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How young is too young? Mobile technologies and young children August 21, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments.
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 from Dr Joanne Orlando

Joanne Orlando examines the potential and disadvantages of young children engaging with mobile technologies as learning devices, concluding that the positives far outweigh the negatives.

What’s the latest trend parents are using to toilet train their young child? Letting them use your iPad while on the potty. That is, as long as he or she delivers the goods!

The introduction of iPads, mobile phones, tablets and laptops has seen children use new technology at a younger age than ever before. These mobile devices are perfectly matched to the lifestyle of a young child. They don’t need to sit still at a table or desk to use the device, they don’t need to negotiate a mouse and, the colours and movement they offer, at a mere touch, are irresistible. However, will these tech gizmos help the learning of young children, whether it be in basic hygiene tasks such as toilet training, teaching them to read, or being socially adept? Or, will it in fact hurt them?

Research shows that toddlers, pre-schoolers, even babies are embracing mobile devices. Latest figures show that 60% of children aged six months to two years (as well as 1 in 10 babies under 6 months) play with laptops, computers, mobiles and tablets. A study undertaken across Australia, New Zealand, United States, United Kingdom and Europe found that more two to five years olds are able to play games on a computer than tie their shoelaces or ride a bike. What’s more, a new Android-powered tablet aimed at babies from newborn to four years of age is in the final stages of production. The tablet is designed to promote interactive learning with various apps, including games, story books and music videos. Amazon has started taking pre-orders for the device. It seems newborns have more interesting things to do than just eating, sleeping and crying.

However, there continues to be a hot debate around very young children using this technology. I was in a café the other day and I saw a parent with her two children aged one and four. Each child was playing with their iPad while the mum had her coffee. Many of us in the café gave a lot of attention to this scene. Would it have stood out so much if the children were carrying drawing paper or picture books? Is that better for a child than learning to paint using an iPad app? On their way out, the one year old was placed back in her pram and continued to swipe and tap away while being pushed by mum.

Are we being sucked in to the rhetoric that these new innovations are actually good for children’s learning? A lot of hope has been placed in the ways technology can help children learn at school. The Australian government has spent millions in the last two years alone on technology in schools. Should we wait until a child is five or 6 years of age or older to be introduced to technology? It’s an important question to ask.

Children are very capable learners. They learn to talk, walk, read, sing, tap dance, play soccer, all before they have reached their third or fourth birthday! Their capacity for learning is equally outstanding when it comes to mobile technologies. They often know their way around their parent’s mobile better than their parent. I have a friend whose pre-schooler keeps figuring out the passcode lock to their smartphone.

If we think of young children in terms of their capacity to learn quickly and easily, the learning potential of mobile technologies is evident. There are hundreds of Apple and Android apps designed to develop young children’s literacy and numeracy. Children can match numbers, play with tangrams, play games based on their favourite story book, and engage with and even develop new stories of their own with the help of their parent. These apps offer immediate interactive responses, which is really exciting for both play and education.

Many worry that these devices will take over learning the basics. There are lots of ways to learn the alphabet, in fact the best way to learn the basics is to learn them in different ways. An effective ‘learning’ combination could be using pen and paper, playing board games, using different sized and coloured fonts to write on a laptop, looking at and talking about writing around the community, and reading an interactive story on the iPad. This combination allows them to learn in ways which take the best from the modern world. One might think learning the old-fashioned way is better, however technology provides learning opportunities that traditional ways of learning can’t provide. Moreover, technology is a significant feature of our contemporary life. Feeling competent and confident in using technology is a new basic that children now also need to learn.

The most damaging use of mobile devices is when they are used solely as a digital babysitter. Some parents are tapping into young children’s enthusiasm for these devices as a way of managing children’s behaviour. Research shows that iPhones and iPads are becoming the most popular pacifiers on the toy market. Giving a child your mobile every time you want them to be quiet can be as detrimental to a child’s development as giving them a lolly each time. Consistently demanding children disengage with the people they are with and the world around them and, if adults expect them to be quiet all the time, limits their opportunity to learn how to be confident people who can fully engage in our society. It teaches them that they are not important. They may be having fun using their iPad, but the message is subliminal.

Mobile technologies are a new and exciting means for young children to learn with. They are part of contemporary life and the lives of today’s young child. The real issue is not whether to use mobile devices, but rather, how we can engender a love of learning in children, helping them to learn knowledge useful in our current society and spending quality time with those who care about them.

Joanne Orlando is a Lecturer in early childhood education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She has a particular interest in 21st century learning technologies and their applications in formal and non-formal education. This article was also reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald August 23rd edition under a different title.

“Not me, no, I’m not creative!” – recognise this? Don’t despair, creativity is teach(er)able – Part 1 August 7, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Dr Catherine Camden-Pratt

Creativity is the stuff of life, it’s what makes us come fully alive, it’s where our passions get engaged (Robinson 2010) and where we play (Nachmanovitch 1990). Dissanayake (1988) locates creativity in being human. 21st century organisations, local and global contexts and challenges require creativity (Wright, Camden-Pratt & Hill, S (Eds) 2011). So, how come so many of us believe we are not creative?

