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August 14 2012


April 30 2012


Student Photojournalists Arrested; What Are Their Rights?

As student journalists increasingly arm themselves with mobile phones for multimedia newsgathering in the field, more may find themselves on a collision course with local authorities unenthusiastic about having their actions captured in living color.

A reminder of that comes in the pending criminal trial of Pennsylvania photojournalism student Ian Van Kuyk, arrested earlier this spring while shooting a routine traffic stop. That case and others like it also spotlight how important is for journalism educators to make sure student journalists know their rights and how to stand up for them.

Van Kuyk, a Temple University film and media arts major fulfilling an assignment for his photojournalism course, was reportedly left bloody and bruised after being arrested mid-March while taking pictures of police at a routine traffic stop outside his home in Philadelphia. He was arraigned on criminal charges April 16 and faces trial June 13.

The case has drawn the attention of free speech advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), according to the Student Press Law Center, or SPLC. The general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association wrote in protest to the Philadelphia police commissioner: "There is no excuse for your officers to intentionally disregard a citizen's right to photograph an event occurring in a public place."

And in a piece in Philly.com, Larry Atkins, a lawyer, journalism professor at Temple, and member of the First Amendment Committee of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, wrote that "while the public should be respectful of police and refrain from interfering with their work, officers must not harass citizens engaging in First Amendment-protected activity. The public has a right to photograph police activities in public spaces, and police officers must respect that right."

But the Van Kuyk case is far from the only instance of arrest and alleged harassment of student photojournalists tracked by the SPLC, which says prosecutions of those who record law enforcement activity appear to be on the rise.

Occupy protests spark round of arrests

For instance, several student journalists covering Occupy Wall Street-related events were arrested last fall -- among them two from colleges in Atlanta, and another from New York. They join the ranks of working journalists taken in during Occupy-related protests around the country (including Kristyna Wentz-Graff, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter whose arrest was recently written about extensively in Editor & Publisher).


Other examples abound. In late 2010, a California student photographer faced criminal charges after snapping photos of a car accident, and had police in his newsroom demanding the pictures be turned over. In fall 2009, two student photojournalists at the University of Pittsburgh were arrested, along with fellow students and other journalists at a G-20 protest. And in 2008, a Penn State student journalist was arrested and faced criminal charges after photographing a post-football victory riot at the school.

Sometimes, the confrontations are with campus police. In spring 2010, for instance, an Ohio State student photojournalist was detained by university police while covering the attempted roundup of two escaped cows.

More recently, students at Hunter College in New York have encountered harassment of student photographers by school security, according to a faculty adviser. After a photo of the harassment (see image) was posted on Facebook, the problem stopped, the adviser added.

The right to record is clear, but not absolute

So what should journalism educators teach student photojournalists about shooting police activities? Bottom line: They have every right to do it -- with some exceptions.

"Here's what [students] (and even more, the police) need to know," wrote Curt Chandler, a senior multimedia lecturer at Penn State University, who has had two student photographers arrested in the last five years and cited this passage from an ACLU briefing on photographers' rights in a recent exchange on the Online News Association's Educators Facebook group: "Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right -- and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties."

But there are limits, advised the SPLC. Students, for instance, need to beware of what may be considered interference with police operations. "[E]ven if there is a First Amendment right to photograph and videotape law enforcement officers, this right is not absolute," warned SPLC. "Actions that constitute disorderly conduct, refusal to follow lawful police directives, harassment, stalking, trespassing, or other similar crimes may result in criminal prosecution."

In addition, since many cameras record not just stills but also video and audio, student videographers may face different legal considerations around wiretapping laws -- a number of states require consent by both parties to have their conversation recorded. Those laws may be changing, however, in the wake of a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling last summer that helped settle a Massachusetts cell phone videotaping case in favor of the videotaper.

"Knowing your rights means knowing the law," emphasized Poynter's Howard Finberg, who offered up to student journalists and instructors a free self-directed NewsU training module, Newsgathering Law and Liability.

But some educators believe it's not enough to know the law. Student journalists must also be willing to assert the rights they have.

Steve Fox, multimedia journalism coordinator at UMass-Amherst, wrote on the ONA Educators group: "I don't think that students don't know their rights. They do. It's more a state of mind that is lacking. Students seem unwilling to challenge authority, challenge the status quo, challenge the party line, afflict the comfortable."

Added Fox: "More times than not, students faced with confrontation from authority figures become compliant -- all while fully knowing what their journalistic rights are. It's frustrating and a fundamental disconnect that I see with many young journalists of this generation."

What's your experience as a journalism educator or student journalist? Are student journalists willing to confront authority figures to assert their free speech rights? And do students actually know the nuances of their rights in covering police action or not? Do you know of other student journalist arrests or cases of intimidation of student journalists by police or other authorities during news coverage? What approaches does your school use to teach about photojournalist rights?

For more information on student free speech and photojournalism rights, visit the Student Press Law Center, which tracks freedom of speech cases involving student journalists, and offers extensive resources such as this legal guide for photojournalists recording police action, a student media guide to newsgathering, as well as practical tips for dealing with police when covering protests (PDF). (Hat tip: Andrew Lih of USC and Frank LoMonte of SPLC.)

A. Adam Glenn is associate professor, interactive, at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and a longtime digital journalist and media consultant. Connect with him on Facebook or LinkedIn, and follow his Twitter feed. This monthly column draws liberally from conversations about digital journalism teaching practices on the online educators Facebook group of the Online News Association. The ONA Facebook group is currently a closed group but you can view ongoing conversations (see our group Q&A tracker), or join in via ONA membership.

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April 18 2012


When in doubt, try something new.

I caught this tweet from a long-time colleague flying across my screen this morning:

Referenced @PhillipADsmith’s post on not working weekends while chatting productivity hacks: bit.ly/IKlwfF Definitely worth a read.

