This is the Last Backpack Generation - the last generation of students who are going to carry backpacks filled with books, pens, pencils and paper to school. The number of mobile devices (phones, iPads, tablets, kindles, etc) now exceeds the number of people on earth. In Southeast Asia alone, there are more mobile subscription plans than people. While it is impossible to ignore the impact of mobile devices and technology in our daily lives, we often dismiss the idea that using mobile devices in the classroom can be a positive and useful activity for even our youngest learners.
As we prepare today's learners for tomorrow's world, it is important to acknowledge that knowing how to use technology is a necessary skill. Singapore's Kindergarten Curriculum Framework notes that technology should be used in a developmentally appropriate manner in the classroom and complement - not substitute - concrete activities like arts and crafts or outdoor play. While we must be thoughtful and considerate as we implement any new framework, strategy, resource, or idea into instructional practice, it is also important that we acknowledge and celebrate the power of personal mobile devices. The conversation must move from "if" we are going to implement mobile technology into our learning spaces to "how" and "why" we are going to do it in the most responsible and impactful ways. Here are some guiding principles to consider as we proceed with that thoughtful and deliberate implementation.
Pay attention to equitable access.
Before we start implementing technology, we need to consider our students and their own experiences with technology. Do we serve a population that has technology readily available? Do our students have and use mobile devices at home? Are you going to allow young children to bring a device from home or are you going to provide devices for students? Does every student get a device to work with or do they share? All these are important considerations as you build school policy. Understanding your students' backgrounds and home environments means you can plan more effectively how to make use of technology in the classroom. Children who come from technology-rich environments may need less exposure to it than those who do not typically have access to such devices.
It's not about the technology, it's about the learning.
Learning is our priority. It is important to understand and accept that technology can make learning more engaging and more accessible for all learners. As we think about our children and their world, it will be more and more difficult to be a great teacher if we are not preparing our children with the skills they will need and the tools they will have at their disposal. We should take advantage of tools built into mobile devices. Accessibility features like speak selection, voiceover and guided access make learning and content accessible for students.
We do not have to know everything.
If your aren't aware of or don't know how to use the features mentioned in the previous paragraph, that is okay. It is impossible to know everything on devices because there are so many and they evolve so quickly. And, in some cases, our students (yes, even our youngest ones) and their parents are going to know more than we do about the devices. That is okay, too. The most important thing is to learn about what these devices have to offer to make our lives and students' learning easier and more effective.
You cannot build a sand castle without getting your hands dirty.
While we don't have too know everything, it is important that we venture in and try new things. Once of the best things about working with our youngest students is that they aren't scared to get in there and play and get dirty. We have to adopt the same attitude with technology. Learn one thing a week. Try a new app. Explore the settings/ features of your device. Read a blog about technology strategies. The point is that we have to experience technology ourselves so we feel confident and comfortable about introducing it to our students.
When we do introduce technology to our children, start slowly.
Start with small, incremental time periods that students can use the devices. Have your students use just one drawing app to start. Teach one small skill (such as how to power on/off a device) per week. These are all small ways to gradually implement technology into our classrooms without overwhelming ourselves or our students.
Communicate with parents.
It is vital that schools work with parents to communicate the expectations, school policies, best practices and reasons why it is important to implement technology as part of the framework and curriculum. It is just as important that we listen to parents and acknowledge their own ideas, apprehensions and experiences. Ninety-two percent of children under two have a "digital shadow". This means that their information (pictures, names, identifying information) is available digitally. Concerns about digital citizenship annd the trends of "digital babysitting" and "sharenting" are important considerations and it is important that we recognise these considerations when planning policies and working with parents to develop our schools' educational programmes.
Teachers and principals also need to recognise that with the explosion of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like, the line between personal and professional communication has been blurred. As all forms of electronic communication become part of the public discourse, school personnel must learn to manage their online presence in ways that commensurate with the values of the schools.
Students entering school this decade will retire in the 2070's. We will not know what the world will look like for our students. However, it is important that we acknowledge the reality of the world we live in and adjust our instruction accordingly. As Tom Whitby wrote, "Every teacher has the right to live in a cave. However, they do not have the right to drag their students in with them."
Our students need to understand how to use mobile devices responsibly and appropriately in their personal lives and in their learning. If we start them off on the right foot in the earliest years, we are providing a solid foundation for them on which to grow.
Cisco (2013, February 6) Cisco visual networking index: Global mobile data trraffic forecast update, 2012 - 2017. Retrieved from http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/white_paper_c11-520862.html
Ministry of Education, Republic of Singapore. (2013) Nurturing Early Learners: A curriculum framework for kindergartens in Singapore. Available from: http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/preschool/files/kindergarten-curriculum-framework.pdf
Qualman E. (2013). Social media revolution 2013. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUCfFcchw1w
We are Social (2014). Social, digital & mobile around the world. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/wearesocialsg/social-digital-mobile-around-the-world-january-2014#
Dr Zachary Walker is an Assistant Professor from the Early Childhood and Special Needs Education Department of the National Institute of Education.
Dr Trisha Craig is the Executive Director for Wheelock College Singapore, SIT@NP.