Technology is widely used in today’s early-childhood classrooms and creates new opportunities for children to create their own content and express their thinking. But 1:1 device models and personalized learning might not be the best type of instruction in preschool and the early grades, Kathleen Paciga, an associate professor of education at Columbia College Chicago, said Friday during a featured session at this year’s conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Atlanta.
Examining over 165 studies focusing on the use of technology among children from birth through age 8, Paciga focused on the demographics of the children in each study, the context in which they were using the digital tools, what kinds of groups they were working in, the type of program attended, and, if possible, the actual name of the programs or apps being used. She also looked at how much time children were using technology away from an adult. “Interaction with media involves others in the child’s social world,” she said.
In one study Paciga reviewed, Courtney Blackwell of Northwestern University compared outcomes among kindergartners in a 1:1 classroom to those in a classroom where students shared an iPad. Students who were sharing a tablet with a partner scored higher on an early literacy assessment than those who had their own device in the classroom.
“One device per child may not be the best thing,” Paciga said, adding that it’s when children talk with each other about what they are thinking that their understanding increases. Following the session, she added that when children have “social and linguistic support, it helps to solidify the learning.”
She also noted that software designed for personalized learning programs include assessments that tend to involve yes or no answers on discrete skills that are “easy to measure” instead of tasks that require a broader range of problem-solving skills.
Such programs might be attractive to administrators hoping to raise student achievement, she said, adding that it’s important for elementary school principals to have some training in early childhood learning and development — a recurring theme throughout many of the sessions at the conference.
The overall focus of the session was to discuss what has changed since NAEYC and The Fred Rogers Center issued a position statement focusing on technology and digital media use among young children up to age 8. The statement was released in 2012, when the iPad was relatively new and there was still disagreement among early-childhood educators and leaders over whether iPads, laptops and other devices should be used in classrooms with young children.
Since that time, many educators and experts in the field have moved from being “screenworried to screenwise,” said Chip Donohue, the dean of Distance Learning and Continuing Education and the director of the Technology in Early Childhood Center (TEC) at the Erikson Institute in Chicago.
“We are not ignoring concerns and need to stay aware of them as professionals,” he said, adding that questions from parents and practitioners have tended to focus on how many minutes children spend on devices. “How many minutes is an important metric, but it’s not the only metric,” he said.
Even pediatricians have acknowledged that having an infant or toddler connect with a parent through a videochat, for example, is an appropriate use of technology with the youngest children, he said.
TEC has also collected positive examples of how teachers are integrating digital cameras, iPads and interactive whiteboards into their learning. “We now have tools where children can be media creators, not just consumers,” Donohue said.
During the comment period, one teacher talked about creating her own “geek squad” of students who are proficient enough on certain apps and games that other students can go to for help if she’s busy. She added that they gain a sense of pride and confidence knowing that they have that skill. Another attendee mentioned the benefits of having children compare an ebook with a traditional book — another form of print awareness.
When educators call for balance in using technology, Donohue added, that doesn’t mean 50% of young children’s time in the classroom should be spent on a device and 50% in other modes of learning. “Balance is about all the things a kid needs to do and be involved in in the early years,” he said.
Finally, the speakers emphasized the role of relationships between children and adults in using digital technology — what Donohue called “interactive with interaction” and a topic that has since been addressed in many other reports and research projects since the position statement was released. And they predicted that in another 10 years, Rogers’ influence on this topic would still be relevant.
Donohue added that teacher education programs need to better prepare early-childhood educators to be “more confident and competent” in using technology in the classroom.