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Engagement and complexity of thinking 1


What is the effect of digital technologies on engagement and complexity of thinking

of the explorations of 5-6 year old children in a Reggio inspired setting?


Action Research

!Clair Weston


Buffalo State, SUNY

Dr Hank Nicols


December 2013


Engagement and complexity of thinking 2

Abstract Twenty four Kindergarten students attending Jakarta International School participated in an action research study exploring the question, What is the effect of digital technologies on engagement and complexity of thinking of the explorations of 5-6 year old children in a Reggio inspired setting? A two-group pre-test and post-test design measured student engagement and student complexity of thinking after a seven week intervention. The experimental group consisted of one class of Kindergarten students who were exposed to opportunities for using iPads as a language of expression, as a device for creation. The control group consisted of a second Kindergarten class who were exposed to opportunities for using iPads in the traditional way, as a device for consumption. Results indicated that after the intervention period, although the scores of both groups increased, the level of engagement and the depth of thinking of the experimental group was higher.

Engagement and complexity of thinking 3

Introduction In todays context it is difMicult to ignore the role of digital technologies in the lives of young children. However, I am often in a state of tension as to an effective way for children to use digital technologies and still be true to my pedagogical beliefs about early childhood education. I would like to think about how digital technologies could be interwoven into our approach to learning and our beliefs about young children to enhance what we do and so improve the experience for our children. This study researched into ways to enhance relationships and understanding and consider possibilities to evocatively interweave the digital, poetic and symbolic languages. Although there are a variety of different digital technologies that could be considered the study focussed on the application and use of one device, the iPad. Using an iPad appears to be natural to the children. I have observed how skillful they are in commanding the touch screen and navigating the controls. Somehow to these children it is intuitive. There is much current discussion about the use of iPads with young children and we have recently received two in each Kindergarten class and are anticipating a class set for next year. This study explored some of the possibilities of using the iPads, which are open to creativity, imagination and to deepen learning and relationships. I am reminded by Vea Vecchi, We have to give closer attention to the process of learning through the digital media. The digital experience is much too often exhausted simply in its function and technical form. In addition to this technical aspect, if it is also used in creative and imaginative ways, it reveals a high level of expressive, cognitive and social potential as well as great possibilities for evolution. It is necessary to reMlect on and better comprehend the changes that the digital

Engagement and complexity of thinking 4language introduces in the processes of understanding. We have to be aware of what this adds, takes away, or modiMies in todays learning. (Gandini et al, 2005, p. x ) Based on my observations of children using iPads they can be passive users, looking at a screen, consuming, rather than using the device as a language of expression and communication. This implies to me a low level of engagement, in that the activity level is simple, repetitive and passive, there is an absence of cognitive demand. Lower order thinking skills are utilized. No other languages are used. By languages I am referring to my understanding of the term Hundred Languages used by the Reggio educators. The Hundred languages of children is a metaphor for the many ways of making meaning and connections and supporting concept development and understanding. The hundred languages is a declaration that gives value to all the symbolic and poetic languages that children possess (Malaguzzi, cited in Edwards et al, 2012, p.2). As a result of the intervention, I hoped to see the children displaying sustained intense engagement. There would be creativity, energy and persistence. Higher order thinking skills would be displayed. Several languages of expression would be intertwined. By transferring between languages there exists a deeper understanding in the childs thinking and explorations. The quality of the exploration would be higher if the child is highly engaged and there is a richness of languages, that the exploration would be more complex if multiple languages of expression are used. I proposed that in using the iPad as an expressive language we move beyond the common use of iPads. Merely giving the children somewhat narrowly focused Apps, which are not open to imaginative use or Apps, which have little meaning or substance and take away from an actual experience with clay or building with wooden blocks. I am suggesting that it is possible that digital technologies can add to the level of engagement and the complexity of thinking of a

Engagement and complexity of thinking 5childs explorations when the other languages of expression are not forgotten. My thinking has been inMluenced by George Foreman, who proposes that, Children learn about the world by creating relationships between different languages. (Edwards et al, 2012, p.349) The following study was designed to explore this hypothesis. !

Review of the Literature After identifying the need to validate the effect that iPads can have in the engagement and complexity of thinking of the explorations of 5-6 year old children, I reviewed the literature to ensure an in depth knowledge about the use of digital technologies with young children and to learn about results obtained from prior research. This literature review presents ideas from various research studies that have suggested that digital technologies can be used to enhance learning in young children. I have found it difMicult to locate reliable evidence to offer support on pedagogical ways to maximise the learning potential of digital technologies. There is an ongoing debate about how and whether digital technologies can Mit in the lives of young children, although the use of computers and other digital devices are rapidly becoming a reality in early childhood settings and in many childrens homes. Arguments are repeatedly concerned with the quality of childrens experiences with digital technologies and the value of such experiences for their physical, cognitive and socio-emotional development (Verenikina and Kervin, 2011). Banister (2010) points to a lack of research into iPads for education, as they are still very new to the market. Parette, Queensbury and Blum (2010) believe early childhood educators are missing the boat in terms of digital technology use in their classrooms. Drawing on ideas associated with the digital disconnect they describe the huge divide between childrens digital technology

Engagement and complexity of thinking