What 5 Years of Research Tells Us, Part 3: There’s Comparatively Less Intentional Planning for Social and Emotional Learning When Using Technology and Media

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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 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 Early Career Research Fellow at the TEC Center and Fred Rogers Center from 2015-17, 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 still need to learn 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, Fred Rogers Center Senior Fellow and Advisor 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 is the third in a series of blog posts that take you through several of our key findings.

Finding 3: Our report shows that inquiry into cognitive domains is more prevalent than non-cognitive domains.

The 2012 NAEYC/Fred Rogers Center joint position statement suggested “Educators must be knowledgeable and prepared to make informed decisions about how and when to appropriately select, use, integrate, and evaluate technology media to meet the cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and linguistic needs of young children” (pp. 10-11). We wondered the extent to which the entries we read and coded addressed these goals.

In the chart below you see the number of entries we coded for a variable called “goals/outcomes” for each described technology or media-oriented task we read in the literature. The purpose of this variable was to help us classify the range of child-level goals or outcomes for the child. Through our process, we coded goals across domains of development (cognitive, linguistic, social-emotional, and physical), and, in doing so, we identified one or more goal for each entry we read.

Overall, we found the most goals in the cognitive and linguistic domains—science, math, literacy, and language. There were examples of other content areas (e.g., art, music), and plenty of the entries we read presented the children with multidisciplinary goals. The graph clearly shows that the literature we read described children working toward many technology-mediated language and literacy goals, but very few pieces of the literature identified non-cognitive domains as an intended outcome or overarching goal for the child’s interactions.

Because the mission of the Fred Rogers Center is to “carry forward Fred Rogers’ important legacy, which is being a straightforward, understanding, and compassionate voice for the healthy social and emotional development of children birth to age 8,” we were particularly interested in the apparent lack of primary sources focused on non-cognitive (i.e., social or emotional) goals. The field’s attention to academic outcomes through children’s use of technology and media is evident, but the notion of utilizing technology and media as a vehicle to support children’s social or emotional development is not prominent.

This is not to suggest that positive strides toward promoting a child’s social and emotional development through the use of technology and media have not been demonstrated in the literature: approximately seventy percent of the coded entries provided descriptions of children’s social-emotional interactions and responses, but did so without an explicit focus on those developmental domains. In other words, children may be engaged in social interactions with emotional responses while utilizing technology or interactive media, but these are not engineered foci of the research or practice described in the literature.

Given this, we offer 4 tips for practitioners to encourage social and emotional development while engaging with technology and interactive media:

If you’re interested in reading more about the research and practice from which these tips arose here is the reference list:

Bird, J., & Edwards, S. (2015). Children learning to use technologies through play: A Digital Play Framework: Children learning to use technologies through play. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(6), 1149–1160. DOI: 10.1111/bjet.12191

Blackwell, C. (2015). Technology use in early childhood education: Investigating teacher access and attitudes toward technology and the effect of iPads on student achievement (Doctoral Dissertation). Northwestern University.

Coggin, L. S., Wohlwend, K. E., Buchholz, B. A., Wessel-Powell, C., & Husbye, N. (2014). Expanding early childhood literacy curriculum through play-based film-making and popular media. In C. Felderman (Ed.), Perspectives and provocations on early childhood education (Vol. 3). IAP Publishing.

Edwards, S., & Bird, J. (2015). Observing and assessing young children’s digital play in the early years: Using the Digital Play Framework. Journal of Early Childhood Research. DOI: 10.1177/1476718X15579746

Marsh, J., Plowman, L., Bishop, J. C., Lahmar, J., Scott, F., Davenport, A., … Robinson, P. (2015). Exploring play and creativity in preschoolers’ use of apps: Final project report. Retrieved from http://www.techandplay.org/reports/TAP_Final_Report.pdf

Nikolayev, M. (2016). Improving preschoolers’ theory of mind skills with digital games: A training study (Doctoral Dissertation). George Mason University.

Richert, R. A., Robb, M. B., & Smith, E. I. (2011). Media as Social Partners: The Social Nature of Young Children’s Learning From Screen Media: Media as Social Partners. Child Development, 82(1), 82–95. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01542.x

Xin, J. F., & Sutman, F. X. (2011). Using the smart board in teaching social stories to students with autism. Teaching Exceptional Children, 43(4), 18–24.

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 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

October 18, 2017
What 5 Years of Research Tells Us Part 2: There May Be Some Benefits For Infants And Toddlers, Too
Research is connected to practice in this second blog post from Dr. Katie Paciga sharing what we know about young children, media and technology in the digital age. Read more →
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October 5, 2017
Tangible Tech Collection: Early Childhood Tangible Tech and Robotics Info Sheets
The TEC Center has a collection of over 40 tangible technology tools, including robotics. You can download our product info sheets that include early childhood development considerations. Read more →
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