Digital competence of early childhood education teachers: attitude, knowledge and use of ICT

November, 2019

Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:2, 210-223

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The main purpose of this research is to find out how Spanish pre-service early childhood education teachers assess their digital competence.
Additionally, the self-assessments provided by these future teachers will be compared according to the personal variable sex (male vs female).
The key research question is formulated as follows:
What level of digital competence do future early childhood education teachers in Spain believe they have?

Within the range of research methods, a quantitative, non-experimental and descriptive methodology was followed, using the questionnaire technique for data collection, designed on the basis of the criteria established by authors such as Lumsden (2007) and Norman et al. (2001).
A descriptive correlational method was used relying on an electronic survey study; in particular, an ex post facto design that sought to establish relationships among certain variables, while the subject of study remained unchanged.
The purpose of finding out students’ level of digital competence when they begin their higher education studies was to conduct an initial assessment on their knowledge, attitude and history of ICT use, and to determine whether the digital native generational concept applies to them.

Population and sample
The study population was made up of 332 students who will be, in the near future, in-service teachers.
The sample was obtained through simple random sampling.

The authors produced a mainly direct answer, pre-coded and cross-sectional questionnaire, designed ad hoc for the analysis of knowledge, use and attitude towards ICT of university students.
It consists of 88 items, five of which are identifying variables. A 0 to 10 ordinal Likert-type scale was chosen, 0 being the lowest and 10 the highest.

Findings and discussion
This study illustrates the level of digital competence of students of the Undergraduate Degree in Early Childhood Education of the University of Salamanca (Spain), with special focus on the variables of knowledge, use and attitude towards ICT.
As in other research, the results obtained show that students’ digital competence level is not in keeping with their being ‘digital natives’ (Ottestad, Kelentri, and Guðmundsdóttir 2014).
The authors agree with the originator of the term (Prensky 2001) that their students are part of a generation born and raised in the digital era, mainly characterised by a high integration of ICT in daily activities and where they do not perceive technology as hostile, since they use it quite skilfully in their everyday life.
However, there is much evidence that dismantles the ‘digital native’ myth (Akçayir, Dündar, and Akçayir 2016; Bennett, Maton, and Kervin 2008; Brown and Czerniewicz 2010; Porto et al. 2016).
This notion is generally limited to the home setting and activities or tasks conducted in idle moments and free or leisure time (Gómez 2015; Merino 2010; Muros, Aragón, and Bustos 2013).
The authors are convinced that the students do not have sufficient digital competence to use ICT in their academic life and for their professional career.
Most of the participants in the survey own technological devices, mainly smartphones, laptops, digital cameras and GPS devices.
Considering the variables analysed, students believe they fail in knowledge of ICT related concepts and assess their knowledge of devices as very good.
With regard to use, self-assessment results increase to excellent in devices, especially smartphones, while falling to very good in tools, excepting social networks and communication tools, the use of which they rate as excellent, and training tools, where they only manage a pass. Where the use of services is concerned, results differ widely.
The assessment of attitudes towards ICT is very positive.
They acknowledge the need and importance of ICT for their future career and state their desire to become proficient in their use.
This is in contrast with the conclusions reached in other studies.
Domínguez et al.’s (2015) study aimed at defining the most valuable dimensions upon which early childhood teachers’ initial training is based.
Their study concluded that digital competence was the least relevant.
In these same lines, in a research project on the assessment of students of the Undergraduate Degree of Early Childhood Teacher Training on the digital competences required for them to become education professionals, the results for digital competence, which the authors believed to be crucial, were below expectations (Ramírez, Gutiérrez, and Corpas 2012).
Considering the gender variable, there are indeed statistically significant differences, which agrees with the results of recent research on the topic by other authors (Barrantes, Casas, and Luengo 2014; Meelissen and Drent 2008).
Men self-assess their knowledge and use of ICT more positively than women who, on the other hand, score higher in attitude.
The results show positive correlation between knowledge and use, the more knowledge about ICT, the better the use made of it, especially regarding tools, rather than devices and services.
However, knowledge and use do not correlate with a better attitude towards ICT, since women score lower in knowledge and use, but higher in attitude.
There is also no correlation between knowledge and the owning of devices.
The results obtained show that digital competence is a yet to be achieved by students beginning their training in the Undergraduate Degree in Early Childhood Education.
The authors believe that the development of this competence should be strongly promoted in the current curricula for education degrees, since they are aware that this is not yet a reality.
It is necessary for the initial training of these future professionals to include work on developing this competence (Angeli and Valanides 2009; Harris, Mishra, and Koehler 2009), even though research conducted by Losada, Valverde, and Correa (2012), focused on the analysis of the situation of educational technology in undergraduate degrees of education offered by Spanish universities after the implementation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), concludes that the presence of educational technology has not increased in relation to previous study plans.
The authors conclude that ICT training is a crucial requirement in the initial teacher education of early childhood teachers.
It is necessary to reinforce the pedagogical knowledge dimension of technology to know, understand and apply its didactic and methodological use in the teaching-learning processes in the early stages of schooling.

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Updated: Nov. 27, 2020