Experts say technology placement, features that allow for creation are factors to consider

choosing-technology-questionsPut a child in front of an iPad and they’ll be learning, right? Not exactly, say two early childhood experts. Thanks to extensive research, experts now know that choosing the right education technology is about pedagogy and creativity, not ways to quiet kids down.

“One of the best things you can do when choosing technology is to turn off that autopilot,” explained Fran Simon, chief engagement officer for Engagement Strategies and cofounder of the Early Childhood Technology Network (ECTN). “Be intentional and select tools that align with your curriculum objectives. Plan technology use as another tool to get the job done, like books or crayons.”

Karen Nemeth, founder and lead consultant for Language Castle and cofounder of ECTN, also emphasized that the first place to begin, before even thinking about technology, is in the tools already available in the classroom.

“Don’t fall for iPad or ‘app mania’! Technology is not always the best choice,” said Nemeth. “Apps designed for kids aren’t always better than what you may already have, and that goes for mobile devices too! Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s better!”

However, for when educators are interested in making the best use of education technology for early childhood classrooms, here are 10 questions to consider (*Editor’s note: These considerations could be applied to most classrooms, regardless of age):

(Next page: Technology considerations 1-5)

1. Does the technology align to pedagogy?

“Don’t just choose a math game because you’re teaching math,” said Simon. “Choose a math game that works on the skills and particular section of math you’re trying to teach.”

Simon also suggests considering the questions: “What are the objectives,” “Is this the right tool for the objective,” “Can this extend to other activities,” “Is it interactive,” and “Is the interaction meaningful?”

“What we mean by interactive and meaningful is ‘Does the tool allow for discussion?’ Does the tool give more than just positive feedback to the student?’ and ‘Does the tool allow that student to learn in a manner other than rote learning?’” asked Simon.

2.  Are these technology tools additional materials that allow students to do and teachers to facilitate learning?

According to Nemeth, too many teachers use computers or iPads as ways to simply keep students occupied in one place.

“Sometimes teachers plop students in a computer lab and let the student do whatever they want because ‘they’re on a computer.’ That’s not productive,” said Nemeth. “Don’t use technology to get more time to grade papers. Use technology as a way to supplement material and enhance learning.”

Simon added that technology actually should be a way to help foster relationships between teacher and students.

“Adults need to be available to support the learning and guide the student,” she said.

3. Does the app or software give children autonomy?

Both Simon and Nemeth agree that good software for kids allows for content creation and ability to progress (leveled challenges), not content consumption and filling out a worksheet-esque activity.

“Examples of this can include software for creating their own eBooks, videos or even interactive presentations,” said Simon.

4. Is the cost worth it?

“You have to understand that from the developer’s side, a simple app with flashcards is easy to make and it’s cheap, which is why it’s usually free or 99 cents,” explained Nemeth. “Sometimes paying more and investing in a more expensive app is worth it for the quality of activity and pedagogy built-in.”

5. Does the device and/or software cater to multiple students?

According to the experts, the more students the technology can accommodate, the better the investment.

“Consider usability and instructional design,” said Simon. “Is it flashy, distracting, overwhelming, or does it have just enough appealing graphics and sounds to engage but not distract? Also consider whether or not the software is free of ads or ‘edutainment.”

Simon suggests sorting through software and apps by discerning whether or not the software has been vetted by trusted sources, is easy for kids to navigate independently, and whether or not it allows for constructive feedback.

“The best tools also enhance dual language learning, represent diversity and allow access for all children with disabilities,” said Nemeth.

(Next page: Technology considerations 6-10)

6. Know how the technology works with the teacher and activities

According to Simon, there should be a balance in the technology incorporated into the day. For example, does the technology cater to a large group, small group or individual? Is the activity teacher-directed or child-initiated? Also, are the activities open-ended or skill-based; and does the activity last for short periods of time, or does it allow for deeper exploration?

7. How much time is appropriate?

According to Simon, it’s important to know how much time kids should spend on a certain device or working on a fairly simple activity, which is why she consults this rubric:

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8. How does the physical classroom space support the technology?

“Many times the classroom is not supporting the technology, simply because the technology can’t be used spontaneously anytime, anywhere,” said Simon. “For example, can students easily reach the interactive whiteboard to show a concept? Can they access a computer easily to look up a fact?”

Simon suggests using technology like QR codes to make the classroom as interactive as possible, as well as multiple devices spread around the room to allow for recordings:

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9. Are teachers supported?

Both Simon and Nemeth say that it’s important that teachers have time to both informally “play” with the technology to learn how to better integrate it into the classroom, as well as participate in formal professional development.

10. Can you integrate the technology during special events?

“One of the best ways to use technology is to enhance a learning experience, and what better way to do that than during field trips, speaker visits and outdoor activities?” emphasized Simon.

Nemeth and Simon both also recommended using rubrics to better help educators choose technology:

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