Recently I joined the amazing staff from the Parent Education Center for the Whittier City School District to give a workshop on creating digital storybooks using iPads. My goal is to help parents become familiar with the technology tools their children are using in the classroom but I also like to chat about larger questions involving navigating digital platforms and the Internet.

Before we got started on creating digital storybooks I asked parents to tell me why they chose to attend the workshop. Most said they feel their kids know more about using mobile devices than they do. Other parents want to learn to use mobile devices like the iPad to encourage their children to learn creatively outside the classroom.  Some parents expressed concern about having their kids spend mindless time playing online games after school.

The school district now provides iPads for children to use in class and some of the higher grades can also take them home. Most parents in attendance do not have mobile devices at home other than smartphones.

After introductions we chatted about the new Common Core State Standards which outline that students must develop digital media and technology skills.  This is in line with some of the initiatives I’m involved in at the college level to help increase digital literacy and support 21st century learning.

The iPad is a tool that can help.  Children are familiar with using touch-screen technology found in mobile devices.  They like to use these tools to socialize, communicate and contribute to online communities. Teaching a child with a tool they have a personal interest in can help to get buy-in from them to engage in lessons and activities.

 During our workshop some parents remarked that they felt uneasy about their children spending “too much” time on digital devices.  Another parent commented that while she wasn’t sure how much time her child was spending with the device in the classroom,  at home she sees digital devices as a distraction from doing other activities like playing outside or solving puzzles.  Balancing the physical and virtual world is important. True.  My mother worried about too much TV when I was a kid.   She too saw the “boob tube” as a distraction from socializing with the neighborhood kids and running outside to get exercise.  Innovation, technology and gadgets always bring competition for our attention.  

But playing online games can be productive.  My son says he likes to play computer games because it’s his way of unwinding after a long day at school.  Some online games provide a distraction but they also have teaching elements that are woven into the fun. They can also help children develop their digital citizenship.

Back at the workshop I spoke about an example I had observed the day before in my household:

My son loves multi-player games that involve building virtual worlds.  Last summer, while attending our annual family reunion he recruited new members to join his ‘clan’ in the virtual world he was building.  

His first day of middle school this past fall was filled with the angst of attending a new school district where he didn’t know anybody and had to make new friends.  He quickly bonded with other kids who also played the game of ‘clans’ and soon they joined his world (the world of middle schoolers as well as the virtual one).

“So, all those little viking-looking characters represent a real person” I asked as I inquired about his online gaming.  “Yes!” he said, “there used to be more but some have gotten kicked out.”  “Who kicks them out” I asked.  “I do” he said,  “I’m the leader, I created this world.”   “Why do you kick them out?”  “Well, if they’re mean to other members or are cussing in the chat- I warn them and if they continue I kick them out.  Sometimes players destroy what we’re building in our community and then I kick them out too.  I don’t always know when these things are happening but the other kids will tell me.”

Interesting.  Sounds a lot like traditional communities.

I think about how online games can teach children about leadership skills, participation and collaboration, working in groups and how they check their behavior in online communities–perhaps much the same as they would check it in a traditional classroom setting.

This also reminds me of a story I read a few years ago when the new director for the Media Lab at MIT mentioned how his experience in playing World of Warcraft shaped his professional development:

… and a guild leader in World of Warcraft. “My feeling is that what we are doing in WoW represents in many ways the future of real time collaborative teams and leadership in an increasingly ad hoc, always-on, diversity intense and real-time environment,”

As we regrouped our thoughts at our workshop I thought more about how we want to better understand the impact digital learning is having on our kids and how to raise the comfort level for parents.  Perhaps a way to do this is learn by doing.

We continued on to digital storybook creation using iPads.

“Why do we tell stories?” I asked our participants.

“To pass down information, to explain traditions!” exclaimed a parent and another parent said “to teach a lesson, to give a moral of a story.”

Yes, we tell stories to entertain, to record an experience, to share knowledge too.

Each parent was provided with an iPad that has the Haiku Deck application installed.  I chose Haiku Deck because of it’s simple format that focuses less on learning the platform and more on creative presentation creation with pictures and words.  Creating an account to use this application used to be completely free (useful, given our budgets) but now the company has a limited free account option and pushes users to purchase a ‘premium’ account for more features.

I asked parents to create 5 slides with pictures and words that describe what they like to do with their families or how they spend time together.

The parent center staff and I walked around the room helping parents create accounts in the Haiku Deck app.  The app requires an email address to sign up.  Some parents did not have an email address and we helped them create one first.

Haiku Deck has a helpful search function for pictures that recognizes photos tagged in different languages.  For example, some parents said they liked going to the beach on weekends with their kids.  Our workshop was bilingual so when they typed “playa” into the search bar the results came back with similar tags for “beach” in English and Spanish along with images of sandy beaches and sunsets.

As we wrapped up our workshop you could see lots of tapping on the screens to find the menus to add slides, add pictures, and writing of text. Then there was “look at this” giggles from some parents working together. Fun!

To finish our workshop I asked participants to share their stories.  We heard and saw stories from a mother who likes to run in the park with her kids.  Another mother who likes to attend baseball games with her children and grandchildren! Another parent expressed her love of reading bedtime stories to her young child.

One of the final stories was created in the format of a letter from a mother to her son. The room was clearly touched by her story as everyone ‘awwwed’ and clapped.  

Oh, the power of stories!

At the end of the workshop parents commented that they would keep working on their stories since they could access their accounts on their mobile devices or through haikudeck.com. Some said they couldn’t wait until their children got home from school to show them what they created in class!