For years, students learned to associate No. 2 pencils with going to school. In today’s classrooms, technology is becoming just as synonymous with school as writing utensils.
This fall, the Department of Education made it clear that it is trying to provide clarity into the role technology should play in school, particularly for the youngest of learners.
In their “Early Learning and Educational Technology Policy Brief,” released with the Department of Health and Human Services, the department outlined their vision for how early learners can use technology to expand learning and collaboration at school and home.
“The rapid pace of innovation in technology provides a seemingly endless stream of new learning options for families and early educators. The goal of the Departments is that all children in every community and at every socioeconomic level have equitable access to appropriate technology in early learning settings and that technology is used responsibly with young children.”
Though the digital divide is still a rampant problem — Pew Research Center reports 5 million households without high-speed internet at home — the Department of Education has established some guidelines for the latter half of their goal regarding tech use for kids up to age 8.
1. Technology — when used appropriately — can be a tool for learning.
Just like those No. 2 pencils we mentioned earlier, technology should be a seamless part of the classroom and “integrated into the learning program and used in rotation with other learning tools.”
The Department of Education considers appropriate use to be experiences that let kids explore technology and use it as it might be used in real life, citing the joint position of two associations concerned with early learning.
Rather than putting a young learner in front of a computer, teachers are laying the “foundation for technological literacy,” the nonprofit GreatSchools suggests.
At the end of the first grade, GreatSchools says students should have a basic understanding of keyboarding and how to navigate a website.
2. Technology should be used to increase access to learning opportunities for all children.
In their second guiding principle, the Department of Education suggested technology as a mechanism to expand traditional classrooms and introduce students more directly to cultures outside of their communities.
One way, as EdTech covered earlier this fall, could be through Google Arts & Culture’s partnership with natural history museums. With opportunities to get a closer look at more than 50 museums across the globe, teachers can take advantage of available tech — computers — to take a virtual field trip.
One startup out of Austin, Texas, called PenPal Schools, facilitates online penpal exchanges between 179 countries, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
PenPal Schools founder Joe Troyen told the American-Statesman that he created the program because “there should be a way to use the Internet to bring students from around the world together to exchange ideas and learn.”
Besides extending access outside the classroom, the Department of Education also touches on how technology can help make school accessible to students with disabilities, a topic that EdTech recently covered as it relates to students with autism.
3. Technology may be used to strengthen relationships among parents, families, early educators, and young children.
A huge plus to tech in learning environments is the ability to bring more of the classroom home.
Google Drive is not only a great way for students to put work in the cloud that can be easily accessed outside of school, but using Google Portfolios it’s also an easy way to create a place where work can be stored and used from grade to grade.
The education department touts such portfolios with photos and video as a way to give parents a look into the classroom.
“This allows parents to track their child’s progress, provides more opportunities for the parents to engage their child about their learning to reinforce or supplement it,” the brief reports.
Some schools have embraced apps that also allow for teachers to connect more with parents, and blogger Steven W. Anderson suggests social media as a way for students to use tech to show their families what they are learning.
“My daughter’s classroom Twitter account allows me to get almost a play-by-play of what is happening in the class,” he writes.
4. Technology is more effective for learning when adults and peers interact or co-view with young children.
Rather than creating a classroom where kids are plugged in solo, the Department of Education suggests that — for early learners especially — parents and teachers should be part of the experience.
They suggest that, when using technology to show educational content, adults talk to children before viewing about what they’ll be viewing and what they should look for, and also engage in an activity after viewing to connect the content to a learning opportunity.
Under this guiding principle, co-viewing can also be done with a peer.
A blog on the website We Are Teachers also suggests that in classrooms with limited tech, collaboration can make the environment work a little better by having students use educational apps and visit websites in teams.