Each year I teach around 600 students who intend becoming teachers. The majority of them enter the undergraduate unit Learning and Creativity firmly believing they are not creative. I am always amazed, but not surprised. So often I hear students – and colleagues – hotly argue against their own creativity, “I’m not creative… I’ve never made anything remotely artistic in my life…. or at least not since primary school, and then it’s not like it was a work of art or something!” After this they may sigh, their faces and bodies drooping. Then, some, pausing for a moment, light up, their bodies becoming vibrant, their voices excited as they say, “But I like cooking!” or “I love taking photos when I travel!” or “I make great cards for my friends” or “I love playing with my children – that’s where I get to be creative.” Interestingly my colleagues rarely say, “But I’m pretty darn effective in building a community of learners in my classroom”, and students rarely answer, “I chew up the readings when I’m writing my essays for uni and love building my own ideas into the questions we’re given to answer.” What would you say if I asked you to tell me about your creativity – would you describe yourself as creative?

So, what is this thing called ‘creative’ that we most often decide we aren’t, and that the things we do are not? How come we so quickly dismiss our creativity, decide it doesn’t measure up? As teachers, how can we identify our own creativity, access, value and nurture it and enable students to develop theirs? How can we teach creatively? How can we teach creativity? How do we enable multiple stories, responses and approaches which sit at the heart of creative teaching-learning?

Through various historical moves over many centuries and into the late 20th century, creativity shifted from a small ‘c’ to a big ‘C’ and became the domain of artists, of musicians, of dramatists, of creative writers, poets and of ‘great’ scientists and mathematicians. Whose interests do these narrow ideas serve? Who and what gets silenced by creativity being the domain of a selected, gifted few? What impact does a thriving creativity have on a community? How might it unsettle hierarchies? What does it take to be open to creativity in ourselves and others? How come ‘we’ are often scared of it and of what ‘we’ think it may unleash?  How can we build our creative muscles?  In the 21st century in which originality – once the defining feature of creativity – is contested and the internet provides fertile sites for individual and communal expression, what significant shifts have there been in the politics of creativity? What does all this mean for teacher and students engaged together in learning?

Over a semester, students and teachers ask these questions together, unpacking creativity, identifying and building their creativity using a variety of processes inside a co-created creative learning community. Through this they learn how to teach creativity and teach creatively ( Camden Pratt 2011, 2009, 2010, Haywood et al 2005, Neville 2005, Robinson 2011, Yardley 2011). Invariably students transform their ideas about themselves and their creativity, and what is possible for them as 21st century teachers. How would you respond to these same questions? And what play-full edges have you stretched this last week? How have you watered your creativity lately? What do you have in mind to enrich your soul life this next week?


Camden- Pratt, C. (2011). Becoming with/in social ecology: writing as practice in creative learning. In Social Ecology: Applying Ecological Understanding to our Lives and our Planet. David Wright, Catherine E Camden Pratt and Stuart B Hill. (Eds). Gloucestershire, UK: Hawthorn Press. (pp. 202-213)   Camden-Pratt, C. (2009). Relationality and the art of becoming. In Pedagogical Encounters, Bronwyn Davies and Susanne Gannon, New York: Peter Lang. (pp 53-68)  Camden Pratt, C. (2008). Social ecology and creative pedagogy: using creative arts and critical thinking in co-creating and sustaining ecological learning webs in university pedagogies. In Transnational Curriculum Inquiry 5 (1) 2008 http://nitinat.library.ubc.ca/ojs/index.php/tci accessed 18/07/2011.  Dissanayake, E. (1992). Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why. Canada: The Free Press.  Heywood, P. (2005). Changing Minds: A Glimpse at the Experience of Transformative Learning in Heywood, P., McCann, T., Neville, B., & Wills, P. (eds) Towards Re-Enchantment Education, Imagination and the Getting of Wisdom. Flaxton: Post Pressed. (pp. 39-48). Nachmanovitch, S. (1990). Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art. New York: Penguin. Neville, B (2005). Educating Psyche; emotion, imagination and the unconscious in learning. Greensborough, VIC: Flat Chat Press.  Robinson, K with Aronica, L (2010). The element: how finding your passion changes everything. London: Penguin Books. Robinson, K (2011) Out of our minds: learning to be creative Oxford: Capstone. Wright, D., Camden-Pratt, C. E. & Hill, S. B. (Eds). (2011). Social Ecology: Applying Ecological Understanding to our Lives and our Planet. Gloucestershire, UK: Hawthorn Press.  Yardley, A. (2011). Creativity country: A journey through embodied space. In Social Ecology: Applying Ecological Understanding to our Lives and our Planet. David Wright, Catherine E Camden Pratt and Stuart B Hill. (Eds). Gloucestershire, UK: Hawthorn Press. (pp 81-91).

Catherine Camden-Pratt is a Lecturer in social ecology and education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is keenly interested in the concept of creativity, and offers the unit Learning and Creativity, a very popular unit with undergraduate students who take our Education Studies Major.

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