As technology becomes more prevalent in the lives of children it was inevitable that it would enter the classroom. When children enter school, they have likely already been exposed to a broad range of technology and have developed a “wide range of related skills” (Mattoon Bates, Shifflet, Latham, & Ennis, 2015). It is incumbent upon educators to utilize technology with students. This literature review will examine technology use to enhance the students’ learning either through the direct use of technology in the learning process or through the enhancement of teachers’ instructional capacity through the use of technology.
Traditionally, preschool children interact with physical objects in the learning process; this differs greatly from the digital environment and applications (apps) usually associated with modern technology (Mattoon et al., 2015). In their study of digital manipulatives, which they define as “electronic manipulation of objects on touch tables” which can “be used for a variety of purposes, including virtual drawing, painting, and storytelling” Mattoon et al. (2015) conducted a study which asked two questions: “(1) Are digital manipulatives effective tools for increasing prekindergarten children’s computational skills? (2) Do traditional or digital manipulatives have a greater impact on improving children’s computation skills?” The researchers used quantitative data to measure the study groups’ computational mathematical skills, comparing two groups – one of which used only digital manipulatives in the course of math instruction and one which used traditional manipulatives in the course of math instruction, both in small group sessions. The findings of the comparison reveal that with regard to the research questions (1) digital manipulatives are effective for children’s learning and (2) that there was no statistical difference in the impact of digital versus traditional manipulatives on children’s computational skills. This suggests that with regard to manipulatives, an either/or approach is acceptable – digital and/or traditional manipulatives would be effective tools for teaching.
Like Mattoon et al. (2015), Tsong, Chong, and Samsudin (2012) examined the use of tangibles, though Tsong, Chong, and Samsudin examined multimedia approaches augmented with tangible objects – in other words, instruction that combines technology and tangibles. They studied a prototype approach known as TangiLearn, emphasizing the importance of tangibility in the learning processes of preschoolers. In addition to examining the effectiveness of the prototype, the authors’ case study was also intended to fine-tune the prototype and developing a protocol for further study of this tool. The authors determined that the prototype did support the preschoolers’ learning as well as enhancing their enjoyment of learning.
McManis and McManis (2016) tackled the lack of empirical research on instructional technology and its application for at-risk early learners in formal school settings. The authors used a touch-based, computer-assisted learning system for literacy and math performance with an emphasis on low-income preschoolers; their research question asked whether using such an approach could improve the literacy and math performance for this at-risk group. To accomplish this, the authors used a mixed design ANOVA to assess such a learning system to assess two separate groups – one which used the system and one which did not. The findings of the study reveal that the children who used the learning system showed “significant improvement in literacy and math” according to external standardized measures in comparison to the children who did not use it. This suggests significant benefit can be obtained from the use of technology in the preschool setting.
Sometimes technology can offer additional support to students who have disabilities. Sennott and Mason (2016) conducted a pilot study that utilized an intervention package known as MODELER for Read and Talk which is intended to provide support for students who have complex communication needs (CCNs) who require augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). In the course of their study the authors posed two research questions. First, the authors asked what the impact of MODELER is on educational assistance (EA) performance of AAC modeling, the encourage step, and the respond step. Second, the authors asked what the impact of MODELER on a student’s communication performance “measured by the frequency of turns using software on an iPad and Proloquo2Go software, gesture turns, and speech turns and total communication turns” (Sennott & Mason, 2016, p. 244). Using an A-B design for their pilot study the authors determined that the educational assistant in the study made “meaningful gains in the number of model, encourage, and respond steps” after receiving instruction and coaching. The student in the study, a three-year old boy, showed gains in communication skills as demonstrated by “increased frequency of communication turns” with specific gains in AAC and speech (Sennott & Mason, 2016, p. 251). These findings suggest that technology can be useful in helping students with CCNs as well as helping educators enhance their professional practice.
Dennis, Whalon, Kraut, and Herron (2016) asked a similar question in their study, though instead of seeing how technology could enhance an instructor’s capabilities they compared the effectiveness of an instructor with an iPad app. The authors inquired as to what the respective effects would be of these two methods with specific reference to children’s expressive and receptive verb learning. They discovered that across both conditions – teacher and iPad app – that the participants, who were 4-5 years of age, made gains, but there was some variability which the authors attributed to the variability in teacher-facilitated instructor and the inflexibility of the app. The authors assert that their findings underline the need for further research into such applications. This particular study suggests that technology has its benefits in preschool classroom but also has its issues.
In enhancing educators’ capabilities via technology, Parette et al. (2013) examined the way in which Technology User Groups could be used as professional development for early childhood education professionals using hardware and software components of what the authors refer to as a Technology toolkit. Learning about the benefits of such an approach is the primary focus of the study, though this is not articulated as a research question. The authors discovered, based on the educators’ responses, that the user groups and the toolkit were effective in the expansion of the educators’ repertoires especially with regard to technology. As their repertoires were expanded, this suggests that their competencies are enhanced and their students benefit.
Two studies, one by Powell and Diamond (2013) and one by Zan and Donegan-Ritter (2014), both examined Head Start teachers and the benefits of professional development (PD) using video. Both studies used comparison groups to determine the effectiveness of these technology-based interventions. Powell and Diamond (2013) found that technology did not foster as good feedback remotely as it did onsite (that is, in-person) which has the potential to limit the benefit of the technology-based PD. Zan and Donegan-Ritter (2014) found that technology could facilitate meaningful enhancements to teachers’ skills via technology-based PD. This suggests that further research is needed to clarify the benefit of technology with regard to enhancing teachers’ skills.
What has emerged from this literature review is that technology is being used and examined carefully in early childhood educational settings. It appears to have benefits for both the children in the learning process. It also has some benefits for PD for educators and the enhancement of their learning skills, though more research is needed to clarify those benefits.
- Dennis, L. R., Whalon, K., Kraut, L., & Herron, D. (2016). Effects of a teacher versus iPad-
facilitated intervention on the vocabulary of at-risk preschool children. Journal of Early Intervention, 38(3), 170-186.
- Mattoon, C., Bates, A., Shifflet, R., Latham, N., & Ennis, S. (2015). Examining computational
skills in prekindergarteners: The effects of traditional and digital manipulatives in a prekindergarten classroom. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 17(1).
- McManis, M. H., & McManis, L. D. (2016). Using a touch-based, computer-assisted learning
system to promote literacy and math skills for low-income preschoolers. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 15, 409-429.
- Parette, H., Hourcade, J., Blum, C., Watts, E., Stoner, J., Wojcik, B., & Chrismore, S. (2013).
Technology user groups and early childhood education: A preliminary study. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41(3), 171-179.
- Powell, D. R., & Diamond, K. E. (2013). Implementation fidelity of a coaching-based
professional development program for improving Head Start teachers’ literacy and language instruction. Journal of Early Intervention, 35(2), 102-128.