Many advocates for effective technology integration in the classroom and in our lives discuss the importance of PERSONAL use of technology tools. As teachers (and others) embrace technology uses for tasks they find personally rewarding, engaging, meaningful and relevant, they begin to not only overcome some of their fears about using technologies but also begin to experience “a-ha” moments when they see potential uses for digital technologies which they did not consider previously. This process of personally experiencing the value of digital technologies to deepen and improve important relationships in our lives is VERY important, not only for teachers but also for our school board members, administrators, and anyone else involved in helping children in our communities learn. Too often I hear adults say things like, “I just think all technology is evil.” These folks need to “get out more” in a digital sense. I believe it is our responsibility, as advocates for the appropriate, safe and constructive uses of digital technologies, to help others understand and actually experience these types of positive, personal uses of technology.

In his keynote at 2007 Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference, Dr. Tim Tyson noted that when it comes to technology (and many other things) “people like what they know, they don’t know what they like.” It is important that we help others understand and experience the diverse ways technologies can be used to constructively support learning, communication and collaboration. This authentic process is the only viable way I think we help others move forward in their personal as well as professional uses of technologies. This is vital in a “big picture” sense as we strive to promote digital learning initiatives in our schools and communities like 1:1 learning, which can (potentially) have an amazing, transformative effect on multiple stakeholders in multiple ways. Those of us who are here for the learning revolution can serve as powerful catalysts of change in our local communities when we help others become aware of the possibilities and benefits of digital technologies which are used safely to communicate, collaborate, learn and play.

Roger Shank, author of the outstanding book “Coloring Outside the Lines” and a school reform revolutionary I heard present at the SITE 2007 conference in San Antonio as a keynote speaker, has created a new website called “Grandparent Games.” The website functions by providing screen content grandparents and grandchildren can discuss “live” (synchronously) even when they are living in different parts of the country or world. Internet-connected computers, a high speed Internet connection, microphones and webcams are on the required equipment list. According to the site:

We supply age-appropriate interactions to facilitate internet mediated play with your grandchild. All the interactions are really to help the grandparent talk with the grandchild about what is on the screen. For example, when the grandparent sends a “K” to the child the grandparent says what grandparents say when they are trying to teach – what letter is that? Is that an A? Is that a K? What sound does the K make? See the kite. The kite got stuck in the tree. Kkkite.

Internet-mediated play? This must be the 21st century. Of course it is, but things like “Internet-mediated play” have not found their way into many of our public and private schools. How can we help our own children as well as others experience the powerful, constructive potential of learning interactions like these– which can take place between people who are significant in our our lives and with whome we share important relationships? Grandparent Games offers some powerful possibilities.

Nothing beats grandparents and grandchildren having opportunities for face-to-face interaction, play and learning together. The reality of our third-wave society in many cases, however, is that grandparents and grandchildren often live far apart. Digital technologies and our network economy seem laden with the promise of greater personal connectivity. Cell phones have certainly allowed teens, college students, and parents to (in many cases) remain closer connected than ever before in history. Doesn’t the goal of bringing grandparents and grandchildren closer together via digital interactive possibilities and PLAY strike you as a great idea?

Nóri & Pali papa

The philosophy of the site is straightforward:

People have been writing software for kids as long as there have been computers. What has changed is that there are now people (like me and other grandparents) who want to be and can be part of the interaction. Just think – a grandparent on the other end of the computer makes the computer as teacher a much more powerful idea. A kid who is staring at a computer for hours is a way different thing than a kid who is talking to his grandfather via computer for hours. Together, the two are doing something that’s better for both.

To make this happen we need a software environment that will facilitate the interaction between grandparent and grandchild so that they both will want to engage on a daily basis. The connection part is getting very easy. Today with instant messaging and a webcam and microphone you can talk to and see another person. This will only get better. So, assuming the grandparent can see and talk to the grandchild on the computer with ease, what can they do together?

Roger has used the site for two years now with his own grandson who is not yet three years old. I’m eager to show this to my parents and in-laws to see if they are interested in using this site with our 4 year old daughter, Rachel. If you have grandchildren or have children who would like to interact with their grandparents more but live apart, let them know about Grandparent Games and facilitate those connections. I’m going to give it a try and will report on what experiences we have here in later posts.

Thanks to Roger for emailing me about Grandparent Games to let me know about it. The cost of the site is $10 per month, which is paid by the grandparent. Grandkids don’t pay to connect, they (with their parents help, of course) use the grandparent’s email address to connect to them. To read more about the site, it’s educational philosophy and the experiences of Roger and others using the site, check out Roger’s blog for the site, “Papa Talks.”

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2 Responses to Digital interaction opportunities for grandparents and grandchildren

  1. KMulford says:

    Interesting idea. Sort of Baby Einstein and Skype together. I was skeptical at first, but I might investigate it further for that one grandmother that finds e-mailing too technical and impersonal. Most of the grandchildren in our family are beyond this, age-wise, but it’s a great idea. I would love to see a study of this in a few years… how many of these grandparents continue their personal growth in this technology line and comment on their grandchildren’s classroom blogs or social networking sites?

  2. Susan Novak says:

    I will be a first time grandmother in a few weeks, and I have had the opportunity to see this program in action. It is amazing, especially when the telephone is so unsatisfying for trying to forge a relationship with young grandchildren, who would rather do anything than talk to anyone “on command”! In this program the communication was awesome, and the grandchild seemed to enjoy the session as much as the grandparent! I can’t wait to join.

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