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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Web Problem: And A Suggested Solution

Coney Island of the Web

From time to time, prompted either by the desperate hope to turn my older son’s internet time into something other than shoot-’em-up games, or by some research project of my own that is leading me to spend a lot of time on the net, I find myself going to a lot of the "kids" sections of sites created by large companies or institutions. Very often what I find is some glitzy effort to grab the clicks and eyeballs of kids which, when you click a level or two deeper, turns out to be the same old games and activities. Or, I see the wreckage of a site like that. Those sites are like Coney Island was in the late years of the last century — rides that don’t work, signs telling of things to come that clearly mean "go away, we never got the funding, all we have is this label."

Maybe I am wrong — and please write in tell me of great nonfiction sites for kids. But I suspect that, for all of the promise of the internet, there is a key problem with websites, information, and kids. That is: we have learned a great deal about how people use the internet and how to capture their attention. So if an organization spends money on a site, it is guided by the rules it has learned to get clicks and click throughs. But then the institution typically does not want to spend a great deal on the content for the site — which, after all, they are essentially giving away. So the site is one great big billboard for some pretty tired material.

It does not take too long for visitors to figure this out, so they don’t linger on the site. And then in the next budget cycle when the institution is thinking about what to do with the site, they neglect it. Then it begins to decay into this tattered playland. I hope this is not the lament of the cranky book author, but I can’t help feeling that many kids websites do a much better job of announcing how cool they are then of actually having much to offer. 

So here is an idea — there are more and more MFA programs that specialize in kids and YA literature — shouldn’t we have a program that graduates students trained in writng (and bringing in other multimedia strands) for websites aimed at kids? Shouldn’t we be developing and training people who are kids web writers just as we train picture book, and chapter book, and YA writers? Hey, I’d take that class.

Comments

  1. Kelly Herold says:

    I think all webistes for kids–inclulding fictional world ones–are pretty terrible. They are either overtly commercial, or, as you say, tattered. The good news is that this sort of training is going on in the educational technology field–people who are training to do tech and software support for higher ed–and I expect there will be some crossover into the commercial market. I agree that it is sorely needed.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    Kelly:

    Can you tell us more about those classes — who gives them, where, what they study?

    Marc

  3. Kelly Herold says:

    Marc: These are newer degree programs that are popping up all over. One of the best programs is at Stanford.

    (It seems I can’t leave a link, but if you take a look at Stanford’s Graduate program in Education, the PhD in Learning Sciences and Technology Design is listed in the “PhD” category.)

    These programs are sort of like Applied Linguistics in the sense that students study not only technology, but also its application–in this case in Education.

    In an ideal world a PhD in Educational Technology would work with game designers to create children’s web applications.

  4. Marc Aronson says:

    Kelly: Thanks, I will go to their site. The ideal case for me would be to have these Ed Tech people then also work with teachers and book authors, so we could figure out how to integrate print, classroom, and web.