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The effects of computers on the social behavior of preschoolers.

The purpose of this research was to study the impact of computers on the social behavior of preschoolers. Fourteen preschoolers were observed while they worked at the computer over the course of two months. Data were collected through non-participant observations, informal interviews of the children, and interviews of the teachers. Results found a total of 91 peer interactions and 33 teacher interactions over the course of the study. The interactions included children acknowledging each other, children commenting and being ignored, and children sharing or helping each other. Gender variation was found in frequency of use, with the boys using the computer more often than the girls. Implications of the study underscore the educational value of the social environment at the computers, the value of using developmentally appropriate software, and the need for teachers to teach such cooperative learning behaviors as sharing of ideas and group problem solving.


The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of computers on the social behavior of preschoolers. Children often work with computer software on a daily basis to enhance their academic skills, but their social behavior also may be influenced by time spent at the computers. This study combined observations of children working on select computer software with interviews of teachers and children. The insight gained from this study may help guide teachers, as well as software developers, to better utilize computers to enhance children's cognitive and social development.

Teachers often observe children in social interactions--such as turn taking, conflict resolution, and problem solving--when pairs or groups of children are using the computer (Clements, Nastasi, & Swaminathan, 1993). However, teacher guidance of children's interactions is indispensable. Children sometimes need to be taught the technical skills necessary to successfully use the computer's hardware and software. Some teacher-child interactions at the computer may center on problem solving, but also may include keeping children on task. At the same time, constant teacher presence can inhibit children's interactions with each other. It would therefore be beneficial for the teacher to understand the complexity of children's social behavior at the computer and learn how to adapt their role accordingly.

The purpose of this research is twofold: 1) to study peer interactions at the computer, and 2) to study the interactions of the teachers with the children and analyze the impact of those interactions on the children's social behavior. Extensive prior research on children's interactions focuses on the impact of computers on primary grade children's cognitive and social development (Clements & Nastasi, 1992; Light & Blaye, 1990). Research focusing on preschoolers has examined integrated classrooms and the impact on children with special needs (Spiegel-McGill, Zippiroli, & Mistrett, 1989; Villarruel, 1990); the effects on children's off-computer play behaviors (Fein, Campbell, & Schwartz, 1987); gender variations (Williams & Ogletree, 1992); and their overall developmental progression (Haugland, 1992). However, there is a need for a study that examines the kinds of social interactions preschoolers have at the computer and the impact of teachers' interventions on these interactions.

Review of Research

Ever since computers were brought into the classroom, educators have debated over whether or not they belong there. Recently, studies have shown that computers may benefit children, both cognitively and socially (Clements, 1994; Haugland, 1992). However, one of the concerns about computer use for preschoolers has been that computers may isolate children from one another, thus negatively impacting their social development.

On the contrary, due to limited computer resources, teachers often ask children to work in pairs or groups when using the computer (King, Barry; & Zehnder, 1996). Working with a partner is recommended by researchers (e.g., Clements, 1994), as proximity of a partner can motivate children to talk to each other about their work. Furthermore, open-ended programs often stimulate discussion; for example, children may socialize nine times as much at the computer than when working with puzzles (Clements & Swaminathan, 1995). This high level of verbal communication is a positive sign, and may indicate that children are capable of discussing the problem to identify the best possible solution (Clements, 1994).

Children's interactions while working at a computer may include a wide range of social skills, including conflict-resolution, problem-solving, and cooperative learning strategies. When children are working together, they are more likely to ask their peer than the teacher for help (Clements, 1994; Haugland & Wright, 1997).

When children are on the computer, primary issues such as who will type or use the mouse and who will make the decisions need to be resolved. Children go about this in different ways. Sometimes, one child may dominate the other without any negotiation; more often, however, children discuss how to run things (Nastasi & Clements, 1992). Although teacher intervention is sometimes needed when children cannot resolve a conflict, it is important for teachers to view each conflict as an opportunity to teach and guide the children toward positive social interaction (Stone, 1993). Such teacher guidance also may enhance children's attitudes towards working at the computer.

