Can technology enhance the life of a child? If so, how? A Collection of Expert Opinions From Fred Forward 2010


Reference: Buckleitner, W., (2010). Can technology enhance the life of a young child? Children's Technology Review, Vol. 18, No. 4. (http://childrenstech.com)

“Fred’s instinct in the 1950s was to be excited and challenged by new media, never to be afraid or put off by it.
It was the potential of new media to play a constructive role in the development and education of young children that inspired him,
and he sustained this open-minded and entrepreneurial attitude to media and technology all his life.” 
Maxwell King and Rita Catalano, Co-Directors,
Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media (www.fredrogerscenter.org)

On March 21-23, a group of 150 or so researchers, journalists and publishers joined former colleagues of Fred Rogers to discuss “Creative Curiosity, New Media and Learning.” I was among the attendees (disclosure: my travel expenses were covered). The meeting was hosted by the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media, which is housed at Saint Vincent College in Fred’s home town of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The center is both a meeting facility and a public archive of materials from the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood television program, including one of his grand pianos and several very empty sweaters. The name of the meeting, “Fred Forward” is well-suited for framing the rapid convergence of technologies these days, with the values that Fred Rogers espoused. I saw the event as a rare opportunity to collect expert opinions. After all, how often do you get such a diverse group in one place at one time?  With the center’s permission, I conducted some informal interviews. My method was to ask each person a similarly-worded question. “Can technology enhance the life of a child? If so, how?” After the question, I then asked my interviewee for a suggestion about who I should interview next. My sample was 19 responses, three with associated YouTube content. Thanks to all those who were willing to talk into a (Livescribe) pen.

[NOTE: If you add to this list, please state your name, title, and comment; along with a the time that you added your comment. Thanks.]

Jerlean Daniel, Ph.D., Executive Director Designate, NAEYC.
I think technology is like any other tool in the classroom. It has to be used effectively, introduced by an adult who enjoys technology and appreciates that every child can learn and might use the tool slightly differently. An adult who has been intentional and thoughtful about the curriculum, is developmentally appropriate for the children, allows time to practice some old skills and concepts and gives a child space to just soar in terms of some new skills and concepts is on the right path. It seems to me that a knowledgeable adult intentionally inserting technology at some key moments for children can make it be an absolutely wonderful addition to the classroom. I'll never forget an event that happened back in 2002, when my oldest grandchild was getting ready to enter kindergarten. The school sent a list of things families were supposed to bring including a change of clothes, tennis shoes, and five formatted disks. I said (to my daughter) 'five formatted disks for kindergarten? What are they talking about?' Eventually, I decided to trust my grandchild's kindergarten teacher, and my daughter and I went to Target and picked up the disks. A few months later, my granddaughter led the parent-teacher-child conference with her own PowerPoint presentation, displaying her work. She was five! She said, for example, 'if you'll see in this version of my early work, I forgot the period on the end of a sentence. But if you'll notice in subsequent weeks, things improved.' It was that kind of language! It just blew her parents, and this Grandparent away. So the moral of the story is that with motivation and a teacher who believes in both the child and the technology, powerful things can happen.

Katie Donnelly, Research Associate, Center for Social Media
I like the idea of using technology for collaborative purposes, and if we can use it to have preschoolers work together to solve problems together that they couldn't solve themselves, then I think that's a great enhancement.

Chip Donohue, Ph.D., Director of Distance Learning, Erikson Institute
I think technology can enhance the life of a child -- not by being isolating, but by being interactive and by facilitating human interaction. We're watching this happen with older kids and with adults, where social networking has given the ability to reach out to each other. I think there is potential to pull together children who have similar interests. I go back to the earliest days of Apple II computers, when the computer was a magnet to the kids in the room. That's what I'm most excited about, and from what we've heard here, the opportunity for technology to be a relationship-based experience rather than an individual-based experience has great potential.

Jim Gray, Ed.D., Director of Learning, Leapfrog
I think you should start with the basic processes of learning. Cognitive processes, emotional processes, social processes. And then we can think about how technology can augment and enhance the experience. With Tag (Leapfrog), we looked at the basic processes of literacy as kids interact with text, technology and other people; and we used technology to augment those processes. The intersection of bits and atoms is where it's at in many ways. Traditional toys are tangible objects, to which you can add digital media, and then you can take advantage of the physical properties of a device, not only for input, but as something to interact with on its own, with it's own physical properties. Then you can think about how the digital component can then augment that experience.

Lynn Hartle, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Central Florida
Technology can enhance because it's everywhere. It doesn't matter if you believe that the preschooler should have it or not. The technology is around them and they know how to use it. They watch television, so they know how to work a remote; and they know how to operate a microwave oven. They have many more opportunities then their parents did, and they can't imagine a world without these abilities. Technology is merely a tool that is part of our world. Things don't work by cranks anymore, and that's a good concept for children to understand. Here's an example. My relatives live in a place where the lights occasionally go off, so they bought some wind-up lanterns and radios that you charge by turning a crank. And my four-year-old niece knows how they work. She's learned that turning the crank provides energy, just like plugging it in to the wall. I think that we need to expose our children not only to the technologies, but how the technologies work. Because when you give them a little bit of information, they take it and go farther, and then they will be the ones to make things work in a future that we can't even imagine. That's our role and that's our responsibility. But digital technology isn't all there is. Children also have to get out and run and play. Why not teach them the technology of things like [playground] swings? That's a technology too, and to a child, it is something equally as new.

