Future Tense Event Recap: What Do Kids Really Learn From Education Tech?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 17 2013 5:26 PM

Future Tense Event Recap: What Do Kids Really Learn From Education Tech?

It seems every educational app promises the most engaging and effective way to teach children, and cash-strapped school districts have embraced iPads, iPods, and Smart Boards as solutions to the challenges they face. But with all the time and resources invested in educational technology, how much do we really know about learning from these popular new devices?

The good news is the field of research is growing, but it’s got a long way to go. Presenting on Tuesday at Future Tense’s portion of the Education Innovation Summit 2013 in Scottsdale, Ariz., Lisa Guernsey cautioned that we can’t simply expect young children to learn from an iPad app on their own. Guernsey, who directs the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative, said that in many cases, children don’t understand the nature of the technology they’re using. (Disclosure: Arizona State University, a co-host of the Education Innovation Summit, is a partner in Future Tense along with Slate and the New America Foundation.)

Advertisement

Guernsey highlighted research from the University of Virginia suggesting babies can’t often distinguish between images and objects. When shown pictures on a piece of paper, babies in the study tried to pick up the objects on the page. In one case, a baby held a picture of a shoe up to its own foot, as if trying to wear it. This misunderstanding of screens and images continues as children age, and is perhaps most evident when kids ask how people got inside their TVs. For that reason, Guernsey, author of Screen Time, says parents and teachers should become media mentors to children, guiding them toward age-appropriate apps and TV shows and teaching them how the technology works.

To discuss the challenges facing educational technology, Guernsey sat down with Katherine Mangu-Ward, managing editor at Reason magazine and a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at New America, for a conversation moderated by Future Tense editor Torie Bosch. Mangu-Ward agreed that too much technology is adopted in classrooms before figuring out how it teaches kids, but at the same time, many children don’t have anyone who can be an effective media mentor. With bad instructors, limited school resources, and parents who don’t understand technology, she said, we should be able to count on technology to teach kids when the people around them cannot.

Even if the perfect piece of educational technology were created, however, there would still be significant hurdles to getting it in the classroom. Mangu-Ward cautioned ed-tech entrepreneurs and investors, who made up much of the Education Innovation Summit’s audience, that teachers unions and seat-time requirements keep schools from adopting many new technologies.

Guernsey brought up one case of iPads in the classroom that’s notable for engaging students and teachers alike. The Zurich International School, which Guernsey wrote about for Future Tense earlier this week, gives students iPads to create content, rather than consume it. The students take videos, write blog posts, and build portfolios to explain concepts and show what they’ve learned. The approach appears to be successful, and it has a great deal to do with how the teachers guide students using the technology.

The worst idea, Guernsey and Mangu-Ward agreed, is for schools to pour money into new technology and expect it to improve students’ performance instantly, without any thought to how the tech should be used. Until educators understand how technologies work, and how they teach students, those purchases will look more like wasted money than good investments.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:03 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Ubiquity of Gotham
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.