T he technical advances of the last thirty years and the introduction of the internet, globalisation has made the world a smaller place and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become increasingly important part of everyday life. Today, it is reported that over eighty percent of households have a personal computer (PC), with sixty eight percent Internet enabled. (Marketresearch. om, 17/05/09) Subsequently, government has recognised the need to reflect this increasing use of technology by ensuring that ICT is to enable children to participate fully in the rapidly developing technological world around them, whilst in others it is the need for children to be competent users of technology to better exploit their potential, (DFES, 2001, cited by O’Hara, 2004, p5).
The Early years Sector has long debated the relevance of ICT, with views ranging from those who believe it could result in socio-economic benefits (DFES, 2001) to Oppeinheimer’s opinion that ICT is wholly inappropriate in early year’s settings, being detrimental to both children’s health and standards of education (O’Hara, 2004 p1). We must also remain mindful that there is a digital divide, with some households not having up to date ICT or where adults are not confident or able to use the equipment.
As Early years practitioners it is pertinent for us to reflect on the range of opinions from Government, Professionals and colleagues in considering the use of ICT in our practices. Effectiveness in Children’s Learning The range of educational resources available for the foundation stage is extensive and many theorists have offered their opinion as to the most suitable for children of this age. ICT resources are certainly no exception.
Typically, people think of PC’s in isolation when ICT is discussed and I too initially considered little else. However, having undertaken research into this field I have and discovered a plethora of equipment, ranging from interactive games and CD-ROMs to robots and programmable toys. Whilst ICT resources vary greatly, closer consideration to one piece of equipment is worthwhile and provides an insight into the application of ICT within my setting.
Consequently I undertook the research and assessment of a reading support toy, namely the leap pad. Cook and Finlayson (1999) discuss the merits of reading support toys and recognise their potential to encourage children to read but also comment that the graphics can be distracting from the story line (P15). The Leappad The leappad first came to my attention when I was looking for different methods to support the children’s learning, particularly in relation to communication language and literacy.
I sought to inspire an interest in letters and sounds with children aged three and four years as well as providing a resource that would be suitable for our toy library which involves children borrowing toys to take home for a week at a time and using them with their parents. My rationale was to provide an opportunity for children to ‘show off’ their new skills to parents, which is good for the children’s self esteem and confidence as well as being a useful home/setting link. The product is hardwearing, portable and easy to use and therefore met my key criteria.
Montessori recognised the importance of resources being child sized and this is no less important when considering ICT, the leap pad is light and fits easily on a child’s lap with appropriately sized stylus. In 2006 it gained a ‘Practical Preschool’ silver award. I canvassed the opinions of parents within my setting and my colleagues, they all gave positive feedback. Particularly liking the fact the voice was British. Many reading support toys have an American accent and I felt that this was less confusing for the children to hear letters sounds in a more familiar accent.
Additionally I felt the bright graphics and different sounds and music would combine to make a fun learning experience that constructivists like Dewey (1958) believe is essential for the brain to accommodated the differentiation required to make good connections The programmes were of equal appeal to both sexes and accommodated the differentiation required for the children in my setting of the appropriate age group. The Leappad is non judgemental, giving no negative feedback, so the children are free to make mistakes without fear.
I recognise the benefits to both practitioner and learner to have a piece of equipment that responded immediately. The children could select it and use it straight away rather than having to request adults support to turn the computer and log onto the Internet or load up a CD-ROM. Having researched the equipment and satisfied that it would be a useful tool for the children’s learning, my emphasis shifted to planning an appropriate activity for the children that would allow me to access the leappad and with the help of the children and families, evaluate its effectiveness in children’s learning
Before we introduce a new toy into our toy library we bring it into our Play and Learn session to gauge the reactions of the children and parents. During the session it was fairly instant for a child to go over to the leappad and investigate and was then swiftly followed by other children. The older children were keen to ask questions and asked their parents to help them with how to work the toy. The curiosity by the children and parents continued throughout the entire session.
Bruce identified the importance of stimulating and satisfying curiosity and the pleasure in finding out, in his ten principles of early years care and education, (O’Hara, 2004, P30). Initially I found that the curiosity distracted the children from listening to the story and some of the language opportunities. However, subsequently the children have taken the leappad home through the toy library and used it further in Play and Learn sessions, they have made progress with both following the story and reacting to the instructions.
