Unleashing the potential of technology

2013-7-11 9:44:00 From: China Daily

During a recent trip to China, one constant complaint I heard is the abuse of iPads and other digital devices now popular among children.

Affluent parents put expensive gadgets, such as iPads, into their children's hands and expect them to work wonders. Instead, they go on to regret it, as their children use them just to play games.

One perplexed parent asked me: "Why aren't our tech-savvy children doing anything better with technology?" The word "technology" caught my attention, and I think we ought to first understand what we mean by "technology".

According to Alexandar Romiszowski at Syracuse University, technology is something that "uses scientifically established knowledge in order to achieve a desired purpose". That is obviously different from what most people see as technology. Technology is often equated to devices such as smartphones. But using smartphones for 10 hours a day does not mean people are tech-savvy. However, the manufacturers have helped to shape such technological associations in order to sell their products.

Many devices are now simply platforms where all kinds of applications converge. Some are extremely helpful, some moderately so, while some are just plain stupid. In my years as an educational technologist, I have tried hard to bust the myth that young people are naturally tech-savvy and I work with professors to teach students to use tech-tools for a healthy and productive life.

Digital devices can also be used to engage people in learning. A study by Abilene Christian University, for instance, showed that the use of iPads actually improved their students' scores and made them happier learners. This does not just result from simply putting devices in students' hands. My current university, for instance, gives students devices and then vigorously explores ways to make them productive tools to engage learners. For devices to deliver on their potential to help with learning, parents and teachers should deliberately mine the treasure trove of applications to find useful ones.

For instance, they learn how to use Endnote to organize notes and references. They learn to use social bookmarking tools to gather and organize other resources. They learn to use Evernote for notes that can be saved in the cloud and retrieved anywhere with Internet access.

Devices should help children to be creative and productive. If guided, children can join the growing team of "produsumers" to produce content using the iPad. They can use iMovie to shoot and edit small movies to show and share their summer experiences. They can use drawing apps such as Paper to paint. They can use recording applications to produce podcasts. Using interesting apps, children can integrate devices into creative play and learn something along the way. Instead of shooting random photos as teenagers are prone to do, making a short movie could help them to shoot photos or videos with a design and purpose in mind.

There are also many study aids parents can utilize. For instance, many free reading materials, including classics in all kinds of languages, are accessible using apps such as Kindle, Classics and Gutenburg. Parents wanting to improve the math skills of their children can find applications that teach fractions, addition and multiplication drills through engaging games. There are even some good tools for musically challenged tiger moms and dads who send children to learn all sorts of musical instruments. For instance, Violin Multi Tuner can help children tune their violins, while Magic Piano is a game that familiarizes children with classical pieces.

Parents can also use iPads to record teaching sessions to interact with children. For instance, when asked to help with a particular problem in math or English, parents can turn their iPads into an interactive whiteboard by using an app such as Showme.

I hope these few examples illustrate the great number of applications and activities parents can look into. Devices do not deliver value automatically once you put them into children's hands. Children may be comfortable using social networking sites and games, but reluctant to use tools that help them learn or produce. The sad news is that, without having desired purposes for the devices they have, children are not actually as tech-savvy as we make them sound.

The good news is that most gizmos have not been out for that long. Parents still have time to turn them from distracting toys into engaging tools. That might seem like an uphill battle, but if we care enough, it is one we will win.


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