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.)
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.