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Journal Issue: Children and Computer Technology Volume 10 Number 2 Fall/Winter 2000

Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations
Margie K. Shields Richard E. Behrman


Computer technology is rapidly transforming society. Although the task may seem daunting, we can take several steps to help ensure that children use computers in ways that improve their lives now and in the future.

First, we can ensure that children acquire the necessary skills to navigate the digital world effectively and responsibly. Parents, teachers, and other adults who work with children can teach children to make good choices about the time they spend with computers, to be savvy digital consumers, and to seek out software and online content that educates and inspires, not merely entertains. With our guidance and enthusiasm, children can use the computer to learn about other people and parts of the world, for example, as well as to play video games. If use of higher-quality content increases, industry can be challenged more effectively to meet the demand.

Second, we can ensure that children have opportunities to use computer technology more actively to create, to design, to invent, and to collaborate with children in other classrooms and communities. These are types of activities that empower children to play active roles in the emerging digital world, not merely to navigate through it. With the assistance of highly trained mentors, children can learn to use computers to create finger paintings, or to design and build bird feeders, for example, as well as to surf the Web for the lyrics of hit songs.

Third, we can help reduce disparities between rich and poor by working to narrow the gap in computer access between children who live in low-income neighborhoods compared with those in high-income neighborhoods. Initiatives that help low-income families to afford home computers and that support technology programs in public libraries and community centers can play an important part in equalizing access. As the primary access point for most low-income children, however, schools must play the critical role. To promote "equality of digital opportunity," we can ensure that schools in low-income neighborhoods are well equipped with up-to-date hardware, high-quality software, and well-trained teachers so that children learn the skills they will need to live and work in the twenty-first century.

Finally, to harness the potential of computer technology to enhance children's learning, we can explore ways to use technology effectively in the classroom, ways that add value to traditional curricula and reach students who fail to respond to traditional approaches. Although computers may not be the panacea envisioned by some, certain uses of technology have been demonstrated to benefit students by making learning more interesting and engaging and by providing new approaches to learning complex concepts and critical thinking. We should identify the technology-supported practices that show the most promise for enhancing learning and support efforts to integrate these practices into the classroom.

Computer technology is only a tool—whether it serves to improve children's lives depends on how it is used. By taking these steps today, we can help empower all children to use the tool effectively, responsibly, and creatively to shape the digital world of tomorrow.