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Well, good afternoon, everybody. My name is Michael Hilkemeijer from ICTE Solutions Australia, and it is my tremendous privilege and pleasure to have a Q&A session with a very renowned expert in digital technologies. Mister, doc, sorry, Professor Michael Dezuanni. Is that how you pronounce it?
- Yeah, that's good. That's fine.
- Awesome. Just to read a bit of your profile, Michael undertakes research about digital media literacies, and learning in home, school, and community contexts. He is the program leader for digital inclusion and participation for QUT's Digital Media Research Center, which produces world-leading research for a creative, inclusive, and fair digital media environment.
He's also Chief Investigator in the ARC Center of Excellence for the Digital Child, and has been a chief investigator on six ARC Linkage Projects with a focus on digital literacy and learning at school.
The use of digital games in the classroom, digital inclusion in regional and rural Australia, and in low-income families, and the use of screen content in formal and informal learning. Just to say the least, that is quite impressive, and I'm in absolute awe of you, Michael, to be speaking with you today, and I've been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time, and yeah, there's so much to discuss, but you have so limited time.
So I was wanting get a few things outta the way for anyone who's listening. If you would like to go to chat, you can click on any of those links that I've put in there for you to go visit my LinkedIn and Facebook group on technology in early childhood education.
There's also a link there for my free online course, How to Successfully Integrate Technology in Preschool Activities, which should give you the foundation that you need in order to really be able to start making an impact on child learning through digital technology today.
So without holding back any further, Michael, thank you for joining us today. In your view, why do you think iPads and other mobile technologies are becoming more prominent in early childhood learning centers today?
- Oh, thanks, Michael. And thanks so much for having me along. I feel kind of humbled by the introduction you gave me there. And I guess the long list of things you read out is just indicative of the amount of time I've been doing this for.
So to answer your question, I think the main reason that iPads are becoming more popular in early years centers is because they provide a low barrier to entry for younger children.
That's the main reason. So, you know, iPads have been with us now for, what, over 10 years, or at least close to 10 years, I think. And I think the really revolutionary sort of aspect of iPads was that they take away the need for having to use a keyboard. They take away the need for requiring a mouse. They don't have a file management system, which makes it super easy to work with content on them.
And most of the apps that are produced for iPads, particularly those that are for younger children, are really easy to understand and quite intuitive to use. So it's not just the device itself. It's the fact that the kinds of software that's produced for the devices makes it easier for younger children to use. And, you know, they can't lose things, really, as they can on a, on a laptop computer or desktop computer.
So that's sort of from a technological perspective, but I think from a cultural perspective or an educational perspective, I think there's just increasing awareness that even very young children are using digital technologies in their daily lives.
They are exposed to technology at a very young age, and so many educators are recognizing that we need to start to use those technologies in educational ways, and for learning at a young age, so that the use of them isn't just all about entertainment. There's nothing wrong with entertainment, but why not harness the opportunity to also have some learning happening at that age?
- How do you think this will impact child learning, and what will be the role of iPads, for example, be in the future of education?
- So I think, like with any technology, most of the research shows that it's not necessarily down to the technology.
It's down to the pedagogical techniques that are put into place. It's down to the ways in which educators create curriculum around the use of the technology. That's what really has the impact. At the end of the day, the technology is just a tool.
Of course, the iPad is a very powerful tool. It combines a media production studio, potentially, with a device for accessing information from, you know, many, many sources, of course. It provides access to video. It provides access to many apps, which are creative, and interesting, and engaging, and so on. So yes, it's a very sophisticated device, but at the end of the day, unless a teacher creates a learning experience around that device, nothing particularly interesting will happen educationally.
So I think that the iPad provides potential, but it doesn't necessarily transform education in and of itself, and I think that's really important to recognize. So I do get concerned where I see, you know, schools introducing iPad programs or other tablet device programs, and the use of the device tends to be either used as a reward, or is used just to send kids off to a particular app to use for half an hour.
And then they come back to just doing their standard classroom work, and that kind of represents downtime for the teacher in a way. You know, if iPads are going to enhance education, they have to be integral to the teacher's work, and they have to be integral to all of the complex planning and so on that goes into providing rich educational experiences for children.
- In what way does a child's use of the iPad in their home environment have on their ability to use them effectively in education?
- Well, there's no doubt that where we see devices available in the home, children become more comfortable with them, they are more confident with using them, and they therefore, you know, when they get to use them at school, they're advantaged in a way.
