Here at Te Papapa Preschool we value learning in all its beautiful contexts. We know that children learn best through play and if done so naturally, digital technologies (which the Ministry of Education recognises as part of children’s lives here in New Zealand) can positivly impact the lives of those around us. Te Papapa Preschool aim to ensure children are competent and confident and capable for the lives they will lead in the future and with successful integration of digital technologies can ensure children are happy, safe and ready to tackle any situation they find themselves in.

 

“The literature suggests at least three reasons why ICT matters in early childhood education. First, ICT already has an effect on the people and environments that surround young children’s learning. Second, these technologies offer new opportunities to strengthen many aspects of early childhood education practice. Third, there is support and interest across the whole education sector for the development and integration of ICT into education policy, curriculum, and practice. These three themes are explored further below” (Ministry of Education, 2004, p. 2).

ICT is already part of children’s lives: New Zealand children interact with technology every day.
A growing role of the education system is to support children’s understanding of the nature of the technologies they encounter. We also need to support them to maximise the benefits they can provide. We can help our children to use ICT in healthy and safe ways that enhance their learning (Ministry of Education, 2015).

Mini – Best Evidence Synthesis

Abstract

This Mini-Best Evidence Synthesis explores the concepts of techonology within an Early Childhood Environment and works to discover various theoretical knowledge and the influences it has on our quality practice assessments of digital technology within that context. Early Childhood, as referred to within this Mini -Best Evidence synthesis, captures young children between the ages of birth to 5years old. Throughout this Mini-Best Synthesis readers will engage with a thorough analysis and evaluation of Digital Technologies within Early Childhood Education. Critiques of this pedagogical theory will be used to drive shifts in practice to create sustainable and innovative digital pedagogies and fuel quality approaches to delivering such a curriculum.

Keywords:

Pedagogy, Learner outcomes, Digital Technology, Purposeful, Intentional Teaching, ICT

Introduction

The Mini-BES presented explores a range of literature that covers digital technology in the education system, Digital Pedagogy and Successful learner outcomes within the world of Early Childhood education. This evolved from exploring what digital technology could look like in an early childhood setting and how it can improve outcomes for learners moving into a 21st century classroom. Digital Technology is fast developing and to ensure children are equipped to deal with the transforming world educators must prepare curriculum that covers learning how to use digital technology in ways that are meaningful to the learner to ensure the greatest absorption of knowledge and create life-long learners. This paper has relevance for Early Childhood Practitioners and aspiring Early Childhood Practitioners as well as those researching various teaching methods/strategies for incorporating Digital Techonology and ICT into quality learning environments.

The contexts, issues and theories that build our knowledge of a digital pedagogy

Research driven Digital Pedagogy

“ICT is already part of children’s lives: New Zealand children interact with technology every day. A growing role of the education system is to support children’s understanding of the nature of the technologies they encounter. We also need to support them to maximise the benefits they can provide. We can help our children to use ICT in healthy and safe ways that enhance their learning” (Ministry of Education, 2015 p.1).

The digital era is upon us and as the rapid growth in the digital technology industry continues Donahue (2003) proposes “The question is not if we should use technology, but how and why we use technology to improve program quality, increase responsiveness to parents, and expand opportunities for professional development” (p.17). This is rippled throughout literature as authors debate the potential risks and benefits of digital technology within Early Learning environments whilst also discussing how educators can grow their professional knowledge and pedagogy to support the growing demand for digital technologies and ICT to be incorporated into the curriculum effectively. Education changes all the time as society evolves, whether we are moving from an industrial era to the constructivist one, or moving into the digital era, educators need to constantly be creating shifts in their practice to adapt. Digital technology must be incorporated into every day education to ensure that children are active contributors to society and support their love of learning (Starkey, 2012).

There are several pieces of literature that show digital devices and ICT can improve learner outcomes using collaborative pedagogy and intentional practice. Along with supporting children to become lifelong learners in the 21st century digital devices can also support educators with management, administration and documenting programme planning (Ministry of Education, 2004). Alongside this research is evidence supporting digital devices empowering the whānau to be active contributors to their child’s learning, techniques to support the role of the educator and create meaningful learning for the child.

According to the Ministry of Education (2004) there is research that suggests use of digital technologies can enable learning to take place anywhere and at any time which aligns with past theories of play-based curriculum that demonstrates children will find play in everything they do. Learning through digital devices can, as the New Zealand Ministry of Education (2004) suggests, support children to collaborate with their peers, access information online that will guide learning and with supporting evidence from Siraj-Blatchford & Siraj-Blatchford (2006, cited in Siraj-Blatchford & Parmer, 2011) provide tools significant in supporting learners to self-regulate, increase social interaction, sustain shared thinking in early childhood.

