Digital technologies are already part of children’s lives. A growing role of the education system is to support children to understand and make the most of the technologies they encounter. Kaiako play a vital role in ensuring that children use digital technologies in healthy and safe ways that also contribute to the diverse learning that is valued by Te Whāriki.
Digital literacy and digital fluency
Digital literacy and digital fluency are two concepts used to describe the knowledge and dispositions learners need to acquire in the process of becoming capable and confident users of digital technologies.
- Digital literacy – builds on traditional literacy learning. It involves learning about how to use digital technologies and what to do with them.
- Digital fluency – includes digital literacy but is more than technical proficiency. It includes many social and dispositional skills necessary to use digital technologies wisely, safely, and respectfully. A digitally fluent person can choose when and articulate why a specific digital technology will achieve a particular purpose.
Developing digital fluency is important for both children and adults. This is because today, more than any period in time, information is unfiltered, abundant, and freely available at the press of a button. Early childhood is an optimal time to start developing competencies – such as thinking critically and evaluating – that are necessary for making sense of large amounts of information.
How well the inclusion of digital technologies in early childhood services help children towards digital fluency will depend on the thoughtfulness of kaiako. It is ultimately people (kaiako) and not the tools that determine whether digital technology use is positive or detrimental to learning.
Having a clear purpose or intent
Just as you would select the best paintbrush depending on what you wanted to paint, choosing a digital device depends on the purpose you have in mind for children.
Begin with questions about purpose. Ask first, “What do we want to achieve here?” followed by, “what technologies will best suit this purpose?” Also consider whether there other options that will enable the same or better outcomes.
When working with children, talk about purpose rather than the tool. For example, instead of “do you want to use the computer?” Kaiako might suggest using a communication platform as a good way of connecting with a friend who is absent.
Encouraging active use of technologies by children
The saying that children learn best through “hands on” experience is equally applicable to digital technologies. An important step towards becoming digitally literate is having frequent opportunities to be an active user of digital media. As with puzzles or blocks, this is best achieved through a co-constructed pedagogy, whereby kaiako work together with children, taking a deep interest in their activity while at the same time giving them appropriate control over the digital devices.
However, active use – putting technology in the hands of children – does come with a caveat: that the technologies are wisely chosen and reflect the kinds of rich learning and dispositions emphasised through Te Whāriki. This means that they will be technologies that encourage children to explore, create, and produce their own work, and so empower them as learners.
The choice of technologies
It is often said, “not all digital technologies are created equal”. Although programmes and apps may claim to be “educational”, not all work in ways that will nurture the kaupapa and pedagogy of Te Whāriki. For example, they may work on “skill and drill” approaches to learning or have little connection with the language, culture, and identity of children in Aotearoa.
Digital technologies are susceptible to intense marketing. This can result in features and uses that tend to encourage an addictive response.
Kaiako who are aware of these risks will choose devices, programmes (including apps) that:
- are open-ended – enable children to bring their ideas, self expression, and sense of agency to whatever use they are making of technology
- are designed in ways that favour content creation over content consumption
- encourage children to recognise and contribute to their culture, identity, and language – and that of Aotearoa
- soundly support the teaching and learning approaches advocated by Te Whāriki.
Time and space
Learners need time to experiment with and understand digital technologies to be able to fully engage with them. This is particularly so when they are used for creative purposes, such as children designing and recording their own stories. When children have repeated opportunities to be playful and try ideas out, the technologies are more likely to nurture thinking and learning, communication, and collaboration.
Critical thinking involves engaging with information, questioning, and evaluating it to determine its accuracy and authority. Kaiako help build this level of reflection through their presence and interactions with children when they are using technologies.
Digital citizenship and cybersafety
Promoting digital citizenship and keeping safe in the digital world is an integral part of digital technologies curriculum design (planning).
A good digital citizen is someone who understands all their rights and responsibilities in the digital world. These include acting ethically, thinking critically about content, and using technologies to form positive relationships, as well as cybersafety.
Kaiako have a responsibility to practice digital citizenship and to model cybersafety practices themselves. Kaiako who take this responsibility seriously develop informed policies and procedures that help protect children, family, and kaiako. They also strive to keep up-to-date with the changes in digital technologies and their associated citizenship, cyber safety implications.
The Early Childhood Council publication Swings and Roundabouts included this article about digital technologies in its Summer 2017 edition.
Netsafe is New Zealand’s independent, non-profit online safety organisation, providing online safety help, support, expertise, and education to people in New Zealand.
This provides a succinct summary of digital citizenship through print, graphics, and video.
In this video, Tara Fagan discusses what kaiako should consider when thinking about the place of digital devices in early childhood settings.
In this video, Bridget Chapman describes an inquiry focused on exploring ways to increase boys' engagement with literacy experiences using digital technologies.
This resource was produced as a result of a professional development initiative involving over 60 early childhood services in Aotearoa. It discusses the types of ICT uses most appropriate to the principles and strands of Te Whāriki and provides many examples of practice.
This resource outlines a repertoire of practices afforded by digital technologies and provides several assessment examples.
This report has a comprehensive introduction which summarises the international literature at the time it was written (2010). It also provides "snapshots of practice".