What 5 Years of Research Tells Us Part 1: Presence and Relationships Matter

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Written by Katie Paciga, PhD, Associate Professor of Education at Columbia College Chicago and the 2015-17 Early Career Research Fellow, TEC Center and Fred Rogers Rogers Center.

The TEC Center and NAEYC/Fred Rogers Center joint position statement on Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs both turn 5 years old this year. As the TEC Center and Fred Rogers Rogers Center 2015-17 Early Career Research Fellow, I engaged in a research project to synthesize what we’ve learned from five years of discussion, research, and practice in children’s technology and media use. I reviewed 595 entries related to early childhood education and technology/digital media published mid-2011 through the beginning of 2016, to see what we could learn about what we really know and what we need to know about young children and technology. In our research report,Technology and Interactive Media for Young Children: A Whole Child Approach Connecting the Vision of Fred Rogers with Research and Practice, TEC Center’s director, Senior Fellow, Fred Rogers Center and co-author of the 2012 NAEYC/Fred Rogers Center joint position statement, Chip Donohue and I, describe the breadth and depth of the published research and practice and we draw connections to Fred Rogers’ simple and deep approach to facilitating whole child development. This series of blog posts will take you through several of our key findings.

Our first key finding: Access is important, but relationships are also essential when considering technology and media use for young children, 0-8 years.

A child’s interactions with technology and media often involve other people in the child’s social world (peers, siblings, parents, caregivers, teachers, etc.). The American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] (2016) suggests that adults co-engage and provide support for and converse with children about the technologies and media present and utilized in children’s lives. I coded the research and practice I read for teachers/child care providers, parents/caregivers, interventionists/therapists, or other adults (e.g., researchers, librarians, adults facilitating after-school activities, and pre-service teachers). I also indicated either the presence or absence of each of these adults in one or more of a child’s described interactions with technology and media.

Graph from Katie Paciga, PhD showing what research and literature between 2011-2016 tell us about adult and child interactions with technology and media

Whenever I could, I coded for the adults’ presence and support for the child’s experiences with technology or media. A child interacting alone with no mediation from an adult was coded as ‘no mediation,” represented by the orange bars in the above graph. When adults sit with a child throughout their technology experience and provide active support, I coded it as “active mediation throughout the child’s interaction” represented by blue bars. There were other experiences in which there was an adult described in the entry, but his or her role was not continuous, represented in the red bars. From these data, I concluded that the adults were often described as being present, but without presence, when children interacted with technology and media. I examined this as a function of the child’s age and found that adults’ presence varied as a function of the child’s age.

Approximately 22% of the entries I coded indicated that a single child was interacting with a single device. This result was more common in the primary grades than in infant/toddler or preschool/kinder age ranges. Many of the examples of research and practice with the 1:1 technology arrangement reported parents and teachers present when children are using the technology and media.

An adult’s, presence, however, did not always imply active, co-engagement. When adults were present, they often supported a child’s use by setting up the device or familiarizing the child with the activity and leaving the child to engage fairly independently, despite the recommendation of the AAP for joint engagement.

The joint position statement suggested, “When used wisely, technology and media can support learning and relationships. Enjoyable and engaging shared experiences that optimize the potential for children’s learning and development can support children’s relationships both with adults and their peers” (NAEYC & Fred Rogers Center, 2012). I tend to agree – low or no joint media engagement (like those patterns in the red and orange bars, above) does not necessarily mean that adults aren’t talking about what young children are seeing, hearing, and doing as they interact with media in many of the contexts we observed. The shared experiences I coded in the research and practice base weren’t always ones that are done side-by-side, adult and child together. Fred Rogers long believed that “the best use of television happens when the program is over.”

Here are some questions from me and media mentor tips from the TEC Center’s associate director, Tamara Kaldor that can guide your thinking about the ways in which you plan for shared technology and media experiences in your early childhood setting or home:

  1. What portion of the children’s time with technology and/or interactive media is spent away from the teacher or in an individual context (i.e., as compared to partner, small group, or whole group contexts)?
    • Media Mentor Tip:
      • Have children connect a device to a projector and show their work to the group on a larger screen or wall and reflect together on their learning. Children can practice communication skills and learn how to explain their thinking.
  2. If the individual time is high compared to other contexts, how can you bring the individual’s work into larger group discussions or into teacher-child or child-child interactions?
    • Media Mentor Tip:
      • Consider having children partner to share their work and explain their work to another child and walk around facilitating and checking-in on their work.
  3. If you’re already co-engaging with children in their use of technology and/or interactive media, how might you extend and integrate those conversations into other parts of the child’s life? Consider home-school connections or documenting student work.
    • Media Mentor Tip:
      • Digital portfolios can be created with such tech tools as Google Slides, Book Creator,Seesaw,Storypark and other ebook or home-to-school connection tools can be used as conversation starters for the adults in a child’s life to learn more about their world, their ideas and their learning.

Written by Katie Paciga, PhD, Associate Professor of Education at Columbia College Chicago and the 2015-17 Early Career Research Fellow, TEC Center and Fred Rogers Rogers Center. The Early Career Research Fellowship was supported by a grant from the Grable Foundation of Pittsburgh. Learn more about the Fred Rogers Center http://www.fredrogerscenter.org

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