One of my favorite activities each year is judging a contest that rewards young people for creating compelling videos that encourage safe and responsible use of interactive technology. And now, thanks to a bill passed by the House of Representatives last week, Congress is on the verge of creating its own competition to encourage students to create mobile and computer "apps" that demonstrate their mastery of science, technology, education and mathematics (so called "STEM" education).
At a time when Congress seems to have trouble agreeing on anything, this bill received wide bipartisan support, according to Tim Lordan, executive director of the Internet Education Foundation, which encouraged House members to act on the bill. "One after another, members from both sides of the aisle rose in support of the STEM education Resolution during a break in the sequester debate," he said. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, who co-sponsored the bill, said that "an apps competition will foster interest in STEM education, which is just what our country needs to prepare for the future."
Implementation details for Congress's Academic Competition Resolution of 2013 are still being worked on by the Committee on House Administration, but it's likely that many members of Congress will hold competitions in their districts to encourage young people to create and submit apps for "mobile, tablet and computer platforms" that demonstrates their mastery of the technology and the underlying skills and knowledge required to create great apps.
The program is modeled, in part, on the Congressional Arts Competition that annually encourages high school students to submit visual art. More than 650,000 students have participated in this program since it was launched in 1982, and winning entries from each district are displayed in the U.S. Capitol for a year.
I'm not sure how Congress will "display" winning apps -- but that's one of the many details still being worked out. Winners of the district contests are not likely to receive cash prizes, but I have no doubt that young people whose entries are selected will be recognized both locally and nationally for their talents. It's my hope that Congress will find some way to publicly and visibly highlight winning entries -- perhaps by placing large monitors or banks of tablets in the Capitol Building so visitors and congressional staff can interact with the apps. Lordan hopes the contest will also help raise awareness among members of Congress that local technology talent among young people can help "create and keep jobs in their districts."
The video contest I help judge is called "What's Your Story" and is designed to encourage young people from the United States and Canada to submit videos that answer the question: "What does the good side of the Internet look like?" Videos should be short (between 30 seconds and two minutes) and can be produced using virtually any type of equipment, including cell phone cameras.
Contestants are encouraged to "tell us the good stuff you (and others) are doing ... whether it's connecting in kind ways, staying safe, keeping good reputations, doing cool things, being smart about cell phone cameras, or making a difference -- for just one person or many."
There are two grand prizes and four runners-up. One individual filmmaker and one school or classroom that collaborates on a video each win $10,000. Two runner up individuals get $1,000 each and two schools get $1,000 each.
The contest is funded by security company Trend Micro (which helps support ConnectSafely.org, the nonprofit Internet Safety organization where I serve as co-director) and is co-sponsored by several companies and organizations, including Meetme, Tumblr, Family Online Safety Institute, 3BL Media and the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Judges select from a group of finalists and finalists are determined, in part, by ratings from the public based on online viewing before the judges' meeting.
"It's designed this way to encourage peer to peer messaging and it's important these messages resonate with other young people," said Lynette Owens, who coordinates the project for Trend Micro. Contestants are encouraged to promote, embed and link to their entries using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google (GOOG)+ other media "to showcase a positive use of social media," said Owens.
This is the contest's fourth year and, having judged previous contests, I can tell you that originality and creativity are more important than production values, though that counts, too. Material must be original and all elements -- including background music -- must respect others' intellectual property rights and shouldn't include any inaccurate information. We've disqualified some entries for quoting statistics that came from unreliable sources.
Entries, which must be submitted by April 16th, will be posted to the Web and can be viewed and ranked by the public until April 30th. More information, including examples of previous years' winning videos, can be found at whatsyourstory.trendmicro.com.
Contact Larry Magid at email@example.com. Listen for his technology chats on KCBS-AM (740) weekdays at 3:50 p.m.