Part II The Special Case: Early Childhood Education (ECE) Environments in .NET framework

Creator ECC200 in .NET framework Part II The Special Case: Early Childhood Education (ECE) Environments
Part II The Special Case: Early Childhood Education (ECE) Environments
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It is no surprise that computer technology has started to become a prevalent feature in ECE environments where our youngest learners could potentially reap the benefits from early exposure to it (e.g., Ko, 2002; Schofield, 1997; Shade & Watson, 1990; Wood, 2001). Along with the promise of increased learning opportunities for these students, however, the presence of computer technology brings additional burdens and responsibilities for educators of small children (e.g., Becker & Ravitz, 2001; Rosen & Weil, 1995; Specht, Wood, & Willoughby, 2002).
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What is different about the ECE context
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As noted earlier in this chapter, the research with elementary and secondary school educators points to a number of potential variables that can affect the integration of computers in these higher grades. Intuitively, it would appear that many of these barriers and supports also would apply in an ECE setting. This environment, however, has features that make it unique from higher-grade contexts. Specifically, the learners are younger, less skilled verbally and physically, less independent in their ability to work alone, and less knowledgeable. In addition, there are management issues facing early childhood educators that differ from educators in the higher grades. In early childhood education contexts, formal learning situations are shorter (for example, circle time) and less frequent; there are more transitions between activities; there is less seatwork, more active hands-on exploration, and more supervision. These unique elements may require supports and produce barriers to the integration of technology that are not found in higher-grade environments. In addition, the infrastructure of early childcare environments (daycares, preschools, nurseries, etc.) differs markedly from elementary or secondary school systems. Elementary and secondary grades typically have a specified curriculum that is prescribed and monitored by external agencies (e.g., school boards, governments, etc.). Most early childcare environments, on the other hand, are independent facilities. Many are privately owned and 288
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Integration of Computer Technology operated, and the curriculum is developed within the center. As a function of being an independent organization, opportunities for in-service instruction, technical support, and funding for technology requires that the center solicit external support typically from the private sector on an ad hoc basis. Together these specific features of early childhood education make it important to investigate early integration separately from elementary and secondary environments.
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What are the perceptions toward introducing computer technology in the ECE setting
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The introduction of computer technology for very young learners has met with both support (e.g., Shade & Watson, 1990) and concern (e.g., Barnes & Hill, 1983; Elkind, 1996). Initially, there were fears that using computers with preschoolers would result in poorer social skills, less active learning opportunities, and fewer age-appropriate play activities (e.g., Barnes & Hill, 1983; Kaden, 1990; Zajonc, 1984). Subsequent research revealed, however, that computers could facilitate social, cognitive, and play development among very young learners when handled appropriately (e.g., Kelly & Schorger, 2001; Ko, 2002; Muller & Perlmutter, 1985; Narrol, 1997; Podmore, 1991; Sandberg, 2002; Schofield, 1995). However, debates regarding the value and desirability of computers for young learners continue (e.g., Plowman & Stephen, 2003). Given the debates within the literature, it is important to investigate the perceptions of the early childhood educators who experience the effects of computers directly.
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How do early childhood educators feel about integrating computer technology
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Research indicates that educators in ECE contexts support the integration of computer technology in their classrooms (Specht et al., 2002; Wood, Willoughby, & Specht, 1998); but, similar to the elementary and secondary educators, they may require more exposure to computers, and more training, in order to provide greater confidence in their ability to use it effectively and comfortably (Wood et al., 2002). In a recent study (Wood, Specht, Willoughby, & Mueller, 2006), the majority of early childhood educators concurred with early childhood educators sampled in previous studies in their support of computers as potentially positive additions to the ECE environment (Specht et al., 2002; Tsitouridou & Vryzas, 2003). In particular, computers were perceived to be a highly motivating alternative means for providing instructional opportunities that satisfied the general constraints of a child-centered approach. Computers 289
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Julie Mueller, Eileen Wood, and Teena Willoughby were generally depicted as providing an additional or alternative activity for children, or as an independent learning tool. None of the educators identified the computer as a central means of instruction. This characterization of computers as an ancillary rather than a central feature of instruction echoes one of the ongoing debates in the elementary and secondary school literatures. Specifically, current discussion suggests that there are two ways of incorporating computers into the classroom: one views computers as an additional add-on activity, and the other involves more extensive integration where the computer is used as a medium for instruction (e.g., Conlon & Simpson, 2003; Goos, Galbraith, Renshaw, & Geiger, 2003). This latter form of integration may not be possible given the present limitations in resources in the ECE environment. For example, educators would not have enough computers to engage groups of children interactively on the computers since, on average, only one computer was available in each center. In such settings, perhaps limited computer resources are driving the instructional use of computers rather than pedagogy. Alternatively, it may be that early childhood educators do not perceive the full integration of computers as appropriate for their young learners. Indeed, some educators voiced concern that computers should be limited to specific programming goals or contexts and identified potential risks to social development from the integration of technology, similar to the concerns that were identified in the early literature in this area (e.g., Barnes & Hill, 1983; Kaden, 1990; Zajonc, 1984). These concerns were seen as especially salient for the youngest children at their centers. First, children were perceived to have less time to interact with peers, observe peer models, and engage in social problem solving during these critical early years. Second, there was a concern that young children would be engaged with an inanimate object rather than with their peers. Clearly, concern about the potential social impact of computers is an ongoing issue in the literature and an important one for these educators, with both positive and negative outcomes being identified (Attewell, Suazo-Garcia, & Battle, 2003; Healy, 1998). Interestingly, educators only targeted social concerns for the younger children at the centers (children under 3). Among the older children (4- and 5-year-olds), computers were perceived as promoting cooperative activity and also providing an outlet for individual quiet time. The educators highlighted modifications to the classroom setting that could maximize social interaction when using computers, such as providing multiple chairs around the computer and providing access for more than one child on the computer at any given time. Modifications such as these could be used to encourage peer interaction while using the computer and reduce educators concerns about isolation (Willoughby, Wood, Leacy, & Wells, 2001). Early exposure to computer technology was perceived as providing the 290