— Erin Polgreen (@erinpolgreen) April 18, 2012

It reminded me that, a ways back, I wrote stuff about my personal life that wasn’t just travel updates or work-related musings. I had this idea many years ago that I’d write more about personal beliefs when it comes to striking a balance between doing what you love, and loving what you do. I thought I would call it the “Tao of consulting,” because I believed that to be great at consulting, you needed to be even better at living.

Some time later, taking enormous inspiration from a range of characters that I’d met over the years, I decided to try out a new persona: The Slacker. The concept is quite simple really and not that novel: work smart, not hard. There’s a fair bit of writing out there that supports the idea that people who make time to reflect and who engage a variety of interests are more effective at creative problem solving — it’s well worth a Google search or two.

After more than fifteen years of actively exploring and thinking about the various ways of being an effective professional activist, consultant, collaborator, convener, and agitator, I’m always rejuvenated to return to the point where there’s something new to learn. And, thankfully, it’s still easy to find that place.

But… learning is hard for me. I’m a Taurus and I was born in the Year of the Ox. To say I’m stubborn or set in my ways would be a understatement of the most significant kind. I don’t like to try new things. I like routine. I like repeatable patterns. I like a steady pace and a known, well-trodden, path. I am pulled toward the things that I already know well.

However, and stealing of bit of inspiration from Clay Johnson’s book The Information Diet, just because you like something doesn’t mean that it’s good for you.

So I’ve started thinking about some easy ways to ensure that I stay on my learning edge. We’re currently living in a world of learning opportunities, so — in general — this isn’t exactly difficult, but even in the pursuit of learning, my experience is that it’s possible to fall into the pattern of taking the easy, or known, path vs. trying something new. And, for me at least, it’s the stretch goals that result in the most significant outcomes.

In addition to not working weekends, I’m going to propose another “mission” for you to experiment with (as I am, currently): When in doubt, try something new.

It’s really that simple.

Let me know how it works for you. :)

January 10 2012


Steering Girls to Science and Tech Careers

Education content on MediaShift is brought to you by:


Innovation. Reputation. Opportunity. Get all the advantages journalism and PR pros need to help put their future in focus. Learn more about USC Annenberg's Master's programs.

For Ebony Green, a career as a scientist might have seemed unlikely just last year.

The stereotypical outcome for girls like Ebony, an eighth-grader at Frick Middle School in a rough part of East Oakland, isn’t necessarily a high-paying job in science, math, engineering or technology. In fact, 40 percent of Oakland Unified School District students drop out.

Still, despite her surroundings and the legacy of her race, gender, family background, and income bracket, Ebony sees a different future for herself. She wants to be a pediatrician, or maybe a vet, and she's starting to take steps to get there.

Last fall, without her mother knowing, Ebony enrolled herself in Techbridge, an after-school science and math program geared specifically to girls. She signed up for math tutoring at school because she's struggling in the subject. And her science teacher, Ken Eastman, says she even came to his science class twice a day for a while.

Ebony’s interest in science stands in contrast to the reality of women working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. Although women make up half the country's work force, they comprise less than 25 percent of STEM-related jobs, according to a Department of Commerce report from last year.

Apart from the overall problem of cutting out hands-on science projects and tinkering in schools, the issue is even more pointed when it comes to girls. A recent study called "Why So Few" shows that only 20 percent of bachelors degrees in STEM fields go to girls.


But Techbridge is showing Ebony an alternate future. Once a week, she and 20 other girls voluntarily stay after school from 3 to 5 p.m. to get their hands on soldering irons and protractors to make things like LED-lit sculptures and catapults. Beyond teaching these girls those specific skills, Techbridge is giving them something much more.

"It’s interesting to me," Ebony said. "Because some things that I didn’t believe, I believe in now. I never knew about soldering, or I never knew about crystals or anything like that, and since I’m interested in that I wanted to get into a program where it’s a lot about it."


One thing research consistently shows is the impact that one-on-one relationships and role models can have in influencing kids. And that's one of the defined goals of the Techbridge program.

To that end, Ebony and her peers get to work once a week with Esosa Ozigbo, who comes from a similar background as many of the girls in the program -- single-parent home, struggling financially, parents who never graduated from high school. But Ozigbo, a Stanford graduate with a science degree, is living proof that there's a way out -- and it might just be in a field like science or math.

"I definitely know that growing up, it would have been great to have someone like that come in and talk to me," Ozigbo said.

Ozigbo leads Techbridge field trips, taking girls to companies like Google and Yahoo for site visits so they see for themselves the possibility of a life that's different than what they've lived so far.

"I took some girls to San Francisco -- they had never been on the other side of the bay," she said. "It's just about seeing what's out there and seeing if it's in your grasp and saying, 'This is what I have to do, this is what I can do.' I think that makes the world of a difference."

Though they only meet once a week, Ozigbo makes sure to connect personally with the girls. Sometimes she takes Ebony home after, and they have a chance to talk about what's going on.

"Even in that short time, we're going to reach them all, we talk, we laugh, we joke about things like guys and stuff like that," she said. "We tell them to always stand up for what you believe in, we do shout-outs to the girls who get up so they learn how to be comfortable when speaking in a crowd. It's little, but I'm hoping that those little different things will make a big difference in the end."

Claude Steele thinks it will. Steele is the author of "Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us" and the dean for the School of Education at Stanford University.

"What those girls will see from that kind of a program is that women do succeed in these fields, that role model strategy is a really effective one," Steele said. "It's the existence proof idea, the stereotype may be out there, but look, there's a woman who is succeeding, and that means it's possible for me to succeed, and it starts to reduce the sense that I would worry about being seen stereotypically."