Now, the group that misses out, really, in that scenario is children living in low income families who either don't have access to the internet at all, or who might have limited access to the internet, or if they have access to the internet, they may not have regular access to a device of their own. So we know that for children in that lowest income bracket, about 10% of them do not have internet access.
And that represents actually quite a significant number of children in Australia. And so those children are really missing out. And so when, if they then go to school, and they're given access to an iPad at school, that's terrific.
At least they get that access when they get to school, but they will be behind their peers, even at that point. It's probably not such an issue for iPads, because iPads are at least relatively intuitive and pretty easy to get going with.
But where we see a real problem is for children in those low income brackets who never get to use a laptop or desktop computer during their time at home. And then when they get to school, if there's an iPad program, they may never see a laptop or desktop computer until they get to high school, or even upper high school in some cases.
So for some of those children and young people, they're really missing out on developing some fundamental computer skills that they're going to need to be successful in the upper secondary school, and certainly if they go into tertiary education or when they come to try and get a job.
- Well, as you said just then, like the children who would be disadvantaged would be those who are low income. And that kind of, you know, brings me to my next question. For those preschools that do lie within low socioeconomic areas, how can educators better prepare those who are disadvantaged to use digital technologies such as iPads?
- Well, I mean, I think the only answer in a way is that you do provide the experience at school so that if they're not getting it at home, they do at least get it in that early year setting, or in the lower year levels.
One of the obstacles there is that there is still very definitely an attitude, particularly for children who are in kindergarten or preschool settings, that they should be protected from technology or that technology should be left for home use, and that when they come to kindergarten, that they're doing more natural, non-technological things. We definitely see that attitude from both educators themselves and from parents, often.
But I do think it's an issue, because as we say, if, particularly if you're a kindergarten or preschool space in a low socioeconomic area, you may then be disadvantaging your children. We see a lot of emphasis, for instance, placed on literacy development.
And we know that preschool educators pay attention to the early years learning framework, for instance. And we know they do that because they want their children to, all children to be going into the first years of schooling with the best possible start.
But we probably need to be thinking about technology that way, too, so that if we think about, you know, kindergarten as a kind of protected, non-technological space, we're trading that off against that opportunity to start to learn some of those important early digital literacy skills.
- One way in which I see being able to provide these children with assistance is through the use of unwanted iPads or other digital technologies in the community. In what other ways do you think the community can help close the digital divide in these areas?
- So I do think that repurposing devices, and including laptop computers and desktop computers is one very definite way that access can be provided where access didn't exist before.
And we see some examples around the country of some very successful recycling schemes, where computers are donated to low income families and so on. And that's absolutely a very positive thing to do, and a very productive thing to do. It's not without issue, because recycled computers tend to be by nature out of date computers.
And we know that there's a kind of built-in redundancy with technology, so that, you know, if the machine or the device that's being donated is already five or six years old, it's probably got only a couple of years' worth of use left in it before it can no longer run the latest apps and so on. So we need to keep that in mind, that it's not a silver bullet. There remains issues with it, but it's a positive step.
The other things that we see happening in small pockets, which would be great to see a lot more of, one is addressing data poverty. So we see some schemes where people are able to donate their excess data to low income families.
Now, that often requires the cooperation of a telco who's willing for that to happen. And we do see some instances where that's been made possible, but it's still quite rare. But, so what I mean by that is, you know, if you've got a plan where you've got access to, you know, tens of gigabytes of data that you're not using, you can then donate that onto to others who might be able to use that data.
The other solution, again, which is more at the sort of telco level, is about providing low cost connections for families. We saw some of this happen during the height of the impacts of COVID.
So some of the telcos, including Telstra, provided very low cost solutions for low income families during the pandemic. So, you know, allowing families to connect at a fraction of the price that it would usually cost. So that's, again, a definite solution.
It needs to be said, too, that Australia is actually quite expensive by international comparison when it comes to both broadband data connections and mobile phone connections. You know, you can travel internationally, and you can get unlimited data at a very high speed on your phone for a very low cost in many parts of the world. So in a sense, our current policy in economic settings are a problem in relation to that.
And so maybe there needs to be some thinking about that, also, at the government level. But yeah, so there's some of the other solutions. I mean, obviously we need to address how we get people access to both a connection and a device.
And then I suppose the third piece of the puzzle is that even if you give people access, they may not have the confidence or the skill to effectively use devices. And so we do need to think about ways that we can provide to fill in those gaps and to provide people with some additional training to help them catch up if it's possible.
