I went for the session on the use of the iPad in children’s Literacy education held by Dr. Tamas Kiss, and it was, if anything, the most forward looking of all the talks I have been so far. He pointed out that the generation of today cannot be treated the same way the older generations have been, because of the increasingly compelling exposure to new, social technologies and henceforth the need to adopt “21st century skills”.
He notes that children nowadays, as a result of external influences, have shorter, more hyperactive attention spans, and will therefore flounder in the rigid, schooling environment that all of us (above the age of 21) have become accustomed to. Children of this Modern Generation, regardless of race and background, find themselves in a position where they can easily acquire the skills to distill nuanced Knowledge in the vapor of Chaos easier than any other generation, largely because of the increasing ease of access of social media and Technology 2.0. It is essential, then, to hone these inclinations into life skills that allow children to not only be information receivers, but also sharers and providers, a common ethos of the Web 2.0 movement.
He draws our attention to a surprising (and very adorable fact): his two-year old daughter is able to boot a computer, load Internet Explorer on the taskbar, access the dropdown menu and access the Barbie website to play games, simply because she has memorized the routine of such an act. She cannot even read, but she can already recognize the look and length of the Barbie URL which allows her to navigate to it. He later goes on to talk about how she can exit the browser and switch off the computer all by herself, much to sighs of affection from the audience. Aside from it being overwhelming cute (I keep saying that), it also proves that younger and younger children are capable of autonomous thinking and learning, because of the tools they are provided with.
Dr. Kiss makes an analogy that struck a chord with many people in the audience. He first showed this video:
The rigid board the metronomes were on represented a rigid teaching framework, and like in the video, would cause the metronomes – children – to fall out of sync and thus metaphorically represents the true nature of education, that an educator must never work on the assumption that a plan will enable an equal learning pace across the board, pun intended. Only with the inclusion of wheels and hence ‘fluidity’, does one see the gradual transferring and sharing of kinetic energy from one metronome to another, gradually allowing completely synchronized movement.
His plan, then, was to incorporate such ideas of fluidity into teaching by allowing students to learn at their own pace, and to give them tools to enable a peer network of help and progress. Like the session title implies, he naturally went into the merits of mobile computing, and the especially ease of use of the iPad for children. He mentions an app, “ComicStrip” (http://itunes.apple.com/sg/app/comicstrip-cs/id392197108?mt=8), that gives children the tools to distill coherence from chaotic information – in this case – it allows children to create comic strips out of any picture they so choose. While it undoubtedly promises itself to be utilized by students to create their own rage comics quite like those that arose from the website 4chan and popularized by others like Reddit, Dr. Kiss did make a point with the promising attributes such applications offer.
He gives two examples of comics drawn from the same pool of pictures, both done by his 7 and 11 year old daughters respectively. It warmed my heart to see the 7 year old girl’s work, and to see her attempt at creating a linear stream of narration that included a start, an end, and even speech bubbles in the form of a comic strip. Her work and her 11 year old sister’s work were vastly different, but each had displayed their own unique personality and creativity in their own piece of work. Given that the girls had managed to accomplish this task even, in Kiss’s words, “with distractions from the television”, showed that his experiment and thought process was already a success.
Finally, for further, irrevocable proof that devices such as the iPad are easy enough to use and are compelling enough to capture a child’s imagination, please direct your attention to this: