Computer-based education: among young children, collaboration works best

By April 23, 2015
Ipads at school

Experts have underlined the value of collaborative learning using ICTs in higher education. So where do the new technologies come in when teaching very young children?

Many educators have talked about just how important it is to begin inculcating a digital mindset in children from their earliest years. Among them are Nicolas Sadirac, President of French private higher education establishment the European Institute of Information Technology (Epitech) and co-founder of School 42, a French computer programming school, and Serge Abiteboul, Research Director at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA), both of whom advocate teaching computer programming from primary school level. ‟There are various different ways of developing intellectual and cognitive capabilities. However, there’s a particular need in this particular area […] I would even go so far as to say that it provides the most effective way of helping a child’s overall development,” Nicolas Sadirac explained during a L'Atelier Numérique (L’Atelier Digital) broadcast last October.

Such words have already been matched by action in various places. One example is TechShop Inside!, a truck equipped with tablets, 3D printers and other technological equipment, which travels the roads of California running workshops for schools to raise awareness of computer programming. Serge Abiteboul stresses that such initiatives are all about getting children interested and ‟educating children for our twentieth century world”. However, there is still a need to think about the best way of familiarising very young children with modern information and communication technologies at school. This means that thought needs to be given to how classrooms are equipped. 

The city of Los Angeles has earned itself a reputation on this front, but not a very positive one. In 2013, the state schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) launched a $1.3 billion plan to equip classrooms with iPads. While the project was undoubtedly based on very noble intentions, the rollout quickly foundered amid claims of inadequate training and security breaches by high school students, who deleted security filters so they could freely browse the Internet, coupled with an FBI enquiry, which uncovered some improprieties in the contract bidding process.

L'apprentissage  des nouvelles technologies à la maternelle

                  Sharing tablets at nursery school helps to teach young children to read

Perhaps before deciding that absolutely every pupil should have a tablet computer, it would be a good idea to observe the impact of sharing such equipment in class. Accordingly, a study from Northwestern University* in the United States, one of the first quantitative analyses in this field, revealed that children in nursery schools sharing tablets in pairs achieved better results than peers who each had their own tablet or some similar piece of equipment.

Courtney Blackwell, who led the study, tracked the progress of 352 children throughout a school year. The classrooms of the schools she was studying differed in the amount of equipment they had. Classrooms in one school had an iPad for each pupil, classrooms in a second school had 23 iPads to share, where kids primarily used them in pairs, while classrooms in a third school had no iPads at all. She compared the impact of the presence or absence of tablets on how well the children learned to read, measuring each child’s reading level using the STAR Early Literacy Assessment system. The results were unequivocal. Children who had been sharing equipment made greater progress. Blackwell found that iPad-sharing pupils scored approximately 30 points higher than non-iPad users and also than children who each had their own individual device in class.

Blackwell states in the International Communication Association press release that "1:1 tablet computers may not be the most effective way to use technology for all grades and from a policy standpoint, we need to rethink what developmentally appropriate technology use is for young children". However the initial conclusion would appear to be that using tools collaboratively in kindergarten schools provides a meaningful and effective way of incorporating the technology into education. ‟It is collaborative learning using the technologies that makes the difference,” stresses the Northwestern University researcher.

*Study entitled ‘iPads in Kindergarten: Investigating the Effect of Tablet Computers on Student Achievement’, carried out by Courtney Blackwell, a PhD student in the Media, Technology, and Society Programme at the School of Northwestern University, Chicago, USA. She is due to present her findings at the 65th annual conference of the International Communication Association in Puerto Rico on 21 - 25 May.


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