For LeVar Burton, getting children to become readers means using technology effectively.
When Reading Rainbow was cancelled on PBS, Burton didn’t give up on the valuable show. “In 2009, PBS took Reading Rainbow out of its Ready to Learn lineup,” he said. “It was, in effect, canceling the show. It was a signal to the PBS stations across the country that Reading Rainbow was no longer considered a priority piece of programming for them. While PBS and WNED valued it, they were ultimately restricted by government mandates.”
But Burton saw this not as a set-back, but a chance to head in a different direction. “I’m a firm believer in the idea that when one door closes, another one opens,” he said. “I saw the cancellation of Reading Rainbow as an opportunity. I had been wanting to become more intimately involved with the decision-making with the brand. So, my business partner and I marshaled our resources and created a pathway that gave us an opportunity to hire a team to develop the Reading Rainbow Skybrary, which we released in the summer of 2012 and is a registered trademark.
“We knew that we could use the technology of television to create a relationship between children and literature. The question was, could we use this new and engaging technology in the same way? That was the concept that we were trying to prove.”
In making stories and games available online, Reading Rainbow Skybrary also teaches children while letting them have fun. “Every culture has a tradition of storytelling,” said Burton. “We can teach our children anything, and we can streamline that process by taking the information we want them to learn — math, science, history, language — embed it in storytelling and put those stories on these very engaging digital devices.
“Here’s where gamification comes in: If we add layers of gamification — say, a reward system, some leveling up, some incentive to complete the storytelling curriculum — we can teach kids anything we choose, and in a single generation turn around our educational quagmire. That is my belief, and I further believe that if we fail to do that, to use this very engaging technology in the service of educating our children, we will have missed one of the largest opportunities in the modern era for humankind.”