July 7, 2015

Digital Technologies in Early Years: Syncing From Home to School

My colleague, Dr. Sandra Lackenbauer, and I recently conducted a survey of guardians of children ages 0-6 living in London, Ontario. We were interested in learning in what ways children ages 0-6 have access to digital technologies at home and how they interact with these digital technologies. So in our study we focused on the following matters:

  1. Nature and duration of children’s interactions and engagements with digital technologies
  2. Adult-child interactions through digital technologies
  3. Child-child (peers/siblings) interactions through digital technologies

Click here to see our poster that summarizes the key findings.

I think the lived digital experiences of very young children create a demand for a closer look at their socio-cultural experiences and practices. I define socio-cultural practices as the ways children communicate, interact, participate, construct meaning, and make sense of their social and cultural environments. In 2015, we can’t overlook the impact of digital technologies on changing and shaping communication, entertainment, education, and identity formation of young children as active and competent interpreters and participants of our societies.

Let’s pause and re-visit our literacy practices. 5000 years ago, human civilizations celebrated printing on clay tablets followed by never stopped advancements in technologies and opportunities for writing, representing, reading, and sharing knowledge and emotions. The major advancement of technologies has always been changing the ways people wrote, read, and represented. The move from using bones to carve to ballpoint pen to write on paper was not alarming/concerning but celebratory. The generations before us didn’t have to fight so hard for or against using the literacy tools of their times, by children or adults.

Parents, educators, and researchers are examining the multimodal and digital competencies of children who are taking active roles in their thinking, creating, and representing. But they express concerns as well.

May 16, 2014

Reading in the age of Internet and dominating screens

My more recent research study on digital technologies and young children is now the lens that I’m looking through to carefully examine my daily personal and professional experiences. Monica sent this link to me and I spend an hour to listen to the thought provoking interviews on it.

However, the interview with Maryanne Wolf (minutes 23-35) on scanning and skimming caught my attention and became the inspiration to write this post.

I agree with Maryanne and feel some fundamental changes are happening in our reading, writing, and listening practices. Fundamental because as Maryanne is explaining they are changing our brain.She is suggesting a biliteral brain which uses two modes of reading one for our slower form which we use to read print and hard copies and the other for our faster skimming reading or digital reading, which she also calls “mediacy.’ If we agree with her that these two modes are extensively different, I suggest we need to give each an extensive attention when teaching reading to you children or when examining our adult reading. In our today’s fast changing societies, how do schools prepare children for these new reading modes? Should we teach them as if they’re both ‘reading’ or do we need to treat them as two different learning areas? How do our thinking and analyzing skills differ for each of these modes?

Allan Lau, on the same show, suggest the concept of social reading as well as social writing. How is this kind of reading and writing  connect to the more solitary reading and writing that we’re teaching young children? Is digital technology and digital reading and writing forcing us to teach reading and writing more as social practices, even for very young children?

We’ve been now talking about knowledge as being socially constructed and the social aspects of learning for hundred years with Vygotsky’s theory. How does digital literacy informing and challenging our understanding of social construction? How can we define social thinking in the age of digitalized societies and contexts? How are these social contexts different from or similar to face-to-face groups? How do we, teachers, prepare young children to engage in knowledge construction in digitalized groups, such as chat boxes, online games, and social media?

 June 2013

My 7-year old daughter’s interaction with new technologies and specifically an ipod that she got for her 7th birthday from her older sister is recently drawing my attention and time. Her excitement, her enthusiasm, her passion, her arguments and negotiations with me are not easy to ignore. I find myself constantly questioning and critiquing my answers to her; and slowly these answers (and my logic) are not even acceptable to me! So, I’m curious to better understand her engagement with new technologies and her persistent desire to play on her ipod. Where is the source of all of her enthusiasm, not only demonstrated by her but many other young children when using, playing with, and communicating via these new technologies. After all, I’m advocating for listening to children’s interests and now it’s the time to carefully listen to her.

One of my main dilemma is that While the games are engaging, multimodal, interactive, and novel, it’s hard to deny the satisfaction that comes with winning and gaining points at the end of each and every game. I feel that I need to carefully observe and reflect on the “point” and “reward” system/practice that all of these games are coming with. In my daughter’s case, I see she feels very happy when she gets higher points, collects coins and stars and she just becomes more motivated to keep playing to gain more.

About one week ago, her school teacher signed up all her students for an online ‘home reading program” called Raz-Racket, where based on the children’s reading level the teacher assigns them books to read, listen to, or record themselves reading it. There is a quiz at the end. I was not sure if Rauz would become excited as most of the books are non-fiction and sure not Rauz’s main interest at this time. To my surprise, the very first night she logged in and wanted to read nonstop. She read 3 books before bed and in the bed (9 pm) insisted to log in again. To our surprise, she had a message from her teacher with 500 bonus stars for her. She was thrilled and asked to read one more book before sleep. Her excitement just increased higher and higher in the next days. She listened to the books and then did the quiz while begging for our help. She became so frustrated when answered wrong. However, from the very beginning it was for the love of stars rather than love of reading. She was excited about the large number of stars  that she could collect at the of each listening and quiz and it became so overwhelming that she started crying when losing a question. Stars are fun to collect as they’re observable and measurable! But the greatest fun still was the chance to buy different things with those stars! Yes students can use their stars to buy stuff in this virtual world, things such as a chair or a pink planet. And my daughter’s goal was to buy a pink planet and she needed 1000 stars, not easy and quick. However, being digitally literate, she learned a trick. In 5 minutes she came back to me and excitedly announced: “I bought the pink planet!” I asked how. And she shared the trick with me, “I just clicked the next button so I read 6 new books!!” When reading a book, to turn a page all she needed was to click next … that means even if she hasn’t read that page she can still click next to get to the end of the book and get stars for “reading” that book.

Sure I had a “conversation” with her … but I had one with myself too starting with an important question: What is this online reading program trying to teach children?

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