Learning About Search from Google

Tasha Bergson-Michelson, a search expert at Google, is one of the women that Techbridge girls get to meet. Last month, a group of girls from Montera Middle School in Oakland were brought to Google to learn some important tips in using the site to conduct research -- whether it's simply for curiosity or for a school project.

"I believe that access to information is one of the greatest equalizing forces," Bergson-Michelson said. "Knowing how to find information, evaluate it, and use it appropriately is one of the ways we see a divergence among people who have access to education and those who don't. "

Bergson-Michelson hopes that her time with the Techbridge girls will show that her route could also be theirs. "I want them to know that whatever path they choose to take, they have the power to -- by experimentation and by engaging with our world and thinking creatively -- learn a great deal about these technologies they use every day and become more powerful," she said. "How could you possibly get a job at Google if you didn't start with a dream?"

The fact that Ebony shows up to Techbridge week after week on her own volition is an encouraging sign to Ozigbo.

"She's coming every week, finding some sort of acceptance or community or fun in here," she said. "Once these girls get that satisfaction from completing that kit, or making that soldering ornament and knowing they can do something that most people aren't given the chance to do, that most adults don't know how to do or don't know about, that knowledge in itself is so empowering and can really take them places."

As part of the PBS American Graduate Program, I produced a segment for the PBS NewsHour on Ebony Green and Techbridge with correspondent Spencer Michels. Here's the segment:

Watch Oakland Program Aims to Pique Girls' Interest in Science, Tech Careers on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Tina Barseghian is the editor of KQED's MindShift, an NPR website about the future of education. In the past, she's worked as the executive editor of Edutopia, a magazine published by the George Lucas Education Foundation, as well as an editor at O'Reilly Media and CMP Media. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQED's MindShift, which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.

Education content on MediaShift is brought to you by:


Innovation. Reputation. Opportunity. Get all the advantages journalism and PR pros need to help put their future in focus. Learn more about USC Annenberg's Master's programs.

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October 06 2011


In the Digital Age, Is Teaching Cursive Relevant?


Education content is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

Reading and writing are fundamental to learning. But as more kids read and write via some sort of computing device -- laptop, tablet, cell phone -- how we teach those skills is changing, and one significant change is the decision to teach cursive. When it comes to equipping students with "21st century skills," typing is in, cursive is out.

In part, the disappearance of cursive from the curriculum stems from the Common Core State Standards (now adopted by the majority of U.S. states), which no longer require cursive as part of language arts and writing instruction. According to the Common Core's mission: "The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy." And the global economy, so the argument goes, requires students to be prepared to type, not to write in cursive.

This isn't to say, of course, that handwriting instruction itself is scrapped. Students will still learn to craft their letters, and plenty of kids are still likely to curse the requirements for neat penmanship. But in lieu of requiring students to specifically learn cursive, the imperative now is to teach them to produce and publish their written work by typing and word processing.

An extraneous skill?

Knowing how to type and create documents on a computer is obviously important. And for most people, writing in cursive is a rare event. Typing, once touted as more practical than print, is more efficient than either form of writing by hand. And, as such, cursive may seem like an extraneous skill.

Nevertheless, removing cursive from the curriculum has been controversial. Some have argued that learning cursive isn't simply about knowing how to write efficiently. It's about learning how to write beautifully. It's about fine motor skills. It's about expression. And according to a report in The Wall Street Journal last year, there are a number of benefits to cognition and memory that come from writing by hand.

Some fear that if we stop teaching students to write in cursive, they'll no longer be able to read cursive either, leaving a swath of written materials that will be undecipherable. Arguably, that's something historians and archeologists have long faced; whether it's cursive, calligraphy or otherwise, handwriting has changed immensely over the years.

And without cursive, how will people be able to sign their names, some argue, pointing to the one place where most adults probably do regularly use cursive in lieu of print. Of course, teaching cursive just so we can all add our personalized squiggle to the bottom of official documents probably isn't an effective use of class time.

So is it time for cursive to go? Or should we retain it as part of the curriculum? Share your thoughts in comments below.

Editor's Note: There was a lively debate on the topic of teaching cursive on a Google+ post by MediaShift editor Mark Glaser. Check it out.

Audrey Watters is an education technology writer, rabble-rouser, and folklorist. She writes for MindShift, O'Reilly Radar, Hack Education, and ReadWriteWeb.

mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQED's MindShift,
which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.


Education content is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

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August 01 2011


Screen Time for Kids: Balancing Fun, Learning, Media Creation

kidsandmedia small.jpg

This week, MediaShift will be running a special series on navigating the relationships between kids and media. Stay tuned all week as we explore topics like this one.

When it comes to videogames and apps, what’s a parent to do? On one hand, we’re bombarded with messages about the perils of letting kids play with computer games and gadgets. On the other, we’re seduced by games and apps marketed to us as “educational.”

It’s a tricky line to navigate. The spectrum of kids’ apps ranges from “baking” cupcakes to crushing war demons. Most of them have some educational aspect — at the very least kids learn what ingredients are used in cupcake baking, and the physics of launching Angry Birds at just the right angle to kill the piggies. That’s learning, isn’t it?

Therein lie the vague boundaries. Not all games are educational, and not all are shallow forms of entertainment. Many are marketed as educational tools, but in fact, most have some elements of both. The trick is to figure out what we want kids to learn and to experience. To clump them all into one category is to miss out on a huge treasure trove of learning opportunities. Real learning apps have a set of criteria that qualifies them as educational, so rather than writing them all off as a waste of time, parents can figure out what their kids are exposed to.

Engagement and Learning

“We don't ever want to separate engagement from the purposes of learning,” said Daniel Edelson, Executive Director and Vice President of Education and Children’s Programs at the National Geographic Society at a cyberlearning conference this spring. “When you're engaged with activities that have learning goals, you can connect the dots between engagement and learning. If you use engagement in its broadest possible sense when people are paying attention because of bright lights and activity, then you don't find that connection.”

