Coming fresh from the TOC Bologna conference on children’s digital publishing, the concept of “what is a book” is dominating my mind. It was clear, from the commentary & discussions, that apps are creating a buzz. What isn’t clear, is why I feel so uncomfortable listening to technology directions I’m supposed to be advocating. After all, aren’t I “Little Miss App”?
Every so often it’s important to fine-tune one’s own critical thinking skills. For me, Bologna was that time. Over the past two years I’ve purposefully exposed myself to hundreds of apps and app developers. I’ve seen and tried apps of all shapes and sizes, from big budgets and little budgets, made by people from over 30 countries worldwide. And now, as apps for kids are about to launch and go mainstream, I’m starting to feel reservations about how the benefits are being marketed.
When I hear phrases like “interactive reading” or “children can entertain themselves over and over again (and isn’t that great)”, I feel like things are about to go astray. Books - traditional, dog-eared, children’s books with ragged paper covers worn to the binding, are perfection. Apps, which can be lovely digital creations with lots of potential, still need to be validated before making claims in the areas of reading and literacy. Call it a game, call it an app, call it an eLearning experience, but please – be careful before you label it a “book”. Books take up my living room shelf space. Books clutter my bedside table. Books calm my children down when they are wound up. Books compose the fabric of my family life, with rhythm and words, page after printed page, from left to right.
My iPad…my iPad is (just) a tool! It has educational potential IF it has content that meets specific learning objectives.
My intention by voicing these passions is not to underestimate the talent emerging in the digital space, but rather, to emphasize that we need to be careful with the foundations of literacy. As a mom who is witnessing literacy lightbulbs lighting inside her kindergartener’s head, I’m wary of claims that state “the more interactive the better” in reference to books. Is it really reading if we choose the "read to me" or "auto-play" rather than "read by myself" option on the app? As measured by which child development expert?
Next time we say “digital media is educational”, let’s be more specific. Before I get too excited about seeing more apps, I want to know which teachers were on the beta team. I want to know who is validating the claim that these apps are indeed “educational”. I want to know which ages are most appropriate. I want to know how and why certain elements of interactivity are valuable to a child’s development. General catch phrases aren’t going to get us anywhere, and general buzzwords aren’t going to educate our kids.
Conscious choices, critical thinking, and tested content – let’s start there, you know, before we go overboard.