Designing stories on the computer has proved to be another excellent method for children to improve social skills. Children can use their stories to interact with one another (Haugland, 1996). They can read their stories to a partner or to the class. Thus, a context for rich social interaction can be created around the computer, and should assuage any concerns that computers isolate children from one another (Haugland & Wright, 1997).

Children with special needs also can benefit from computers. One study described a classroom where one student who could not talk was able to attempt speech and students with limited attention spans were able to interact with the computer for extended periods of time (Schery & O'Connor, 1992). Computers with special input devices have helped children with physical impairments compensate for typical learning challenges (Brett, 1997) and special education teachers often use computers to facilitate the socio-emotional development of children with specific emotional needs (Cosden, 1988).

A review of recent research indicates that children's interactions at the computer are influenced by such factors as gender, type of software, and teacher intervention. The impact of these factors can qualitatively determine the extent to which computers in the classroom enhance children's development.


The effects of gender on children's computer interactions have long been disputed, with some studies suggesting that gender has little influence on these interactions. Bergin (1993) found almost no gender differences amongst kindergartners in computer use. This result is not overly surprising. When children first use a computer, they are all starting from the same level. Perceived differences may come from stereotyping children based on gender, not on actual intellectual differences. Young girls who were stereotyped did not achieve as well as boys (Newman, Cooper, & Ruble, 1995).

Boys often favor using the computer more than girls (Haugland & Wright, 1997), which may be why boys appear to do better than girls. Who uses the computer more also may be a result of teacher interaction, software, or even the computer's placement within the classroom (Haugland & Wright, 1997). Subtle changes in these factors may make a world of difference in how the computer gets used.

Is there a gender variation in efficiency of computer use? Yelland (1994) did find that initially, boys were able to work faster and more efficiently than the girls. However, girls, after a period of time, did appear to perform better than boys. This result points to a gender relation that contradicts other research on gender differences. Another study has shown that girls are behind in every category academically when using computers (Sutton, 1989). Given these controversies and continual interest, it is critical that any study on computer usage examine gender variations. While no explicit attempt will be made in this study to control for gender, any gender variations that appear as significant patterns will be analyzed.

Type of Software

The quality of software used in the classroom determines the extent to which children will benefit from its use. The position statement on technology issued by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1996) indicates that computers in the classroom can be a positive influence, as long as they are used appropriately--applying the guidelines for developmentally appropriate practice (DAP).

DAP software can enhance children's academic content knowledge by providing an interactive interface (Clements, Nastasi, & Swaminathan, 1993; Haugland & Wright, 1997). Children using DAP software have shown gains in intelligence, nonverbal skills, structural knowledge, long-term memory, and complex manual dexterity (Haugland, 1992). DAP software also can benefit children's emotional growth (Shade, 1994). When using DAP software, children showed significantly greater gains in self-esteem (Haugland, 1992). Another boost to self-esteem may come from storytelling programs that encourage children to interact with one another (Haugland, 1996).

Teacher Interaction

The teacher plays an important role in helping children use the computer appropriately. The teacher first must select an ideal location for the computer in the classroom. As mentioned before, a computer's location can determine who uses the computer, and when. Often, the middle of the room is best, because then every child can see it (Haugland & Wright, 1997). A teacher's purpose for using the computer is also important. If a classroom teacher has academic learning in mind, a drill-and-practice type software may seem more effective (Cosden, 1988). However, its long-term benefits may be limited.

Teachers may question the effectiveness of children working at the computer in groups, out of concern that the children may be too distracted to focus on the work (King et al., 1996). However, children's conversations at such times are often related to the task at hand. The teacher should monitor and observe this interaction, interrupting only if work is being disrupted. As teachers monitor the children's work, they should question whether students are cooperating and remaining on task (King et al., 1996). This process also may help a teacher decide which groups work together best.