Enter the parent. A young child is not necessarily going to figure out if she’s learning or having fun. And in the best cases, that line is blurred without the child even knowing it. She’s collecting information about bugs and plantlife with apps like Project NOAH. She’s creating original stories — complete with exposition and denouement and background music — with digital storytelling apps like Toontastic.

So should parents feel guilty allowing their kids to play games on mobile gadgets?

“Most parents don't understand the need for their participation,” said Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a pediatrician who says she specializes in children’s media use. “It's a small population who gets it.”

girl with tablet.jpg

Simply put: “No,” says Dr. Michael Levine of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which recently released a study called Learning: Is There an App For That. “Kids see their parents using mobile phones all the time. It’s only natural for them to want to use them too. And from the data in our study it looks like many parents are letting their children use them responsibly - with restrictions and in moderation. We recommend a balanced media diet that consists of content that is fun, educational, and doesn't take up too much time in a given day.”

Tools to Create Content

That said, Levine cautioned parents to stay vigilant about screen time. “We would be quite concerned if young children, especially pre-schoolers, began to dramatically increase their mobile screen time,” he said.

A screen is not just a screen, though. The one-way interaction between TV and the couch potato is far different than an absorbing Scrabble play-off with a friend on a mobile phone.

“Nobody's saying, ‘Give your kid a Gameboy, so he can be quiet and go sit in the corner,” said Andy Russell, co-creator of Toontastic at a digital media and learning conference. “We're giving them tools to actually help them create content. The new devices allow us to do new things that we haven't ever been able to do. But the world of ‘edutainment’ has dug us into a hole where most people think games only create a solitary experience.”

In fact, many apps invite multiple players, social interaction with peers, and a call to go outdoors, either with specific instructions or with the child’s own imagination. When my daughter and her friend were deciding how to spend their Saturday afternoon last week, their indoor play turned into an outdoor movie that they scripted, and that I filmed and edited for them with my iPhone.

“Most parents don't understand the need for their participation,” said Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a pediatrician who says she specializes in children’s media use. “It's a small population who gets it.”

Russell says game designers should also take responsibility in guiding parents on how to interact with the games and their kids. “The failure is not the technology, but how we communicate to parents,” he said.


Regardless of how educational or engaging a screen can be, O’Keeffe says emotional connections are lost without face-to-face contact. “If they’re looking at a screen, they can't see the emotional response,” said O’Keeffe, who believes screens should be kept out of the hands of kids under 5 years old. “It's about empathy and they're having trouble learning that. Do you really need to turn on the DVD in the car? Do kids really need the Gameboy in the grocery store? We all have to use the screen as babysitter sometimes. But to always use a screen that often is a problem.”

But gaming advocates argue that social connections are built into most games. That sharing tactics and strategies help cement the learning experience — and connect players to each other in ways that haven’t been done before.

As researchers dig deeper into the ramifications of games and apps on young minds, parents will have to navigate the gray areas between absent-minded parenting and the smart use of technology.

Photo of boy with iPad by Mark Glaser.

Photo of girl with an iPad by Alec Couros via Flickr.

Read more about how technology wires the learning brain and suprising truths about videogames.

Tina Barseghian is the editor of KQED's MindShift, an NPR website about the future of education. In the past, she's worked as the executive editor of Edutopia, a magazine published by the George Lucas Education Foundation, as well as an editor at O'Reilly Media and CMP Media. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQED's MindShift, which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.

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June 30 2011


Virtual Worlds Are Scary for Parents, Liberating for Kids

There are more than 1 billion users of virtual worlds, online communities where people have avatars and participate in various simulated environments. Even more impressive than that number: Roughly half of those virtual world users are under age 15.

With a number of news stories lately about kids under 13 on Facebook (violating the social network's Terms of Service), you'd think there weren't any other social networking sites that were geared for kids or where kids wanted to be. But clearly that's hardly the case, and many social networks, gaming sites and virtual worlds are aimed at the under-13 set: Club Penguin, Whyville and Webkinz, to name just a few. (Here's a list of eight social media sites just for kids.)

Security and Safety

Allowing children under age 13 to participate in online communities often raises questions about security and safety, and many parents fear predators and cyberbullies. Kid-oriented websites have a number of measures to prevent these dangers for their members, including logging chats and flagging questionable content and suspicious accounts.

But there may be other problems with these sites too, including the intense commercialization of many of them. Often virtual worlds (for children as for adults) encourage not just game-play but consumption, and kids need to buy virtual goods (sometimes with real money) in order to dress their avatars and decorate their virtual homes. Purchasing in-game items often gives users more status, and that's a lesson in itself that parents may or may not wish to have imparted to their kids.

Learning Opportunities

Virtual worlds are often dismissed as merely games, and most do not claim to be educational websites. But there are plenty of informal learning opportunities for kids in these environments, particularly as these are often their first experiences with online communities. Participating in a virtual world can help kids learn how to communicate and behave online.


They can also be utilized to help bridge online and offline ethics. One virtual world, MiniMonos, for example, has an environmental theme and tries to make sustainability lessons clear to its users. If you don't keep up with the recycling around your avatar's treehouse, there are in-world consequences. The virtual world also ties this to the real world, rewarding users for various environmental actions they take in their own communities.

Here's a list of five virtual world sites that can unlock all kinds of adventures, curated by a teacher who's tested many of these sites in his classes.

Liberating for Kids

It's this connection to community -- again, on- and offline -- that may be one of the greatest benefits of virtual worlds. Despite fears about predators, virtual worlds do offer kids a place to experiment and expand socially. Virtual worlds give children an opportunity to participate in a large social environment, with people from all over the world, often unsupervised by their parents. That may sound scary to parents, but for kids, it can be very liberating.

