Technology And The Classroom

Striking The Right Balance

by Mary Johnson, Director of Children's Ministries & All Things Bright and Beautiful

In January, our Great Hall was the site of two sessions with Dr. Chip Donohue, Dean of Distance Learning and Continuing Education at Erikson Institute. An evening session hosted by the Alliance for Early Childhood, with 209 in attendance, served two purposes: to recognize the outstanding teachers in this community and to hear Dr. Donohue's presentation. The following morning session was for parents and grandparents. The provocative title of Dr. Donohue's talk was Finding the Balance between ALL TECH and NO TECH.

Prior to the presentation, my stance on technology in the classroom was a complete 180 from where I was at the end of the evening. One of the first points made by Dr. Donohue was to ask for a show of hands in the room from everyone with a smart phone. As you may suspect, nearly 100 % raised their hands. His point is simple. Technology is here and it will stay here. To ignore it or deny it in the context of teaching our children is impossible. The goal is to get involved, become aware of what is out there and use it appropriately.

One of the first advocates of embracing technology in education was Fred Rogers. It was a surprising revelation for many of us who grew up watching Mr. Rogers. What Fred Rogers observed was that there were some pretty awful things on television. Instead of wishing it weren't there or expecting it to go away, he realized television was here to stay. So he made the conscious effort to get involved and contribute positive experiences for children when watching TV. As Dr. Donohue states, that is where we are now with screens in our children's lives. Get involved, be aware, and monitor content and context for child appropriate screen time.

Fred Rogers was quoted many times through the evening and here is the first one: "No matter how helpful computers are as tools, (and they are helpful tools) they don't begin to compare in significance to the teacher-child relationship which is human and mutual. A computer can help you spell HUG, but it can never know the risk or the joy of actually giving or receiving one."

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, of the Child Health, Behavior and Development Center at the University of Washington, says that "All media is educational - so we need to be aware of what children are being educated about." Content matters. He goes on to say "If we invest our time and energy working to improve what our children watch, not just how much they watch, then we can have a positive impact on their behavior." In addition to monitoring what and where the children watch, it is equally important to ask the question "what shall we do when the screen is turned off?" And that requires parents and teachers to set the example of time away from the screen and to model behavior for the children around you.

It was a terrific evening with so many useful tools too numerous to include here. So I recommend that you read through the full power point presentation and watch the video of the presentation here.

".....let's not get so fascinated by what technology can do that we forget what it can't do.......It's through relationships that we grow best and learn best." -Fred Rogers