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Spotlight on ICT in early childhood education: An interview with Ann Hatherly

Sarah Boyd

Ann Hatherly distills three key messages from the Early Childhood Education Information and Communication Technology Professional Learning Programme.

Spotlight on ICT in early childhood education:
An interview with Ann Hatherly

Sarah Boyd

Ann Hatherly believes Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has much to offer learning and teaching in early childhood centres around New Zealand.

Ann works for CORE Education (, which is contracted by the Ministry of Education to run a national pilot known as the Early Childhood Education Information and Communication Technology Professional Learning (ECE ICT PL) Programme. The threeyear programme involves 60 centres nationwide, who develop their own ICT investigations, access professional development, and disseminate their work. She is the national facilitator.

The programme is one of several initiatives to result from Foundations for Discovery (2005), the Ministry of Education’s framework for ICT use in early childhood education. It builds on research showing that the biggest impact on effective ICT use is teacher beliefs, confidence, and motivation.

“It’s not about the technology, it’s about how you use it,” she says. “You can have all the ICT tools in the world and it won’t make a scrap of difference if you’re not prepared to also look at how teaching and learning might need to be changed as a result.”

So when the ECE ICT PL Programme began, they asked centres to put the ICT to one side while they wrote a vision of what they wanted to develop. Once they had the vision, centres had to come up with a research question, which then framed their ICT investigation.

A big part of the first year of the programme was increasing educators’ confidence and capability with ICT. This included undertaking workshops in cyber safety, which were an eye opener for many. This early phase was more about the educators’ learning than the children’s. However, now, almost two years into the programme, the emphasis has shifted.

“I think we’ve now got to the point where teaching teams feel they know enough about the ‘how to’ aspect of ICT and are asking ‘so what does this mean for our teaching and children’s learning?’

“Effective ICT professional development is a balancing act between the excitement generated by the resources, and teaching teams really asking the big pedagogical questions.”

Most centres in the project are using ICT for documentation, for research, for communication, and for children’s creativity. Enthusiasm for Web 2.0 tools such as blogging and Skype has grown, as educators have tried them and seen the possibilities.

The project has three goals: to build ICT capability for children and educators, and in some cases parents; to transform teaching and learning and build communities of practice that can be sustained; and to enhance learning outcomes for children.

Educators have given presentations at conferences about their work, and there are plans for findings to be synthesised and case studies disseminated. Ann Hatherly is in no doubt there have been huge gains from the project.

“I would say it has made a difference in every centre that’s been involved, for many in quite significant ways.”

She’s found that educators of all ages have embraced the professional learning opportunity. “Some of those who have been the most enthusiastic learners have been older educators who have seen the potential of ICT use in their personal as well as their professional lives.”

One of the powerful ideas to emerge from the work from her perspective is the potential for ICT to blur the boundaries between teaching and learning, as children teach educators, and each other.

“Some people begin with doubts about ICT use with children so young but these diminish when they see the amount of collaboration and socialisation that goes on around ICT. The type of ICT use we are seeing is not about a child isolated in front of a computer for long periods of time.”

Centres often have one or two children who seem to have an intuitive connection with technology, who turn out to be ICT experts. “Children often just work it out and they have very good ideas.” She says good educators will draw upon children’s expertise and motivation to help others, including the adults.

The second important feature for her is a related one: the way technology can shift the power relationships so that children become active contributors rather than passive recipients of whatever is going on.

“We talk a lot about children as competent and confident, and I guess ICT is allowing us to expand on what we mean by this.”

That might be as simple as giving children the digital camera, rather than educators always taking the photos. “When children have control of the shutter they bring a fresh perspective not only because they see things from a different height but also because they are untainted by the photographic conventions we adults have learned.”

Another way can be linking up electronically with children in another centre. In one example, a centre was redesigning its outdoor play area and the children used Skype to talk to children in another centre about their play areas, to get ideas.

Her third key message is the ability of ICT to bring about a shift in relationships between centres and their families and communities. Sending home photos and movies—and getting things back in return—has led to a greater sense of shared experience. As a result, educators are reporting more meaningful conversations with children and with parents about their child’s progress.

“I would say there are a number of educators who have a better appreciation of the importance of that relationship and feel more comfortable with their families than they did before.”

Three key messages

•&;&;&;&;ICT has the potential to blur the lines between teaching and learning, as children and educators do both.

•&;&;&;&;By using ICT, children can shift from being passive to active contributors.

•&;&;&;&;ICT can facilitate the strengthening of relationships between children, families, and the community.

Sarah Boyd is Communications Manager at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research.