Whatever children are doing online, they're doing a lot of it. A new report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center argues something is going on, but we really don't know what. The report makes the case that previous studies focus heavily on the online behaviors of teen and young adults, particularly as they relate to social networking, whether on sites like Facebook or virtual worlds like Azeroth. While young children (7 - 13) now use the social networks more often than the same group has in the past, their behavior does not mimic that of older users. This is partly due to COPPA and other laws that keep sites like Facebook from allowing children younger than thirteen from creating profiles, but the difference in the online activities children participate in may also be due to developmental factors. The point is, no one can say for sure because of existing research gaps.
This has interesting implications for educators and writers wanting to engage younger children. Places like Whyville and games like Little Big Planet seem to be non-traditional social networking sites popular amongst young children (social network forums). These worlds engage users in critical thinking skills and scientific trains of thought. Whyville, in particular, promotes data collection and evidence analysis, strongly emphasizing science and inquiry. Could these be new frontiers with which to collaborate or build upon for the purpose of better engaging and educating young children with science and other STEM fields? What are the possible implications of such developments and innovations?
These are interesting questions, which I hope get answered before patterns change once again. :)