The teacher must decide how much help to give the children. As mentioned earlier, children often ask each other for help. Students may sometimes gain a greater understanding of the computer and the material if they can work without interruption or assistance. It is also important to note that some studies reveal that excessive teacher monitoring diminishes group discussion (King et al., 1996).

This review of research yields insights into classroom expectations, and illustrates that variability in peer interaction is dependent on the software, the intervention of the teacher, and possibly the gender of the children. It is the purpose of this study to understand the social behavior of preschoolers within this framework.


Subjects and Setting

This research study took place at the campus preschool/child care center of a state university in New England. The children were predominantly white; approximately 20% of the children were Latino Americans. The children were predominantly from a low SES background. Over a 2-month period, the authors made 11 separate visits to the classroom to collect observational data. During each visit, children who volunteered to use the computers were individually observed. The age of the 14 children (6 girls and 8 boys) who participated in this study ranged from 3 years, 5 months to 4 years, 8 months. Their parents had given permission for their children to participate in the study.

The children were observed during their free-choice time in the afternoon, which extended from approximately 1:30 until 2:45 p.m. During this time, the children could choose from among computer, snack, books, blocks, dramatic play, or art activities. At any given time, at least four teachers were in the room with the children. The observations for this study lasted between five minutes and an hour and fifteen minutes. The duration of each observation was determined by the children's voluntary use of the computer.

Children worked individually on two separate computers that were placed side by side. Sometimes another child would join in as an observer. All observations of the children were done through non-participant observation, with field notes being the primary form of data. Two of the observations were videotaped. Children who used the computers the most number of times (during at least 6 of the 11 visits) were selected to be interviewed. Thus, three boys (George, Adam, and Steven) were informally interviewed at the end of the study to better understand their feelings about using the computer. A fourth child, Christina, left the school before her interview could be completed.

The software used at the child care center was Kidware 2. This software contained 17 activities, including scene creation games, free painting, and counting games. The software offered structured activities involving basic problem-solving exercises such as sorting, matching, and counting, as well as free exploration and creativity exercises such as painting and face making.

Two teachers were interviewed at the end of the study. Each 8-question interview lasted approximately 10 minutes. The first two questions explored how the teachers motivated children to use the computers. The next three questions focused on teacher intervention when children ask for help. The sixth question concerned the use of computers by children with special needs. The seventh related to conflict resolution, and the eighth question was about selection of hardware and software.

Data Analysis

Data were analyzed using the analytic induction method (Erickson, 1986). All data were perused repeatedly for significant patterns pertinent to the research questions. Triangulation of data analysis was achieved through interviews of the teachers and the children. Also, randomly selected portions of the data were read and analyzed by a person who was unaware of the purpose for the research. Inter-rater reliability was established at 80%.


Data analysis yielded the following significant patterns of interactions: interactions between peers, interactions between teachers and children, and conflicts. Table 1 charts the frequency of occurrence of these patterns on each day of the study. These interactions are described in detail in the following sections. Individual children's interactions are also discussed as related to the above patterns. Observations pertinent to gender are discussed briefly at the very end.

Peer Interactions

Over the course of the study, there were 91 explicit occurrences of children interacting with each other. More interactions between children were observed on certain days than on other days. The children themselves determined the duration of time that they spent at the computer on any given day. On October 18 and October 20, the duration of the observations were approximately the same time, yet the number of peer interactions were drastically different (24 and 5, respectively). This is partly explained by the fact that on October 20, a total of seven different children used the computer, while on October 18, only five children used the computer. On November 3, on one of the days when the observers used videotape, a total of 16 peer interactions were observed. On November 5, 8, and 29, the total number of peer interactions were 4, 0, and 4, respectively. All three of these observations were 20 minutes or less. On November 5 and 8, only two children used the computer. On October 29, the observation lasted 43 mi nutes, but no clear pattern indicated why there were only 4 peer interactions on this day. On November 8, no significant peer interaction was observed within the four-minute duration of computer use.

Table 2 describes the patterns observed within the peer interactions.

