Situating ICT in early childhood teacher education

May, 2021

Source: Education and Information Technologies; Vol. 26, Iss. 3, pages 3009-3026

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study as a part of a wider project about digitalisation in higher education in Sweden, examines early childhood pre-service teachers and their teacher educators’ understandings and experiences about the extent and the ways pre-service teachers are prepared to use ICT in their professional careers.

This study examines whether or not early childhood education pre-service teachers are prepared to use ICT in their future educational practices and how this process is conducted in teacher education programmes (TEP).
This study was carried out on pre-service teachers in the final year of their 3.5-year long TEP.
Four focus group discussions with pre-service teachers and five interviews with teacher educators were carried out.
Out of the 80 pre-service teachers who were invited to take part in the study, 25 of them volunteered to participate in a semi-structured focus group discussion.
The participants had completed all of their taught courses and were working on their undergraduate dissertations.
Four focus group discussions were organised: two focus groups consisting of five and seven pre-service teachers respectively in September 2017 and two focus groups with four and nine pre-service teachers respectively in September 2018.
In order to reflect potential differences between study mode, students studying on campus and at a distance in both years were included in each focus group.
The focus group discussions were moderated by the researcher and were between 40 to 65 min long.
By asking questions, and involving all the participants, the researcher tried to challenge focus group members to share their understandings, experiences and stories of ICT use.
The discussions were guided by seven key questions.
The questions focused on the rationale for ICT and the extent to which it had been integrated into teacher education, how pre-service teachers perceived their digital competences, what they found useful and how they proposed to use ICT in their future work as preschool teachers.
Other questions related to what they found helpful, what possible challenges and gaps were, as well as ideas for improvement.
Then, in order to contextualize and deepen the analysis of the focus group interviews, five semi-structured interviews were performed with their teacher educators in late 2018 using the same interview questions and guidelines as those used for the focus groups. The interviews and focus group discussions were tape recorded after obtaining informed consent from the participants.

Findings and discussion
The findings of this study suggest that pre-service teachers and teacher educators alike believe passionately in the necessity and importance of developing preschool teachers’ digital competences.
However, pre-service teachers feel that during their TEP they are not adequately prepared to integrate ICT into their future educational practices in preschool.
The evidence from their focus group discussions suggests that they were given relatively few opportunities to develop their digital competences throughout their TEP.
The evidence from the teacher educators, on the other hand, paints a completely different picture.
The teacher educators interviewed here highlighted a variety of initiatives that they were providing to prepare the next generation of preschool teachers to use digital technologies.
For example, they cited a workshop they had run on the learning software BlueBots and the initiatives they had taken on number of courses, such as “literacy and mathematics in early childhood education”, “aesthetic learning processes” and “pedagogical documentation” where technology had been integrated across various subject domains in order to support pre-service teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge.
The question, thus, is why pre-service teachers, unlike teacher educators, feel they are not being adequately prepared to use digital technologies in early childhood education.
This could be understood in different ways.

1) The TEP does provide a sufficient learning experience, but the students:
A) do not attend and are not engaged in the scheduled teaching events because they are not compulsory.
B) do not fully understand what is taught during the TEP.
The results show that the pre-service teachers seemed not to recognise the number of opportunities to “meet” ICT in the TEP that the teacher educators say exists for them.
Such encounters could be made much more visible and consciously examined.
Enabling pre-service teachers to see the ways their learning contributes to their Technological-Pedagogical-Content-Knowledge (TPACK) knowledge and skills can give them the confidence that they do have sufficient training and are able to use digital technologies in supportive and pedagogical ways.
Creating such educational opportunities can offer further valuable intersections for pre-service teachers to make connections between what they learned in their TEP and the reality of using technologies in an actual preschool environment (Admiraal et al. 2017; Røkenes and Krumsvik 2016).
C) have in fact learned a great deal but still do not feel comfortable using these technologies looking forward.
Developing early childhood pre-service teachers’ TPACK is a complex process involving various factors that Education eventually informs not only the pre-service teachers’ understandings, values and skills but their actual use of digital technologies in preschool.
The preservice teachers may actually have the knowledge and skills they require to integrate digital technologies into their educational practices, but this “does not necessarily lead a teacher to believe in the value of the technology for her teaching practices” (Blackwell et al. 2013, p. 311).