David Kleeman, President, American Center for Children and Media
One of the things I've been thinking a lot about lately is how kids can find new and natural communities for themselves using technology. When I grew up my communities were pretty much limited to kids up and down the block. My friends and my peer groups were my only reference point, and if we were into different things, well tough. That was what we had access to. So what I'm interested in now is how kids are forming multiple peer groups based on their intense interests, using technology to make the connections.

Dafna Lemish, Ph.D., Professor of Communications, CMCH Children's Hospital Boston and Tel Aviv University
I'd like to think of technology as the means to help facilitate the direction of parents. So it might be able to give parents better parenting tools to use with their children. I'm talking about using technology for promoting those values, behaviors, learning and so on, that the parents are interested in. So rather than thinking of technology as debilitating the relationship and alienating children from their parents, I like to think of technology as the other way around; of how parents can use technology to enable children, facilitate their growth, interact with them better and get an idea for how they can promote their development.
Michael Levine, Ph.D., Executive Director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center
Of course technology can enhance the life prospects of a child. By itself, however, it is a fairly neutral force. In the hands of the right child and in the hands of the right community, however, technology can be transformative. I think the major challenge is to figure out how to put technology into a robust, lifelong learning system, and then use it to break down the barriers, such as those that might exist between children, caring adults and communities.

Joan Lombardi, Ph.D., Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families
How do we use technology to bring parents back into the lives of children, rather than to separate parents from their children? How do we use technology to prevent the achievement gap? Are we making a bigger divide, or are we using it to reduce the divide? We know that the achievement gap begins very young, below one. What is it that we can do to get in front of this gap, during pregnancy and during the first year of life?

Donald Marinelli, Ph.D., Executive Producer, Entertainment Technology Center
[In the YouTube interview, transcribed below, I presented Don with a fairly different question than the others, as follows: "How can technology enhance the learning environment of 2040?"]
I think the learning environment is absolutely key. I think back to Randy Pausch’s ‘last lecture’ when he made a plea to parents, to simply let their children paint their own rooms. I want to take it a step further. Let's fix up the schools! I mean why does every school look like some version of a prison or an asylum? How can you think outside of the box when you're in the box? Why does the word ‘cool’ have to be divorced from the learning environment? Why isn't the museum the school? Why don't we study science at the science center? Good God, we have a lot of work to do. I think we have some real bricks and mortar issues. [Don goes on to discuss environments, Futureland vs. Frontier land, and augmented reality at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDYcsjIyP54 and also in his keynote during Fred Forward].



Russell Miller, Managing Director, Center of Intentional Media
I think technology has been enhancing the lives of children since the invention of the hoop and stick. Basically kids take objects and make them into toys and with those toys they learn about the world. There's really not a whole lot of difference between an iPad and a hoop and stick as far as a kid is concerned. It's just an object that comes into their life and they need to figure out what to do with it. The biggest difference between contemporary technology and a hoop and stick is the risk that we undermine kids imaginations by giving them too much information and not really letting them figure out for themselves what's worth doing.

David Newell, Director of Public Relations, Family Communications, Inc. [David Newell played the role of Mr. McFeely, the delivery man, on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and was a long-time colleague of Fred Rogers]. I think Fred would put this new technology in the same category he put television. At one point, Fred didn't like television. He called it 'one of the worst things we've ever done for our kids.' Content was so important to Fred, but then he realized that television is a powerful way to get quality content out to children. You can write books till you're blue in the face, but you'll never reach as many people as you can with television. To Fred, technology was a vehicle, and this (motioning to an iPod Touch) would also be a vehicle. I remember that when Fred was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, all the Hollywood moguls were there. These were people who made all sorts of content. When he accepted his award, he used his speech to challenge the audience to think about the question "how do we make goodness attractive? This [referring to the iPod Touch] is the new television. In another 20 years, this is going to be an oil lamp, because there will be something else to replace it. But there will never be a replacement for content. I always have said you don't take Tom Sawyer off the shelf because Mark Twain died. Somewhere in this world of media, technology and communications, there's a place for the neighborhood.


Faith Rogow, Ph.D., Media Literacy Education Specialist, Insighters Educational Consulting
It can make them literate for the world we actually live in now instead of the world that our schools were designed for. The awesome part of today's technology is that we all have access to the rest of the world in a way that we could have never before imagined. And the potential of that for connections is incredible. The downside of it is that we have more connections to more people and information than any human being could ever process in six lifetimes, let alone one lifetime. So I think what we need to provide for kids in terms of emphasis in how we raise them is a little bit different. We didn't use to spend a lot of time in schools talking about discernment and credibility and how we assess things and whether they're valuable to you or not. That has to be a main component now. It's causing a lot of shifts and shifts cause discomfort and that makes life exciting and frustrating all at the same time.

