Effective learning in early childhood education?
The impact of the ECE ICT PL Programme: A synthesis report

Publication Details

This report provides an overview of the impact of the Early Childhood Education Information and Communication Technologies Professional Learning (ECE ICT PL) programme, 2006–2009.

Author(s): Ann Hatherly, Dr Vince Ham and Laura Evans, Report for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: August 2010

Final Comments

The ECE ICT PL programme had three intended outcomes. These can also form a useful framework for summarising the content of the service reports.

Increased ICT capability

When it comes to teacher professional learning, ICT offers different challenges from other areas of the curriculum because of its relative recent association with education. Whereas teachers would be expected to have some experience and background in most content areas of an early childhood curriculum, this cannot be assumed with ICT. Therefore, building teacher capability is an important first step for many teachers wishing to integrate digital technologies into their programme. The services provided strong evidence of increased teacher capability, child capability and less, but still significant, evidence of parent/whānau capability as a result of the programme. An important element of capability is developing an awareness of cybersafety issues and practices. Many services made reference to their increased attention to this aspect as being a positive outcome of the professional learning.

It was clear from the reports that for a number of teachers, building capability involved a step before gaining the skills and knowledge to use ICT. They first needed to be convinced that ICT even had a place in an early childhood programme. Worries about the health risks of children having too much screen time, doubts about the value of ICT to learning for children so young, and a personal fear of ICT were the reasons given for this nervousness. It appears that hearing ‘real’ stories from other services and seeing the enthusiasm and competence with which children embraced ICT themselves helped to change these perceptions. Having a well-defined purpose for using ICT was important also.

Evidence of children’s increased capability in using ICT was also strong across the reports. However, because of the nature of early childhood programmes, where children largely choose the activities they engage in, some children took up the opportunities offered to build their capability more than others.

Transformation of pedagogical practice (linked to ICT) that leads to an enhanced community of practice

This tended to be a goal that services addressed once they had some confidence in using the ICT equipment themselves. With time and the support of the facilitator they were able to move from the ‘what?’ (ICT) to the ‘so what?’ (does using this mean for practice) and finally to ‘now what?’ (do I need to change).

Learning to trust children to use the equipment responsibly, where this had not previously been standard practice, was often the catalyst for re-evaluating the teacher’s role. Hearing stories from other services in their cluster – through workshops, hui and the Ulearn conference – about how ‘capable and confident’ children can be with ICT, was also helpful in transforming teachers’ practice. Being willing and able to take risks and try things out – a culture fostered by good leadership – was another affordance for pedagogical change, as was the whole-service approach to professional learning taken by the programme.

Several services talked of ‘shifting the balance in power relations’ and giving children more opportunities to ‘lead their own learning’, rather than have this controlled by the teachers themselves. Children presenting and leading mat times was an example sometimes used to illustrate this shift.

Teacher-child interactions are regarded as one side of the ‘iron triangle of quality’. A number of services indicated that teachers had made changes to the way they interacted with children as a result of input from facilitators, an outside specialist brought in as a guest speaker at a hui, or the multimedia function of some technology that allowed them to replay their interactions. These experiences often prompted teachers to listen more, be less directive and give children space to voice their ideas and thoughts. Some teachers also amended their use of questions to make their interactions more conversational.

Enhanced learning outcomes for children

The reports were full of examples of ICT being used to enrich children’s learning experiences. Often this was learning that was not exclusive to the inclusion of ICT but which could be generated by any resource that was being used in conjunction with wise teaching. In other words, it was the teachers and the tools that led to enhanced outcomes.

The added value of ICT was often the diversity it provided in terms of learning opportunities. For some children it offered a voice or ‘way in’ to becoming more engaged in the service for the first time, while for others it enabled them to re-fashion their existing interests in new ways. Much of the children’s learning reported by services was in the social, emotional and communication domains. This possibly reflected the emphasis on these in recent times through Te Whāriki (1996) and

Kei Tua o te Pae Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars (2004) – early childhood exemplars rather than the extent of the usefulness of digital technologies in and of themselves. Although using ICT to support subject knowledge learning was not a major focus for teachers across the reports, the one area that did surface quite frequently was literacy.