A number of prominent voices on the subject of education technology gathered at an event at the New American Foundation in Washington D.C. today. “Getting Schooled by a Third-Grader” featured Lisa Guernsey, author of Screen Time: How Electronic Media—From Baby Videos to Educational Software—Affects Your Child; Joel Levin, an NYC private school teacher currently working on an educational version of the game Minecraft; Alice Wilder, co-creator and head of research for the program Super Why! on PBS; Anne Murphy Paul, a New America fellow and author of Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives; and Scott Traylor, founder of 360Kid.
The event’s discussion centered around “doing education technology right” instead of maintaining the status quo of presenting kids with facts to memorize. Guernsey pointed out that at many children leave fifth grade, they lose what she described as an “intrinsic love of learning.”
Guernsey noted that people frequently think of only middle school and high school students when considering education technology, and rarely about younger children. By citing research that children between the ages of six months to six years average about 120 minutes a day in front of screens, Guernsey argued for teachers and startup companies to increase their efforts to bring technology into classrooms as early as kindergarten.
So how does a teacher “do it right?” The conversation turned toward gaming as Joel Levin talked about the educational value of Minecraft, and how interaction in a virtual world can activate imagination, creativity and important social experiences.
Guernsey wrote earlier this week of her opinion on using Minecraft in the classroom:
As a researcher examining the potential of technology in education and as the mother of two Minecraft-obsessed girls in elementary school, I have an acute love-hate relationship with this game. One minute I’m mesmerized with its potential for encouraging children to get creative, explore, and think critically about what it takes to build new communities. The next I’m shrieking at my kids and issuing ridiculous threats.
As you might expect, the discussion did not present Minecraft (or any video game for that matter) as the magic solution for engaging children in the classroom. “Anyone who has played a video game knows that traps can lurk behind any graphic, and that’s true in the ed-tech space as well,” wrote Slate’s Torie Bosch. New America Foundation fellow Anne Murphy Paul cautioned against ‘chocolate-covered broccoli’ which she described as boring education wrapped up in technology.
The question about “doing education technology right” will likely not be answered any time soon, but educators and authors can and should continue their discussion about it. And as Lisa Guernsey points out, a child is never too young to start embracing technology, as long parents maintain their roles as guides and teachers.
In her article “Can Your Preschooler Learn Anything From an iPad App?”, Guernsey examined research of children as young as age two using iPad apps for educational purposes. The short answer is yes, preschoolers can learn things from iPads, but the technology should be used as a supplement to parent and teacher guidance, not a substitute.
As the conversation about education technology continues, Technapex readers should keep their eyes open for Lisa Guernsey, Joel Levin, Alice Wilder, Annie Murphy Paul and Scott Traylor.