It was interesting to see that the children were far more engaged with the activity and inquisitive when we used the story using characters that they were familiar with. One particular child always asks for the bob the builder story book as they have a Bob the Builder book at home. Educational theorists believe that children learn better when the activity is linked to their prior knowledge, interests, skills and hobbies, (Dryden et al, 2005, p147). The assessment activity showed that the children had enjoyed using the leappad but that not all of them had enjoyed the story.
The activity did successfully achieve the learning outcomes that I had hoped for, indeed further learning took place. For example Dewey and Vygotsky believed that children were keen to help their peers navigate the system. During the assessment the children had to collaborate and cooperate socially and intellectually, they took turns and modelled how to use it to each other. The leappad proved a useful tool (to sit alongside others) to support the children’s learning. They appeared to enjoy the interaction and stimulation, the ease with which they could operate it and in fact it’s a toy they can take home and share with their parents.
However, as with many forms of ICT the role of the practitioner when using this piece of equipment is vital to its success, their use of appropriate questioning and discussion throughout the session to engage the children in prediction and decision making and extending their comprehension. Whilst the leappad gives positive feedback when the children get something right, it is useful to support them through their trial and error to help maintain a high level of interest and minimise frustration.
Vygotsky identified the important role of the adult in realising the future learning potential of the child which he called the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ (ZPD) a theory I believe is relevant to the use of ICT in children’s learning. O’Hara (2004) cited Sayeed and Guerin’s description of the quality intervention of an adult and the interaction with a child and assessment of their needs, to effectively plan the activity. ‘the adult arouses care, curiosity and alertness in the child and helps the child to understand the activity so that they can be successful in it. (p73). Developing the use of ICT in terms of children’s experimental learning Within my setting the children already use a wide range of ICT from pushing the button for the automatic doors as they enter the building to the more conventional idea of what is considered to be ICT a PC. Using my knowledge gained through research and discussion with colleagues about their professional use of ICT, I have been able to reflect on the use of ICT in my setting and how I can improve on this.
Additionally I have had the opportunity to try out different pieces of technology for myself and make decisions as to what would work well in my setting. This is a very valuable exercise recognised by Cook and Finlayson (1999) in stating “…. Teachers need time to play about with new technology to identify the learning potential which offers and devises ways of harnessing technological power to enhance and extend existing teaching strategies. ” (p19). This vital experience has enabled me to impact on the children’s experimental learning.
When choosing a piece of ICT equipment for my setting a number of things have to be taken into consideration. ? Funds available – We have a limited budget to spend on resources ? Storage space – There is limited space to store larger item ? Age range – children’s ages within the setting vary from birth to five years ? Durability – Resources need to be hard wearing for them to last ? Sustainability – Technology is changing continuously rendering resources out of date quickly.
Consideration must be given to the long term without impeding the learning of children today. ? Health and safety – Advise from Becta ‘ How to ensure safe use of ICT in schools’ I believe that ICT should be incorporated into all the areas of children’s learning rather than stand alone. Loveless and Ellis (2001) pointed out that we do not consider ‘pedagogy and pencils’ in isolation so why should we consider ‘pedagogy and ICT’? p67) If ICT is planned for then as practitioners we can use ICT in varying ways to enhance the experimental learning of the children and increase the possible learning opportunities. Research concludes ICT is an important part of the children’s everyday life and therefore we as practitioners have to ensure that this is reflected in their learning. Assessment and planning ensures the learning will be relevant and pitched correctly, however it is worth remembering if things go wrong, the fact that technology is not fool proof is a worthwhile lesson in its own right!
Technology is not an alternative to teacher input and we need to be aware of “teaching strategies which frame different learning experiences with these resources, from direct instruction to supporting collaborative work” (Loveless and Ellis, 2001, p73). ICT offers numerous learning opportunities across the six areas of learning. Play has long been considered a vital part of children’s learning and therefore I believe that ICT should be incorporated within play wherever possible.
However it is not the quality and quantity of ICT equipment available in the setting, but the quality and availability of adult support which is important to the children’s learning. Children will not engage with equipment and maximise their true potential without sufficient quality scaffolding from their teachers. With today’s increased accessibility of ICT in homes, libraries, shops, schools and nurseries, the digital divide is perhaps greater between those with the confidence and skills to use ICT and those without.