Lesli Rotenberg, Senior Vice President, Children's Media, PBS
I think it's the same question that we asked about the television. It's not about the technology but to me technology is the vehicle, so we know that media is very powerful and influential to children. So the question to me is not can technology enhance their lives? It’s can we create content to use on that technology that can help children to achieve their potential, to close the achievement gap; to open new worlds and opportunities, and I think the answer is yes, we can.

Roberta Schomburg, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Carlow University
If we think of technology as tools of the culture, it makes sense that, in today's world, children learn about these tools. By introducing technology in developmentally appropriate ways, we help them learn how to use technology so that it becomes a skill they can master when they become school age. We have always given young children markers and paper without thinking a lot about it, so that they can learn how to handle them, not expecting them to write their letters immediately, but just giving them time to learn to handle the tools. It's the same with technology.

Rosemarie Truglio, Ph.D., Vice President of Education and Research, Sesame Workshop
It's not about the technology. It's about content, and how the content is adapted for the specific technology, and how that can be beneficial for the education of the child. It's the interaction between the content and the technology. It's not the technology per se.

Jane Werner, Executive Director, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
The mixing of traditional materials and technology should be seamless. A child shouldn't even be aware of the technology, for example, at our museum, we don't have a 'technology room.' We mix it all up— art, technology, history, music and science.

Alice Wilder, Ph.D., Co-Director, Head of Research, Super-Why
When technology makes the content come to life even more than what it does on its own, then it can motivate and enrich education. What's great about the medium of television is that it can make something visual that's textual, but the visual helps enhance the textual piece. With technology, both parts can work hand-in-hand, so it's more of an additive process. [Do you see more merging between linear and non-linear media?] I think there will always be space for something where you just watch, as well as just play. But I think there's room for both. There will be reasons why you'll just watch, and reasons why you'll want to interact.

Ellen Wartella, Ph.D., University of Southern California
One of the things you always want is to see your children engaged in an activity, and to the extent that technology can be used to enhance engagement so that children will have sustained, involved interaction, that's always helpful.

Faith Rogow, Ph.D., Media Literacy Education Specialist, Insighters Educational Consulting
It can make them literate for the world we actually live in now instead of the world that our schools were designed for. The awesome part of today's technology is that we all have access to the rest of the world in a way that we could have never before imagined. And the potential of that for connections is incredible. The downside of it is that we have more connections to more people and information than any human being could ever process in six lifetimes, let alone one lifetime. So I think what we need to provide for kids in terms of emphasis in how we raise them is a little bit different. We didn't use to spend a lot of time in schools talking about discernment and credibility and how we assess things and whether they're valuable to you or not. That has to be a main component now. It's causing a lot of shifts and shifts cause discomfort and that makes life exciting and frustrating all at the same time.

Lesli Rotenberg, Senior Vice President, Children's Media, PBS
I think it's the same question that we asked about the television. It's not about the technology but to me technology is the vehicle, so we know that media is very powerful and influential to children. So the question to me is not can technology enhance their lives? Its can we create content to use on that technology that can help children to achieve their potential, to close the achievement gap; to open new worlds and opportunities, and I think the answer is yes, we can.

Roberta Schomburg, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Carlow University
If we think of technology as tools of the culture, it makes sense that, in today's world, children learn about these tools. By introducing technology in developmentally appropriate ways, we help them learn how to use technology so that it becomes a skill they can master when they become school age. We have always given young children markers and paper without thinking a lot about it, so that they can learn how to handle them, not expecting them to write their letters immediately, but just giving them time to learn to handle the tools. It's the same with technology.

Rosemarie Truglio, Ph.D., Vice President of Education and Research, Sesame Workshop
It's not about the technology. It's about content, and how the content is adapted for the specific technology, and how that can be beneficial for the education of the child. It's the interaction between the content and the technology. It's not the technology per se.

Jane Werner, Executive Director, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
The mixing of traditional materials and technology should be should be seamless. A child shouldn't even be aware of the technology, for example, at our museum, we don't have a 'technology room.' We mix it all up— art, technology, history, music and science.

Alice Wilder, Ph.D., Co-Director, Head of Research, Super-Why
When technology makes the content come to life even more than what it does on its own, then it can motivate and enrich education. What's great about the medium of television is that it can make something visual that's textual, but the visual helps enhance the textual piece. With technology, both parts can work hand-in-hand, so it's more of an additive process. [Do you see more merging between linear and non-linear media?] I think there will always be space for something where you just watch, as well as just play. But I think there's room for both. There will be reasons why you'll just watch, and reasons why you'll want to interact.

Ellen Wartella, Ph.D., University of Southern California
One of the things you always want is to see your children engaged in an activity, and to the extent that technology can be used to enhance engagement so that children will have sustained, involved interaction, that's always helpful.