- In relation to fine motor skill development. this is quite significant in the early years. How central is the use of digital technology, such as the iPad and other tablet computers in enabling young children to practice these in the early learning environment?
- So I preface my comments by saying that I'm not an expert in fine motor skill development. And so I'm sure that there would be arguments around this from people who focus on this area that might be different to mine.
But so for a start, I think it's important to note that one of the main debates to be had here is around children's pencil skills, and their ability to use a pencil or a pen to write, and the fine motor skills that need to be developed around those pencil skills.
And that's definitely a debate within literacy research in relation to digital technologies. So there is an anxiety that if children are spending more time on digital devices, that they don't spend time developing their fine motor skills through picking up a pen, or a pencil, or a coloring pen, or even a paint brush.
So I think one of the answers to that is to say that nobody's suggesting that just because you bring tablet computers into the classroom that that's the only thing that they do, that absolutely children should still be developing pencil skills and developing those fine motor skills. Some of the best examples I've seen of the use of iPads have been where, for younger children, have been where children have created things non-digitally using pencils and and pens, or using paints and paint brushes.
And then they use the iPad to take a photograph of what they've created, and then they add additional layers to their creation, either through additional painting digitally or through recording a voiceover commentary about what they painted, and so on, right?
So the best sort of pedagogy I think is very much a blended digital and non-digital pedagogy, where children are developing those fine motor skills, non-digitally. Of course, if you're using a stylus or something like that on a touch pad, then you will, in addition, be developing fine motor skills that way.
To come at it from the other angle, I don't know that you could argue that children develop sort of very specific fine motor skills just by tapping and swiping. I mean, they learn to use an interactive interface that way, and certainly there's a skill in tapping and swiping and pinching, and so on, on a screen, but I've not seen research that suggests that that necessarily develops what we traditionally think about as fine motor skills.
- Well, you've kind of answered my next question, was whether or not you could provide examples in that regard. So how does the use of tablet computers then compare to other forms of digital technology that may also facilitate fine motor development? You might have already answered that already, so-
- Well, so do you mean comparing the use of iPads to other digital technologies, like... So, I mean, there are many technologies for young children now that are digital, but also physical, right? So if we start to talk about robotics, for instance, and we think about the ways in which children may start to learn basic coding and so on using things like, what are they called, Bee Bots, and that kind of thing. There are ways that you can now program LEGO, for instance.
And so you can develop fine motor skills by putting the LEGO together in the first place, and have that very physical interaction. But then also, because the LEGO has a motor in it and a computer in it, you can go ahead and program the LEGO to, you know, to do whatever you want it to do. So I guess they would be some other examples. There are some emerging examples that are super interesting, I think, to think about.
So we start to think about VR technologies, and, you know, painting within VR spaces and so on, then I think often that involves whole body movement. I'm not sure if the tech... I'm not sure if the technology in VR is sophisticated enough yet to be getting down to the kind of pencil movement layer of things, but certainly we've seen kind of paint programs and so on within VR, where you're making big movements and so on, and creating really beautiful artworks that way.
So, yeah, I mean, obviously any technology that has a physical aspect to it will in some way be developing either fine motor skills or other physiological affordances that we all need as human beings.
- One of the main concerns, I think, that is out there in relation to the use of iPads in early childhood learning environments is of course children's posture, and like when they all sit down in a circle, and the mobility of the tablet computers like iPads make it easy to take anywhere. However, there are concerns about children's posture, like when they are sitting in a circle with the iPad. In what way can early childhood educators work with young children that addresses much of this concern about posture in children?
- So I think within an educational space, one of the really important things to be thinking about is that the iPad is a mobile device. It's not a device that needs to be used on a tabletop, necessarily.
So I have seen some instances in early years spaces where they've created the technology corner, right? So, you know, you would know that kindergarten spaces are often set up in zones, and children can sometimes just move freely between those zones, depending on what is happening at a particular time of day.
But if you have this sort of technology zone in the back corner, and the iPads are all lying flat on the table, and then the children have to go and sit in their seats and kind of hunch over the iPads to use them, or if, as you say, alternatively, they're all sort of sitting in a circle and looking down at the iPads like that, then I'm sure that that does have some problematic physiological consequences for children, particularly if they do it for an extended period of time.
So one of the things I would really encourage is that iPads are seen as being mobile devices, and that they are used in different parts of the center, and that they're used for different purposes throughout the day. So I think we all forget sometimes that iPads are actually wonderful recording devices, and that actually they've got a, very often have a very powerful camera on them.
