Digital media continues to weave itself into the early childhood ecosystem, raising more and more questions about the benefits and drawbacks of technology for children's learning. Over the past month, I've had the chance to give several talks that provide snapshots of what the science tells us so far -- and how much we still have to learn.
With so many questions still outstanding, it's important to collect better information about what educators are actually doing with technology in early childhood classrooms and where they see pitfalls. A new series of surveys, developed by the nascent Early Childhood Technology Collaborative, is trying to fill in some holes. The collaborative, which is made up of three early childhood experts, does have industry connections (it includes Dale McManis of Hatch Early Learning, Karen Nemeth of Language Castle, and Fran Simon of Engagement Strategies), so it cannot be considered an impartial observer. But it will provide the survey's results to anyone who participates. You can fill out the first of the surveys here.
Meanwhile, several new projects have emerged since the release of the new NAEYC position statement on technology, including the launch of the Early Learning Environment at the Fred Rogers Center (designed for home-based providers and other underserved educators in birth-to-5 settings) and the TEC Center at Erikson Institute (which houses and develops materials for teachers on how to use technology appropriately with young children). Today the Hatch company (yes, Hatch again) is sponsoring a national webinar on how administrators can plan for technology integration in their programs.
What cannot be forgotten in the rush of new technology is the importance of teachers and their need for support and training. Decisions on whether to integrate new technologies won't be easy -- especially when funding for pre-K is actually declining in many states and when full-day kindergarten is vulnerable to cuts or non-existent in some places. District, school and center leaders will need to think carefully about tradeoffs. Though they are not the norm, some early childhood programs are in good financial situations with highly skilled teachers. They may be able to absorb the cost that comes with opening up more access to broadband and WiFi service or buying new devices, whether they be electronic white boards, touchscreen tablets or digital cameras and music players. Other programs may be better served by focusing on improving the workforce first -- improving teachers' compensation and updating their skills with high-quality professional development of all kinds, including that which is embedded with digital media training.
To highlight how difficult these decisions will be, I leave you with this quotation from Barbara Gsovski, an early childhood consultant in New York City, who contacted me after our Baby Brains and Video Games event a few weeks ago:
"With all the essential problems facing early childhood settings, such as Headstart -- which is dealing with populations that include homelessness, illegal documentation, second language speakers, children with disabilities -- where does this new, latest, we-can't-ignore area of technology fit? Especially, when these more essential areas haven't been adequately addressed?"