2.2: Literature review
According to Laurillard (1993): ‘There is a persistent discrepancy between the questions asked of evaluation studies in new technology, and the conclusions they come to.’ (p.46.) In her research into ICT and attainment, she has repeatedly shown that the context determines any effects which ICT may have on attainment, and that it is extremely difficult to separate the impact that the context has on attainment from the specific uses of new technologies.
Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) was the first large-scale initiative to provide one-to-one computer access to students and teachers. The program operated in 13 schools from 1985 to 1998. Evaluations of ACOT concluded that participating students developed collaborative, problem-solving, and communication skills, became more independent learners, and had increased levels of self-confidence (Marshall, 2002; Cooley, 2001; Apple Computer, 1995).
There are trade-offs when deciding whether students should use technology collaboratively or individually. Students who work in groups at the computer have been found to interact more with their peers, use more appropriate learning strategies, and persevere more on instructional tasks. Students who work individually at the computer have been found to spend more time actually engaged with the software and complete their assignments more quickly, but require more help from the teacher (Sivin-Kachala & Bialo, 2000).
Technology appears to be most effective when it is used to access information and when that information is used to communicate findings using graphs, illustrations, and animations. Researchers have suggested that technology serves different purposes, depending on the subject area. For example, to develop vocabulary, reading comprehension, writing, and spelling skills in language arts; to simulate and solve problems in math and science; and to simulate events and use multimedia to demonstrate work in social studies (Valdez, 2004; Sivin-Kachala & Bialo, 2000).
A Scottish study (Condie et al, 2002) sought to discover the extent to which ICT resources contributed to learning for almost 3,000 students in 80 secondary schools. Questionnaires and test booklets were used, but the only gains recorded were in ICT knowledge and skills.
The first review (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003), focused on the use of technology and literacy development by young students (0 to 8 years old). Lankshear & Knobel (2003) examined 22 articles, six reviews, and nine research reports from 1996 to 2002. Overall, the results indicated either a positive relationship or no relationship between technology use and literacy skills. The authors noted the importance of key mitigating variables such as the use of non-interactive vs. interactive software, and the diversity of learners. They suggested that their review not only affirmed that technology use in early childhood and literacy was under-researched, but that the research that did exist was one-sided in that it focused on areas of reading/receiving rather than writing/generating. Lankshear and Knobel (2003) strongly recommended further research into new technologies in early childhood education which focus on the higher level literacy skills.
The second review (Yelland, 2005) examined research on young children, up to eight-years old, from 1994 to 2004, and provided a conceptual perspective (as opposed to a detailed, evidence-based analysis) on four domains (literacy, numeracy, creativity, and critical thinking) and the creation of knowledge building communities. Yelland (2005) began by outlining the arguments against the use of technology in early childhood settings (such as poor quality software, minimized role of teachers, social isolation, concepts being too abstract). She suggested that the research revealed that innovation is possible when technology use is embedded in new curricula and that young children can use technology to experience concepts that were previously well beyond them. She recommended that future research should focus on innovative uses of technology, rather than a replication of previous studies. She argued that simply comparing computer to non-computer contexts does not help to stimulate new understandings or add to knowledge of innovative uses of technology.
The third review, conducted by McCarrick and Li (2007) looked at research (1984-2004) on the impact of technology on four domains of development (social, cognitive, language development, and motivation) in children, three to five years old. Their findings indicated that social interactions among children are higher when computers are used. They also cited support for using computers to help scaffold children’s learning (either with an adult, peer, or computer assisted scaffolding). McCarrick and Li (2007) also noted computers are highly motivating for preschoolers. Finally, they reported that the research does not show an improvement in language skills with computer use, nor was it found to be a hindrance. They suggested that further research be conducted using larger sample sizes, well-defined learning environments, and multiple developmental domains.
The final review, conducted by Burnett (2010), examined 34 peer-reviewed articles from 2003-2009 focusing on the use technology to promote print-based literacy for children within the 0-8 age group. These articles were divided into three categories: technology as deliverer of literacy, technology as a site for interactions involving texts, and technology as a medium for meaning-making. Technology as a deliverer of literacy (n=22 studies) had either a positive impact on various language skills, motivation, and engagement, or no impact at all. Technology as a site for interactions (n=4 studies), suggested that children interact positively with each other when they work together using digital texts or literacy software. Finally, technology as a medium for meaning-making (n=10 studies) is particularly successful when connected with the real world. Burnett (2010) highlighted the need for more extensive research into the area of children’s engagement with digital texts. She acknowledged that most studies in her literature review were small-scale in terms of sample sizes, and narrowly focused. She suggested that a broader perspective should be taken when conducting research with young children to allow for the potential of identifying new possibilities and connections.
The first review, conducted by McCarrick & Li (2007) focused on research from 1984- 2004 with subjects in the age range of three to five years old. They concentrated on research relating technology to four domains of development: social, cognitive, language development and motivation. Their findings indicated that social interactions among children are higher when computers are used. They also cited support for using computers to help scaffold children’s learning (either with an adult, peer or computer assisted scaffolding) and related this to the Zone of Proximal Development or the “difference between what a child can learn by himself and what he can learn with a skilled partner” (p. 84, McCarrick & Li, 2007). McCarrick & Li (2007) also noted computers are highly motivating for preschoolers. Finally, they reported that the research does not show an improvement in language skills with computer use, nor was it found to be a hindrance. They suggested that further research be conducted using larger sample sizes, welldefined learning environments, and multiple developmental domains.
The second review by Lankshear & Knobel (2003) focused on research from 1996-2002, and students up to eight years old. Their literature review concentrated on technology in relation to literacy. The methodology used to find and select articles was clearly explained and uncovered 22 articles, six reviews and nine research reports. They organized the research into three categories: CD-ROM story books and language development, teacher/teaching aspect of using new technology, and new technology in relation to literacy education. The general findings indicated either a positive relationship or no relationship between technology use and literacy skills. However, Lankshear & Knobel categorized the types of studies looking at trends in the type of research.