Digital Pedagogy can also support learning in various curriculum areas. Mishra & Joseph (2012) look at the correlation between ICT and Mathematics and believe digital technology can help learner’s explore the patterns and relationships of shapes, patterns, and numerical relationships. This idea is supported by The Seed Network (2017) who argues digital technology can improve learning music, language, literacy and science with various teaching techniques including but not limited to watching video clips, video calling whānau members, learning documented with cameras or simply listening to music. Gee & Hayes (2011) discuss language being revitalised through digital technologies. It allows people to reconnect, conversate and create interactions through social media and chat rooms. Working in education, we can explore how we can encourage social development and relationship building important to the growth and development of children using digital devices that are becoming the norm in society.

The pedagogy of play is common practice within the Early Years with many teachers believing it to be Best Practice. Literature suggests a shift in practice and believes that for educators wanting to work in the 21st century there should be an integration of digital devices into children’s play. Ministry of Education (2004) suggests a learners first interaction with digital technology should encompass learning about technology as well as through it. Working with digital technologies should reflect educators own growing philosophies and early childhood centre curriculum and ideally be “integrated into early learning experiences alongside many other ordinary everyday activities, not displacing them” (Kalaš, 2012, p.12). New Zealand Education has a duty to its learners to include digital technologies into quality learning experiences to keep up with the growth in the digital industry and ensure children are not disadvantaged on their journey to being lifelong learners (Ministry of Education, 2004).

Research into digital devices and their use in early childhood education also investigate the effects of ICT regarding children’s behaviour and interactions with computers, educators professional learning and explores case studies probing into innovative use of ICT is early years settings. These studies “reflect an ecological view of young children’s ICT experiences” (Ministry of Education, 2004, p.15) and examined the factors between these investigations and a child’s home life, the feelings children have around digital devices and the impact such devices have on knowledge, dispositions and skills (Ministry of Education, 2004). As educators, we each take on the task of being researchers and critically reflect on how and why this will benefit the children in our care and how we can ensure that every child is given the best start in life.

Potential Benefits/Risks of Digital Technology

Umayahara believes that ICT can support socio-emotional development, cognitive development and language acquisition (2014) by providing a resource that presents opportunities to be collaborative, to inquire and communicate. This claim is maintained by Kalaš (2012) who states that collaboration is key and “joint attention and children learning to share and be engaged jointly provides a cognitive challenge for young children” (p.6).

Mishra & Joseph (2012) further probes into research on the benefits of ICT for young children and discussed how it can help improve learning outcomes for language development and can support children from diverse cultures and learning abilities. This is reinforced by Ministry of Education (2004) who consider ICT to have the potential to support social, cultural and educational features relevant to early childhood centres and the learning outcomes Te Whāriki idealise as responsible for producing children who are “competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society” (Ministry of Education, 2017, p.5).

Claims that ICT can be potentially risky for early education inhibits educators from embracing digital technology and incorporating it into their classrooms. According to Umayahara (2014) and Kalaš (2012) there are several potential risks of ICT/Digital Technology including concerns about children’s learning and development, physical (ergonomic) safety, exposure to harmful content, protection of children’s privacy and new technologies displacing other important modes of learning and play activities.

These concerns are replicated all throughout literature and cause concern for educators wanting to instil quality learning experiences into their practices. The uncertainty around digital devices and how to use them effectively produces educators who would simply rather leave them out than incorporate them. Mishra & Joseph (2012) reinforce these potential risks and add “harmful physical effects of prolonged computer use by children, negative effects on children’s social development and developmental concerns” (p.9) to the list alongside other risks such as exposure to unsuitable content and again reiterates the concept of digital technologies displacing other important play activities.

It is clear from comparing the limited literature, that there is a place for further research to be completed to enhance educators understanding of potential risks and benefits. Due to the lack of concrete evidence, educators are trying to comprehend literature which argues digital devices support social development whilst also proposing it as a risk to social development.

The Role of the Educator & Communities that support teaching

The role of the educator is to facilitate quality early learning experiences that are meaningful to the children and create opportunities for the greatest absorption of knowledge and ideas. Lack of understanding, research shows, contributes to the challenges incorporated into the classroom effectively (Arnott, 2017). As digital devices are relatively new to the education framework educators need “good guidance, examples and support for their own professional learning” (Ministry of Education, 2004, p. ix). This piece of literature elaborates on this by reiterating that teachers needs to be supported with when and how to bring ICT into the classroom (Ministry of Education, 2004).

Digital technology also plays a part in that “using a digital camera to record the event the teacher also transmits ideas and at other times has to re-evaluate through technology a child’s actions and intentions” (Naughton, 2011, p.1). This is maintained by Ministry of Education’s (2004) opinion that within such digital context teachers are supported with opportunities to create strong management, administration and documentation.

