Preservice teachers’ beliefs about young children’s technology use at home

June, 2021

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 102

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

To gain a more fine-grained understanding of teachers’ beliefs, this qualitative study examines interview data from eight purposefully selected Chinese preservice early childhood (EC) teachers.
By doing so, the present study advances research on teachers’ beliefs in the context of technology integration.
The study seeks answers to the following three research questions:
1. What beliefs do Chinese preservice teachers have about young children’s technology use at home?
2. How are parents represented in Chinese preservice teachers’ beliefs about young children’s technology use at home?
3. How are teacher’s professional roles discussed in relation to preservice teachers’ beliefs about children and parents?

Materials and methods

Participants and data collection procedure
The participants were selected from a pool of 410 preservice teachers who participated in a quantitative survey study (Dong & Xu, 2020).
21 participants left their contacts for the interviews in the questionnaire, but only 12 of them confirmed that they would like to take part in the interview when approached.
Among them, all eight preservice teachers in their final year were recruited via purposeful sampling, which emphasizes the similarity and judgment-based representativity of the participants.
The interviews took place in January 2018.
The first author, who was responsible for conducting the semi-structured interviews in Mandarin, was located in Australia and the interviewees were in China.
The length of the interviews ranged from 50 to 65 min.

Findings and discussion
In this section, four themes generated from the findings are put under further discussion.
The themes are the inflated nature of the beliefs, the distrust towards parents, the global imaginaries of young children and technology, and the absence of the “needy” child.

The inflated nature of beliefs
Preservice teachers’ beliefs about children’s independent learning are not supported by empirical evidence.
Although young children have experience in using digital technologies and possess some operational skills, the belief that children would know more knowledge than adults is notably exaggerated.
The same applies to beliefs about children’s independent learning: research shows that children learn about technologies at home via parents’ intentional tutoring or unintentional modeling and that the children are well aware of the role of their parents in their learning (Mertala, 2019c; Plowman et al., 2008).
While children learn rudimentary skills through these interactions, the proliferation of digital technologies in young children’s living environments has not resulted in sophisticated technology competences that would outshine the ones of adults (Dong, 2018; Kirschner and De Bruyckere, 2017).

Only bad things are learned from the parents
The second interesting notion was that parents were believed to impact their children’s technology use only in a negative and harmful manner.
Put differently, children were believed to imitate and assimilate to parents’ unhealthy technology practices but to learn to master operational technology use independently.
Three different - yet not mutually exclusive explanations for the distrust towards parents were sought to understand the nature of preservice teachers’ beliefs.
The first one influenced by Chinese culture and educational traditions suggests that teachers are regarded as educational authorities above parents and have responsibilities to correct overindulgent parents (Tobin et al., 1989).
The second explanation is that the participants were generally young, in their early 20s, with no experience of being a parent.
While parenthood is hardly a prerequisite for being a good teacher, it is found that young childless preservice teachers’ understanding of the complexity of parenthood and family life is generally restricted (Meehan & Meehan, 2018).
Third, it appears that research-based information about children’s technology use at home is not included in the contents of teacher education (Salomaa, Palsa & Malinen, 2017).
This means that preservice teachers ground their views on other sources one being media, where parenting and technology are often represented in a negative and incriminating manner (Kaarakainen & Lehto, 2018).
The negative beliefs about the quality of parenthood are mainly without empirical support.
Research suggests that parents acknowledge that children’s technology use includes risks (Palaiologou, 2017).
Thus, regulating and monitoring children’s technology use is understood to be good parenting (Aarsand, 2011), and the time children spent alone with technology is used rather for household tasks or working instead of relaxation by the parents (Chaudron, 2015).
Parents are also found to mediate their children’s technology use via various strategies including rules, time restrictions, and promotion of offline activities for children (Hatzigianni & Margetts, 2014; Smahelova et al., 2017).
In addition, parents explain and enforce restrictions during their co-use and role model the use of digital technologies for children (Smahelova et al., 2017).

