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★★★ Open House ★★★
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Flex Rubric Evaluation
CTR's new tool for evaluating interactive media using an adaptable set of criteria
The Flex Rubric is CTR's new tool for evaluating interactive media using an adaptable set of criteria. Because a single set of criteria may not apply to all types of products, CTR has created an array of rubrics comprised of custom-picked Quality Attributes designed to fit various genres. These Quality Attributes can be weighted by the reviewer depending on the perceived importance of each criterion in any particular case. Publishers and CTR Subscribers can evaluate products with the Flex Rubric on CTREX to share their own opinions and become a part of the exchange. A custom rubric tool is also available to rate products using up to ten Quality Attributes.

Editing as Expert
Expert Review as Expert
© 2019 Age of Learning, Inc.

Back in 1968, Fred Rogers started a challenging career in television to “make goodness attractive.” That was back when televisions that were the size of washing machines, and you could count the number of children’s television programs on one hand. Although the children’s media landscape has changed dramatically, Fred Rogers’ values have not. In our study of children’s interactive media, we've found that Fred’s attributes for quality in children’s media transfer well to touch screens and game consoles. Based on the principles upon which he designed his Neighborhood, we believe he’d like apps with these six attributes. Note that this rubric has no formal association with the Fred Rogers Center or the Fred Rogers Company.
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We think Google's original corporate motto ("Don't be evil") works well when thinking about children's digital media.

As reviewers we must train ourselves to tune into the signs that a child is being manipulated for monetary purposes, and flag products accordingly. We watch for and reward ethical behavior with ratings, with the full understanding that digital work must be paid for.

When dealing with children however, this must be done carefully. Here are some symptoms of bad practice (aka "evil") that we’ve seen, to varying degrees.

Attributes of a Non-Ethicial (aka Evil) Experience --
* Holds prior work hostage, creating a context that says "you have to pay or you'll loose your work." This is a common practice in the business world. An income tax program might keep last year's records locked until you buy the current year's software. This might be OK for an adult, but is less ethical for children, especially if the app is keeping scores or creative work.

* Mixes play with selling. Intentionally puts items for sale in the play space.

* Uses the "candy lane" technique. It’s common practice for food markets to place candy within reach of a child, to increase begging behavior when the wallet is out. Ethical stores give parents options, such as a "no candy lane" option.

* Uses a timer to pressure a decision. Apps use time, either to let a child pay to eliminate waiting or advancing, or to save progress.

* Mixes selling and informing. Does not clearly identify advertising content.

* Contains "blind alleys." These are point of purchase messages that hide the exit icon, making it difficult to get back to the play without passing through the store.

* Primes the pump for buying. Apps may use a fake currency (like gems) that is initially free and given to children, but then links this currency to real money, without clear links to the actual cost, presented in a developmentally appropriate way.

* Does not discourage accidental purchases. We’ve seen IAP items that cannot be refunded that cost up to $99.99, along with special incentives and splashy labels.

* Uses a properly designed parental gate. Merely entering a date or swiping with two fingers is not good enough to keep a motivated child from making a purchase.

* Does not give adults decisions. Evil apps remove the control over a child’s exposure to IAP, and intentionally contain easy parental gate features.

Decide where the app falls when it comes to the ethical treatment of children.

HIGH or MEDIUM HIGH: Give the app a high rating if the IAP content or prompts are out of site and out of mind, or if there is at least an option for turning this icon off in from the management menu.

MEDIUM: Give the app a medium rating if the IAP content prompts are shown by default but are grayed out or locked behind a well designed parental gate.

MEDIUM LOW or LOW: Give the app a low rating if the IAP content or prompts are prominently displayed, or if IAP content is presented within the child’s play space. Decide if children are teased by the content, and to what extent.

Justification
As a publisher, do you treat every child that uses your app the way you'd treat your own child or grandchild? Does your product respect a child’s playtime? 
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Children are curious about the world around them, which is why Fred filled his shows with authenticity. He addressed tough questions like divorce and death, and took us on visits to the crayon factory to see how they were made. Well-designed apps can give children the answers they crave without commercial clutter.
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Fred Rogers wanted children to experience feelings of control. He would always let the child speak first, and he’d listen to them maintaining uncanny eye contact. Likewise, a good app never traps a child inside a noisy game, and always puts the child in the driver’s during any sequence of events. These are experiences that let the child control the screen, not the other way around.
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The timing of media meant a lot to Fred Rogers. When other children’s television programs sped up, he slowed down—once even filming a turtle walking across the floor. He’d likely enjoy apps that don’t push fast-paced music and flashy graphics.
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Some games are like insular bubbles while others are create rich social opportunities between people. The three apps I’ve identified below are designed to be shared, meaning they work with two or more children and a parent—all at once.
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Fred Rogers once said “in children’s media good enough isn’t good enough.” Behind every episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a lot of old fashioned hard work and well-composed music. Likewise, the apps below contain ingredients like attention to detail, pleasing sounds, intentional narration, and original illustrations.
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