Research behind technology in preschool settings

I would like to start by asking you this question: “What indicator showcases that learning has occurred?” The answer is simple: results of a child retaining knowledge, plus documentation of the process of learning itself.

Why is documentation necessary?

Because it takes time for learning to be absorbed and entrenched, but documentation demonstrates that the child is being continuously stimulated through a rich learning environment. Additionally, in many jurisdictions, in order to be licensed, or maintain a licensed child care facility; there are clear guidelines that must demonstrate that learning is taking place. What’s more, parents and caregivers appreciate being included in the process of their child’s learning.

What has been done in the past?

Historically, educators have been documenting children’s learning and development on paper. Over time, film cameras made their way into the field, which were eventually replaced by digital cameras. Now, we live in the age of tablets and smartphones that can take pictures and videos, as well as enable educators to take digital notes. Will Parnell, a professor at Portland State University, examined this shift in his 2012 article How Smartphones and Tablets are Changing Documentation in Preschool and Primary Classrooms. Here is a quote from the research: “Technological documentation is a powerful tool for teachers as they plan and reflect on curriculum in the moment. Gathering digital records — photos, quotes, scanned work samples, commentary, and so forth — in a repository such as a password-protected blog or electronic journal helps teachers, families (including extended family and friends), and children make sense of and build on their own learning.” (Parnell & Bartlett, pg. 50, Young Children, May 2012.)

Yet, there is still a divide within the field of early childhood education on whether the use of technology is appropriate. In Courtney Blackwells’ scholarly article: Factors influencing digital technology use in early childhood education, she concludes that “Attitudes toward technology for children’s learning and confidence had two of the strongest positive effects on technology use, supporting prior research that shows teacher attitudes toward and confidence using technology play a critical role in their use of technology in the classroom.” (Blackwell, Lauricella & Wartella. Computers & Education, May, 2014.) Perhaps, providing educators with more professional development opportunities, online or via educational workshops, will promote confidence and positively shift attitudes regarding technology in the classroom.

Looking ahead

Regardless of where you stand on the technology in preschool debate, educators have an obligation to provide children with the best learning experience. Professor Parnell puts it best, by stating: “Documentation has many important defining characteristics. It is the process of observing and recording children’s development and learning. As part of the process, teachers ask questions, collect data on the children (work artifacts, quotations, photos, audio recordings, and such), interpret the data, and develop an ongoing dialogue about the process with colleagues, parents, and the children themselves. This helps everyone understand the children’s development and learning and how to promote it.” (Parnell & Bartlett, pg. 51, Young Children, May 2012.) We should be open to learning and embracing new ideas, technology and approaches. As educators we have committed to being lifelong learners, hence it is our duty to maintain our curiosity and keep exploring new and better ways to reach our students.

I would like to leave you with this question: “Is it easy to step outside of your comfort zone?” The answer is easy: “No.” Nothing memorable or amazing was ever achieved by maintaining status quo. Living with purpose and embracing technology allows us to become better at what we do best and that impacts and shapes the young minds with whom we collaborate. I find it refreshing and powerful.

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