And you can use that camera to capture all sorts of things in an environment. And then you can use those photographs for a purpose, for learning, and creativity, and literacy development and so on. So I know one kindergarten I worked with, they had a real worry that if they let the children carry the iPads around that they would get damaged or dropped or whatever the case is.
And it wasn't until they got really robust covers for the iPads that they were happy for the children to move around with them. But once they allowed that to happen, it really did open up a lot of possibilities for the use of the iPads.
I do think we need to teach children, just as we need to teach children about screen time as a broad concept, and not spending too much time on screens, we need to teach children about posture, and how to sit with the device.
Maybe we can set up furniture and zones in a way that is more conducive to good posture. At the end of the day, young children kind of do flop all over the place. They do lie where they want to lie, and so, you know, there's only so far you can push that disciplining of how they use their bodies, I think.
But I think the key thing is that educators are on the lookout for those kids who are just sitting there for ages, not moving, in one position, you know, hunched over. Same goes for home, by the way, you know, if you might-
- Yeah. Yeah.
- Moving on to another topic now, one of the key things I've found out about your research is how you discussed the possibility of, well, what you would call digital storytelling with the use of iPads. And in a way, can iPads be used, in which way can iPads be used in the early learning environment to facilitate digital storytelling?
- So I think that this relates very closely to a discussion about what literacy is, and how literacy can be most effectively developed using a technology like the iPad. So in a study that we conducted, one of our key findings was that we were quite critical of the kind of finger tracing, letter recognition apps for literacy development.
So, you know, if you go onto the Apple Store or the Google Play Store, there are literally dozens of these literacy apps that are just really alphabetic recognition. So kids get rewarded for tracing their finger over the A, and, you know, if you do it correctly, there's a lovely sound, and, you know, we see stars and rainbows or whatever the case might be.
And, look, I think letter recognition apps and those basic sorts of phonics apps have their place, but that's not really the best or most effective way to use iPads for literacy development.
We know that literacy is well developed when children are having rich conversations, where they're learning to use language in new and interesting ways, when they're having conversations with teachers and other students and so on. And so I would argue that digital storytelling is a really wonderful way to provide those kinds of opportunities.
So, now digital storytelling can be defined quite strictly as being a particular sort of thing. And certainly there have been movements around digital storytelling where the product has to look a particular way. That's not really the version of digital storytelling I'm talking about. I'm talking about any instance where you combine images, writing, sound, and effects to tell a story, and that story may be fictional, or it might be non-fiction.
So it might be a story of what is happening out on the playground today. So it might actually be like a reporting type story. And so you ask the children to take the iPads outside and take four photographs that provide a sense of the story of the playground. And then they bring those photographs back into inside, and they sit with the iPad, they get introduced to an app, maybe it's an app like Book Creator, and they import those photographs into the app.
And then they record themselves talking about the photographs, or they get up in front of the group, or with a partner, and they explain what their photographs mean. To me, that's a form of digital storytelling. And it's absolutely a way that you can develop literacy in a sophisticated and interesting way using an iPad. So in research that we did, we did some really interesting things with this.
So one example was we got the children to redesign their kindergarten playground. So they went outside and took a photograph of the playground.
And then when they came back inside, using an app where you could draw over the top of the photograph, they had to draw new things on top of the photograph to represent what they would like to see in the playground.
So, you know, children drew swings, or slippery slides, or, you know, I remember one young girl drew a fairy garden, because she wanted the fairy garden to be part of the kindergarten spice. And we had those children then record their voice, explaining what they had designed. To me, that's quite sophisticated literacy development for three and four year olds, right?
- Absolutely. Yeah.
- Yeah. So that's what I mean by digital storytelling using iPads.
- Yeah, I recall, actually, in your research I was just going through the other day, that story about the playground, and the different apps they use, and what the teachers did in that regard. Of the pedagogies that could be used, or is used with, in relation to iPads in the learning environment, is constructivist pedagogies. And they are very closely connected. Why are the use of constructivist pedagogies so important in the use of iPad, though, in the early learning environment?
- Yeah, well, I mean, at the end of the day, I guess I would... You know, we can talk about this in a very straightforward way, right? So you can have a pedagogy which is all about transmission, and all about trying to teach from a central point of just handing over knowledge and having children replicate knowledge that is predetermined, or you can help children to have experiences where they are constructing knowledge for themselves.
