This Christmas has seen an explosion in pre-school and ‘just in school’ online offerings in 2008 and is significant I think.
Perhaps one of the most high profile playgrounds is from Jumpstart. Plenty of people remember them as developing some of the better CD-Rom pre-school and early learning titles, the types of ICTs that many of today’s high school students started with. Jumpstart has moved online, with a very clever and engaing ‘virtual world’, where kids learn and play as ‘Jumpies’. Then there are commercial offerings such as Build-A-Bear-Ville – a half decent virtual world marred by predicable product up sell. Pre-schoolers are busy enabling their Webkins, looking after their virtual plushy, playing games and dealing in a basic building and financial system. Away from commercial sell are offerings such as Secret Builders – another world of multi-user interaction. These are just three examples of many that my 5 and 3 year old have been giving a workout in the holiday.
While 2008 saw a lot of (mute) debate around MySpace, FaceBook et al in schools, it’s significant that tech-savvy parents are more than happy to have their children extending traditional ‘play’ with virtual ‘play’. While they like to play ‘games’ online – they are increasingly using multi-user environments, and these are getting quite astute in their safety, services and parental feedback mechanisms. The most popular console this Christmas was Nintendo’s Wii – which is again, enabled for multi-player over the internet. Playing with others online is just part of the territory – and not limited to the World of Warcraft.
Many, including my own daughter, start kindergarten this year having learned to read online with sites like Reading Eggs. They have built several avatars in Disney/Barbie websites and are quite fussy about their ‘digital representations’. Pre-schoolers have increasing access to read/write technology and therefore potentially more media literate than even a year ago. The ‘shift’ is heading downwards to pre-schoolers.
The technology they can use has surpassed that the current teen generation cut their ICT teeth on. CD-Roms are thing you put in the Wii, not a computer. What they learn in Kindy – will be applied to technology at home, the two things are blended learning. Playing with others online is just another thing to do – like reading a book, playing with plush toys or running in the park with friends. Giving your Webkin a virtual life simply extends their imagination and increases their ICT skills.
Of course not all parents and kids can do this. People talk about the digital divide getting wider, but it is also starting earlier. I think that the increase in pre and early school read/write websites is something not to be under-estimated. While I’ve heard primary school teachers say that much of the K12 action is happening at the 7-12 – there’s no reason to think that K6 has any less opportunity to blend ICTs into the classroom.