Last Saturday, Dorling Kindersley and Eureka! took forward the panel discussion held two weeks ago (see Internet as a reference tool for children). This time around, the participants were nine children who took time out from their Saturday evening activities and came to DK’s Editorial office at Panchsheel Community Centre. Conducting the proceedings were Rohan and Prema from DK.
Boardroom Stuff: Hard at work
The session started with a questionnaire that asked them how they used the Internet for help with assignments in school or homework. Once this preliminary exercise was completed, everyone was asked a simple question, “Do you like homework?” Apart from Shireen, no one liked homework – some felt that it was boring while others complained that there was just too much homework being given out and in the end it was all just a waste of time because they felt it was simple copying and writing tasks that had no meaning.
Next, the DK team asked the kids to draw or write down their “Homework personality”. The responses varied from ‘Speed Racer’ and ‘Usain Bolt’ who just rush through the work as fast possible to “Iron Man” who loves mixing work and play. Some even drew a ‘snail’ to show how slowly they did their homework. Malhar turned out to be a multi-tasker – he plays football on his playstation while doing homework. And for every question he completes, he scores one goal in the game.
The session moved onto a team-task. The group was split into teams of two and each team was given an IPAD, a laptop and a pile of reference books (published by DK). Ten topics were listed out on the board (for example, the human body, electricity, fastest cars, favourite dinosaur). Each team was asked to pick a topic and write a brief note on it using one or more aids provided to them. A time limit was set and they were asked to complete the task in the given time. The kids worked diligently and enthusiastically. Most of them used the laptops and IPADs to finish their work quickly, but there were some like Diya who used the encyclopedias also.
Most of the children gathered there said that they used ‘Google’ and ‘Wikipedia’ to sift through information and collate data onto a word file (a simple copy-paste job). On being asked why they liked Wikipedia, they said it was easy to understand, it had information listed in various categories like History, References and that it explained everything in very simple language. All difficult terms contain click-through links for explanations. Some of them talked about sites like BBC’s ‘Bitesize’, that seem easier for completing assignments. The only exception was Diya, who maintained that a book was still her best friend for doing any kind of homework.
Parents pain points
Parents still feel that schools are giving out too much homework and at times, concepts have to be introduced and learnt at home. For this, they need to refer various websites and it is always important to monitor children when they are looking for new information. But kids are slowly learning to get by on their own.
Restrictions on Internet viewing time are laid out strictly. Some parents keep it to an hour a day and reduce it during exams. Cyber security is an aspect that is of concern to many parents today. Parents do not like their children interacting on social networking sites, which they feel should be age-regulated. A social networking site, designed specially for kids, with age-control barriers and proper security features, is something they would love to see on the Internet.
Information-based discussion groups and password protected usage for kids is something parents would support wholeheartedly. They think sites need to be more child-friendly and the interface should be such that younger children can easily access the information as well.
One of the participants, a teacher at a reputed school in the NCR, felt that pasting data directly from the websites is a growing problem. Students do not feel the need to think and write on their own. In the mad dash to complete multiple assignments, not a lot of time is spent on reading, assimilating and reproducing information in their own words.
There have been instances when wrong information available on some websites was copied down because the children resorted to short cuts. Teachers, she pointed out, would like students to spend more time reading and learning rather than blindly copying data. Parents support this idea by not allowing their children to directly edit documents from the web. They’d rather take print outs (on recycled paper) and ask the children to read and type out their assignments after understanding the matter thoroughly.
An ideal site
The last question of the day – “What would you like your ideal information site to be like?” – threw up a number of responses. This is what came out:
- The ideal site should be able to give specific as well as elaborate information on a particular topic.
- There should be a grade-wise division of the difficulty level for the topic.
- There should be lots of visual support – Images, Graphs, Videos
- The website should be able to divide the information into categories that are easy to understand
- A revision exercise or quiz at the end with educational games will help.
- Experiments (if shown) must contain videos with a step-by-step procedure explained in detail.
- It should be easy to browse and the language used must be simple to understand.
- A feedback or discussion board (password protected and age-regulated) pertaining to each topic must be present.
A major problem faced by almost everyone – and pointed out by Adi – is that search results normally do not throw up examples pertaining to India. Children, parents and teachers feel that any subject looked up on a website must contain data which is supported by examples related to India so that it is easier to understand and relate to.
The session ended with a final vote. Each child was asked to vote for one feature they thought was indispensable in any reference website and for one feature they felt that the website could do away with. It will be interesting to see what DK comes up with the material that came up during both the sessions.
Vineet V George