As always, parents should make sure they know where and what their kids are doing online. The best virtual worlds offer reporting features for parents and keep in contact with them should any problems arise. They also allow parents to enter alongside their children.

Although virtual worlds may be a relatively new phenomenon, the fact that kids under 13 are embracing them suggests that we're only beginning to see the potential of these online communities.

Audrey Watters is an education technology writer, rabble-rouser, and folklorist. She writes for MindShift, O'Reilly Radar, Hack Education, and ReadWriteWeb.

mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQED's MindShift, which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

June 27 2011


Silicon Sisters Builds Videogames for Women by Women

The stereotypical videogame player is a young male under age 18, but study after study has shown that the majority of the game-playing population does not fall into that demographic. Only 18 percent of gamers are under age 18, and women over 18 represent a significantly greater proportion of this population (37 percent) than do boys age 17 or younger (13 percent).

With the explosive growth in social gaming, particularly on Facebook, more games are being targeted at women. Games like Farmville and Pet Society, while not explicitly aimed at women, have been embraced by an older, female gaming population.

But what about girls? Videogames are increasingly considered an important tool for learning. And even though plenty of women do play videogames, there is still a sense -- particularly among girls -- that games are a "boy thing."

Building Games for Women, Girls


That girl-gamer audience is the focus of the Vancouver, B.C.-based gaming studio Silicon Sisters. The first female-owned and run videogame studio in Canada, Silicon Sisters is committed to building games for women and girls by women and girls.

Founded by former Radical Entertainment executive producer Kristen Forbes and former Deep Fried Entertainment COO Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch, the studio released its very first game, School 26, to critical acclaim back in April. (We featured the game in an April round-up of the best new educational apps of the month.) The studio plans to release its next School 26 game -- Summer of Secrets -- next month.

The School 26 games are geared toward tweens and teens, and the storyline is built around the very complicated social hierarchy of high school. You play the game as a young girl who's a newcomer to a school. She comes from a nomadic family, which has made it difficult for her to maintain long-term friendships. As she enrolls in this, her 26th school, she strikes a bargain with her parents: If she can make friends, they'll stay put.

So the player of School 26 must help the character do just that: build friendships and navigate the sticky, awkward and sometimes awful moral dilemmas of school. These range from power struggles to peer pressure, romance, betrayal, alienation, acceptance -- all real and relevant situations that girls face every day.

The player must select appropriate emotional responses to certain scenarios and answer quizzes that provide insights into players' personalities. The emphasis here is on empathy and networking.

All talk, no action

That's a very different set of goals and behaviors than what most videogames encourage. There isn't swordplay here. No princesses to rescue. No alien invaders to vanquish. There isn't “action.” There's “talk.” The rewards aren't cash or weaponry. The skills honed in School 26 aren't the ability to time your jumps or dodge bullets or land killing blows. Of course, there are plenty of casual games aimed at tweens that aren't action-oriented, and there are lots aimed at girls. But unlike many games that target this girl market, there is no emphasis on shopping, fashion or beauty in School 26.

The Silicon Sisters say all their games will emphasize this sort of “social engineering” — an emphasis on relationships and communication. These are important skills for girls and women to develop, the studio argues, and will allow them to navigate the sometimes treacherous social situations.

As the female gaming population grows, it's likely that more companies will begin to cater to this market. But as it stands, there still aren't a lot of games that meet women and girl gamers' needs. A recent report by the entertainment market research firm Interpret, titled "Games and Girls: Video Gaming's Ignored Audience," argues that the female gaming market is far more nuanced than some of the “casual-centric reputation” suggests. Indeed, 44 percent of those who responded to the survey say that they prefer genres other than exercise, music, and casual games -- the kind that are most often marketed to women and girls.

But making games for girls isn't simply about providing good entertainment. Some of girls' reluctance to play videogames may have other repercussions: a lack of familiarity with or comfort around technology, for example, and a missed opportunity to learn more about science, technology and engineering.

Audrey Watters is an education technology writer, rabble-rouser, and folklorist. She writes for MindShift, O'Reilly Radar, Hack Education, and ReadWriteWeb.

mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQED's MindShift, which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.

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May 20 2011


Children and Facebook: The Promise and Pitfalls for Social Media

With more than 500 million Facebook users across the world, it's hard to refute that the social networking site has profoundly changed the way we communicate and share information. But what's the Facebook effect on kids? When it comes to navigating the social networking world -- whether it's Facebook or fan fiction sites -- the terrain becomes even murkier.

Parents worry about what's age-appropriate, what should be kept private, and exposure to cyberbullying, among many other issues. And it's true -- there's a lot to navigate, even for adults. But Facebook and social networks aren't going away anytime soon, and the better parents understand this, the more they'll be able to help their kids comprehend the medium.

Rather than block all access to the Internet, parents can see that for every pitfall, there's a potential promise.

"Parents can and should moderate sites, but they have to give kids the opportunities to figure out what it means to be digital citizens, and allow kids to be empowered," said Carrie James, who's conducting a qualitative survey of kids and social networks at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "They need prompts and supports to develop guidelines together."


For better or for worse, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and their ilk provide ways for kids to connect with each other and express themselves.

This level of unchecked expression, some argue, is too much for young children who can't handle the complexities of social networking sites. "The amount of angst has increased in my school in the past few years," said Anthony Orsini, principal of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J. With three suicides (including Tyler Clementi) in the past year, he said, "it's been a fearful time in our town for our parents."

The irony is that the fear doesn't come from the traditional so-called stranger danger but from how kids behave toward each other online. "Stranger danger is unbelievably minute compared to the social and emotional damage they receive from each other everyday," Orsini said. And the matter becomes much more complicated when you consider that strict anti-bullying laws render schools responsible for kids' online behavior, he said.

