Tinkering and tailoring with Technology Speed Dating

People are once again tinkering ‘like the old ham radio enthusiasts’ according to an English expert. And lots of tinkering was evident at the Technology Speed Dating Hub during ECA’s September national conference. More than 300 people wandered through the Hub, at first looking, then lingering and many, loving the interaction with digital tools, apps and other educators.

UK professor of radio frequency and engineering, Danielle George, recently said in interview that a new age of tinkering is upon us. And this generation, in her view, is the best equipped ever ‘to innovate and create in electronics and engineering. I want them to tinker and to know they can really make a difference’.

Host of the Technology Speed Dating Hub, Daniel Donahoo, made that possible, creating a vibrant, hands-on space where people could play and ask questions or gather to chat. With his enthusiasm for the intersection of technology and early learning Dan, and ECA’s Digital Business Kit team, showed that newer technologies are reviving the art of tinkering. The piano keyboard made of bananas hooked up to a laptop—using Makey Makey—was a great hit. Intriguing puzzles, creativity for toddlers with real and virtual shapes, dramatic virtual hair play for older children, body gesture software and digital reading experiences were among other popular tools in the hub.

George believes the dark ages of tinkering, where smart phones and tablets locked out experimentation, are behind us. She encourages everyone to treat tablets and smartphones as gadgets used to be treated: taken apart, reassembled and re-purposed. Cheap programmable units are bringing back experimentation (George cites Raspberry pi, we used MakeyMakey™ for older children). Educators and other conference participants seemed keen to be part of it. Some returned several times to the Technology Speed Dating Hub. Sometimes with a colleague in tow for further investigation, sometimes to sit in on Hub discussions (more on that in a later post).

Tinkering with technology is a vital part of learning and play. Professor George asks: ‘how far can we go when we begin to tinker?’ and hopes people find ‘that the only limitation is their imagination.’

At Digichild we hope so too. But we need to start tinkering to find the answer. We wonder how technology can be used to tailor our world and empower children to participate in it. What happens when technology combines with educators, children and imagination?

Our concern is that not everyone is being encouraged to tinker. This has consequences that shape children’s futures, particularly those of young girls. The Information Technology (IT) sector has an expanding future but very low female participation rates. This is despite being a well-established career option that does not rely on the physiological factors traditionally used to explain occupational gender patterns. ABS data shows the wage gap for men and women in 2014 is the worst for 30 years. Think about children aged three and four in early childhood services. What messages and modelling are they receiving about their future relationship with technology and the workforce?

Let’s keep tinkering and talking about technology in early childhood. The Technology Speed Dating Hub with its hands-on tools and collaborative exchanges was a first chance. We hope to continue these experiences into 2015. Thank you to all who took part and shared their stories.

More on the Hub and Technology Speed Dating in future posts. Also watch for Live Wires a technology supplement with December issue of Every Child. Or read the Guardian online’s inspiring interview with Danielle George. Additional sources: ABC Radio Nationalnews.com.au.

Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is Early Childhood Australia's (ECA) Strategic Communications Executive, working on projects that support ECA’s reputation as a trusted voice for young children, their families, educators and carers. Clare has been part of ECA's Learning Hub Team, managed ECA's Start Early. Respectful relationships for life project and ECA digital initiatives including the federally funded Digital Business Kit and Live Wires. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for a number of years, including for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government.

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