The Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College hosted the 2012 FredForward conference this past week from Sunday, June 3rd to Tuesday, June 5th. The biennial conference brings together leading figures in the world of early childhood media production and scholarship for three days of discussions, presentations, and networking to help advance the field of children’s media and carry forward the legacy of Fred Rogers.

With an attendance of approximately 150 people, FredForward draws a concentrated mix of influential thinkers, speakers, and media makers from around the world. Several Spark Network members were among those presenting on panels and in speaking sessions throughout the conference.

Voices of Children

An ongoing feature of the conference, Voices of Children speakers remixed the advice of Fred Rogers to “Think of the Children First.” By using new tools and technologies, scholars like Dr. Alice Wilder advocate the maxim to “Listen to the Children.”

To see this ethos in action, Jessica Kaminsky and Jessica Pachuta from the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon presented Hear Me, a project that uses media and technology to create opportunities for children to be heard, acknowledged and understood, giving them the power to inspire social change.

Framework for Quality

A major focus of the 2012 conference was the recently released “Building a Framework for Quality in Digital Media for Young Children” statement by the Fred Rogers Center. Discussions ranged from defining the meaning of quality for different audiences, the need for multilingual content, to policy recommendations to improve the technological infrastructure of early learning environments.

In the Curation and Crowdsourcing panel, Drew Davidson from the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University shared the stage with Shira Lee Katz from Common Sense Media, Emily Kirkpatrick from the National Center for Family Literarcy, and GeekDad Daniel Donahoo, who Skyped in from Australia.

Moderated by Rob Lippincott from PBS Learning Media, the panel examined how quality can be evaluated and advanced in an era of mass participation in and production of new media.

For his part, Drew provided conference-goers with an overview of workingexamples.org, a collaborative project with James Paul Gee that proposes to create a digital space where people can show examples of how their ideas, theories, claims, or hypotheses work in terms that people beyond their own disciplines or domains can understand, assess, and appreciate. Drew offered Working Examples as a means for early childhood practitioners and children’s media producers to test ideas and provide critical feedback in order to illuminate failures and successes.

Play to Learns

Throughout the conference on Monday, attendees had the opportunity to interact with several examples of new media and digital technology programs for children in the Play-to-Learn showcase. Among the participants were several Spark network projects including Apps4Kids from Playpower, Popchilla’s World from Interbots, ZooBeats from WYEP and Electric Owl Studios, Hello Robo! from the Carnegie Science Center, and Message from Me from the CREATE Lab.

Play-to-Learn exhibits illustrated the principles of the Fred Rogers Center Framework for Quality in action and gave attendees a glimpse of how members of the Spark Network are using technology and media to provide children with remarkable opportunities to learn and be creative.

For more details on the conference, visit the FredForward website and read the conference’s Twitter backchannel using the hashtag #FredForward.