And of course, in a very scaffolded way, and in ways that lead them to new and more sophisticated knowledge. But, you know, I've always been more an educator that's preferred constructivist learning rather than the transmission model of learning. And the reason for that is because I do think it allows educators to tap into children's passions and interests.
It allows educators to connect children's prior knowledge to new knowledge in sophisticated, and meaningful, and authentic ways that are much more difficult to achieve with the transmission model of education. And so this comes back to what I was indicating earlier, I think, about the sort of finger tracing apps. In a way, the finger tracing model is a form of transmission.
It's, you know, here's the knowledge, do these tasks, and you will get the knowledge, and that's kind of it, right? Whereas if you use the iPad in that richer way, and use it in ways that it was intended as a multimedia production device, then you are going to be constructing knowledge in much more meaningful and fulfilling ways for the children, I think.
- Yeah. How does the use of these pedagogies then support the use of iPads, then, for learning? You might have already answered that already.
- Well, I mean, I think it, and this probably comes back to a debate about what is learning, you know? Is learning ticking off a sequence of skills development over time, or is learning all about helping children to discover their curiosity, and helping them to pursue their passions and interests, and helping them to, introducing them to new ideas and to new experiences that they may not have had before?
So to me, you know, that's a much richer experience of education, certainly for children who are meant to be primarily undertaking play-based learning in early years centers. I think that's a much more appropriate pedagogy anyway. There is an argument, there's a research job, fellow called Mitch Resnik who's at MIT. I'm not sure if you've ever heard of-
- Sounds familiar. Yeah.
- Yeah. He's the guy who invented the Scratch software that gets used in lots of schools to teach kids programming. And he wrote a book called "Lifelong Kindergarten." And his argument is that at MIT, which is of course widely recognized as being probably the second most important university in the world, after Harvard.
His argument is that in his courses, at least, the pedagogy they use is very much like kindergarten pedagogy, that they try to get students to forget what they learned in high school, to forget about learning facts, and figures, and rote learning, and so on. T
o forget about, you know, ticking off the boxes of attainment, and to go back to developing that curiosity, and that passion, and that interest, and very much so creating that problem-based, project-based model of teaching and learning.
So, you know, his book's a great one to read in terms of his philosophy around that. But it also just reminds me that, you know, most of the great breakthroughs that we have in society are all about, you know, experimentation, and trial and error, and just curious people trying things out. So it's not to say that you don't have to develop a baseline of knowledge. Of course you do.
And of course we want kindergarten children to develop a baseline of knowledge as well. But we can either choose to do that in an engaging, fun, constructivist way, or we can choose to do it in this more, I don't know, more robotic, linear way, which is to me a lot less exciting.
- How can early childhood educators use the curriculum to further integrate iPads and their apps into learning?
- So I think this is a really good question in terms of, should we think about the iPads as a thing that gets done that is kind of technology time, or do we think about integrating the use of technologies across a range of experiences when it happens to be sort of logical and interesting to do that?
And I prefer the second version of that. I think that it's much better to have the iPads... In a kindergarten space, it's much better to have the iPads kind of available, and to teach the children a certain set of skills, but then to say to them, you know, if we're doing painting today, if you want to go and grab an iPad, and take a couple of photographs, and do something new with your photograph and your painting, then do that. You know, if you want to take the iPad outside and record the bird song or something like that, and bring it back inside and share it with the rest of the class, then do that.
So I'm much more in favor of the technology just kind of being available to enhance whatever else is going on, rather than it being hived off as a separate activity. There may be times when it's very appropriate to say, okay, now we are all doing digital storytelling, because we want to learn the skills of taking photographs, and importing photographs, and manipulating the photographs. So you teach the skill-
- A bit more intentional sort of teaching. Yeah.
- Yeah, so there are moments of intentionality there, but once you get past that, I think opening it up to that broad integration, which also means, by the way, that some children might choose not to do that much with the iPads.
And that's fine, too. One of the most interesting findings from one of our projects in kindergartens was that some children just didn't care about the iPads, and didn't actually want to use them. And that was fine. You know, they, they were much, they wanted to go off and play with the Play-Doh, or play in the corner where all the trucks were.
And the interesting thing about that is that if you just make the iPads sort of having the... If you give them the same status as everything else in the environment, then they're no longer necessarily a special thing, or something that has to have its own attraction. It just becomes another tool, or another experience. So I quite like that. I think that that's important, too.
- Recently, you might know that the Australian curriculum made changes to what was once the ICT capability learning continuum, is now the digital literacy learning continuum, and there are some similarities in that area. How can iPads be used to develop digital literacy in the early learning environment?
