Jessica Kubacki is an intern at the TEC Center for 2016-2017. She has a focus on Universal Design and Assistive Technology.
On September 9, 2016, the Illinois Institute of Technology and TEC Center co-sponsored Screen Time: A symposium on Media for Children and Youth ages 0 to 8. At this symposium I was able to share my enthusiasm and thoughts in regards to children’s use of technology with other professionals in the child development field. Together we recognized the challenges of technology usage for children, but also the power it brings forth. As an intern in the TEC Center, there is no doubt I believe technology is at the forefront of education at all levels.
There are polarizing views to my beliefs on integration of technology. For many educators there is a hesitation of the unknown. Even in the 21st century, teacher education candidates are not comfortable with using technology in their classes – they have not been trained on how to use it or what is developmentally appropriate. This uncertainty of technology is likely derived from the fact that many of our students are digital natives – these children are born into a world immersed in technology. It almost feels like a game of catch up for us to possess equal digital literacy. The concept of “media mentors” presented itself positively at the symposium. Children need a guide to navigate and use technology appropriately, but teachers also require a media mentor. This idea of supporting technology learners as they explore the digital world is one that will create an appropriate use and understanding of technology.
Child development should be considered in the use of technology. It is important to recognize children’s ability and needs. Many panelists at the symposium discussed a need for diversity, accessibility, and Universal Design reflected in apps and devices. As an advocate for inclusion, these three principles resonated strongly with me. While the use of the iPad and other tablets has changed education for many children with disabilities, it has also allowed children to be included and fit in, as many peers are using the same technology. Tablets have begun to even out the playing field – they have accessible features, are meant for multiple populations, and address diverse languages. The use of tablets within schools is only the beginning for addressing these principles.
Key considerations about apps:
- Apps still have large room for improvement as many are developed to be used by or address select populations and a majority are not developmentally appropriate for children.
- Apps that have good intentions and great potential may leave out many learners.
- Diversity of characters is often ignored or done in a stereotypical way. Children need to see their culture reflected in apps; it is not always okay to push aside diversity by assigning characters as cartoons or animals.
- Dual Language Learners often miss out on what may be an educational app for others because they are not able to make a connection with what they see on the screen.
- Some apps even pry on children (we see this with in-app purchases).
If we are going to provide children and teachers with media mentors, it’s time for the media to be mentored in Child Development.