Katie Paciga, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Education at Columbia College Chicago. She teaches courses in Language Development, Children’s Media and Technology, and Early Reading and Writing Methods. Her area of specialization is emergent/early digital literacy development. I interviewed Katie about her views on technology and literacy education for young learners.
LZ: What do you think is the most exciting connection between technology and literacy? Why?
KP: So, the way I see it, there is incredible cultural relevance to the whole connection between technology and literacy. That’s really the most important point. Scientists will continue to debate over the value-added (or not added) because we have evolved. While that debate happens, though, most people are using technology as a tool for communication — to consume information, to create new texts, and to communicate messages. The ways we carry out these actions have changed in the past decade in very significant ways.
I suppose you could argue that technology has been impacting the ways we communicate from the time of the evolution of the first writing tool to the telephone, radio, printing press, television, and now the computer and Internet. Humans have always communicated, but today there are new vocabulary terms to describe how we communicate and the tools that we use to do so are different as well.
There are always new technological developments, so our strategies for consuming information, creating new messages, and connecting with other people to communicate our messages need to adapt and evolve fairly quickly. To be literate in a technologically advanced society we need to be able to ask good questions, execute searches, evaluate resources, comprehend material we choose to read, and then synthesize information across MANY resources. I guess, in some ways, we have always had to do this to advance knowledge, but the volume of resources and the reliability of the information children (and adults) encounter daily as they seek answers to their questions is much more diverse than it was just two or three decades ago.
Composition can often require a new language (i.e., computer code) if we are to contribute to creating new texts — contributing our own messages to the world. In addition, we need to be persuasive to get our messages heard in society where search engine optimized content gets communicated more readily than material that is not as clickable, shareable, etc. Visual content has become more prominent in texts, too.
The ways we connect to share our messages with one another have also changed with Facetime, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, and the other forms of web-chat and social media. In this way our students’ messages (and sometimes images) are out there for a much wider audience than those in the immediate community.
All of this impacts the ways we teach children. The Common Core State Standards (USA) actually include components on all of these topics across all domains associated with literacy – reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language.
LZ: How do you teach your students to make this connection as teachers of young children just learning to read and write?
KP: For me, I always refer my students to the position statement on technology and interactive media use in Early Childhood Education put out by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center (2012) as a starting point. This statement frames the technology as a tool for communication and emphasizes the importance of developmentally appropriate, adult-supported interactions with technology and interactive media. This helps ensure that the social, emotional, and cognitive consequences from using these tools is positive and engaging and accomplishes some learning goal in a playful, but meaningful, way.
With my Early Childhood Education students we examine several technology-based interactions young children may encounter in early education and care contexts. Kristin Ziemke’s work is inspirational in that she integrates a private social network into first graders’ responses to read alouds. Lotta Larson writes about using Kindles and e-books for early guided reading experiences. Ryan Flinn used blogging as a form of written response in his Kindergarten classroom. We explore concept mapping in traditional and digital forms and discuss the power of photo, voice recording, and video for documentation and assessment. We explore how teachers and care providers are using blogs and social media as means to communicate with families. These are just a few examples of WHAT we explore in methods class. We also discuss the HOW and the WHY of it all.
LZ: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
KP: Technology use in early education is tricky in that there is heated debate about the educational outcomes of it, particularly when compared to non-technology integrated methods. When used in developmentally appropriate ways, the technology integration can be incredibly engaging and educational. For the biggest bang, we ought not just send a child off with a device on his or her own. It’s always better to use the technology to accomplish meaningful, child-centered goals related to communication — to consume information, to create new messages, and to communicate those messages to others.