- So I think it comes down to how digital literacy is defined as different kinds of knowledge in those early years. So on one level, at that stage, digital literacy will be just simple skills development. So it will be about using technology to achieve something. Now, to me, as I've been saying, that doesn't need to be an exotic thing that happens, right? If you're involving iPads in everything else you're doing, or if they're just regularly available, then children will learn to use the technology to do things. It will just be something that happens.
But if you start to look at other aspects of that curriculum, and I haven't actually looked at the most recent version of the Australian curriculum in that strand that you're talking about, so I'm making some assumptions here, but if, for instance, you know, one of the things is that you are starting to teach sort of an early version of programming, say, then it might be that you find an app that does require children to start to make some of those computational choices to start to learn an early version of programming, or maybe you are using the Bee Bots to do that instead, or a combination of the two.
But I also think that the more creative stuff that I've just been mentioning is also very much about digital literacy development, because at the end of the day, you develop digital literacy for a purpose. You are either trying to tell a story, or you're trying to communicate, or you're trying to make a machine do something that it wouldn't do if you didn't know how to achieve that.
They're the sort of building blocks of digital literacy, really. The other component, which is really important, and as I understand, this may have been introduced into the new curriculum, is starting to develop a critical awareness of digital technology.
So starting to introduce some of the beginnings of understanding online safety, that sort of digital citizenship stuff around having a balance of technology, and technology in your life. So screen time and not screen time, and even starting to ask some critical questions about why certain types of media exist, for instance.
So even with quite young children, you can start to introduce the idea of advertising, and, you know, why is this piece of media trying to persuade me? Or if we're talking about a, I don't know, a show like "Bluey," for instance, you can talk about why is the character of Bluey created the way that they're created? What is it about their personality that you like, or do you have a favorite member of that family, or is this the only way families can be represented in the media, and that kind of thing? So for me, digital literacy is not just about the skill and the intentional use of the technology. It's also about this sort of critically reflective component as well.
- Another thing I've found about in your research was about digital media literacy and conceptual understanding. I read in your research something that truly, that just really just truly resonated with me quite a bit. You discussed the importance of conceptual understanding when using iPads in early childhood education for the development of digital media literacy. Conceptual understanding underpins the learning of techniques, and enables the transfer of learning. So what examples can you provide of children's understanding of concepts with the use of iPads in early childhood, and how was the learning transferred to other ICT situations?
- Hmm. So this does build a little bit on what I was just saying, about starting to think critically about the use of media and technology and so on, but that conceptual kind of framework that I'm referring to there is one that's been established within media education and media literacy education. It actually underpins another part of the curriculum, which is just as important, I think, as the digital literacy's curriculum, which is the media arts strand of the Australian curriculum.
So media arts, there isn't really a version for kindergarten, but there's certainly a version written from foundation through to year 10. And that media arts curriculum is all about storytelling with images, sound, and text, but it's a little bit hidden, but it's actually underpinned by six key concepts.
And that's where this conceptual understanding comes from. So those concepts are media representations, audiences, technologies, institutions, relationships, and media languages. So to give you an idea, media languages is actually referring to what we refer to as the codes and conventions of media and communication. And an example of that is shot size, right? So you can take a close up of someone, or you can take a medium shot, or a long shot. And that has a different effect in terms of communicating to the audience.
Now, I saw a really lovely version of this being taught in a kindergarten, where a teacher was teaching children about photography, and she got the children to focus on a tree in the playground, and she asked them to go up to the tree, and touch it, and feel it, and hug it, and to feel its bark, and to sort of interact with the tree in a very physical way.
And then she said, now I want you to take a photograph, really close up, of the bark of the tree. And so the kids did that. And then she got them to move back about, I don't know, you know, two, three meters, and take another photograph of the tree, the same tree. And then she got them to move back seven or eight meters and take another photograph of the tree. And then they had a conversation about what the tree was communicating in these different photographs.
And the kids were saying, well, you know, the really close up one is very much like, you know, when we touched it, you know, I can almost feel it if it's that close up. If I'm in the long shot, I can see how the tree is part of the playground, and where it's kind of located in the playground. And you know, how far away it is from the other playground stuff, and that kinda thing.
So that is an example of developing conceptual understanding about how media languages, in this case, shots can change how meaning is created. You know, if we take a, a photograph of something from a low angle, it makes it look bigger. If we take it from a high angle, it makes it look smaller. They're actually things that you can teach four year olds, and they love it.