1. Children observing and acknowledging each other. The children were often observed looking at each other's computers, commenting about their own work or their peers', and responding to the actions on the computers' screens, either verbally or with a gesture. Variations within this overall pattern are explained below.

a) One child observes another child, but has no reaction. In this situation, a child would be using his or her computer and would comment on something that he or she had just done. The child at the other computer would look over and acknowledge nonverbally that he or she had heard and understood the child speaking, but would do nothing more. This occurred a total of 29 times over the course of the study. This was noted the most times (10) on November 3, an observation that was videotaped. This scenario occurred most frequently when the children first sat down to use the computer.

The following occurred at the beginning of an observation of George and Christina. George was using the animal creation program and Christina was using the flower game. George clicked the mouse and a body of a lion suddenly appeared on the screen.

"How'd it do that?" George exclaims. Christina looks over at George's computer. George and Christina exchange glances. George then says to Christina, "When the legs went like that, (walking across the screen), I pressed that (button on the keyboard) and the lion went walking." (November 3)

George commented about the computer action and Christina looked over, but remained silent.

b) One child observes another child and does the same action, without comment. In this situation, a child would be using his or her own computer and would comment on something that he or she had just done. The child at the other computer would look over and acknowledge in a nonverbal manner that he or she had heard and understood the child speaking, then would do the same thing on his or her own computer. This occurred 20 times over the period of the study. A variation of this pattern was when one child would simply look at the other child and then close his or her program and open the one the partner was using. The following observation shows George clearly looking at his counterpart's screen and then duplicating the action he observed.

James begins making another animal with zebra feet. George does the same. James then adds a camel body, a deer head, and a polar bear tail. George looks closely at James's animal and does the same. Their animals then walk across the screen. (November 1)

George carefully watched James, then copied his animal exactly. This example clearly shows that children can parallel each other's work on the computer without using words.

These observations indicate that interactions between children are sometimes explicit, and at other times more subtle. The occasional assistance of the video camera helped the authors better observe what was not otherwise immediately visible.

c) One child observes another child and comments, but does not do the same thing. In this situation, a child would be using his or her own computer and would comment on something that he or she had just done. The child at the other computer would look over and acknowledge in a verbal manner that he or she had heard and understood the child speaking, then would do nothing more. This occurred a total of six times during the study.

In this example, Adam was using the animal creation program while Steven was using the paint program. Adam was making a strange-looking creature with many different body parts.

Steven is mixing colors. "Red and yellow make orange!" he exclaims. Adam adds chicken feet to the ox body on his screen. Steven mixes red and red and makes red. Adam giggles at his animal. Steven looks at Adam's picture and laughs. Adam has to choose a head for his animal and picks a dog head. Steven stops mixing colors and decides to paint a picture. (November 5)

Here, Steven acknowledged that he had heard Adam by laughing at the picture on the screen, but chose to continue his own work.

d) One child observes another child and comments, then does the same thing. In this situation, a child would be using his or her own computer and would comment on something that he or she had just done. The child at the other computer would look over and acknowledge in a verbal manner that he or she had heard and understood the child speaking, then would do the same thing on his or her own computer. This occurred a total of 16 tunes during the course of the study.

In the following situation, George and James were at two adjacent computers working together, and were verbally communicating to each other about what they were doing.

George says to James, "Let's go to the city." George clicks on the city scene and James joins him in the interaction. George says, "Try to get this car in the road." "How do you change it?" asked James. George does it for him, and James puts the car in the road in the same place as George. "Now let's add a fire truck," says George. (October 18)

2. Children commenting and being ignored. Sometimes, during the study one child would say something to the child at the other computer, but would be completely ignored. This occurred a total of nine times and occurred only while the headphones were not being used.

Both James and George click on the buttons to add notes to their song. George finds the button to play his entire song and says "Hey, watch this." James continues to add notes, then plays his song. Helen comes over and George says, "Guys watch this," as he plays his song. (October 18)

Often, the children became engrossed with the program they were using and did not even realize that someone was speaking to them.

