Like it or not, there is now a significant – and perhaps widening – gap between what children do in school, and what they do in their leisure time. There is a considerable danger that this new digital divide will cause even more young people to lose the will to learn in the formal setting of school. Until such time as we truly have a ‘classroom without walls’, then we need to address this mismatch.

Despite massive investment in technology in schools, and despite the far-reaching enthusiasm that has accompanied it, much of what takes place in education has remained relatively untouched by technology. Yet outside school, children are living increasingly media-saturated childhoods. It seems that beyond doing functional tasks for homework, very few children are using technology for anything that much resembles school learning. We have a responsibility to address what happens in the lives of our students before and after school. This is not to say that we must pander to their demands for instant and constant entertainment. ’Formal’ learning which encompasses hard work, practice and sometimes doing things even if you can’t understand the potential benefit is always going to be necessary if we want our children to become independent and autonomous.

One way to fulfil our responsibilities is to encourage young learners to use, analyse and critique games. Computer games are not simply neutral means of delivering information, and we should not use them in a merely functional or instrumental way. What is needed is a coherent and rigorous conception of ‘digital literacy’- in other words, of what children need to know about these media. Investigating media in schools can provide a challenging, rigorous and engaging perspective on technology. Media education can offer a way of connecting in-school uses of technology with out-of-school, popular culture – in a critical way.

Ollie Bray’s reflections on a Games Based Learning Conference, especially one which promoted ‘the power of narrative and the importance of story telling in education’  has made me wonder at what point do we introduce the whole notion of media education. It is too late, surely, if we leave it until high school.

Ollie includes a long but fascinating video of the designer of ‘The Land of Me ‘, an interactive game for children aged 2 and up. James Huggins’ world illustrates ‘why stories and open ended imagination are so important within a modern education system’.

I approached this with some trepidation. I am, after all, one of those ‘old grandmothers’ James mentions, sitting with little ones on her knee reading endless stories! I believe many small children spend too much time in front of a screen and not enough time interacting with people, although I don’t think anyone could question my commitment to the use of digital technologies where ever appropriate.

Whether or not to use digital technologies as yet another electronic baby-sitter for pre-schoolers (and this happens) is the decision of parents of course. It is well documented that many children arrive in early years settings with a tragic paucity of language experience which is often exacerbated by the ubiquitous screen. It would be a shame if this software were deployed to keep them quiet.

However, having seen this video and looked at the site (still in construction), I am on my way to being converted. If used in the way James envisages, then it seems to be a lovely tool to help youngsters to make the transition from situational to symbolic learning which is so hard for some. (as well as a fun experience in its own right). The emphasis on interaction and physical play and activity away from, but related to, the story on screen is very welcome. It encourages the fearlessness to explore, create and communicate that is such a wonderful characteristic of pre-school children.

That the ‘Land of Me’ is a terrific vehicle for creativity, collaboration and communication I have no doubt – when used in the way that is intended with a progression from the computer to the context of the real world.

I am passionate about the power of story to enable us all to lead fuller, richer lives and am looking forward to trying this out with the 6 and 2 year old in my life.

 

 

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