I recall an example where the teacher had taught all of this stuff, and then the children were allowed to take these iPads home overnight with them. And one of the children came back with all of these photographs that she'd taken of closeups, medium shots, and long shots. And she was super excited to share this with her teacher, because she was able to explain how these different shots of these different things in her house meant different things, and they were communicating different things about her house. That's pretty powerful thinking for a four or five-year-old to be having, right?
- Yeah, so that's what I mean by conceptual understanding. And so it's going beyond just thinking in terms of, okay, I've got a piece of technology, and I can take a photograph. It's going to that, or it's even going past I can take a photograph to tell a story, because I can put these photographs together. It's actually starting to understand that you can construct meaning with photographs, and, you know, maybe four-year-olds don't quite... They're not able to necessarily articulate it in exactly those words, but they start to, you know, develop this disposition towards thinking about media in a certain way. And that's the important thing.
- Yeah. I agree. In the future, there's bound to be challenges for teachers. So I've found also, in your research, you discussed the challenges of time for teachers in relation to using iPads one on one with children. You mentioned that it simply was not possible for them to be available to the children in a play-based environment. So in what ways can you suggest for teachers to overcome this hurdle?
- So time is a massive factor for all educators. We know that. So all the research shows that teachers would love to be doing more creative and interesting things with kids, but they feel this pressure to have to cover, you know, cover the curriculum. So either there's a set curriculum that they have to teach, and they've gotta cover all of that. Or if that doesn't exist, there's certainly a set of understandings that, you know, have to be achieved by the teachers.
And these are often very focused on literacy and numeracy, maybe science. And then a lot of the rest of the curriculum, like the creative stuff and the arts, or even digital technologies and STEM education sometimes is kind of good stuff to do if you can find the time to do it. So it is the big issue, and it's even a big issue in kindergartens, where you would think that things might be a bit freer and easier.
You know, educators in those spaces still have a lot of things they've gotta tick off. So there's no easy answer to it, except I think that if in professional development, you can help teachers to understand that you can do a lot with technology without much effort if you just accept that the technology can be in addition to what's happening, or a compliment to what's already happening. It doesn't have to be a whole new thing in and of itself.
So you can take small steps just by introducing an iPad into an art class, and, you know, learning how to use one app to enable that to happen in a more productive way. So I think it's about just helping teachers to understand that a small amount of effort can actually make a big difference. It's not... What happens sometimes, and I've seen this frequently, is that sometimes teachers have an experience of technology where they put in a bigger amount of effort for a small output, you know.
So they, they say, right, okay, this term, I'm going to do that thing with that technology, and I'm really gonna learn how to do it. And then they do it, and actually the outcome is not that great.
So they don't ever do it again, right? The beauty of iPads in a way is that because they're a low barrier to entry, there are fewer things that can go wrong, for one thing.
So it's less likely that you'll put that effort in without the outcome, but also, if you are happy to accept that the outcome can be a pretty mundane or straightforward thing. It doesn't need to be a thing with all the bells and whistles, and just take it step by step and build up slowly, that's the best way to do it, I think.
- What other challenges do you see educators face with iPads, and what other strategies might you think will help them?
- Sorry, can you just repeat that question?
- Sure. What other challenges do you see educators face in relation to iPads, and how do you think they might be able to get over that? that there is very much an attitude that children don't need to start using technology until they're in, you know, year two or three or something like that.
I think that there's plenty of evidence to show that it's important to start developing digital literacy skills from a very young age. And as we were saying earlier, particularly in terms of inclusion for children who might otherwise miss out at home, it's important that they get that experience, even in an early years setting. So I think that is a barrier and a challenge that we need to address, and that early years educators need to consider.
I think that there is a cost factor. You know, it's not necessarily inexpensive to buy a set of iPads, and to set them up, and to have the cost of downloading apps and all of that sort of thing. There is a little bit of a challenge around how you manage the iPads, how you make sure they're updated, you know, how you have the latest version of a particular app, and that kind of thing.
There is, one of the challenges that comes up with iPads is that because they are intended to be individual devices, if you are using them in a shared sort of scenario, then you do come up against things that become problematic.
So if, you know, in like some kindergartens have a morning session and an afternoon session. So if a child has been using a particular app in the morning on a particular iPad, you know, you've either gotta save everything off, or you've gotta find a way to ensure that when the child in the afternoon session comes along, they start fresh with the app with their own ideas, and that they don't interfere with the work that's already on the app, on the iPad and on that particular app.