Zosh, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff & Parish-Morris (2016) argue that learning occurs when the content is meaningful to the child’s life. The literature also acknowledges that learning is maximised when done in collaboration with others. Zosh et. al. trusts that digital devices can have inherent benefits for children but reasons clear guidelines for educators and whānau to “evaluate the educational potential of apps” (p.4) will allow informed judgement on whether this digital device is going to “inspire active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive experiences that provide guided exploration towards a learning goal” (p.4).

The role of the educator, according to The Seeds Network (2017) is to think of digital technology as a resource in a similar way we think of “books, blocks, water table or playdough” (p.1). This is supported by Ministry of Education (2004) which makes links between quality practitioners selecting appropriate tools, knowing how and when to use them and understanding how these tools can support a learner’s development, learning and play. Further to this, the role of the educator is to create opportunities for children in early childhood education settings to have “experiences [that] should reflect and connect with their experiences in the wider world” (Ministry of Education, 2004, p.2). Reflective educators who consider aspects of who the child is and where they come from will acknowledge how much digital technology children encounter in their home lives and work towards minimising the digital divide by addressing the access issues some children face. As children learn within the 21st century it requires learning experiences that are hands-on and strengthen home to centre life (Donohue, 2003).

Educators can, if done so effectively, use ICT to build or strengthen networks between early childhood centres (Ministry of Education, 2004) and learn from each other how best to incorporate digital technology into intentional teaching and learning opportunities that are meaningful to their learners. As access remains to be a large issue within Early Childhood Centres concerning devices and Wi-Fi educators must be informed with what is best practice regarding technology and advocate for their learners the necessity of incorporating digital technology into their frameworks of learning.

Preferred approaches within an Early Childhood Context (Curriculum)

Educationally Powerful Connections with Whānau

“When parents, teachers and children collaborate towards the same goal it leads to improved academic performance” (Kalaš, 2012, p.6) which is why digital technology has relevance to this century’s classrooms. Literature identifies that children learn best when there are strong relationships and Kalaš’s (2012) statement is reiterated by Mishra & Joseph (2012) who repeat that children achieve more when parents, educators and children collaborate towards the same goal. Parent involvement is a vital component when planning for higher success with children and Mishra & Joseph examines this further by claiming “communication between professional educators and parents is crucial in the early years and a more articulated set of aims between home and early years settings can lead to better outcomes for children” (2012, p.17).

Ministry of Education (2017) believes that digital technologies could lead the way for whānau and their community to be more involved and contribute to the child’s education. They extend on this by explaining ICT has the potential to “support professional communities of learning among teachers, strengthen school-community relationships, or increase the involvement of parents, and other people outside schools, in students’ school learning experiences” (p.5).

Digital Technology can, in fact, according to the Ministry of Education (2004) support and scaffold children with special learning needs or who come from diverse culturally or linguistic backgrounds. ICT can bring into the early learning setting the child’s home life in ways that may not be possible without such resources as digital technology. Creating strong relationships with whānau shows children that we want to collaborate with those in their lives so that we can understand them better, understand how we can support them and their home life and incorporate learning into their journey that is meaningful and full of context for them. Due to the high importance of whānau relationships educators can use technology to connect and communicate with members of the family that do not often visit the centre, to capture events/photos to revisit of experiences that happened within the family context and to share information both ways that is accessible to the whānau (Ministry of Education, 2004).

Loveless & Williamson (2013) “stress ‘learning identities’ in order to emphasize how young people’s identities are intricately connected to their ongoing learning, but also to indicate how identities themselves increasingly need to be learned through active, ongoing pedagogic opportunities both within the formal institutions of education and in the informal pedagogies accessed via new technology and media. Identities are not fixed forever, but are the subjects of constant lifelong learning” (p.10). As educators in New Zealand we promote successful learning experiences that ensure children are lifelong learners. To do this, we need to create shifts in practice and incorporate technology relevant to the 21st century that will support each child’s identity. Meaningful interactions and purpose filled activities that foster learning in the digital technologies curricula will support key competencies needed for children to grow into the leaders of tomorrow.

Sustainable and innovative Digital Pedagogies

Donohue notes that Early Childhood tends to be a “low-tech profession” (2003, p.17) and recognises that most teachers employ a pedagogy entrenched in play based experiences. To fully gain the benefits of technology in our classrooms we must upskill our professional knowledge and find strategies that allow children opportunities for intentional teaching and meaningful experiences with devices they most likely see at home.

