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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Magazine Issue 53 Summer 2013
REFLECTIONS • GOWRIE AUSTRALIA • SUMMER 2013 - ISSUE 53 New digital media surrounds us. Everyday, we see young children using smart phones and tablets, whether it is at a café, in a shopping centre, a medical centre, or travelling on public transport. Open any toy catalogue and you’ll see advertisements for tablets designed specifically for toddlers and children, with some even able to be attached to strollers. The prices of smart phones and tablets are dropping, and tablets can be purchased now for less than one hundred dollars in some chain stores. These mobile devices are competing for the consumer dollar alongside other more traditional toys and experiences, such as bikes and board games. Little is known, however, about the influence of technology devices such as tablets (e.g. iPads) and smart phones on young children’s lives in home and school settings, and what it means for them throughout their schooling and beyond. Most research to date has focused on children aged six years and older, and much less, with a few exceptions, on preschool-aged children. The commonsense view has been that children need to be literate in reading and writing in order to engage with the technologies of text and image. Anyone, however, having watched a two-year old engage with an app on a smart phone or tablet knows that lack of literacy attainment is not necessarily a barrier to successful engagement. It is no surprise that recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012) data show the extremely high uptake of internet use in Australia by families and young children. Approximately 90 percent of Australian children aged 5-14 years in urban and rural settings access the internet at home, and we can assume that younger brothers and sisters are also engaging with their older siblings. The most popular purpose is for educational activities. By the time children attend early childhood classrooms, many come with experiences and understandings of what games and activities can be done on smart phones and tablets. Parents and early childhood educators are making decisions everyday about what this rapid uptake of technology means for family life and in early childhood classrooms. Among parents and teachers there is a diversity of perspectives related to young children’s use of digital technology and a continuum of beliefs about its value in the early years. On one hand, early childhood teachers are embracing the new media technologies in their personal lives and in their classrooms. Others, while embracing technologies for personal use at home, are more wary of the value of using technology in their classrooms. Some teachers feel uncomfortable with the pedagogy of introducing technology into their classrooms, and others are strongly opposed to technology in classrooms arguing that the traditional activities based on foundations of play are most important. These differing views were most evident at a recent early childhood education forum in which I was a member of a panel. Audience members, many of whom were early childhood educators, parents and grandparents, discussed their views of young children using technology – their concerns about possible dangers such as internet safety and social isolation, and also their passion for what they saw as valuable in digital technology. With national agendas of accessible broadband to families across Australia, and the strong endorsement of engaging with technology in national early childhood curriculum documents, parents and educators are immersed in a national context where mobile technologies are everywhere. For example, the Early Years Learning Framework (2009) highlights the importance of young children accessing and using digital technologies, and values technology as a significant avenue for promoting communication and for children learning about their worlds. Given this national emphasis, understanding how parents and teachers make decisions and manage this new digital environment with children is important for understanding children’s changing everyday lives. As a QUT researcher, I am conducting an Australian Research Council research project Investigating mobile technologies in young children’s everyday worlds that seeks to understand how young children access and use online mobile technologies for learning and play in home, preschool and community contexts. This ethnographic study of young children’s everyday practices investigates how mobile technologies are part of the flow of everyday home and school life. As well as video recording young children’s practices using digital technology, I am asking parents, teachers and children about their views on the role of technology in young children’s lives. Understanding young children’s everyday practices provides empirical evidence to inform policy development about online use in the early years and to support early childhood educators and families. Studying new forms of practices associated with technology use helps us to understand young children’s participation in social interaction (Hutchby, 2001). Smart Phones and Tablets in the Early Years: a waste of time or a valuable opportunity for accessing information and communicating? Authors: Prof Susan Danby School of Early Childhood QUT 15 reflections.issue53_Layout 1 11/11/13 2:27 PM Page 15
Reflections Magazine Issue 52
Reflections Magazine Issue 54