3. Children sharing or helping each other. Sometimes, children would be willing to share the computer with another child or help out another child at the computer. This occurred a total of 11 times during the study, on 6 of the 11 days.

The following observation is an example of how children can effectively use the computer cooperatively. In this example, the teacher had just brought out a set of headphones for the children to use.

George hits the button and the teacher smiles, acknowledging that she heard the sound. Vanessa comes over to see the headphones. George places the headphones on his ears and hits the button. He laughs as the sound is played. "Wanna hear?" he says to Vanessa. "Yeah!" she responds. He carefully places the earphones on her head and she adjusts them. He clicks the button and she giggles. "Click that one!" she yells, pointing to the cow, not realizing how loud she is. She giggles again as George hits the button. "Now that one!" she yells again, pointing to the pig. She laughs harder as George hits the button. She gives the headphones back to George and leaves. (November 10)

The headphones were used for seven school days before being removed from the c1assroom. The teachers believed that the children were not interacting as often when wearing headphones. This, however, was not the case in the above situation.

Teacher Interactions

Observed teacher interactions with the children included teachers helping the children and teachers solving a conflict. Such interactions occurred a total of 33 times during the study, on 10 of the 11 days.

The following is an example of the teacher helping the child:

Christina moves the mouse around and clicks on the paint program. The teacher says, "Do you want to mix paint colors?" Christina shakes her head, and the teacher helps her move the mouse and clicks the icon. (October 18)

The teachers also sometimes had to intervene when a child's play became too rough or disruptive. In one such conflict, Jack had a printout of something he had made and was trying to prevent the other children from using the computer.

Tracy quits the village scene and opens the city scene. Jack holds his printout in front of Tracy's screen. "Stop!" Tracy says. "Listen to what Tracy is saying," the teacher tells Jack. Vanessa returns to watch Jessica. Jack moves the printout away from her and puts it in front of Jessica's screen. She looks around it and he moves it away. (November 22)

The teacher in this case stressed the importance of the children listening to each other while working on the computer. This encouraged the children to communicate their problems, rather than be confrontational.

In some instances, children would openly ask the teacher for help, usually concerning how to perform a certain task on the computer.

"Amber, can you help me?" Jessica asks the teacher. "I want to use a different program." The teacher moves the mouse and clicks the button. Jessica takes over again and begins using the typing program. (November 22)

As is seen in the above example, the teacher's assistance was minimal and the child was clear in expressing her need.


Conflict between children was another observed pattern. Conflicts were defined as times when children did not agree and then verbally and explicitly expressed their difference of opinion. This occurred a total of 18 times during the study. Sometimes, the conflicts were resolved by the children themselves, but often they needed the intervention of a teacher.

There were only two computers in the classroom, and children often were not willing to share the computer. This sometimes caused a conflict. In this next observation, Adam wanted to use the computer and neither Christina nor George was willing to leave the computer or share.

Adam comes over and wants to use the computer. The teacher says to George and Christina, "Adam wants a turn now; which one of you wants to leave?" "She does," George says pointing to Christina. They both continue using the computer. Christina pulls out George's headphones from the computer. "What did you do that for?" George yells at Christina. "Christina, that was not okay," says the teacher. George continues clicking on animals.

"One of you needs to let Adam have a turn," the teacher says again. This time Christina points at George to get up. The teacher asks Adam, "Which computer do you want to use?" He points to George's computer and George gets up. Adam sits down at the computer that George was using and puts the headphones on. (November 1)

The teacher helped intervene in this situation, but reinforced the idea that the children need to listen to each other and try to work things out on their own. It is interesting that in this particular scenario, the teacher did not encourage the children to work together as a group.

In another situation, a conflict occurred between Adam and Cynthia. This conflict was relatively minor and the children were able to resolve it themselves.

Adam clicks on his name and enters the animal creation program. Cynthia sits down next to Adam, watching him. Adam says, "I've got duck feet." Cynthia says, "No, silly, those are chicken feet!" "I think they're duck feet," says Adam. "There's no duck in this game," replies Cynthia. "Oh yes," agrees Adam. (October 25)

This interchange shows that the children do have the ability to work out conflicts on their own when they reason clearly and listen to each other.

