By Michael Hilkemeijer
There are many ways for early childhood practitioners to use technology in preschool activities today. Amongst the first of these technologies is the ongoing use of computers in early childhood education. You may feel that just because you only have one computer that it is not possible to effectively make an impact on child learning through the process of integration.
This barrier that you have can never be further from the truth than it is now.
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The productive process of digital technology integration can be started by a strong minded ECE principal or preschool teacher with one single programmable toy, or one digital camera or an ordinary computer.
It would also be wrong to just assume that the process of integrating technology in the preschool classroom requires a high budget. What it does require is:
- A strong will;
- A critical approach to your own pedagogical experiences;
- Perception of modern knowledge about the role of ECE;
- The need to innovate;
- Reverence of children and their parents;
- Curiosity and the itch to explore the potential of ICT in early childhood education.
The importance of ICT in early childhood education can never be understated or overestimated and the importance of planning in early childhood education in relation to integrating technology represents your first stepping stone in maximising that one computer in your preschool learning environment.
In my last article, I addressed the benefits of computers in early childhood education and the levels of skill differentiation of it. Today, I am going to explore how to use technology in preschool classrooms in relation to what you can do with just one computer but first, let us look at this more closely in terms of the various categories of technology in early childhood education.
Categories of ICT
When looking into much of the literature research relating to ICT in education, this particular concept is sometimes misinterpreted as ‘computer’ or ‘learning with computer’. So when integrating technology in the preschool classroom it would be a mistake to simply encourage and emphasise the learning of computer skills. Additionally, software on desktop computers still represents the sole provision in some preschool learning environments and in many cases the technological equipment can act as a barrier to developing ICT capability across the early childhood education curriculum.
The whole spectrum of ICT in preschool, for example, would consist of the following according to UNESCO (2010, p. 56):
- Hardware – computer (different forms and sizes); standard input and output; interactive input and output; special input and output; digital picture; digital and programmable toys; networking and communication.
- Software – multipurpose (generic); dedicated (subject-specific); supporting SEN; for pd for early childhood educators; for planning, documenting and assessing; for administration; system.
Viewpoint of purpose:
- Tools of observing and discovering;
- Tools for constructing;
- Tools for recording;
- Tools for communication;
- Tools for role playing;
- Tools for SEN.
Today, it can be a fairly typical scenario for many early childhood teachers just to have at least one computer in their teaching and learning environment. However, if this scenario sound familiar to you then you need to remember the simple fact that integrating technology in the preschool classroom is not about having the latest and greatest technological development, but to use the available technology in the classroom.
Yet, this remains a big problem to encourage teachers to actually use the available technology in the classroom. This is due partly to the lack of staff training and awareness of what is possible topped with the over-quoted excuse of lack of computers.
This lack of awareness not only is to do with what software is available and how to use it, but also to more fundamental issues such as how to make the best use of a single computer.
So the following will demonstrate to you teaching strategies in early childhood education that will enable you to learn how to use technology in preschool classrooms today.
Each of the strategies that follow are relevant and can be adapted to the early learning environment.
Grouping Children with computers
Computers as a type of ICT tool has a natural tendency to bring young children together. Even one computer can be used effectively to group children together. A rota can be used in these situations to ensure that each pair of children in the group has the opportunity to work on the task shortly after the briefing and demonstration.
The pairing needs to take into account the following factors:
- Differences in ICT capability;
- The personalities of the children;
- The nature of the task;
- Sex (single sex pairs generally cooperate more successfully).
Deciding whether to have a rota system will be an important planning process to make. Children who are working on the computer will be unable to participate in whole-class activities when these coincide with their allocated time slot. At times, you may feel justified in allowing the computer rota to override other classroom activities to ensure that a project is completed within a particular timescale.
If you are faced with just using one computer in the classroom then it would be up to you to make a professional decision as to how or when your computer rota will take precedence over other classroom activities – is participation required by every child in every whole-class activity, or can a pair miss one during a week?
The way which you layout the classroom computer can reflect the way that the computer can be used. However, if you want to use the computer for whole class teaching then you do need to think about its location.
When positioning the computer you need to be aware not to place it in a spot where the screen will reflect the sunlight. This is an important health and safety issue to remember. You cannot have children strain their eyes by looking at the screen in this way.
If you have set the computer up in a suitable location you also need to consider where you will sit when you are using the computer in the class. A good tip is to never work for more than a few seconds with your back to the class.
To add to this, the way in which the classroom is organised can make a considerable difference to the potential for ICT capability. If access to the computer is difficult, irregular or conditional on the completion of other activities, then the use of the computer is seen as something special and this creates a barrier to enabling a ICT capable classroom.
It is essential that computers are placed in a classroom so as to maximise the opportunities for curriculum activity. And a final point, if the activities are well planned, good ICT work can be achieved with one or two computers per class.
Organising Learning with one computer
Time and access to the computer is a key issue here and so it is important that you maximise the ‘hands-on’ time as much as possible. Here are some teaching strategies that you can adapt.
- Do not become involved with problems concerning the computer while dealing with thirty other children as it is not an effective use of your time and this could lead to disruption;
- Send two of the most able children in the class to begin work on the computer. One will complete the task and drive the mouse, whilst the other one helps by contributing knowledge and ideas;
- When the child driving the mouse completes their work, they save or print their work and then moves aside.
Another approach to this would be to signal changeovers regularly during a lesson to ensure the pairs get equal access to the keyboard. This is very helpful if you are using an approach to teaching new skills where the activity has be ‘chunked’ into sub-tasks. The children can alternate when the sub-task is completed. However, if it is more continuous, you would need to announce when the changeover should occur. Children are used to working cooperatively may only need to be reminded to change roles regularly during the lesson. Through all this process it would be important that you continue to monitor the children’s use of the computer to ensure that pairs are sharing equally.
Data-Handling in Numeracy learning
A sole computer can be used to provide meaningful data-handling activities for the whole class. With the children gathered around the carpet, tell them that you want to find out as much interesting information about them as you can and record these ideas on the board. List suggestions might include name, hair colour, eye colour, favourite pet and so on. A DAP data-handling package that can be used is Pick-a-Picture (published by BlackCat Educational Software). This uses a set of pre-written templates that allow you to do computer-based data-handling activities very easily.
You can use one of the children as an example to demonstrate how to enter information onto the computer by clicking on each heading and selecting the appropriate option.
The computer acts as the foundational hardware to much other digital technology in preschool activities. You can add a webcam to it to video young children in their activities, download digital images from cameras into software. Sometimes all you need is just one computer and to imagine the potential of it for learning with the context it will be taught.
A single computer can be integrated into early childhood learning activities alongside other kinds of activities. Educational software can be installed on them to further support learning. Additionally, non-working computers can be used to support role play. So there are a number of ways for you as the early childhood practitioner to be creative so that children begin to learn to use computers as tools for learning in their lives today.