My first interaction with a computer was in my second grade public school classroom. Each day we had a set rotation where students either spent the afternoon reading a book, writing in a journal, or playing in the “computer lab.” The latter rotation section was a favorite because a handful of us were able to, nay required to, play games on this device most of us probably did not have access to outside the classroom. I cannot recall the specific programs available on the computers, but remember thinking we were so lucky to not have to do “school stuff” for a couple hours like everyone else.
That was 1996, fast-forward 17 years and think of how far technology has advanced! Schools are no longer lucky just to have a couple green screen computers, yet some have a whole room of flat screen computers, tablets in the classroom, or personal laptops for every student. Even libraries have jumped on board by offering access to public computers, free wi-fi and makerspaces. But how has this influx of technology changed how our youth learn? Has technology become a great addition or a mere distraction in an education setting?
Currently I volunteer at an elementary school library and with a teen makerspace where technology is a common connection. The majority of my time at both locations is spent helping students with something as simple as logging into a computer to more complex activities like using the UP! 3D printer. While I always leave each site even more energized about working with youth, I have to wonder if increasing technology in the classroom is actually increasing learning opportunities. In the end my answer is always the same, “Definitely yes… if done correctly.”
But kids these days are glued to all the new technology, why should we advocate for more time spent in front of the computer screen?
Despite the rise of the term “digital native” describing the generation born with a tablet in hand, not all children and teens are technology experts. We still have to consider the digital divide created by various factors such as race, class and access issues. Even in the 21st century the United States has about 25% of households without computers and 29% are without internet access in 2011 according to a recent census report. When looking at race, about 83% of White non-Hispanic households reported home internet use versus only 57% of Black and 58% of Hispanic households.
According to a recent study on youths’ internet activity worldwide, “only 30 percent of the world’s youth population between the ages of 15 and 24 years old has been active online for at least five years.” Yet if you focus on developed nations, more than 90% of youth in each country are considered digital natives. This variance is due to factors similar to those creating the digital divide, but in the case of Malaysia the active use of technology in schools led to the country ranking fourth with 75% of 15-to-24-year-olds labeled as digital natives.
As library professionals and education advocators, how should we approach technology in an education setting without making it another distraction? How can we incorporate an active use of technology in schools and libraries to meet learning goals and bridge this digital divide?
I may not have definite answers to these questions, but I do see the fine line between putting a computer in front of a child and actually teaching someone how to use it. Below is a list of recommended resources to explore these questions and find answers that may be beneficial to future librarians working with youth and technology:
- Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century: Kuhlthau’s book provides vital tools and information for educators to incorporate inquiry-guided learning and technology in the 21st century classroom.
- How to Integrate Technology: It is not just about getting computers in the classroom, but effectively utilizing these tools to enhance student learning.
- TeachThought: Introducing and combining learning trends such as Common Core, mobile learning, tablets and applications. One recent article shared 24 Unique Maker Education Resources for Teaching & Learning.
- Etoys: A free software program created to motivate children to become active learners while introducing scripting and programming skills in a fun way. (The main project we are working on at the elementary school revolves around integrating Etoys into the regular curriculum.)
- Teen Tech Week: YALSA sponsors an annual Teen Tech Week, which encourages libraries to showcase non-print resources and services available for teens. The next TTW will be March 9-15, 2014.
- A Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces: A small collection of resources for those thinking about starting a makerspace in their library.
What other resources or ideas can help librarians effectively utilize technology for children and teens? Or is technology already overused in education and library settings?