2) It is not possible for pre-service teachers to become fully comfortable with digital technologies and how to teach them at the TEP stage, because they have reached the extent of what it is possible to learn in a TEP and only at the next level of learning, the contextualised learning that takes place in-situ, will their understanding develop further.

3) The TEP does not provide a sufficient learning environment to develop teacher students’ TPACK at the same time as developing pre-service teachers’ TPACK is not firmly anchored in TEP.
Teacher educators have a dual responsibility in this regard.
Not only should they integrate digital technologies into their own practices and act as role models for pre-service teachers, but they also need to maintain, if not grow, their professional digital competence so that they can effectually communicate this competence (TPACK) to the next generation of early childhood teachers.
According to the data collected here, the expertise of teacher educators and mentors varies considerably; some do not appear to have the necessary technological, pedagogical and content knowledge to form a technology-rich learning environment.
Despite having access to a range of technologies and approaches, a number of teacher educators were reported as not being able to make full use of digital technologies because of a lack of time, technological support or simply because they were not confident in using these technologies themselves.
This suggests that it is important to provide more in-service education, technological support, time and resources to integrate technologies into the teacher educator’s educational activities.
The general consensus from the research reviews (cf. Bakir 2015; Blackwell et al. 2013; Instefjord and Munthe 2017; Nikolopoulou and Gialamas 2015; Voogt and McKenney 2017) suggests that developing pre-service teachers’ digital competences can be shaped by the teacher educators’ values and their technological-pedagogical skills, the nature of the institution they attend, the infrastructure of their preschool field placement (such as the availability of technologies and software on site), the technological and pedagogical support they receive while in training, as well as the models or strategies that the TEP uses to prepare pre-service teachers to integrate digital technologies into their future practices.
The data collected as part of this study suggests that the pre-service teachers were all familiar with and used a range of technological artefacts, including social media, MS Office and learning management systems (LMS) in their everyday lives.
It may be significant that the new generation of pre-service teachers are increasingly developing their technological knowledge (TK), but their technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPK) still needs to be strengthened.
Drawing on previous studies (Enochsson, 2010), this study highlights the point that being familiar with and using digital technologies does not automatically enable pre-service teachers to take advantage of them in the preschool setting.
However, past mastery experiences with TK and a positive perception of the usefulness of digital technologies can contribute to their greater use in early childhood education (Nikolopoulou and Gialamas 2015).
In addition, the pre-service teachers appreciated field placement experiences where they had the opportunity to realise and make use of the ICT they had encountered on their TEP.
Endeavouring to secure placement environments where digital technologies were routinely put in place could be a potential solution to the problems students face when moving from theory to practice.
These findings are supported by Lim (2012) and Kay (2007) who indicate the importance of problematising and modelling the use of ICT in preschools for student teachers.
Providing practical field experiences in preschools that are linked to their coursework can enhance their effective use of ICT as trained professionals.
Pairing up pre-service preschool teachers with digitally competent field placement supervisors who know how to integrate ICT in their educational practices is a challenging process.
The preschools in which pre-service teachers do their fieldwork may not have access to the necessary digital technologies.
The pre-service teachers mentioned that providing a stand-alone course - or at least part of a course - on ICT might give them a better picture of why, what and how technologies can be integrated into early childhood educational practices.
This would no doubt be helpful but it would likely not be sufficient to allow pre-service teachers to use digital technologies in pedagogically meaningful ways in preschools (cf. Bakir 2015; Kay 2007).
Developing a more integrated and connected experience could help future early childhood teachers to integrate technologies into early childhood education.

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Voogt, J., & McKenney, S. (2017). TPACK in teacher education: Are we preparing teachers to use technology for early literacy? AU - Voogt, joke. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 26(1), 69–83.

Updated: Oct. 12, 2021