ICT can deepen the learning happening in the early childhood learning environment and create equal opportunities for children with special needs (Ministry of Education, 2004) and children who come from diverse linguistic backgrounds to ensure that children are not disadvantaged and we are not widening the gap between them and their peers. There are many learning opportunities that can arise from digital technologies such as children roleplaying office work, using walkie-talkies to communicate with those in a different area to them and performing karaoke. Ministry of Education (2004) goes on to explore the world of possibilities that digital technology has when naturally incorporated into free play.

This ideology navigates children’s positive learning outcomes when used in conjunction with digital technology however the literature also mentions that play with digital technology is void of being able to discharge natural energy from the body (Ministry of Education, 2004). This piece of literature also argues that “some authors express concern that computers might encourage children to disengage from social interaction in favour of solitary play” (Ministry of Education, 2004, p.24). This is where research supporting educators using traditional types of teaching techniques alongside digital teaching techniques will enhance overall curriculum and ensure children maintain control over their ideas/thoughts/actions and with support from the educator have successful learner outcomes.

Conclusions

With the limited research within a narrow time frame on digital technology in early childhood contexts proves both sides of the coin. The potential risks and benefits highlighted are very similar proving that digital technology is ever evolving and it is the role of the educator to upskills their professional knowledge in this curriculum area and how to naturally incorporate it into children’s play to truly provide learner’s fair and equal opportunities to succeed.

To do this clear guidelines, support and knowledges will help ensure children develop the dispositions, awareness and skills essential effectively using digital technologies (Khoo, Merry, Nguyen with Bennett & MacMillan, 2015). To be an early childhood teacher, essentially teaching for the 21st century and beyond, I believe it is important that myself and others know and understand the complex issues surrounding digital technologies and how we can successfully incorporate these practices into quality care moments and intentional learning moments. This will ensure that learners are being exposed to experiences that will prepare them for a life that has not yet been created and successful lifelong learners that contribute to society.

Education is ever-evolving, and I would like to see every educator critically reflecting on their practice and their role in ensuring children in our early learning centres are equipped and prepared for the society they will be contributing to. The evidence exploring the benefits and risks could be further analysed and teachers could also work in collaboration with their team to discover what works best for their learners in their unique environments.

References

ArnottL. (2017). Framing technological experiences in the early years. In L. Arnott (Ed.), Digital Technologies and Learning in the Early Years. London.

Donohue, C. (2003). Technology in early childhood education. Redmond, WA: Childcare information exchange

Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. (2011). Language and learning in the digital age. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kalaš, I. (2012). ICT’s in early childhood care and education. Moscow, Russian Federation: UNESCO

Khoo, E., Merry, R., & Nguyen, N. H., with Bennett, T., & MacMillan, N. (2015). iPads and opportunities for teaching and learning for young children (iPads n kids). Hamilton, New Zealand: Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research.

Loveless, A., & Williamson, B. (2013). Learning identities in a digital age: Rethinking creativity, education and technology. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ministry of Education. (2004). The role and potential of ICT in early childhood education: A review of New Zealand and international literature. Wellington: Learning Media

Ministry of Education. (2015). Play Idea: Information communication technology ICT – Ngā Rau Tangotango. Retrieved from: https://education.govt.nz/early-childhood/teaching-and-learning/learning-tools-and-resources/play-ideas/ict/

Ministry of Education. (2017). Te whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa Early childhood curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.

Mishra, P. & Joseph, A. (2012). Early childhood care & education: An ICT perspective. Retrieved from: https://journal.iitta.gov.ua/index.php/itlt/article/view/565/477

Naughton, C. (2011, July). Knowledge, learning and ICT in early childhood education [Editorial]. 1-3. Retrieved from: http://www.hekupu.ac.nz/Journal%20files/Issue5%20October%202011/Knowledge%20Learning%20and%20ICT%20in%20Early%20Childhood%20Education.pdf

Siraj-Blatchford, J., Parmar, N. (2011). Knowledge, learning and ICT in early childhood education. Retrieved from: (http://www.hekupu.ac.nz/Journal%20files/Issue5%20October%202011/Knowledge%20learning%20processes%20and%20ICT%20in%20early%20childhood%20education.pdf

Starkey, L. (2012). Teaching and learning in the digital age. New York, NY: Routledge.

The Seeds Network. (2017). Technology in ECE. Retrieved from: http://www.theseedsnetwork.com/features/preschool-teacher-resources/technology-in-ece/

Umayahara, M. (2014). Benefits and risks of ICT in early years. Retrieved from: http://www.unescobkk.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ict/Workshops/responsible_use_2014/Session_1C_Mami_Umayahara_ECCE.pdf

Zosh, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. & Parish-Morris, J. (2016). Learning in the digital age: Putting education back in educational apps for young children. Retrieved from: http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/sites/default/files/textes-experts/en/4738/learning-in-the-digital-age-putting-education-back-in-educational-apps-for-young-children.pdf