Check-Out Tech Lending Kits Bring Technology to More Classrooms
One of the Fred Rogers Center’s initiatives – Digital Media and Learning – recognizes the presence and influence of digital media and technology in the daily lives of children, families, and educators. We know that when technology tools are used effectively, they can enhance children’s cognitive and social abilities. They can also allow children to explore experiences outside of their communities. The Center is dedicated to helping children and adults thrive in the digital age, and to ensuring that technology use is balanced alongside children’s social interactions, play, and other activities with caring friends and family.
As a part of this initiative, the Center has played an integral role in developing workshops to assist educators with best practices when using technology tools in early childhood classrooms. All of the workshops are grounded in our joint position statement with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC): “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.”
Challenge: Lack of Access
During our work in Pennsylvania, we found that teachers and early learning environments often lack access and funds for newer educational tools for professional and classroom use. Educators of young children do not have computers, tablets, cameras, music players, and other technology tools needed to plan for and document their work in the classroom. They also lack access to technology tools to use in the classroom to enhance curricula.
This lack of access creates a challenge: Providing digital media and learning workshops to educators without access to these tools is much like trying to teach a cooking class without kitchen tools! This challenge is further complicated by the need for a public way to provide access to these tools.
In its efforts to overcome these challenges, the Center continues in the spirit of Fred’s advocacy work, which helped to ensure that children had access to high-quality public and controllable television programming.
Solution: Check-Out Tech Lending Kits
To do this work, we began conversations with libraries and librarians about offering a public lending program. Establishing such a program would begin to eliminate the accessibility issues in early education. As a result, our Digital Media and Learning Initiative now includes “Check-Out Tech” lending kits. These kits give educators and children access to traditional and more modern tools for the classroom – all through public libraries.
Each themed kit includes print books, manipulatives or educational toys, and an iPad with preloaded content (for teachers and children). The kits also include an information guide to explain the contents and suggested activities for the items in the kit. Each information guide is aligned with the NAEYC position statement, Pennsylvania’s Early Learning Standards and a newly released policy brief from the U.S. Department of Education, which outlines guidelines for learning opportunities, co-viewing, and relationship building through technology tools.
In 2015, the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA) and several librarians were instrumental in the creation of our first five pilot kits. Early in the development of the kits, we decided to include traditional tools alongside the newer classroom tools as a way to visually show the natural integration and coordination of all tools in the classroom. During the development process, we also tapped the expertise of the outreach librarians to facilitate the lending process and to provide their media expertise to educators, thereby creating a small corps of media mentors.
Media mentorship, while a new term, is not a new role for libraries. Librarians have always provided guidance and expertise for print media (books, magazines, newspapers, and journals). And now the librarians’ role has expanded to include new media, which is defined as “all media that use text, sound, images, and video in a digital setting and can include e-books, apps, digital music, Makey Makeys, websites, robots, digital audiobooks, computer programs, paper circuits, movies and more” (Haines & Campbell, 2016).
With the Check-Out Tech kits, librarians fill the role of media mentor for their local early childhood community. Librarians provide support, informal training, and guidance for early educators on the best use and practices with technology tools and digital media.
The Check-Out Tech kit program quickly grew to include the Westmoreland Library Network. Over our first year of lending, it became evident that an outreach model of lending was the most effective way to increase access for the early education community. Another lesson of the first year was the need to enhance the formal training of librarians and educators. We learned that having access to the tools did not necessarily equate to best practices.
So with a year of public lending under our belt and a need to do some restructuring, we have now grown to include an additional six counties with the support and partnership of the Pennsylvania Department of Libraries. Our new county library systems include Berks, Centre, Greene, Lancaster, Lycoming, and Luzerne. We are also collaborating with the Carnegie Science Center and Pennsylvania Department of Libraries on another lending project to be announced soon!
Please visit your local public library and talk to your librarians to find out about all of the great things going on in your community. It will be worth it.
Source: Haines, Claudia and Cen Campbell. Becoming a Media Mentor: A Guide for Working with Children and Families. Chicago: Association for Library Service to Children, 2016.