Member Spotlight: Shayna Cook

What do you do?
I am a policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. I research and report on innovation in family engagement, new technologies, and digital equity issues concerning children from birth through third grade. I also write about the early childhood workforce and school discipline issues that impact children in the early years and grades. I work with state and community leaders to help them think about how to best incorporate these ideas into their policies and practices.

Before joining New America, I taught pre-K and 3rd grade in the District of Columbia Public Schools and at a private early learning center in Maryland.

Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.
My team’s latest project entitled, Early Learning in the Digital Age: An Interactive Toolkit for Family Engagement, profiles programs around the country that have integrated technology or media into their early learning programs to help families and educators use these digital and media tools in developmentally-appropriate ways to further early language, literacy, and STEM development. Over 80 percent of the programs that we profiled were either public media partnerships or library-based.  Many programs are also creating resources to help educators and families gain skills in digital technology use so they can help young children produce video and multimedia projects.

The various approaches we saw show the many options that communities can use to engage young children and their families by using digital media and technology to extend learning. In many cases, the aim is to build an ecosystem of support so children can grow up to be learners who are adept at using and understanding many different resources. Librarians, family engagement coordinators, home visitors, pediatricians, early childhood educators, and other professionals who interact with young children all can help families learn about the best ways to promote healthy development in the Digital Age.

This project also includes a toolkit for district and state leaders that highlights the intersections between early learning, family engagement, and digital equity in order to help them create and implement systems, policies, and practices that will support modern families and their young children.

Why is media literacy important to you?
As a growing number of young children across the country are using media and interactive technology on a daily basis, the conversation has shifted from whether technology is appropriate to use with young children to how it should be used as a tool to best support children’s early learning development.

New America and other organizations have worked to help policymakers and practitioners understand how to use technology and interactive media in early childhood. Our goal is to make sure families and educators are informed, intentional, and reflective on their use of technology and interactive media. These tools are most effective when they are used  in a child-centered, play-oriented, hands-on, and relationship-building way.

What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
I am most excited about the concept of a “media mentor,” which was developed in part by my New America colleague Lisa Guernsey.

Over the past several years, the term “media mentor” has gained traction in libraries and early childhood settings to describe the skills needed to help families and educators think critically about various sources of digital media and to learn the capabilities of technology products and tools to help children. These are skills that are new and often foreign to those who work with young children, and education leaders will want to ensure that they are tapping into resources that have been vetted by early learning experts and are grounded in research on how young children learn best. Professional learning systems—whether for leaders, teachers, caregivers, or librarians and other informal learning providers—will need to adapt and incorporate training on this kind of mentorship.

Fortunately, several organizations have begun to serve as hubs for information on media mentorship and have started to build training programs. The Erikson Institute in Chicago, for example, has a Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Mentors program that is empowering pre-K through third grade teacher leaders to incorporate technology in their classrooms and to mentor other teachers on these practices. (See New America’s 2018 report, Extracting Success in Pre-K Teaching: Approaches to Effective Professional Learning Across Five States for more on this program.)

In Harford County, MD, Lisa Guernsey is working with librarians in youth and children’s services to build a peer-coaching model, with input from families, in tandem with two other counties to test out an approach that could be used across the state. Public media stations, such as KQED in the San Francisco area, are creating resources to help educators gain skills in digital technology use so they can help students produce video and multimedia projects.

Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?
New America as an organization joined NAMLE in 2014 because our philosophies align. We believe that it is essential to incorporate media literacy into children’s education, starting at young age. We will need to create a cohort of media mentors to support children ability to produce media as well as think critically about the world around them. With support from these mentors, families with young children can use technology and media as tools to support, rather than hinder, children’s development.

The views and opinions expressed in the M-Passioned Member blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of the M-Passioned Member blog is to highlight our members and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.