What are the best uses of emerging technology for children and education?

The third annual Fred Forward conference is for people searching for the answer, just as Fred Rogers looked for the best uses of television and found them through his creation of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

“People are looking for answers–how to effectively integrate digital technology into their lives,” says Michael Robb, director of education and research for the Fred Rogers Center, which will hold the conference this year at the Senator John Heinz History Center, June 1-3.

“We’re always going to have new questions about this stuff,” he says. “People have a lot of fears or concerns. If kids are using touch pad devices and laptops to play educational games, will that somehow hinder them from delving into other, more traditional educational activities that are still needed?”

Fred Rogers, Robb points out, flipped those questions to focus on the positive: “Back in the day, people were very concerned about the quality of television. Fred Rogers turned that around: How do I make sure the content is the best?”

Fred Forward brings together educators and parents, researchers and practitioners. Keynote speaker LeVar Burton headlines the event, with panels on “Technology and Digital Media for Engaging and Supporting Families,” “Makerspaces: Intersecting the Digital and Physical in Informal Learning Environments, “Ten Affordances of Multi-touch Every Educator Must Know,” and others.

Also featured are presenters from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Children’s Technology Review, the Mozilla Foundation, the National Center for Families Learning, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and elsewhere.

The objective, says Robb, is “to try to bring together national experts to do the really good thinking–the most important, emerging issues in early learning and children’s media. How do you put research into practice? What major research issues do we need to be looking at to make the most difference?” Asking the right questions is important, he adds – not necessarily What is good or bad? but How do we proceed with the right research and media development?

The Center expects around 250 people and is providing scholarships this year for practitioners to attend. Concludes Robb: “We want to make sure we’re hearing from people on the ground working with children.”