Web 2.0 campaigns also offer social organizations increased potential for spreading their messages. For example, the Boston Public Health Commission will field anonymous Facebook questions to experts, allowing teens to ask and get information without embarrassment or social stigma. The internet allows for viral messaging as well – videos can be passed around through blogs, Twitter, emails, or even news coverage, greatly increasing their reach. Marketers know that casual but frequent exposure to a message makes consumers more likely to buy their products; Web 2.0 campaigns use the same methods to promote healthy lifestyle choices among teens.
In an increasingly competitive global economy, high-quality education for American students has become critical for the nation’s future. Most agree that a key to achieving this aim is recruiting and retaining effective teachers, as detailed in an FOC policy brief on the quality of teaching. How to define capable teachers remains controversial. Some have proposed mandating master’s degrees; in contrast, others suggest completely eliminating incentives for continued graduate work. From the New York Times blog Room for Debate to The Future of Children’s Excellence in the Classroom issue, many question the value of teacher education in its current form and seek alternatives.
Education course work has long been part of initial teacher certification and ongoing professional development as a way to increase a teacher’s capacity and value. Although only 16 percent of teachers in their third year of teaching hold master’s degrees, 62 percent of teachers with over 20 years of experience have earned them. Schools encourage this process by providing higher pay incentives and allowing substitution of these courses for recertification requirements.
Lately, however, degree programs have been subject to scrutiny. In theory they ensure that teachers have sufficient subject area knowledge, experience with teaching, and abilities to promote learning through effective and innovations means. Often, however, these programs have been criticized for teaching irrelevant and non-transferable skills, lacking intellectual rigor, or failing to build new knowledge or abilities.
A recent The Future of Children volume examined whether these programs are valuable and have positive effects on student achievement. Research on master’s degrees and teacher quality has generally been inconclusive, according to The Future of Children article “The Effect of Certification and Preparation on Teacher Quality.” This ambiguity reflects the difficulty in 1) establishing whether programs cause improvement in teaching, 2) taking into account the inequity of teacher distribution (with better teachers migrating by choice to higher quality schools), and 3) isolating the effects of graduate degrees on students of different grade levels. As Heather Hill documents in her article “Learning in the Teacher Workforce,” however, some improvement in math scores has been shown for teachers with graduate degrees in math. So far this finding has not been replicated in other subject areas, but it offers potential for more research.
While graduate work has the potential to prepare teachers and increase their students’ performance, recent analysis suggests that it is not currently meeting these goals. Although more research is needed, studies so far suggest that schools should seek teachers with and encourage the pursuit of graduate degrees in the teacher’s primary area of instruction. Programs such as the master’s in education should submit themselves to more rigorous testing to find what skills and knowledge can help teachers positively influence their students’ learning. Higher quality graduate programs and a more thorough understanding of their effects on student learning will lead to better education for our children.
YouTube videos for a new public health campaign are going viral: the Boston Public Health Commission hopes its messages on sexual safety, disseminated through new internet media, will spread as markedly among city youth as sexually transmitted diseases have. As highlighted in the Boston Globe, this campaign understands that adolescents today are deeply entrenched in media sources that constantly bombard them with messages about how to live; rather than fighting against media exposure, Boston is responding with a positive message sent through the same channels.
The media is a ubiquitous presence in our lives, from radio to TV to the internet. American teens are particularly influenced by their access to the web, which offers chances both to absorb information from outside sources (“Web 1.0”) and to actively contribute to the internet’s offerings through social networking sites, videos, blogs, or message boards and forums (“Web 2.0”). By capitalizing on these many options that play such a large role in adolescent life, social campaigns such as the STI Prevention Drive in Boston can connect with teens on their own terms.
This concept has been explored in an article in Children and Electronic Media, “Social Marketing Campaigns and Children’s Media Use,” and the companion policy brief “Using the Media to Promote Adolescent Well-Being.” Both of these recognize the positive ways that online media can be used to promote healthy behaviors, and they detail successful Web 2.0 campaigns.
With internet available in schools, homes, and even on cell phones, preventing teens from viewing objectionable content is virtually impossible. Some have worried that teens’ web use will lead to more dangerous sexual behavior, including becoming sexually active at a younger age and being less cautious about disease and pregnancy prevention – issues that are explored in another FOC article, “Media and Risky Behaviors.” While such concerns are not unfounded, the designers of Web 2.0 media campaigns recognize that rather than prohibiting internet access, it is far more successful to fight fire with fire – using the same media that promote unhealthy behaviors to promote healthy ones.
While parental guidance and school programs can play a role in discouraging unhealthy behaviors, Web 2.0 media campaigns acknowledge the reality that adolescents are heavily influenced by their peers. The new Boston campaign uses YouTube videos generated by and starring teens, and it also recruits teens to spread the message through other forums, such as street theater and visual advertisements. By having the teens design the content, the messages are more accessible than if they were created and imposed on teens by adults.
In the past couple years, Twitter has radically changed the face of online communication. This year alone, usage has grown by 900 percent, the company was awarded the “Breakout Company of the Year” web award, and Twitter has spread awareness of such major international events as post-election protests in Iran. Amid this surge in publicity for and excitement about the site, a few reports released surprising findings: teens, by in large, don’t use Twitter.
Based on our findings in Children and Electronic Media issue, this does not surprise us. As the article “Online Communication and Adolescent Relationships” demonstrates, most adolescents use social networking sites to reinforce existing relationships, rather than make new friends. This is contrary to how people use Twitter; much like in the chat rooms of old, they create new networks of friends and acquaintances based on common interests.
Instant messaging, Facebook, and MySpace, on the other hand, allow teens to share personal information and communicate with their friends and existing social networks (in addition to contacting strangers and building new relationships with them). It makes sense, then, that teenagers and young adults seeking ways to reach out to friends helped these communication tools gain enormous popularity.
A study from 2007 found that that 91 percent of teens use social networking sites to keep in touch with friends they see frequently. Although teens may contact strangers and vice versa, this is not the norm for teenage internet use. Rather, teens often use online communication to strengthen existing friendships or gain acceptance in offline peer groups, both of which depend on interacting with the same groups on-and offline and receiving feedback through mechanisms such as “Wall” postings and return messages. In a Dutch study, adolescents who felt they received positive feedback from social networking sites reported higher self-esteem, and the reverse was true as well.
This is not to say that teens do not communicate with strangers. Indeed, many do – but not in the dangerous ways we suppose. Rather, when teens seek out contact with people they don’t know, it is usually for information (on health issues, for example) found at self-help sites or internet forums. Twitter, however, is usually a single-sided conversation used to share news or promote companies and organizations. As the 15-year-old intern behind Morgan Stanley’s report noted, teens often must decide how to allocate a limited texting capacity. They can send targeted text messages to friends. Or they can post updates on Twitter, which in all likelihood will not be seen by those in their social network and may get lost to the internet at large. Adolescents concerned with their social position at school or among a group of friends choose to focus on messages targeted directly to their peers, making Twitter the latest fad of an older crowd.