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Can Digital Tools Boost Social-Emotional Learning?

Educators, Research

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a hot topic in education these days. Committee for Children (Mind Yeti’s parent organization) has served as a leader in the SEL field for over 30 years. Our New Mission Ventures department was born out of the recognition that while Committee for Children’s curricula has made a significant impact on children in schools and classrooms all around the world, we believe we can do more to improve outcomes for children in other ways. We established New Mission Ventures to explore, experiment, and develop new approaches for improving child safety and well-being, delivered primarily via digital technology.

The work to translate what we know about effective SEL into digital tools hasn’t been easy. There’s a natural suspicion of technology as a means to support healthy relationships. As Anne Collier, an expert in SEL and founder of iCanHelpline.org, says, “The research shows that SEL is all about human connection. So how can technology help? Why bother?”

At Committee for Children, we believe digital tools like Mind Yeti offer a way to increase access to SEL beyond the classroom walls. Mind Yeti can be used on any device with an Internet connection, anywhere in the world, to quickly teach and reinforce important SEL concepts like self-management, self-awareness, and relationship skills. And while we don’t expect Mind Yeti to replace SEL curricula (like our successful Second Step program) or caring adults like the thousands of counselors, classroom teachers, and parents we support everyday, we do believe our digital tools can supplement and enhance more traditional interventions in new and surprising ways.

One way we are trying to  make our digital tools more successful is to form collegial partnerships with others in the SEL field to share best practices. For example, Steve Arnold is a member of the New Mission Ventures Advisory Task Force and also serves as a board member for a number of education organizations, including the George Lucas Educational Foundation and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). As a veteran of the technology industry and a venture capitalist, Steve’s perspective helps shape the development of our technology tools. He often sees start-ups and organizations building tools rather than building solutions for users. And according to Steve, that approach doesn’t work for SEL. “When building digital tools for social-emotional learning, it’s critical to start with the user, not with the technology.”

Another collegial partner, Fred Dillon, the Director of Strategy and Innovation at HopeLab, faces similar challenges. HopeLab is a nonprofit operating foundation. Through their product development and research initiatives, HopeLab has demonstrated that digital technology can improve health and wellness outcomes for young people. But, building digital technology for SEL can be quite distinct from, for example, building technology  to encourage teen cancer patients to adhere to their medications. Fred’s team is dedicated not only to building great digital tools, but to also demonstrating their effectiveness through research and evaluation.

Through our research, development, and partnerships, New Mission Ventures is helping Committee for Children redefine what SEL looks like in the digital age.

If you’re attending SXSWedu, you can join us in person for a panel presentation to discuss these challenges and opportunities. And if you aren’t able to attendt, be sure to follow the conversation on Twitter by following @gomindyeti and #Tech4SEL.

 

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