Sydney Boyer and Jennifer Wimmer, Teacher Education Department
With advancements in technology, educators understanding of teaching in the classroom has shifted and become less transparent. Early childhood classrooms have transitioned from printbased to technology integrated within a matter of years. This transition has led to research concerning teacher opinions (Turbill 2001)(Tertemiz 2015), student understanding (Wohlwend 2009), and use of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in the classroom (Manny 2011). While this research is accurate and important, it is broad, foreign, and becoming increasingly outdated. One study focused on early childhood students and their use of play to involve technology related ideas into a printbased classroom (Wohlwend 2009). Although this information is useful, there is need for studies that attend to young students whose classrooms have greater access to available interactive technology. This study examined how young learners react, learn, and engage with interactive technology. It provides inservice teachers and preservice teachers with the knowledge to better reach their students. The data gathered will also guide my own lessons and teaching within the classroom, focusing on student needs and wants.
I observed students at the BYU preschool and kindergarten. During these observations I focused on the students utilizing interactive technology, specifically IWBs, iPads, robotic spheres, and the interactive table. These observations record how students are engaging with the materials, reacting to novelty situations, and learning both informally and formally. Rather than choosing individual students, I decided to look at students interacting with any technology around the classroom. As a product of these observations I have field notes from approximately 20 classroom observations. These observations and interviews answered the question of how are young learners reacting, learning, and engaging with interactive technology. Now that this data has been coded and analyzed it will inform educators about the ways in which young students learn and explore with interactive technology. My mentor, Dr. Jennifer Wimmer, is conducting a larger study that focuses on the integration of new literacies in early childhood classrooms. My colleagues and I have provided research that works hand in hand with Dr. Wimmer’s study and delivers crucial information to further her research.
Despite the access to technology, field note observations reveal fewer technology rich lessons than previously expected. Instances’ where technology was implemented was often used as a replacement and/or motivation tool. One example of technology replacement was when the teacher brought up lined paper on the IWB and modeled how to write the letter “X”. This is considered a replacement because it could have also been done on a large pad of lined paper found on the easel, deeming the technology unnecessary. When students participated in centers that were used as replacements or motivators they were observed with a similar reaction to that of a non-tech center.
However, instances in which teacher-independent student exploration was observed, children were perceived applying a variety of skills. One such example, observing student collaboration and problem solving, was of students participating in literacy centers where iPads were being used. Our field notes depict a center in which students on iPads controlled motorized spheres. This observation conveyed students collaborating with peers therefore increasing social and language skills and modeling real-life situations. Those who were stuck and unable to move forward were able to problem solve with peer help independent of teacher help or direction. When engaging with technology centers that are both creative and transformative, students were observed to be developing a variety of skills simultaneously.
From first glance these centers looked like innocent play, however, when I dissected and analyzed it became obvious that students were developing a plethora of skills necessary to become lifelong learners. Technology was being used in creative and transformative ways, allowing children to develop their problem-solving skills, social skills, and communication skills. Students were effectively taking charge of their own learning, and critically thinking. The motorized spheres mentioned above are just one example of a technology environment where students were able to become the teacher and contribute to their classroom.
After synthesizing and analyzing the data, my colleagues and I discussed the need to move away from using technology as a motivator or replacement. While this may hold student attention for a time, the novelty will fade away and a pen and paper will hold the same motivation as a set of iPads. This is a difficult problem to move away from because it requires educators to think of new transformative ways to handle ever-changing technology. Training pre-service educators with technology, I believe, could provide a foundation in which teachers feel more prepared to handle the ever-changing technological advancements. It would also set a foundation in which technology is built into their classrooms and allow students to engage and learn from technology rich lesson regularly.
Because of this research, I am more able to see learning opportunities involving technology and new literacy skills. Rather than fearing the technology, future educators must embrace it and allow students and teachers to work together as a team. As a preservice educator, I feel dedicated to using this research within my own classroom and improve the education process for both teachers and students. This project has allowed me the opportunity to understand what is engaging to students and how as an educator I can apply this in my future classroom.