But for administrators like Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in Bergen County, N.J., privacy and cyberbullying issues are a red herring. "What if a kid swears in the hallway? It's the same thing. People want to hide behind the legal issues, but it's the same as swearing on Facebook," he said.

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Either way, kids will have to learn that their digital footprint is born from the moment they start posting on each other's walls and create their first online avatar. They'll have to figure out that every YouTube video they upload will be a reflection of themselves as the public sees them. With guidance from parents and educators, they can figure out what the world knows about them.

But at the moment, it's not a high priority at most schools, Sheninger said. "Schools aren't teaching kids to be digitally responsible," he said. "We can't fault kids for doing something wrong on Facebook or Twitter because we're not teaching them. We need to have digital citizenship curriculum in schools."

It's important to note that Orisini is the principal of a middle school, while Sheninger is the principal of a high school, and the age difference can be a factor in how kids behave online.


Chances are, anytime the computer is on near a kid (and let's face it, even adults), some kind of social networking is happening. Whether it's Facebook or instant messaging, or watching or uploading videos to share, the distractions are endless. As we all know, one link can easily lead to another, until suddenly an hour and a half has passed and we've lost track of the task at hand.

Last year's comprehensive study by Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids age 8 to 18 actually manage to pack in almost 11 hours worth of media content into 7½ hours of using media.

So is there any time left for learning? Researchers like Henry Jenkins would argue that the best kind of learning -- engaged and collaborative -- is happening on social network sites.

Jenkins, who is a professor at the University of Southern California, talks about "deeply meaningful forms of learning...taking place through engagement with affinity groups and social networks online" such as the Harry Potter Alliance, which has mobilized more than 100,000 people against the Darfur genocide and labor rights at Wal-Mart.

But because of privacy laws like the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, most schools shut off access to social networking sites -- with a few exceptions. To principal Sheninger, "if you're not on Facebook, you can't really communicate with us. Our new hub of real-time information is Facebook. I post things about what the kids are doing, and when they comment or parents comment, as a principal, I'm proud," he said.


Facebook's changing privacy settings and its tendency to default to more open information is a source of constant annoyance for many of its users. We have to keep close tabs on those changes, especially when it comes to kids.

But young children are not the primary target user for Facebook, which officially does not allow kids under 13 to sign up for an account. Parents must decide whether they'll allow their children to become a part of the vast Facebook network, or to harness the social networking world into smaller, more contained sites like Togetherville or Club Penguin.

Parents can use the subject of privacy settings as an opportunity to teach kids about navigating the online world. They can talk about social media etiquette and what information they agree is acceptable to be shared with friends and the public at large. With guidance and support, and with parents setting examples of what they think is appropriate, kids can learn their place and responsibility as part of a worldwide community.

Photo of girl with an iPad by Alec Couros via Flickr.

Tina Barseghian is the editor of KQED's MindShift, an NPR website about the future of education. In the past, she's worked as the executive editor of Edutopia, a magazine published by the George Lucas Education Foundation, as well as an editor at O'Reilly Media and CMP Media. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQED's MindShift, which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.

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January 10 2011


Serious game: inside the Haiti earthquake response

I know that many of us are struggling with doing things online that are educational AND interesting. I love so called "serious games" for that purpose, but of course they take a long time to produce and are anything but cheap. Which is why I'd like to share an example with you.

A camera team that was working with the Red Cross while I was in Haiti just created a serious game that allows players to take on the role of a journalist, aidworker or survivor and I think it's really impressive. 

I wrote a quick review on my blog: http://sm4good.com/2011/01/10/game-haiti-earthquake-response/ 


November 21 2010


Who says our way is the right way?

As I sit on the board of Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic, I have been thinking about the different ways people learn. RFB&D gives students the tools to learn by listening. We call that a disability. I think it may soon be seen as an advantage.

A group of Danish academic say we are passing through the other side of what they wonderfully call the Gutenberg Parenthesis, leaving the structured, serial, permanent, authored, controlled era of text and returning, perhaps, to what came before the press: a time when communication and content cross, when process dominates product, when knowledge is distributed by people passing it around, when we remix it along the way, when we are more oral and aural.

That’s what makes me think that RFB&D’s clients may end up with a leg up. They understand better than the textually oriented among us how to learn through hearing. Rather than being seen as the people who need extra help, perhaps they will be in the position to give the rest of us help.

And I thought that as I read Matt Richtel’s piece in the New York Times today: Growing up digital, wired for distraction. It starts off lamenting that a student got only 43 pages through Cat’s Cradle. But as @HowardOwens responded on Twitter: “Gee, a 17-year-old only gets 43 pages into his summer reading assignment. Like, that’s never happened before.”

Richtel and the experts he calls blame technology, of course, for shortening our attention spans, just as Nick Carr and Andrew Keen do, lamenting the change. But the assumption they all make is that the way we used to do it is the right way. What if, as I said in Short Attention Span Theater (aka Twitter), we’re evolving:

“Maybe the issue isn’t that we’re too distracted to read but that reading can finally catch up with how our brains really work.”

Richtel, to his credit, focuses at the end of his piece on a distracted student who can, indeed, focus — not on the books he’s assigned but on the video he’s making. Maybe that’s because he’s creating. Maybe it’s because he’s working with tools that give him feedback. Maybe it’s because he is communicating with an audience.

I spend time on this in my book (when I can concentrate on writing it — that is, when I’m not blogging and tweeting as I am right now): Technology brings change; change brings fear and retrenchment. Gutenberg scholar Elizabeth Eisenstein reminds us that for 50 years after the invention of the press, we continued to put old wine in this new cask, replicating scribal fonts, content, and models. That’s what’s happening now: We are trying to fit our old world into the new one that is emerging. We’re assuming the old way is the right way.

