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December 5, 2011
Engaging Students and Families in a Digital Age: Lessons for Educators and Practitioners
Voices from the Field
Lori Takeuchi, PhD, is Director of Research for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, where she oversees research projects and partnerships. A learning scientist by training, she conducts research on how children use technology across the various settings of their lives. Dr. Takeuchi has also spent more than a decade designing and producing curriculum-based science software. She holds a PhD in Education from Stanford University, and received her EdM in Technology in Education (TIE) from Harvard.
Children today are surrounded by digital media. Households with kids aged 4–14 own, on average, 11 consumer electronic devices, which suggests that children are spending a good chunk of their waking hours texting friends, playing video games, grooving to their iPods, and hanging out on websites like Poptropica and Webkinz. My recent report, Families Matter: Engaging Families in a Digital Age, chronicles how digital media are shaping childhood, parenting, and family life with a national survey of parents of 3–10-year-olds, as well as in-depth case studies of two young Latina girls and their families.
I wrote Families Matter with the Cooney Center’s typical audiences in mind—namely, producers and researchers of digital media for young children—and so the recommendations posed at the end of the report suggest new design principles and avenues for future investigation. However, the survey results also have implications for practitioners who work with young children and their families, and I would like to share the most relevant parent survey findings for those audiences here.
Too often, we tune into the immediate interactions between a child and digital media platform, and pay less attention to the institutional (e.g., school), economic (e.g., parent work schedules and income), and cultural (e.g., values and norms) factors that invariably shape these interactions. But the case studies featured in Families Matter provide compelling examples of how powerfully these other factors can shape the relationships children have with media and, consequently, can shape their opportunities to learn.
For practitioners interested in how to best integrate new technologies into teaching, programming, and other activities, here are a few recommendations that keep the full range of the child’s learning environment in mind:
Family members communicate, learn, and play together differently than they did 20 years ago, and parents raise their kids differently than their parents raised them. What’s different today from media revolutions of the past is that newer technologies (e.g., iPods, texting, YouTube, Facebook), are being widely adopted by consumers within years, and even months, of their release—compared with the telephone, radio, and television, each of which took decades to become mainstream. The case studies in Families Matters reveal enduring patterns of how families adopt and adjust to new technologies, and how new media wriggle their way into kids’ lives, challenge family values, disrupt well-worn routines, and subsequently inspire parental angst, rule setting, and eventual acclimation. New platforms will come, some will stay, and many will go, but these patterns of integration will retain their currency for quite some time.
Download Families Matter: Engaging Families in a Digital Age, from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center website.