When Debora Rubin was a child, she learned to read and write using a pen and paper, passing stories back and forth amongst her friends.
Today, she has created a web-based app for tech-savvy kids to do the same.
Ping Pong Story, a creative application where children, parents and teachers can create and share stories together in an online community, is just one of dozens of education-based technologies being developed at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ). Launching at the end of March, Rubin’s app is part of a growing trend in educating kids via the means of tech.
From developments at the DMZ to upgrades in classrooms across North America, the way children learn is making a shift. Some say today’s new technological advances are just the start of the transition into a 21st-century classroom – a wired environment that will change the way children are educated.
In a recent survey conducted by education community WeInspireFutures, more than 70 per cent of 5 million publicly-educated Canadian students feel positive about technology in the classroom. It’s a revelation, Rubin says, that inspired her journey into the educational sector of technology.
“Children literacy rates are changing and decreasing, while Internet usage by kids is increasing,” she says. “So we decided to build something that will bring together education and entertainment for kids.”
Katie Osko, a recent graduate from Ryerson’s Early Childhood Education program, attributes this to a generational shift – not only in students, but in teachers, too.
“A lot of our educators are becoming younger and younger and the ideology that technology in the classroom is a bad thing may be retired with the older generation of educators,” she says.
At Ryerson’s Early Learning Centre, for instance, Maurice Sweeney has implemented an iPad-based program, in which students learn basic literacy and motor skills using apps they favour. For some students, like those with autism, the iPad fosters a type of learning that can show dramatic differences from a traditional education.
But learning doesn’t end in the classroom, and neither does the use of technology. Diana Mancuso, a French teacher at St. Timothy Catholic Elementary School and mother of two, agrees that technology is making its way into the classroom – and the household. For her children, the intuitive and simple nature of hardware like the iPad make learning in her home fun and interactive.
But the transition into tech-based classrooms and households has not come without resistance.
At the Waldorf School in Vaughan, Ontario, children cannot use technology until they reach the fifth grade. Rather, the school embraces a nature-based curriculum, free of wires and Wi-Fi.
Many parents favour this approach. Samantha Kemp-Jackson, a Toronto mommy blogger, told the CBC that the technologically-inclined nature of today’s children is “disturbing.”
“[Kids] can get so far pulled into this vortex,” she says. “Are we raising a whole generation of anxious wired people because of the draw that it has?”
Osko says the use of educational technology can be detrimental to children if their learning styles are not accounted for or if other, basic learning skills are ignored.
But more often than not, Osko says, concerns arise from a lack of understanding in how tech can be utilized as an educational tool.
“Technology in the classroom is a touchy subject still for most parents because it is seen as playing games on the computer all day,” she says. “Really, it can be so much more than that and a vital tool to helping a child learn.”
Rubin hopes her app can live up to such a standard, to be a fixture in homes and schools across North America this year, one interactive online story at a time.