Reflections on technology as a meaningful tool for early learning

By Joyce Lam

Prior to attending Early Childhood Australia’s Live Wires Forum in Melbourne, I reflected on how I worked in promoting STEM experiences and activities at FROEBEL. I realised that whilst Science, Engineering and Mathematics were strongly presented through everyday experiences, Technology was not as actively implemented. I slowly began to realise why: I had a conflicting self-thought that was derived from the Australian guidelines around screen time for children. Technology, to me, was profoundly linked to merely: just screens.

Attending the Forum with my colleague Kristen was a major breakthrough for the chain of thoughts: what may seem to be only screen times, technology – when used appropriately and with sufficient supervision and monitoring (by adults) – can be used as a tool for learning, not entertainment.

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Going through the history of inventing iPads, Alan Kay started off the idea of creating iPads for early childhood education. He based his research on the theorists Vygotsky, Piaget, Montessori, Bruner and Dewey and concluded that it was important for the child to have a hands-on, minds-on, screen technology product so to promote co-constructive learning on their fingertips. “The vision that drove innovation in tablet technologies was rooted in the very philosophical, theoretical ideas that have informed the provision of play-based learning in early childhood education for the generation.” (Stephen & Edwards, 2017, p.22).

Throughout the Forum, there were numerous experiences which fostered the concept that technology can be integrated in traditional play. By using technology (tablet devices), there are endless opportunities for children to activate their learning through open-ended investigations. I learnt many adults are concerned that technology is heavily focused on screen time. However, I also learnt that screen time should not be the spotlight for technology; instead, inactive, sedentary behaviour of children should be highlighted (please refer to the Guidelines for Healthy Growth and Development for Your Child that was recently launched by the Australian Government for physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep).

As educators, we are reflective on the usage of technology and remain vigilant that education within technology should “act in the best interests of all children and work collectively to ensure that every child is thriving and learning.” (Code of Ethics, 2016, p.1). Often we see adults handing screen devices to children in order to get them distracted. Research has found that some of the main reasons parents are concerned about screen time were the fact that they don’t know how to control or monitor screen time for children. And they are unaware of the many educational apps that are in the market.

In this 21st century, technology will continue to be of increasing importance. I must admit that my early childhood was highly different compared to that of children living in the present. Thinking about ethical dilemmas that may be relevant if technology is introduced to early childhood settings, a Forum presenter even challenged us whether it was unethical to not introduce technology to children. Do we give adequate opportunities for children to grow into a “curious, capable, caring and contributing global citizen” (FROEBEL’s Vision)?

I have asked input from the Future Leaders* and most of their responses were positive. I have spoken to the Nursery team at my service, and they were excited to explore and implement technology into early childhood education. I would really like to re-imagine early education, challenge concepts and re-intervene contrary thinking through balanced teaching.

The Forum was jam-packed with delightful information. It truly inspired my thinking around technology and its meaningful utilisation in early childhood settings. Technology is never new to us. What is new to us is integrating technology as another tool to learn, to facilitate shared learning between educators and children (paying attention to the experience, not the device), and to integrate technology in traditional play.

 

*Joyce Lam is Early Childhood Educator at FROEBEL Australia where she is Room Leader of a Nursery Room and has been invited to participate in FROEBEL’s Future Leaders Program 2017-18. Joyce is enrolled in FROEBEL’s Little Scientists professional development program; she makes early STEM exploration and inquiry-based learning an integral element of the service’s curriculum. 

The Live Wires Forum is a two-day professional development event connecting the latest thinking in early childhood theory, practice and pedagogy in digital technologies, with hands-on practical sessions. It was held in Melbourne from 24-25 November 2017.

 

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