Individual Children

George. George (4 years, 5 months) used the computer more often than any other child during the duration of this study, a total of eight times. He was also interviewed. George was seen several times interacting with the child at the nearby computer. In the following observation, George and James were each at a computer and they decided to imitate each other.

"Come to this one," George says to James pointing to the animal program. James quits the program and starts running the animal program. "This is going to be fun," George says. James looks at George's screen. "Let's make a rhino," George says. James is trying to find the right feet. "It's okay, I'll wait," says George. George then quits the program and begins looking for a name to click on. James does the same. George clicks on Destiny's name and James does the same. They both click on the letter game. (November 1)

George was observed in conflict with other children, particularly Christina. The teacher did not intervene in any of these situations. The following is one of those conflicts.

Christina opens the typing program. Christina presses a few buttons and George looks over at her screen. George quits but then reopens the paint program. George reaches over and presses some keys on Christina's keyboard. Christina moves her arm to try and block him, but George keeps trying to interfere with her. "STOP!" says Christina. George goes back to his computer. (November 3)

When asked about the above situation at the interview, George responded, "I just wanted to press the keys on Christina's computer to make it exit."

George enjoyed playing with the animal game, which allows a child to manipulate parts of several different animals to create strange-looking creatures. When asked why this game was his favorite, George said, "It's fun to make silly looking animals." George was asked if he enjoyed helping friends at the computer. He responded, "Only when I find something wrong with the computer." This was indeed an accurate description of the situation on the two occasions that he did help a friend.

Adam. Adam (age 4 years, 5 months) was observed at the computer for a total of seven times, and he was also interviewed. Adam was observed using the picture painting program a total of four of the seven times he was observed. Adam said in his interview that this was his favorite program. When asked why it was his favorite, he responded, "It's fun to draw with the computer." The following is an observation while Adam was using the paint program.

Adam begins painting a picture with purple, black, and yellow. He prints out his "house picture." Adam says, "I'm making one for you," and prints out another picture. When the colors on the printout appear distorted, he says, "It didn't print out really good." (November 22)

On three different occasions Adam was observed helping or sharing with his classmates. When asked about helping friends to use the computer, Adam responded, "Sometimes I help friends when they don't know how to use the printer."

Christina. Christina (age 3 years, 10 months) was observed for a total of six times. Christina had been identified as a child with speech difficulties. Christina was observed five times using a computer while George was using the one next to it.

The first time Christina used the computer, George was willing to help her learn one of the programs. In the following episode, George quit his own program to use the program Christina was using, so he could assist her.

George watches Christina and quits the face maker program. Christina is having difficulty understanding how to use the mouse. The teacher tried to help by showing her how to use the mouse to mix two paint colors. George says, "Watch, Christina," and tries to show her how to mix two different colors. Christina clicks and begins drawing a picture. George also clicks and begins drawing a picture. (October 18)

This was the only time that George and Christina worked together without a conflict. In the following observation, Christina was making a city and George was doing the animal game.

Christina looks at George's computer and gasps. There are lizard feet on George's screen. George quickly sits up to see what is on his screen. Christina laughs. George looks at Christina and says, "It's not funny!" Christina laughs some more. "No, it's not!" yells George. Christina continues laughing. "I'll tell the teacher," threatens George. Christina looks around the room. (November 3)

Christina was very enthusiastic about using the paint program, as well as the city scene creation game. She used these games on five of the six days that she was observed.

Steven. Steven (age 3 years, 9 months) was observed a total of six times. Steven only attended the child care center on select days. On three occasions when Steven wanted to use the computer, he was not able to because the other students would not allow him to do so. On October 18, Steven was observed asking for his turn, but George and James, intent on their screens, ignored Steven. Steven left soon after.

When Steven was able to use the computer, he used the painting program quite frequently. He mixed paint colors on every occasion that he used the computer. He would repeatedly mix the same colors. As the study proceeded, Steven was able to correctly predict what the new color would be, based on the colors he chose to mix.