The third review (Yelland, 2005) examined research with children up to eight-years old, from 1994 to 2004, with a focus on four domains; literacy, numeracy, creativity and critical thinking, and the creation of knowledge building communities. Yelland began by outlining the arguments against the use of technology in early childhood settings (such as poor quality software, minimized role of teachers, social isolation, concepts being too abstract) and then cited research to disprove each of these arguments. She followed with a summary of Lankshear’s & Knoble’s (2003) review, while integrating other research which she organized into the four categories. Yelland (2005) suggested that the research revealed that innovation is possible when technology use is embedded in new curricula and that young children can use technology to experience concepts that were previously well beyond them. She recommended that future 12 research should focus on innovative uses of technology, rather than a replication of previous studies. She argued that simply compared computer to non-computer contexts does not help to stimulate new understandings or add to knowledge of innovative uses of technology.
Jackson, von Eye, Biocca, Barbatsis, Zhao, and Fitzgerald (2006) studied the home Internet usage of predominantly Black and low-income children. Results of their analyses indicated that children who used the Internet at home more often received higher grade point averages (GPA) and higher scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test of reading achievement. Internet use had no effect on MEAP mathematics scores. The researchers suggested that, since Web pages tend to be heavily text-based, children who spent more time online also spent more time reading.
By the same token, students considered specific technological applications, including word processing and Web-based searching, as enhancing their academic productivity in all academic areas (Spires et al., 2008).
Students take individual ownership of their learning when technology is utilized in the classroom. Data indicated that the students want to be engaged and stimulated in school. Students have clear perspectives about academic engagement through the use of technologies in project-based learning (Grant & Branch, 2005, as cited in Spires, et al., 2008). Furthermore, for these learners, listening to stories recorded at a slower-than-usual pace reduces much of the stress involved in reading and has been found to increase fluency and comprehension (Carbo, 1996, as cited in Montgomery, 2009). A student can make learning happen at a certain internal level, but he/she can do it better with external assistance and stimuli (Gareau & Guo, 2009). For instance, the evidence is relatively consistent in showing that efficacy beliefs contribute significantly to level of motivation and performance. These students perform better when there is a higher self-efficacy of the student (Solhaug, 2009). For example, students that use technology are more likely to maintain a focus on learning, show higher levels of class enjoyment, read carefully in preparation for class and participate more than those who do not use 49 technology (Dorow & Boyle, 1998, as cited in Harper, 2009).
The other side of the debate argues that developmentally appropriate use of technology can enhance young children’s learning (Blackwell, 2013; Blackwell, Lauricella, & Wartella, 2014; Hillman & Marshall, 2009; Lindahl & Folkesson, 2010; Plowman & Stephen, 2003; Vernadakis, Avgerinos, Tsitskari, & Zachopoulou, 2005), particularly in the area of emergent literacy skills (Cassell, 2004; Parette, Quesenberry, & Blum, 2010; Plowman, Stevenson, McPake, Stephen, & Adey, 2011). Technology use for younger children has been associated with increased motivation (Lindahl & Folkesson, 2010; Plowman & Stephen, 2003; Vernadakis et al., 2005), student-centered learning practices (Blackwell, 2013), the development of social skills through collaboration (Alper, 2011; Cassell, 2004; Cicconi, 2014; Lieberman, 2009; Shifflet, Toledo, & Mattoon, 2012), and supporting children with disabilities and special needs (Cordes & Miller, 2000; Hutinger & Johanson, 2000; Muligan, 2003)
More recently, the debate has shifted from whether technology should be used in early childhood settings, to how it should be used and whether it makes a difference in children’s learning and development (Ko & Chou, 2014; Parette et al., 2010; Rosen & Jaruszewicz, 2009). The question for educators and policy-makers has become how to best integrate technology into pedagogical practice and curriculum design in early childhood settings (Plowman, McPake, & Stephen, 2012). Several researchers have recommended that practitioners take a thoughtful approach to the use of technology by carefully considering the design of the technology to determine if it supports creativity, curiosity, and play, promotes interaction among children, and provides an authentic learning experience (McManis & Gennewig, 2012; National Association for the Education of Young Children & The Fred Rogers Center, 2012; Plowman et al., 2012; Rosen & Jaruszewicz, 2009). Rosen and Jaruszewicz (2009) introduced the term developmentally appropriate technology use (DATU) which includes preparing a technology environment in early childhood settings that supports child-initiated learning, encourages collaborative problem solving, and takes a play-based, inquiry orientation.
The purpose of this study was to conduct a current review of the literature (2009-2014) to explore the impact of digital technologies in early childhood education environments for children aged 3 to 6 years.
Technology promotes cross-curricular usage. It can be used through the various grade levels and subject matter (Brunvand & Byrd, 2011). Likewise, computers provide unlimited access to information as well as interactive communication, which has proven to provide student empowerment over their own education (Solhaug, 2009).
As a matter of fact, this may be an irreversible and ever-worst problem if, as claimed by Shirky (2014), digital devices and applications continue to be designed for competing for our attention. In the past years, we witnessed the emergence of very creative forms of notifications in digital environments, beginning in pop-ups and banners, to the most recent badges, roll-ups, and push notifications. These kinds of effects have been suggested in some studies as a possible cause to a negative correlation between electronic media use (including mobile devices) and academic performance as Lepp et al. (2015) suggest in a thorough review on this issue. Some of these studies also suggest that these effects are not only visible in classrooms but also in homeworking tasks and in the overall quality of time spent studying.