After four days at the annual National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference, where the theme was Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) in the 21st Century, I have a number of questions bouncing around in my head.
Most of the sessions I attended centered around technology and young children. There were discussions about how to integrate tech into the classroom in developmentally appropriate ways; people sharing apps and tools teachers are using; presenters giving ideas for how pre-service teachers can use tech effectively; and a number of questions from attendees about whether tech was worth integrating at all. I have seen the level of tech integration that is being discussed change and grow significantly over the past few years. Just visiting the exhibit hall makes it clear how pervasive technology has become, with booths for new apps, SMART Board programs, and ways to assess children or update parents via technology.
And yet, I worry about our pacing. Technology is ever changing and transforming as new codes are written and new technologies created. Education is changing too but it seems education is simply reacting, instead of proactively working to shift and adapt in ways that allow technology to be integrated in new and meaningful ways. The field of early childhood education is conflicted as to when, how, where, and why to use technology, with some educators filling their classrooms with every tech tool available (e.g., SMART boards and pens, augmented reality cameras, and multi-touch devices) while others are fighting to keep all technology out in the name of play or tradition.
In one of my sessions this week, the presenters discussed the idea of the tortoise and the hare and the fact that each person moves at her or his own pace along their educational technology journey … and that’s okay! But I wonder if that works as well for the field of early childhood as a whole as it does for individual educators and the children we teach? I agree wholeheartedly that pushing technology into the hands of young children and forcing teachers to use it in their classrooms before they are ready is not the best approach. We need to meet teachers (and children) where they are at to allow them to truly explore and experiment with technology at a pace that allows for discovery, wonder and learning.
Yet, if our children are being bombarded by tech devices at home or expected to walk into older grades competent in using multi-touch devices for research, curation, and creation, it seems like we cannot let tech integration in the field of early childhood education progress at the pace of the tortoise. By integration, I mean everything relating to it, such as training, funding, and classroom resources. If we wait to provide professional development on technology and only slowly develop rubrics and tools to assess whether technologies are developmentally appropriate, then the technology will continue to be used without an educational lens and integration in DAP. There are teachers who want to move faster and students who have already moved ahead, frustrated by the lack of learning they’re experiencing in school.
One of the repeated messages at the conference was that technology is not going away and we can’t play “keep away” from children (or teachers!) with technology without doing an injustice to education. Instead, we need to be scaffolding students’ understanding of digital media literacy and ways to use technology for creation, communication, and collaboration.
As we enter into the Maker age (such as the use of bananas for piano keys, as seen above) where 3D printers can print out a child’s invention, programing systems are developed for early childhood, and multi-touch devices may be obliterating the need for a mouse, we need to consider what tools and practices will soon be considered “out-of-date” and how we will be prepared for all of the tools and technologies that come next.
So I come back to the question of where our responsibility lies regarding tech integration, as educators, policymakers, developers and administrators, in the field of Early Childhood Education.
- How can we work together to help every teacher get the support she or he needs to feel comfortable and competent with using technology in developmentally appropriate ways in the classroom?
- How can we share resources, develop professional development communities and trainings, and invite others to watch our practices so that we can all grow together?
Our children are waiting for us to be ready. They are more often moving at the pace of the hare instead of the tortoise and I think it’s time for departments, agencies, ministries, organizations, and individuals to come together and make the developmentally appropriate use of technology by educators and with children a priority. As Warren Buckleitner said at the end of the featured NAEYC session on technology, “we all need to figure this out together” because many hands make light work.