Sometimes Technology is Too Much Too Soon for Kids

Presenting at the 2013 Education Innovation Summit held in Scottsdale, Arizona, Lisa Guernsey took a closer look at what exactly kids are learning when they’re using digital tools like smartphones and tablets. Her results demonstrate that bringing together young children and tech requires caution especially since it isn’t clear that kids truly comprehend the use [...]

Presenting at the 2013 Education Innovation Summit held in Scottsdale, Arizona, Lisa Guernsey took a closer look at what exactly kids are learning when they’re using digital tools like smartphones and tablets. Her results demonstrate that bringing together young children and tech requires caution especially since it isn’t clear that kids truly comprehend the use of these kinds of tools.

The younger the children involved, the bigger the confusion. Guernsey used as an example a recent study of babies who were not yet on the development scale that allowed them to tell the difference between an object and a pictorial representation of the same object.

When shown pictures on a piece of paper, babies in the study tried to pick up the objects on the page. In one case, a baby held a picture of a shoe up to its own foot, as if trying to wear it. This misunderstanding of screens and images continues as children age, and is perhaps most evident when kids ask how people got inside their TVs. For that reason, Guernsey, author of Screen Time, says parents and teachers should become media mentors to children, guiding them toward age-appropriate apps and TV shows and teaching them how the technology works.

Joining Guernsey  for a discussion over the future of education technology were Katherine Mangu-Ward, the managing editor of Reason magazine and Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at New America. Torie Bosch, the Future Tense editor, served as the moderator for the conversation.

Mangu-Ward agreed that too much technology is adopted in classrooms before figuring out how it teaches kids, but at the same time, many children don’t have anyone who can be an effective media mentor. With bad instructors, limited school resources, and parents who don’t understand technology, she said, we should be able to count on technology to teach kids when the people around them cannot.

The panelists agreed that the edusphere seemed to be in a grip of some magical thinking that just putting technology into the hands of students of faculty was all it was going to take to create academic miracles. But the reality is, of course, much different.

Even if the perfect piece of educational technology were created, however, there would still be significant hurdles to getting it in the classroom. Mangu-Ward cautioned ed-tech entrepreneurs and investors, who made up much of the Education Innovation Summit’s audience, that teachers unions and seat-time requirements keep schools from adopting many new technologies.

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