How Early Childhood Educators Use Technology in the Classroom

A new survey of early childhood educators shows they think technology can play a positive role in children’s learning. But they need support in order to make use of new tools in their classrooms.

This post first appeared on the Fred Rogers Center blog. It appears here with permission.

We are on the cusp of tremendous changes in early childhood education as technology introduces new opportunities for learning and teaching. To learn more about how early childhood educators are using technology, the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University, in partnership with the Fred Rogers Center and in collaboration with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), conducted a survey in fall 2012 of more than 1,400 NAEYC members working with children from birth through age 8. We asked about technology access, use, attitudes, school policies, and professional development in educational technology. The primary findings include:

  • Technology Access: Newer technologies are not yet widely available in early childhood education. The main technologies available to these educators were digital cameras (92%), desktop or laptop computers (84%), and TVs/DVDs (80%). In contrast, only 29% had access to tablet computers, and 15% had access to e-readers. The family income of the students and the education levels of the educators predicted access to newer technologies—the higher the income and the greater the education levels, the more likely students and educators were to have access to technology. The type of early childhood program also influenced access. School-based programs were more likely to have interactive whiteboards and tablet computers than center- or home-based programs.
  • Technology Use: Technology access is only half of the story. Even if available, use of technology was generally low. Digital cameras (61%)—often used to foster social-emotional development—and computers (45%) were the most commonly used, at least once a week. Of respondents who had access to interactive whiteboards and tablets, more than 50% used them at least once a week, often for skills-based learning. The type of early childhood program influenced use as well. Center-based programs were less likely to use tablets or other computers than home-based or school-based programs.
  • Attitudes: Respondents generally believed that technology has a positive role in early childhood programs, particularly to document children’s learning and for individualized learning. Younger educators held more positive views than older educators.
  • Technology Integration: Early childhood educators generally were confident in using technology. But they indicated several barriers to integrating it into their programs. Nearly 40% said they lacked sufficient technical support, and nearly 60% said professional development was limited.

In 2010, when the Rogers Center, the Center on Media and Human Development, and the NAEYC conducted a similar survey, the findings showed that very few early childhood educators were using technology. Clearly, things are changing. However, to ensure that we harness the positive potential of digital media in early childhood education, we need to ensure that educators know how to use the tools in developmentally appropriate ways. The lack of professional development is still a major barrier, a finding echoed in the Joan Ganz Cooney Center report Take a Giant Step.

It is our hope that the NAEYC – Fred Rogers Center joint position statement on developmentally appropriate practice in the use of technology and interactive media in early childhood programs can serve as a foundation for supporting early learning and development.  The statement and accompanying documents offer research-based guidance on how to use these tools in ways that advance program quality.

Additional reading:

Computers and Education – Adoption and Use of Technology in Early Education: The Interplay of Extrinsic Barriers and Teacher Attitudes (This article also uses data from the 2012 survey of NAEYC members)

Child Care Information Exchange – The Early Childhood Technology Today, 2012 Survey

Joan Ganz Cooney Center – Comparative Analysis of National Teacher Surveys

Published October 28, 2013