Amy Tiemann, who writes a parenting and technology blog for CNET.com, created a wonderful post about "The Laptop Club," which was in turn picked up and written about more extensively. This club of second and third grade students meets during an after school program. The student started last year creating "laptops" that were drawings of laptops, complete with customized appearances, specialized keys on the keyboards, and commonly-used applications.
While the author of the article that I read, as well as Ms. Tiemann, were interested in the social ramifications of this club, I do believe that they missed a very important point. Ms. Tiemann remarks that these students were using the laptops as a means of "demonstrat[ing] their knowledge of pop culture and social networks." Being made a special key on a student's laptop, for example, was "like being in someone's 'Top 8 Friends' on MySpace," even though these young students likely did not know what MySpace is.
The point that I think both the author and Ms. Tiemann missed, however, is that the students see the technology as a means of collaborating and socializing. The technology is a facilitator, whether it is through sending email, IM'ing, or otherwise interacting with the technology as a central focus of the students' attention and activities. These students could be having conversations and playing but they are emphasizing the role technology plays in conversation, collaboration, and play for a child of the 21st century. More so than demonstrating the students' awareness of pop culture and social networks, I think this type of play demonstrates the central role technology plays in how today's students interact with the world and one another. It is not enough to have a conversation: rather, the conversation is created around and facilitated by the technology.
I appreciate Ms. Tiemann's attempts to delay the rush to the internet by her own children. Young children must be made aware of the social opportunities and situations that can be explored and developed in a real world environment. But we must also provide young students like these opportunities to use the technology, to explore the types of relationships fostered by technology, and to compare these relationships with those they create in a real-world environment. These students must be able to create and develop relationships in both real and virtual worlds, and actvities like The Laptop Club are excellent examples of how we might get students thinking about these subjects and developing the necessary social and technological skills to meet the challenges.