Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

The Introduction of New Technologies: New Possibilities for Early Childhood Pedagogy

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

The Introduction of New Technologies: New Possibilities for Early Childhood Pedagogy

Article excerpt

Introduction and background to the project

The KidSmart Early Learning Program is an international initiative of IBM. The project aims to increase the access to technology for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and subsequently broaden their learning opportunities and support the transition to school. In Australia, a partnership with the Australian National Schools Network [ANSN] was formed in 2000 to manage the rollout of the program, design and facilitate professional development for educators, and conduct research and evaluation. By the end of 2003, more than 300 Young Explorer computer units will have been donated to early childhood centres around Australia.

Participating centres were selected on the basis of the following criteria:

* high incidence of socio-economic disadvantage;

* high proportion of children and families with language backgrounds other than English;

* strong links with indigenous communities; and

* limited computer access and availability within the local community.

Their formal involvement with the ANSN research circle lasted for one year. At the end of this time a new cohort of teachers and centres was inducted into the program.

The research and professional learning program designed by the ANSN was integral to the project. It aimed to raise awareness of pedagogical issues related to using information and communication technology [ICT] with young children and to investigate issues arising from the introduction of this particular technology to these centres. In addition to a two-day introductory workshop, research circles (clusters of early childhood centres and ANSN colleagues) were formed to explore issues that educators identified as being of concern or interest, such as the relationship between early childhood, new technologies, literacy and learning. In the first year of the program, 192 educators in three intensive states (Victoria, Western Australia, New South Wales) developed case studies that focused on their particular inquiry interest. These were analysed in conjunction with national survey data from all states and territories.

While most critics agree that computers have the potential to bring massive benefits in later stages of children's education, the use of computers in the early childhood setting is an under-researched field. The majority of the research shows that computers can be extraordinarily powerful tools because they have the capacity to encourage young children to learn in new and dynamic ways (Clements, Nastasi & Swaminathan, 1993; Yelland, 1999). Some critics, however, are strongly against their use (Armstrong & Casement, 2001; Healy, 1998). Child development and technology are often seen as at odds with each other as technology can interfere with time for children to play with materials and to develop intellectually, emotionally, socially, physically and spiritually (Cordes & Miller, 2000).

Traditional early childhood philosophies have tended to emphasise a developmental or curriculum-centred approach to learning, both of which pose significant limitations for understanding ICT use. New approaches in early childhood education, such as cross-cultural and postmodernist approaches, have challenged traditional developmentalist discourses. The re-imaging of the child associated with an increased awareness of the early childhood experience of Reggio Emilia (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998), the reconceptualising of the early childhood movement (Canella, 1997; Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 1999), as well as socio-constructivist approaches (Vygotsky, 1978) have all forced early childhood educators to rethink traditional curricula and pedagogical approaches.

Introducing the program to early childhood educators

One of the key challenges faced by the education sector in Australia, as well as globally, is the need to provide educators with the skills necessary to integrate computers effectively in their teaching practice (Piannfetti, 2001; Becker, 2000). …

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