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Key insights from the webinar on ICT in ECE with Professors Suzy Edwards and Leon Straker

By Dr Vicki Hargraves

In our webinar, Professors Suzy Edwards and Leon Straker explain the current research and recommended practices for using digital technologies with children in early childhood that underlie Early Childhood Australia’s Statement on Young Children and Digital Technologies. Here is a summary of their key insights.

Using principles of play-based learning with digital technologies

The principles of play-based learning are important in pedagogies around digital technologies. Children will learn to use technologies through play by experimenting and finding out everything a technology or device can do. After this period of exploration, when children understand a bit about what the technology can do, they can use to it represent their understandings – for example, by taking photos and creating a slide show.

Digital play with non-digital materials

Digital play doesn’t always have to involve working technology. It can also involve representations of technology and role play, such as using a block as a phone, or laminating a copy of a tablet screen for use in the home corner. Digital play can involve non-digital materials for children to  use to re-enact or explore aspects of ditigal technologies in their daily lives.

Choosing technologies that support your centre’s philosophy on learning and teaching

ECE services should choose the digital technologies they plan to introduce to children according to their overarching philosophy and what is important to their service, as well as how they understand children’s learning and their practices for play-based learning and exploration. It is not a matter of purchasing particular technologies or a types of device for the sake of the technology, which is unlikely to be successful as there will not be the right foundation into which to integrate it. For example, if your service has a a particular focus on hands-on learning and problem-solving, then simple coding robots might be a good technology to introduce. If your service emphasises celebrating children’s learning with families then another good choice would be using ipads to create movies, then playing these recordings next to the sign out list as families leave at the end of the day. The emphasis should be on what services value and what children are learning rather than on rushing out to buy a range of diverse technologies.

Co-use and role modelling as effective practices.

Co-use of technologies is very important, which means children using technologies with other peers or with adults. Peer-to-peer interactions over technology lead to opportunities to talk, test ideas and solve problems. Co-use of technologies with adults enables adult to provide scaffolding about how to use technologies, as well as creating rich opportunities for building language. We also need to pay careful attention to the way in which we are role modeling use of digital technologies, and build shared understandings about adult technology use across teams and communities. For example, if a child wants to talk to us or is trying to engage with us, we put our device down.

Technology can be used to stimulate activity

Digital technologies do not necessarily involve screen technologies, and current digital technologies offer a range of opportunities and stimuli for being physically active, such as children videoing each other doing a jump and playing back in slow motion. Although there is a large amount of research linking technology use to lower activity levels, most research has examined the impact of screen and particularly TV use and with older children. There has been less research on younger children and on touchscreen use. In addition, research focuses on measuring children’s screen time, without considering the type of activity the screen is used for (for example, video chatting has a different influence on the child than watching the same video over and over again). It is also important to remember that there are other sedentary activities that are not technology-based, such as colouring in or reading. Rather than measuring screen time, it is better for teachers and families to be thinking about ensuring a range of activities across a day for children, including lots of activity and movement, rich educational experiences and social exchanges. 

Developing policies around digital technologies

The use of digital technologies is essential to so many aspects of daily life, including shopping, banking, getting on and off a train, and communication, and internet access is now recognised as a fundamental human right by the United Nations. However, even if children are not using technologies directly, they are still central to the ways in which an early childhood centre is run, in activities such as invoicing, communication and digital documentation. There are ethical concerns to be addressed here in terms of what digital content is being stored and who has access to it, so early childhood centres should have policies regarding some of these issues about digital technology use in their centre.