Global imaginaries of young children, technology, and teacherhood
It is worth acknowledging, that the beliefs of the Chinese preservice teachers did not differ remarkably from their western in-service and preservice colleagues or Chinese in-service teachers.
As Chinese in-service teachers shared similar views (Dong, 2016), this finding can be interpreted as echoing the traditional Chinese view of teachers as the government-mandated protector of the children (see Tobin et al., 1989).
The authoritative position held by the preservice teachers shows their decontextualized self-perception as professional educators because they generally believe that due to their training, their knowledge of children is more relevant than parental knowledge (Graue, 2005).
This reflects preservice teachers’ one-dimensional understanding of parenthood and stereotypical view of family life (Meehan & Meehan, 2018).
Both western in-service and preservice teachers tend to view children as born-competent technology users (Mertala, 2019b) and held distrust towards parents’ abilities, which is a common theme in research conducted in western contexts too (Mertala, 2019b).
While worries regarding the effect on children’s eyesight can be interpreted to reflect the Chinese public (Guerino, 2018) and political (Ministry of Education, 2018) discourses, similar concerns have been expressed by western teachers as well (Hatzigianni & Kalaitzidis, 2018).
Explicit and implicit references to children and adolescents being digital natives are common in public and academic discourses in western (Mertala, 2020) and Chinese (Shen, 2017) contexts.
These similarities suggest that some imaginaries of young children and digital technologies are global by nature and contribute to constructing what can be referred to as a “universal child”.
The authors find this notion problematic.
First, the idea of the universal child is not a realistic one - a critique presented by the proponents of the new sociology of childhood already back in the 1990s (James, Jenks & Prout, 1998).
This argument is supported by empirical research on young children’s technology-related knowledge, competence, and preferences, which are notably varied (see e.g., Mertala, 2019c).
That said, there is emerging evidence that in-service and preservice teachers’ technology related pedagogical decisions are often based on the “universal child” rather than the needs and competence of the actual child-subjects of the center (Mertala, 2020).

The absence of the “needy child”
Last, unlike in previous research (Mertala, 2019a) study, none of the participants expressed beliefs that some children would be deprived of possibilities to learn how to use technologies even though the representation of the “needy child” was identified from Chinese policy documents guiding the digitalization processes of institutional education (State Coucil, 2001; Ministry of Education, 2012).
One explanation for this difference is the time gap between the data collection (2014/2018) as the number of digital technologies in households with young children has increased rapidly during the 2010s globally (Niu et al., 2018; OECD, 2018).
Thus, it is possible that the preservice teachers participating in this study simply thought that all children have access to digital technologies at home ea belief that is supported by recent reports of technology provision in urban China (Niu et al., 2018).
Another explanation is that the provision of digital technologies in early childhood education settings has increased as well (Blackwell et al., 2015) so that the participants may have believed that the provision of digital technologies in kindergartens is sufficient to teach children the fundamental skills and dispositions.
Initial teacher education programs are focused on teaching preservice teachers about how to use different kinds of devices and applications (Han & Wang, 2010; Salomaa et al., 2017).
The findings of the present study contest the appropriateness of such courses.
To correct preservice teachers’ misassumption about children’s technology use, it is useful to introduce preservice teachers to the state of the art scientific knowledge on young children’s use of and meaning-making around digital technologies.
To make connections of children’s learning across contexts (Arnott & Yelland, 2020), introducing preservice teachers to the latest research where children’s voices are in the center would be especially valuable
It would be valuable to engage preservice teachers into critical self-reflection on why they believe what they believe, which helps them to become aware of how beliefs are constructed. Additionally, initial teacher training programs need to focus more on addressing preservice teachers’ misassumptions about technology use at home and negative perceptions of parents by providing authentic opportunities for them to gain knowledge about home technology use and to communicate and collaborate with families.
Particularly, teaching practicums and participation in teacher-parent conferences would provide valuable opportunities for shifting preservice teachers’ dispositions towards a fruitful educational partnership built on mutual understanding.

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Updated: Oct. 14, 2021