Use Technology to Encourage Creativity and Build Skills

Carla SangerWe are thrilled to have an outstanding lineup of speakers who will be participating in the Learning from Hollywood Forum. Here, Carla Sanger, President and CEO of LA’s BEST After School Enrichment Program, highlights uses of digital media for expanding kids’ experiences of the world, developing understanding and empathy for others, and energizing kids for learning. Drawing from her expertise in youth development, Sanger also emphasizes the importance of critically evaluating the media kids use and using digital media as one of many tools to address students’ individual learning styles and needs.

Cooney Center: What concerns you most about the impact that digital media are having on children’s healthy growth, learning, and development? What excites you about the potential of new technologies to support learning?

Carla Sanger: While there has been concern for decades over children zoning out in the front of the television, it seems to me that today’s technology, particularly with the advent of portable devices, poses an even greater threat to children’s socialization, critical thinking, and skill development. When digital media is either used as a form of sedation or babysitting to pacify children without or in lieu of direct engagement in conversation and interaction with adults and their peers, children have fewer opportunities to develop diverse interests, enhance fundamental skills and learn to decode or think critically about what they view.

Parents and after school staff are excited by technologies that encourage creativity and that are vehicles for rich skill-building experiences, such as video and audio recording and editing, animation and robotics. Additionally, technologies that provide children who have limited experience outside their own communities with appropriate portals to explore the world and connect with other people and cultures can be very beneficial, such as Skype, podcasting, webcasting and interactive websites. “Virtual” field trips can be great learning experiences for young students.

Is there a better way to optimize the time and effort that kids are spending with entertainment media?

The more products are designed with the capacity to motivate, energize, engage and physically activate students with more than eye/hand coordination, the greater the value of the time spent with entertainment media.

The reality is that children are consuming unprecedented levels of entertainment media, much of it unsupervised. In addition to maximizing consumption of high-quality, relevant, intelligent and informative media, children need guidance from adults to deconstruct individual media messages and develop comprehensive media literacy, rather than perceive all that they watch as authentic and accurate.

Are there new values, skills or perspectives which media can promote to help children prepare for work and play in a global world?

To the staff of LA’s BEST, the greatest value or perspective which media can promote is that there is more than one way to live. Experiences that promote decision-making, build empathy, reduce a tolerance for violence, help young people manage anger and control impulses, and also awaken intellect and creativity are the most valuable, in my opinion, for youth development.

The concept of “digital citizenship” is becoming increasingly more important as children grown into older users of technology. Media that instill values such as online courtesy and etiquette and promote online safety should be targeted at young users, just as good manners are taught, so that from an early age children are discerning and equipped to interact appropriately online.

Are the fields of entertainment or creative media at cross-purposes with education? What are important synergies or connection points to probe? Are there key responsibilities for digital media producers and educators in our new age?

Creative media can be at cross-purposes with education when activities are promoted as overly important to a child’s optimal growth while they may be out of sync with a child’s individual readiness or developmental capacity. For example, programs that purport to teach babies to read, or enhance neural development in infants, and so on.

An important aspect of a child’s education is the development of critical thinking skills, and entertainment/creative media can either support that development or discourage it. Given the power and influence of global entertainment, these industries have a responsibility to create programming and tools that challenge children to think independently and use their imaginations. Adults working alongside children in turn have a role in ensuring that there is access to high-quality media, and in providing guidance to interpret and decode images, messages, narratives and statements of fact. Creativity can be stifled in young children when they imagine all fairies to look like Tinkerbell, for example.

If you had a $10 billion budget to spend to promote the learning of children under the age of 10, what would be your highest priorities? What role would digital media and technologies play in advancing these priorities?

If I had 10 billion dollars to spend, I would use it to re-vamp teacher training institutions to educate teachers about the value of connecting to each child and his/her learning style, and equip teachers to effectively probe for what children already know, are curious about, and eager to learn. Teachers must be in a position to observe, listen to and understand the individual children they teach, and be able to connect to children’s knowledge and experience as well as to high-quality digital media.

President and Chief Executive Officer of LA’s BEST (Better Educated Students for Tomorrow) After School Enrichment Program for 21 years, Carla Sanger, M.Ed. has been a specialist in children’s education policy and advocacy for more than 39 years in the public and private sectors. Over the course of her career, she has been a public school teacher, curriculum writer, supervisor of day care services for the state of New Jersey, Executive Director of LA Child Care & Development Council, President of the California Children’s Council and co-chair of the California State Department of Education Task Force on School Readiness.

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