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Research Question

  1. How do we ensure that ECE providers are prepared to integrate technology appropriately, intentionally, and productively into ECE settings?

Providers of early childhood education (ECE) are well positioned to help ensure that technology is used effectively in ECE settings. Indeed, the successful integration of technology into ECE depends on providers who have the ability to curate the most appropriate devices and content, facilitate effective patterns of use, guide families and caretakers on developmentally appropriate practice, and use technology to support provider needs. But ECE providers face significant obstacles that might limit their ability to successfully incorporate technology into the learning process. In this policy brief, we describe both the barriers providers face and the efforts that might be helpful in creating confident, knowledgeable providers who can help ensure appropriate, intentional, and productive use of technology among young children.

Key Findings

Early Childhood Education Providers Play Four Key Technology Roles

  • Curators: Providers must be aware of the available devices and software, able to select the appropriate tools, and knowledgeable about how and when to integrate technology-based activities into the classroom and other childhood education settings.
  • Facilitators: Providers will need to guide children and help them understand their interactions with technology, make connections, explore, and create.
  • Models: As providers gather information on the tools and practices likely to be effective in childhood education settings, and as they determine how to effectively facilitate technology use among young children, they can transfer this knowledge to families to support effective technology use in the home.
  • Users: Providers themselves also use technology for the purposes of administration, preparation, and communication in support of early childhood education.

Providers Face Barriers to Fulfilling These Roles

  • Access: Many providers lack appropriate devices, high-quality software, and adequate Internet connectivity.
  • Uncertainty about Standards: Providers are uncertain about standards for proper technology, which may lead to improper use of technology and hesitancy among some providers to introduce technology into early childhood education settings.
  • Attitude: To the degree that ECE providers have autonomy in choosing the activities that take place in their classrooms or facilities, negative attitudes or strong concerns about technology use may prove a strong barrier to effective technology use in some settings.
  • Time: Even when providers are eager to integrate technology into childhood education settings, they may not do so because they simply cannot find the time necessary to become comfortable with the technology and plan how to use it successfully.
  • Training: Some stakeholders expressed frustration over the lack of models or exemplars of effective, appropriate integration of technology into early childhood education setting, which might support providers' learning.
  • Technology Development: Turnover in the technology world creates problems of cost and continuity for providers. Further, software developers have limited knowledge of the ways in which young children learn, which may render their products of limited value even before they are obsolete.

Recommendations

  • It is critical that ECE providers receive clear, consistent messages about standards for technology use in ECE settings. To ensure that developmentally appropriate practices are broadly adopted, expert findings on appropriate use should be incorporated into formal state and local education standards and into quality rating and improvement systems for ECE providers. Providers should also receive adequate and ongoing training in technology use.
  • Give providers time to explore, experiment, and plan. Exploring different technologies and simulating how children might use them is important to a provider's understanding of how technologies might be used to support learning objectives.
  • Learning communities (support structures that operate outside of formal training) can help providers become more knowledgeable about effectively using technology in ECE settings. Participants can share best practices and lessons learned, quickly distribute knowledge, and create support groups for providers facing common challenges.
  • When devices and software are designed to meet the needs of providers, providers may be more likely to use that technology in the classroom. Explicit opportunities should be provided for ECE providers and child development experts to get involved in the technology development process. Policymakers should also consider bringing ECE providers into policy discussions so that their insights on barriers and needs are taken into account.

This project was conducted within RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation.

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