Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Literacy and Technology in the Early Years of Education: Looking to the Familiar to Inform Educator Practice

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Literacy and Technology in the Early Years of Education: Looking to the Familiar to Inform Educator Practice

Article excerpt

Two scenarios

On a sunny afternoon in a regional Australian town, a mother listened silently through an MP player to her favourite songs, as she pushed a young toddler in a stroller along the footpath. The toddler, equally silent, sat passively watching the animated movie, Finding Nemo, on a portable DVD player. Both mother and child were oblivious to magpies warbling as they rested on the fence posts nearby, to a kookaburra laughing on a nearby branch, and to a horse that had trotted across the paddock to greet the pair as they walked by. A couple, watching this scene from their kitchen window, felt mournful at how western society's reliance on technology undervalued the importance of quality interactions in family life. The couple gave a quiet sigh as they pondered the lost opportunity for interactions between mother and child that could signal active participation in learning about the world and relationships.

In another scenario, Jasper, an enthusiastic four-year-old, visited the local library with his father. A sign in the library doorway caught Jasper's attention. The sign read: Play Mario Bros here. It had a picture of Mario pointing in the direction of the computers. Jasper could not read the words on the sign, but he recognised Marie and knew what the sign meant and how to play the game.

After playing the game for a short time, Jasper and his father shared some books together and then Jasper chose some of his favourites to borrow. Jasper was very pleased with the books he had chosen. He found a story about a plumber, like Marie, who liked to fix things, and an I Spybook. Jasper thought the I Spybook would be fun to read because there were many hidden items for him to find with his father. The book came with an interactive CD that Jasper looked forward to viewing with his family at home.


Our conceptions of literacy have changed over time (Durrant & Green, 2000). What it means to be literate in society today is not what it was 20 years ago, yet many of the literacy teaching practices in educational institutions today have strong roots in traditional views of literacy (Snyder, 2008). This paper looks at some of the influences on contemporary educator practice and challenges associated with teaching literacy in the twenty-first century. It proposes that familiar models of literacy learning, in particular Cambourne's Conditions of Learning (1995), may be used to inform educator practice with technology applied to the literacy context in early years (birth to eight years) settings.

Bruce (1998) proposes that our conceptions of literacy change as technology evolves, and this thinking has informed current views of literacy as social practice (Kress, 2003; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006). The shift from manuscript scrolls to the printed book marks the period where literacy conceptualisations changed to embrace the printed book. Literacy conceptualisations will continue to change as technological advancements transform the way we communicate (Durrant & Green, 2000). Through these technological advancements new literacy practices evolve which have implications for early years educators' practice (Carrington, 2001 ; Labbo, 2006; Marsh, 2003). Thus, in the early years of education, which is widely recognised as the period of birth to eight years (Bertram & Pascal, 2002; DEECD, 2009) including prior-to-school and school-based settings, tensions highlighted in the opening scenarios, around the application of technology to the literacy context have emerged.

Throughout this paper technology refers to tools, equipment or techniques used in processes. For example, a book was once considered technology for the reading process and today information and communications technology (ICT) can be viewed as technology for communications processes. It is ICT, in particular digital and media technologies, which are the focus of the discussion in this paper, as it is societal use of these technologies that has contributed to contemporary views of literacy. …

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