So there are some organizational and logistical things like that that get in the way, I think, as well. And that's another barrier, and it does take time for teachers to sort through some of that.
- What are some apps that educators can integrate throughout the early learning curriculum?
- So I'm not a big fan of recommending apps, because they change pretty frequently. And as I've sort of been arguing, I think it's as much about the pedagogy around the app as it is the specific app, but having said all of that, there are some examples of apps that invite creativity and invite that interactivity that other apps don't. So Book Creator is a good example of that. It's been used in primary schools a lot.
I'm not sure the extent to which it's used in early years settings, but Book Creator literally allows you to create a digital book. And you open up a page, and you've got a blank slate, and you can import a photograph. You can type some text. You can hit the record button and record your voice, and then it comes up as a button that you can press to rehear your voice. And you can just keep going page after page, so you can actually create like quite a large book if you want to. Most of the time in an early year setting, you would end up with just two or three pages per project.
Now, you can actually export those digital books as an EPUB that can then be used on a Kindle or using some sort of reader on a device. Or you can just keep it in its raw state on the iPad and just share it in that state as well. Or, you know, you can print off a PDF version, but obviously it's not interactive then. But so Book Creator's a good one.
Another one would be Draw and Tell. So Draw and Tell is literally where you draw, and you can record your voice at the same time. So children can do all sorts of things with this. They can just draw a picture and explain why they're drawing it the way they're drawing it.
Or they can tell a story about what they're drawing as they're drawing it, or they can take a photograph, and then draw something over the top of the photograph, and record an explanation about why they're drawing what they're drawing. So that's really creative and interactive, and is focused on developing those speaking skills, and which is pretty powerful in terms of literacy development. So they'd be two examples that I'd recommend.
- The use of digital technology in early childhood education, such as iPads, is growing in prominence amongst many early learning environments. However, there are still those who don't see a place for it in children's learning, as you mentioned earlier. How can preschool and other early learning educators advocate for the use of digital technology today?
- So I think for one thing, I think sometimes this kind of discussion and attitude is, it gains a lot of attention, but it doesn't necessarily have a reality in research when you conduct the research.
And what I mean by that is when we conducted one of our projects, we surveyed all of the parents. And yes, there was a handful of parents who were really worried about the fact that we were wanting to introduce iPads into the kindergarten space, but actually the majority of parents were not worried at all, and thought it was a good idea because their children would start to learn digital skills.
So I think sometimes there can be a lot of focus put on that small number of people who have this real problem, and they're pushing all of the buttons about, you know, childhood should be a protected space, and children should get the opportunity to grow up kind of naturally, without the influence of technologies and so on.
The other thing to say is that when we did the project, that small handful of parents, when they saw what we were actually doing and achieving, their concerns kind of went away, because they can see that we were undertaking the project in very productive, interactive, play-based ways that were not about lots and lots of screen time with your head down, just stuck in the iPad, right?
The other thing is that if the pedagogy is poor, if screen time does become about go away and do this for half an hour now, because I need a break, and this is a, you know, then that then is evidence of, you know, of screen time being used poorly. And so another way to convince people is to do good stuff with the technology, rather than doing, you know, these time filler-type activities.
Look, and beyond that, I think we just need to have a proper conversation about the fact that we live in a digital world, and it's not going away, and digital technology is a part of nearly all of our lives now. And so we need to learn to live with it. We need to find ways to do education around this for even very young children in really productive, interesting ways, rather than just assuming that it's gonna go away, which it won't. Yeah.
- Before we go, then, is there a final message or point otherwise that you would like to add that we haven't discussed yet today?
- I don't really think so. I mean, I think the one thing that we haven't possibly talked about is that we've talked about iPads a lot, but of course, iPads are not the only technology that's available. Of course, there are Android tablets, and there are other types of devices that you can get for early learning scenarios as well, some of which have different types of functionality, or limited functionality, or yeah, just different kinds of functionality. And so I'm not, I don't wanna give the impression that iPads are the only technology that can be used successfully with young children.
They tend to be very popular, of course, but as I've been saying, it really comes down to how you use the technology rather than the specific technology itself. So I don't want this to come across as a big advertisement or advertorial for iPads, I guess. It just happens that most of the projects I've been involved with have used iPads, but, you know, you could do most of what we've been talking about with other technologies, too.
- Professor Michael Dezuanni, thank you so much for your time and your expertise today.
- It's been an absolute pleasure.
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