Mind you, one of the joys of writing this book is that I’ve had cause to start reading books again. I’ll confess I’d fallen off the shelf.

Now I’m enjoying reading books as part of the process of creating, sharing, communicating. I’m learning not just by reading and absorbing but by rethinking and remixing. And I’m thinking the result of my next project may not be a book but something else, or that a book may be a byproduct rather than the goal.

So is this new generation distracted or advanced? How can they best learn? How can they teach? What tools can we use today besides books? What new opportunities do all their tools present? That’s what educators should be asking. That’s the discussion I’d like to see The Times start.

: @SivaVaid(hyanathan) just said on Twitter: “There are no wires in the human mind. So it can’t be ‘rewired’ Get a grip.” Right. What can be rewired are media and education and that’s what we’re seeing happen — or what we should be seeing happen.

July 01 2010


When “neuroplasticity” had a simpler name: Whispering books and other lionized memories

[Matthew Battles is one of my favorite thinkers about how we read, consume, and learn. He's reading and reacting to Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus and Nicholas Carr's The Shallows. Over the next several weeks, we'll be running Matthew's ongoing twin review; here are parts one and two. — Josh]

In the first chapter of The Shallows, Nick Carr contrasts the curious ennui of his college’s computer lab with the sustaining calm of the library stacks:

Most of my library time…went to wandering the long, narrow corridors of the stacks. Despite being surrounded by tens of thousands of books, I don’t remember the anxiety that’s symptomatic of what we call “information overload.” There was something calming in the reticence of all these books….Take your time, the books seemed to whisper to me in their dusty voices. We’re not going anywhere.

Books, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, always speak in italics.

The whispering tomes resided in Dartmouth’s Baker Library (where I doubt they were allowed to gather much dust); they enlivened the halcyon days before computers took over Carr’s life. Beginning with a little beige Mac Plus in 1986, Carr began the technological joyride of upgrade and ever-increasing entanglement: from MS Word to AOL to Netscape to blogging, Carr was careening with the rest of us towards Web 2.0. By the time he started blogging, he had long since noticed the ways in which the computer transformed work, experience, even consciousness itself:

The more I used it, the more it altered the way I worked. At first I had found it impossible to edit anything on-screen….But at some point — and abruptly — my editing routine changed. I found I could no longer write or revise anything on paper. I felt lost without the Delete key, the scrollbar, the cut and paste functions, the Undo command. I had to do all my editing on-screen. In using the word processor, I had become something of a word processor myself.

This transformation — and the brain’s capacity for it — is the principal theme of Carr’s book. By the time the Internet had fully infiltrated Carr’s working life, he notes, “the very way my brain worked seemed to be changing….It was demanding to be fed the way the Net fed it — and the more it was fed, the hungrier it became.” Carr warns that brain’s susceptibility to such change leaves us open to being transformed by technology — and not in altogether positive ways. “[T]he Internet, I sensed, was changing me into something like a high-speed data-processing machine,” he writes darkly, “a human HAL.”

It’s a funny reference. For HAL, the deranged artificial intelligence at the center of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, intellectual inflexibility was his downfall: presented with seemingly incommensurable choices, his mind refused to expand, reflexively eliminating the variables (his changeable human crewmates) instead.

Again and again, Carr prefers to stack the deck against computers. The dusty books he extolls are quiet counselors, wise and infinitely patient. They refuse to intervene, to interact, as technology is wont to do; they prefer to wait until we’re ready to receive their gentle ministrations. But in fact books are no such thing. They’re seductive, manipulative, transformative. They’ve changed through time; they’ve changed us through time.

And we haven’t always agreed that those changes were for the better. Two hundred years ago, Washington Irving bemoaned a rising tide of newly-published books in terms Carr would find familiar:

The stream of literature has expanded into a torrent — augmented into a river — expanded into a sea…. The world will inevitably be overstocked with good books. It will soon be the employment of a lifetime merely to learn their names…. before long a man of erudition will be little better than a mere walking catalogue.

…which, I want to say, is perhaps an early nineteenth-century equivalent of a human processing machine. Irving was writing in a time when steam power was transforming the printing press from a craft into an agent of mass production, a book mill quite different from Gutenberg’s machine. With many of his contemporaries, he wondered whether we would adapt to the freshet of new books. But adapt we did. As intellectual historian Ann Blair has shown, early modern readers and writers worried about information overload — something Carr claims didn’t exist until roughly the time he bought his first Macintosh — and our strategies for dealing with it have been evolving for centuries.

The susceptibility to transformation that Carr discusses in The Shallows is real. It’s our native endowment — what the brain evolved to do. It is the vogue among scientists to call it neuroplasticity; before that, it was called learning.

June 28 2010


Free Online Journalism Classes Begin To Gain Ground

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

The CEO of Creative Commons, Joi Ito, is currently teaching a free online journalism class through Peer 2 Peer University, an online community of "open study groups for short university-level courses." The online class syncs with a graduate-level class Ito teaches at Keio University in Japan, and features a UStream presentation and IRC chat once a week.


IRC chat? Yes, the class glues together tools like UStream and IRC, and the platform, which was built on a Drupal base, continues to evolve. P2PU's organizers make it clear they know the tools aren't perfect, so they're using feedback from participants to refine things as they go.

I joined the class at the last minute. The New York Times had written about P2PU in April, as well as other open learning communities outside of traditional institutions. I stumbled across the article while searching the word "edupunks."

A Proposal

The concept of providing coaching outside of traditional educational institutions has fascinated me for close to a year. I'm focused on how professional journalists can share their knowledge with new creators of online content, be they "citizen journalists," neighborhood activists or seasoned newspaper people working on building online skills.

