Remember Reading Rainbow? If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you probably do. The beloved children’s television show encouraged boys and girls to read to increase literacy rates and educate youth. Famous Star Trek TV star, LeVar Burton, hosted the show on PBS until 2006—an impressive lifespan of 23 years.
Reading Rainbow was one of the first PBS shows to be broadcast in stereo. At the time, using television to educate kids and encourage reading was incredibly innovative and successful. At first, it was intended to be only broadcast during the summer months when many kids planted themselves in front of the TV screen. But its popularity soared and it became a long-standing and Emmy Award-Winning show.
“The conversation back in the day was, ‘Is television going to be the death knell for education?’” LeVar said. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Television offers us an amazing opportunity as a technology. Why? Because the engagement factor is solved. Kids have self-selected for us what they want the point-of-purchase to be.””
“Over time, it was proven that children who watched Reading Rainbow were entertained, yes, and inspired by the books that they saw on the show, the other children they saw who were viewing books on the show, and the video field trips that took them to places that they had no idea existed in reality,” he said. “Among those kids, their reading comprehension skills soared.”
Like LeVar says, some people push back against new technology in fears of it threatening educational efforts. But as in the case with Reading Rainbow, it is obvious that technology can be a powerful tool to educate society.
Today, youth still watch TV, but a large part of the information they consume comes from the computer, tablets, and video games. When Reading Rainbow went off the air in 2009, LeVar saw it not as the death of the movement, but an opportunity to take it further in a different medium.
Three years later, LeVar launched the Reading Rainbow App, and it became one of the most downloaded educational Apps in the iTunes Store. It allows children to read unlimited books, explore video field trips starring Burton, and earn rewards for reading.
In May of this year, Kickstarter launched a campaign for the Reading Rainbow App to make it available on the Web, smartphones, game consoles, and other streaming devices. Within 11 hours, they raised millions of dollars—making the App available to as many as 7,500 low-income classrooms.
The truth remains that technology provides endless opportunities for people to connect and learn. Students are no longer limited to using pen and paper in the classroom, or television for classroom resources. Tablets, smartphones, Apps, and cloud technology will revolutionize the way we learn. Reading Rainbow is an example of where technology can take us into the future.
AlvaEDU develops educational Apps and the CourseFlow learning development platform to enable educators to create and publish online learning. To learn more about how AlvaEDU is transforming education, click here.