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Involving our kids in their own digital media learning

Just as neither blackboards (technology) nor the words or numbers on them (media) weren’t the source of learning in the 19th century, digital devices and the games, apps, and other media on them aren’t the source of our kids’ learning in this century. They’re just learning tools. It’s how they’re used by teacher and students, parents and children, that spells learning.

“For teachers, in designing learning experiences for students that are embedded with technology, the wording and focus of the question are paramount,” writes Matt Levinson, a high school administrator in northern California in KQED Mind/Shift. Digital media and devices are the play and learning tools of these times, our kids and their futures. Any family with a mobile phone or tablet knows children find them engaging (a three-year study of nearly 12,000 students in grades 3-5 in Massachusetts found that over 90% of 3rd graders play digital games) and 4th- and 5th-graders are all over Instagram. But – just as always – “engagement alone is not enough…. Engagement matched with outcomes around a carefully worded question propels student learning” with or without technology (see this).

He’s saying don’t just engage them, involve them. Partner with them to maximize their learning. Asking them good questions involves them. I’m not an educator; I’m a parent and journalist who works with brilliant educators and sees how they both engage and involve students in their own learning process in the classroom as well as digital environments that technology creates – environments such as blogs, wikis, Google Docs, and Minecraft (for example, see this). This is what they do, what Matt suggests:

“Play with them, talk to them, observe them. What do they need to develop? Start there. Then ¬¬– once you know that – you can start thinking about ways to do this…. Teachers can invite students into the conversation around the design of [their own] learning experience. In that conversation, students will gravitate toward modes of engagement and often, but not always, this engagement will include and involve technology. It can be amazing and illuminating, once this door is opened, to see and hear the myriad ways that students understand learning and engagement. What’s more, this conversation can serve as the bridge for the teacher less versed in tech tools, but well versed in learning outcomes and design questions.”

That kind of conversation can create bridges for parents “less versed in tech tools” too. Plenty of informal learning happens in social media and games at home. Asking questions (out of honest curiosity and a desire to learn) – then really listening to the answers and seeing where they take the conversation – can deepen our kids’ experiential learning, whether it’s about relationships or interests. It’s the thinking out loud, reflecting and articulating for a caring, open-minded listener that involves a child in her or her learning. Matt calls it “collaborative inquiry.” Do that that listening and thinking-out-loud with your kids about what’s happening in digital environments online and on phones – not all the time, but when it feels right, you’ll be able to tell – and everybody will be learning. You’ll get insights into your children’s experiences and use of digital media, and they’ll have a sounding board for whatever it is they need to be learning.

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