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Integration of Computer Technology fundamental skills that would prepare the children for school and for future use of computers. In addition, having computers available in the centers was perceived as [leveling] out the playing field for those who don t have computers at home, and hence as remedying some of the potential effects of the digital divide. Early childhood education centers, then, may be in the unique position to offer children fundamental learning opportunities that are not available at home. For younger children, computers were perceived as physically challenging because of immature motor skills. Existing literature also highlights the motoric, cognitive, and spatial challenges for novice computer users inherent in different input devices (Scaife & Bond, 1991; Thomas & Milan, 1987; Wood, Willoughby, Schmidt, Porter, Specht, & Gilbert, 2004). In some cases the physical requirements involved with more demanding devices such as the mouse can be reduced by using alternative less demanding devices (e.g., Thomas & Milan, 1987; Wood et al., 2004). These alternative devices, however, entail additional expenses which may strain or exceed available resources. With respect to achieving educational goals, computers were seen as offering variety to the curriculum as well as being an available resource for information. Specific advantages for children included the motivational appeal of the computer; its speed, color, and dynamic presentation; opportunity for individualized instruction and independent learning; and the ability to do something and see an immediate effect. Together, these qualities indicate the richness of computer technology and its unique potential to enhance the instructional environment. A number of limitations and barriers to the integration of computer technology in the classroom were identified. Concerns included problems with managing children s access to the computers as well as training and technical/financial issues. Specifically, educators highlighted challenges in moving and supervising children in order to access computers which were restricted to one location within the center, thus making their use impractical. In addition, children argued over their time on the computers; some children seemed consumed by them. Thus there were definite concerns about maintaining a balance or setting limits on computer time. There also were worries about the computer becoming a babysitter, like the television. Anticipating management issues related to access, turn-taking, and supervision requirements would be an essential requirement to the successful integration of computer technology. Limited resources, both in the structure of the center (i.e., electrical outlets) and in the number of computers available, yielded additional concerns. Consistent with previous research (Wood, Willoughby, & Specht, 1998), access to hardware, software, and funding to support ongoing renewal 291
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Julie Mueller, Eileen Wood, and Teena Willoughby was felt to be a distinct disadvantage for integrating computers in the classroom. Supporting computer technology in the ECE environment may be a particular challenge because these programs are not government funded, networked, or organized through a central administration unit. Hence each center is isolated, increasing the pressures on individual early childhood educators. Consistent with previous research (e.g., Specht et al., 2002), these educators perceived that lack of training and comfort with technology, coupled with limited technological support resources, may have important implications for the selection of appropriate hardware and software for the children they supervise. Specifically, there was limited support (either external or internal to the center) to assist in the selection of appropriate software, or to facilitate the selection, maintenance, and trouble-shooting of computers; nor were there resources for consultation regarding the integration of technology in their classrooms. The absence of external resources necessitates that ECE educators themselves select, acquire, and implement technology. ECE educators must be familiar with the technology to the extent that they can facilitate its implementation with their young students, as well as manage basic issues related to selection and use of appropriate hardware and software (e.g., Clements, 1995; Samaras, 1996). In summary, early childhood educators have the motivation, the interest, and the desire to introduce and use computer technology in their centers. They perceive support for the integration of computers from the parents of the children they supervise. The caveats, however, are that the computer technology must be age-appropriate to the learner, reflect the skills promoted through ECE environments, allow for ease of use without compromising safety and supervision of children, and be accompanied by sufficient training and support for the educator. There is limited research that examines the impact of integrating computer technology from the perspective of early childhood educators (Specht et al., 2002; Tsitouridou & Vryzas, 2003; Wood et al., 2002). Because these educators may serve a pivotal role in introducing children to computer technology, it is critical that we understand their perspective, concerns, and needs. Further, it is important that researchers in the area of early childhood education continue to investigate the integration of computers in order to provide answers to the concerns and provide explicit examples of the opportunities that computer integration can offer for very young learners. In summary, educators at all levels experience challenges and supports in the integration of computer technology in their classrooms. The onus is on researchers, educators, and schools to find ways to make technology available, accessible, and effective so that students have the best opportunity for learning in this digital world. 292
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Integration of Computer Technology Acknowledgments Support for this research was provided by a grant to Eileen Wood and Teena Willoughby from the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. References
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