George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Robin Stern: A View on Technology and Social Learning

February 22, 2001

Robin Stern, Ph.D., describes how technology can promote the social and emotional learning of students.

1. How do you bring together technology and social/emotional learning?

Well, people ask me often how I came to marry digital technology and social/emotional learning and one of the answers that I'm very fond of giving is that digital technology is here and we have to use it. It's up to us as the leaders and thinkers in the area of social and emotional education to really understand and figure out what we don't understand about how technology can enhance and promote social and emotional understandings and skill buildings and social interaction.

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2. What are some benefits to students who use technology?

Unlike the image of somebody sitting by a computer and being totally isolated -- although I guess in worst-case scenarios that does happen -- kids are using technology to play games together, to talk with each other, to meet in chat rooms and find out what other people are thinking, and using it really in a way that is promoting interaction. And so instead of playing stickball on the street, they're playing Everquest on the computer. And there are people who complain about that, but it really does promote conversation and stimulate interaction, not only online, but offline.

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3. What are some benefits to teachers who use technology?

Technology has really helped teachers in that it's not an "instead of," it's in addition to the educational process as we know it, which really includes the teacher as a vital component of it, but also aids the teacher where the teacher may not be an expert in certain areas, where the teacher may not have his or her personal comfort level to the point where he or she can talk about difficult subjects with students.

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4. What kind of academic benefits are there to students who use software to support social and emotional learning?

Right now in District 2 in Manhattan, New York City, we are conducting a follow-up study to a study that we did last year; we're using Relate software for middle school students. And we found that the students who used the software for almost a semester and went through a protocol that we designed to teach empathy had lower attendance in summer school, which means that they did better academically. So that's an outcome that people are really interested in. It makes a difference, not just in the way you relate to people -- it's not just about helping you be nice, but it really shows up in your academic subjects.

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5. What part does understanding emotional intelligence play for educational software developers?

In the development of digital tools for this next century, which is a digital age, we can inform the development of those tools and those products with the understandings that we now have of emotional intelligence, so that when people are actually thinking about the navigation of a project or a product or the architecture or design of it, they themselves can be informed with those understandings and build those understandings into what they're actually producing. And I think that that is a real advantage because it means that we -- the people who are developing the software that is ultimately informing us in our education -- have something to say about it being more humanized in the developing of it.

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