. Education needs to embrace technology, not simply to keep up with a new generation but to actually make good the promise technology holds for learning. Because of its prevalence and flexibility, many educators already advocate the use of cell phone technology in the classroom. Students need to benefit from the increased learning that will occur with well-considered use of technology, and feel validated for utilizing skills they are already confident with. Using cell phones in class can help both educators and students streamline the learning process and have a readily available tool for increasing class cooperation and participation.


Natalie Hunter grew up wanting to be a teacher, and is addicted to learning and research. As a result she is grateful for the invention of the internet because it allows her to spend some time outside, rather than just poring through books in a library. She is fascinated by the different methodologies for education at large today, and particularly by the advent of online education. She also loves to travel and learn via interaction with other people and cultures.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Blog as alternative to school newspaper

Blogs have been great tools for various types of classwork but with today's bevy of smartphone apps that allow for direct editing, the blog is now a very viable alternative to the school newspaper. In fact, it would allow for a near real time newspaper that could be very handy for sporting events, field trips, and other events where people want to know what is going on as it is going on.

Yes, Twitter can provide real time access, but it's limit in the number of characters it can handle and multimedia is constrained to pointing at external links. Google, the owner of Blogger, has just released an app for the iPhone that will allow blog post creation and editing. The user can upload and edit posts just as they would with a computer. The posts can include photos taken by the phone. It's not clear if the app can also handle videos taken by the camera. Given that Blogger handles video, it seems like the type of feature that if not there now can be expected in future releases.

The idea of making a post from a phone is not new. It's been possible to upload posts from smartphones using email for a long time. And, in a pinch one would have to use a smartphone's web browser to edit. Having a specific application makes the entire process easier.

The only issue that you need to consider if the process by which posts are published. If you trust your field reports, you can upload the posts and publish immediately. If there are good reasons for concern, you can have your reporters submit posts as drafts and then have the editor/moderator publish them.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Digital Certificates

Getting a digital certificate is becoming more important as browsers start expecting to see everything that is encrypted as needed a digital certificate. And, many things are expecting to be encrypted -- which is a good thing in terms of security. The digital certificate is what proves to your browser that it is created an encrypted link with the right computer. This is important because encrypted connections often contain sensitive information and one does not want to providing user names and passwords to faked site.

The bad news is that setting up a digital certificate is not an easy process. Most people have created "self-signed" digital certificates -- in fact it's almost impossible not to have self-signed certificates. But browsers don't accept self-signed certificates because there is no external proof that you are who you say you are. That's where a public digital certificate is required.

Below is a diagram of what steps are required to obtain and use a public digital certificate. In upcoming posts, I'll describe my experiences and challenges with getting and using my public certificate.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Microsoft System Sweeper

System Sweeper is an important tool that Microsoft apparently uses to scan computers that are manifesting problems that are otherwise not identifiable. I gather that people calling Microsoft for help and still have weird problems will be directed to this free utility. It's a shame that more people don't know about this utility because it finds viruses, trojans, and even root kits.

One of the problems with antivirus software is that once a bad piece of software gets on a computer, it can hide from the av software. This is especially true of root kits -- which dig under the operating system. The only way to find such deeply buried malware is to scan the computer's hard drive before it has been booted. That means booting from another device. System Sweeper comes from Microsoft as a bootable system. The image file one downloads is burned to a CD-ROM. The CD-ROM boots into a specialized version of Windows that has as its own function the running of System Sweeper. So far, most of the people I have given this disk to have come back reporting at least minor problems that they previously did not know about.

I suspect the main reason Microsoft does not make this important tool well known is because most users don't understand the idea of downloading ISO images and how to boot the CD-ROM drive. Because problems on your users' systems will come to haunt your network, it makes sense to make disks for your users and help them run this utility on their home computers.