Minnesota, USA April 13, 2011- We often think of how the ways we do everything has changed over the years as technology advanced; however, we are older now so we barely take the time to reflect on how situations are different for children now than when we were young. For instance, I recall getting excited over having a 'pen pal' in a town that was less than 20 miles away- approximately 20 km; It is quite a contrast from now when young children are engaging in conversations with other children from around the world via Skype. It is amazing these children get to interact while I was lucky to even meet with my pen pal just once. Other than exchanging pictures and letters, my pen pal experience was bland compared to what is happening in some classrooms now.
Let's assume that the reason for pen pals back in my elementary years - less than 15 years ago- was to practice reading and writing. Now, technology has enabled children to get a better understanding of Geography; we must admit that a flat map and memorizing country names is just not as effective as we would hope. Children are not able to think of it as actually being a place when they have not personally been there to see it. At least children would have an idea after meeting with another child.
Although children mainly use the video of Skype, there is additional knowledge to be gained over the traditional way. For example, children are able to find additional facts about a country by asking questions. It is a better option than children going to wiki and doing a project. If an activity is fun, children are more opt to do it with an upbeat attitude.
If parents or teachers are concerned about children using their reading and writing skills, they can dictate that a certain amount of communication must be done in the 'writing' portion of Skype. Basically, children can have what we did as children and not lack at all since they have more opportunities than we did.
Since children are learning other languages, Skype gives them the necessary practice. It could be less nerve-racking than having an adult in front of them. One-on-one practice is important but there is not as much benefit if the other person is also learning the language along with their partner. Basically, children are more likely to learn more if they have another child who has that language as a mother-tongue.
In the future, I predict that the children regularly exposed to this situation will adapt easier than we do when we face diversity. Technology might give birth to a cultural sensitivity that we fight to have in our society right now; it could become 'common sense' in how to handle situations with other cultures.
Then again, this can only happen if we keep the 'human' element. If we continue to rely more on technology than on personal human contact, situations might become strained. For now, I am only considering the positive view. We can direct our children in the right direction.