In the fall, I submitted a Knight News Challenge proposal for an online class, 260 Open, with face-to-face components. Students would have been required to produce coverage of civic events, and experienced journalists would have edited their work closely. The concept was designed to not only spread civic knowledge, media literacy and strong journalism skills, but also to increase the amount of news coverage in particular communities.

moodle-logo.gifI proposed that the class use Moodle, an open source learning management system that has been adopted for institutional use in many places, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College. (In the end, I didn't receive a News Challenge grant.)

Then, in May, I pitched the concept at the news entrepreneur boot camp held at the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California. One strength of that pitch was that many others at the boot camp are building news organizations with educational components to broaden the capacity of communities to help cover their own news.

What I needed, though, was a proven business model with customers who can pay.

Certainly, many large media companies are seeking help from their respective communities in covering the news, and the need exists to improve skills in communities that have lost local news coverage. But finding actual paying customers willing to support classes for the public good is a tough nut to crack. As large companies rush to create content to wrap around new online local ads for small businesses, though, perhaps the business model will become clearer.


In contrast, P2PU isn't focusing on the business model at the moment. Instead, organizers are building a community, refining tools and experimenting. That's inspiring.

P2PU co-founder Jan Philipp Schmidt explains the concept of the online school:

In fact, Mozilla teamed up with Hacks & Hackers in a collaboration launched at Knight's recent Future of News and Civic Media conference to use P2PU to allow programmers to teach journalists and journalists to teach programmers. Mozilla and P2PU are also launching the School of Webcraft, with a call for course proposals by July 18.

P2PU's current journalism class has shown me that perhaps it's possible to just start, with imperfect tools, even before funding or business models are clear.

In Charlotte, where I'm based, media folks have demonstrated a commitment to peer coaching and support with some journo/bloggers meetups. We just started holding them, with little regard to organizational structure. David Cohn of Spot.Us showed up via Skype for one meeting.

P2PU shows that possibilities exist. It demonstrates the power of asynchronous communication and online tools for learning, as students in Japan go to class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and I listen and watch at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, at the same time. It's quite a time shifter, right out of "Harry Potter."

What's Next

What I'd like to see next: Take the concept to local communities, with tools that individuals can use to easily create independent, civic journalism courses. Those classes could be augmented with local meetups to strengthen ties and build strong networks. Local journalists familiar with the civic and social nuances of particular communities would add unmatched value.

Perhaps there's a business model in there somewhere. But, more importantly, the concept provides more tools for journalists to share knowledge and perhaps help sustain themselves as teachers and coaches, while broadening the capacity for communities to tell their own stories.

Maybe we can make it so. What do you think?

Andria Krewson is editor for two community sections of the McClatchy-owned Charlotte Observer in Charlotte, N.C. She is @underoak on Twitter.

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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December 07 2009


Why Young Journalists in Big Newsrooms Are Risk Averse

I'm going to tell you a secret about my newsroom.

The 20-somethings there are indeed fast to pick up new technology such as social networking, RSS and the use of Flip cameras. They are also wonderful colleagues, as well as dedicated and intensely engaged journalists. Of course, that's not the secret. What is surprising is that our youngest colleagues are by no means revolutionaries. They're not the ones looking to adopt or push disruptive innovations or invent new formats. That's largely done by people who are well into their 30s or older.

Opportunity Cost

This has puzzled and, I admit, occasionally irritated me. Fortunately, I gained some insight into this issue a few weeks ago while attending the Metanomics show in Second Life. It is hosted by professor Robert Bloomfield and he interviewed blogger, author and economics Professor Tyler Cowen.

Both men are media innovators. At the end of the show, Bloomfield talked about exploration, and he outlined the concept of "opportunity cost," which refers to the cost of the alternatives you aren't pursuing. Here's a bit of what he said:

Rough economic times like these are excellent for exploration. Some of you are unemployed. More of you are probably underemployed. It may sound counter-intuitive, but now is a time for exploration, because your opportunity costs are low.

There is a second meaning to the age of exploration. The very young -- by which I mean the 20-somethings -- are filled with energy, ambition and creativity. But exploration is very expensive for them, because they get so much value from the pursuit of traditional credentials, like degrees from George Mason or Cornell. But if you are listening to this, you are probably in the 35 to 60 range. Many of you could be devoting far more of your time exploring new opportunities -- again, the opportunity costs are lower for you.

I think the concept of opportunity cost can help explain why the young journalists in our newsroom seem to be more risk adverse. Contrast this reality with the persona of the young Internet entrepreneur today. They are celebrated for upending convention. Either they succeed and are applauded, or they fail, which is considered normal in the world of entrepreneurs and startups.

But the 20-somethings entering the newsroom of established media organizations seem to be a different breed. They are also entering a very different workplace environment than the one faced by young entrepreneurs. Within a large newsroom, the expectation and requirement is that young journalists work to acquire the skills and emulate the behaviors displayed by the older leaders within that environment. They are required to integrate, rather than upend convention.

If young journalists choose to revolt against convention, they will likely be rejected by the group. This means isolation within the workplace, or outright dismissal. Pushing the limits of the organization can result in a very real cost for younger journalists. It's high risk, with potentially few rewards.

Common Good

Professor Bloomfield also spoke of another concept that relates to this issue: social good. Here's what he said:

Finally, let me emphasize that exploration is a delight and a privilege that not everyone can pursue...but it is also your duty. Exploration is a social good. Explore to the extent your opportunity costs allow. We're counting on you to help pull us out of troubled times, and give us new ways when we get to the other side.

This means that older generations in the newsroom -- those of us who have been professional journalists for quite some time and have less to lose -- have a special responsibility. We have to explore, to innovate, to take risks. This is beneficial for society, and also for the 20-somethings who want to join us in exploration, but can be hamstrung by existing conventions.


What about your experience? Does the "opportunity cost" theory make sense when it comes to your newsroom or media company? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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