Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 41, No. 1, 144–157, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article explores the pedagogical technology continuing professional development (CPD) needs of early years educators in England.
The policies are cumulative and they can be interpreted as being flawed due to their contradictory nature. As ICT educational policies in the UK are shaped by politicians, the contradictory policy approaches are a consequence of different political ideals. Recent research has identified a significant gap in early years practitioners’ knowledge and their understanding of pedagogical practice in relation to technology. Attention is drawn to the importance of facilitating an innovative use of technology within pedagogy in early years.
The question to ask is how have early years educators been influenced by these policies about technology and what are the implications for CPD in this area?
The sample included 20 early years practitioners aged over 25 years, working in five types of early years settings. Eighteen of the practitioners in the research sample are female and two of the practitioners are male. These early years settings are primary schools, Sure Start centres, private nurseries, statutory nurseries and children’s units in the National Health Service.
Two focus group discussions generated the main research themes that were then developed during the 10 loosely structured interviews.
The findings reveal a difference in interpretation of ICTs between the UK governments and academic research that questions the merits of using ICTs for teaching. The practitioners associate ICTs with computers and software and mirror recent UK governments and their message that ‘e is best’.
The situation is also compounded by the nature of what has been referred to in England as ‘the children’s workforce’. The predominantly female composition of the UK children’s workforce is mirrored in the research sample. This appears to suggest that gender is a factor influencing the research participants’ views of their own ICT abilities. Gender is important because it is claimed that women are treated differently in the labour market generally because they are often marginalised, excluded and required to do gendered, low-paid work. The low self-esteem that may result from this process possibly helps in accounting for the lack of confidence that can exist within these pedagogical practitioners’ perceptions of their own abilities.
Sharing knowledge between practitioners, policy-makers and educational researchers appears to be of vital importance if CPD for ICTs and pedagogy is to become effective. This ‘shared knowledge’ holds the potential to enable the development of an e-communications infrastructure that encourages practitioners to develop their professional skills beyond what is currently available.
All of the practitioners in this research sample have access to the World Wide Web. This enables the potential for the practitioners to develop their CPD needs as long as electronic resources are made available to them. The practitioners view ICT as being a key CPD priority but they expect ‘instruction’ as opposed to directing CPD processes themselves.
A focus on qualification as opposed to the wider educational ‘processes’ is an example of standards-driven education. A consequence of this limited understanding of education is that the opportunity to create new knowledge, to pilot new ideas and to support communications by individuals and groups working on similar issues is frequently overlooked.
This paper has identified that the practitioners in this research sample are supportive of the idea that technology is an essential part of pedagogy within early years. The research data reveal that these early years educators can mirror the view propagated by successive UK governments that teaching and learning with ICTs (or ‘e is best’) is an example of best practice. The paper develops the argument that CPD in this area should be nurtured through being based on research and evidence from teachers and the wider community as opposed to being driven by politicians. The application of pedagogy to technology in this way is an antidote to the simple notion that ‘e is best’ in pedagogy. A cogent rationale for the application of technology within pedagogy is thus provided. Ideally the practitioners are as involved as possible in the processes of CPD in order to develop their pedagogical skills with technology.