Gender Variations

Gender was a significant differentiating factor from the perspective of frequency of use. The boys used the computer significantly more than the girls did (t = 5.257,p < 0.001). The girls used the computer an average of 3.2 times, while the boys used it an average of 3.6 times. It was also observed that the girls in this study used the computer more when other girls were at the adjacent computer than if boys were. Overall, including conflicts, the boys were observed interacting with each other 39 times, while the girls were observed interacting with each other only three times (see Table 3). Also striking is that the greatest number of interactions was observed between boy-girl partnerships (a total of 67). Teachers appeared to have interacted equally with girls and boys (16 and 17 respectively). There were more conflicts between boys and girls (15) than between boys (3) or between girls (0). There was little noticeable difference between the girls' and boys' quality of work.

Within peer interactions, only the first pattern of children observing and acknowledging each other indicates a gender variation. Of the 41 boy-girl interactions observed here, 21 were observations without any reactions (pattern la of Table 2), eight were observations where children replicated the partner's actions without any comment (pattern 1b), five were observations with comments but not replication of action (pattern 1c), and seven were observations with comments and replication of action (pattern 1d). Similarly, within the 27 boy-boy interactions, the frequency of occurrence of patterns la, 1b, 1c, and 1d of Table 2 is 7, 12, 1, and 7, respectively. Of the three girl-girl interactions, one was an observation without any reaction (pattern la), and two were observations with comments and replication of action (pattern 1d).


The purpose of this research was to determine the ways in which children's social behavior was affected by computer use. Specifically, it looked at children's interactions with their peers and with their teachers.

The software that was used in the classroom was developmentally appropriate. It encouraged participatory learning and provided a holistic learning environment. A mouse and trackball were used, and one child was even able to write his name using the computer. This is consistent with an earlier study whereby DAP software was observed to increase kindergartners' dexterity (Haugland & Wright, 1997).

The variety of patterns seen within peer interactions, as well as their varying frequency per day, indicates that children exhibit a rich versatility of social interactions at the computer. This is particularly striking given the fact that the children in this study worked individually at the computers. During the 11 days of this study, there was a variation in depth and number of interactions observed each day. Children do not interact similarly every day, and this variety must be acknowledged.

Of the many peer interactions studied, silent reactions (lack of any overt acknowledgment of a comment--pattern la of Table 2), observed a total of 29 times, merits particular notice. Children do not always have to respond with a verbal comment, gesture, or action. Teachers need to accept focused silences as a legitimate form of social interaction. Only nine comments were completely ignored by the children.

Children were not afraid to ask the teacher or another child for help. Past studies have shown that children are more likely to ask their peers, rather than the teacher, for help (Clements, 1994; Haugland & Wright, 1997). A similar pattern also was seen in this study. Most often, the children asked the child next to them for help rather than the teacher. However, this may have been simply because of the other child's proximity.

Past studies have shown that teacher monitoring can reduce group discussion (King et al., 1996). The teachers in the classroom were able to recognize when to intervene and give children help and when to allow the children to discover things on their own. These teachers often let children work on their own. When asked about this, the head teacher in the classroom responded, "Some friends interact well with other friends. Those children I allow to work independently. Other children--those who don't often interact with friends--I try to help them and interact with them."

Headphones were used for a short period of time in the classroom, but their use was discontinued because teachers felt that the headphones were discouraging the children from interacting with each other. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to note that all instances in this study of children ignoring their peers' comments occurred when the headphones were not being used.

Most of the conflicts observed in this study relate to turn-taking and use. For example, Steven's peers repeatedly denied him use of the computer. This constant rejection by his peers may discourage Steven from working with others on the computer, and also may discourage him from using the computer at all. While it is worthwhile to let children take initiative in deciding when they want to work on the computer and for how long, teachers need to monitor and take explicit action to ensure equity of usage among the children.

Christina frequently was observed using the computer; her speech problem did not hinder her use of the computer in any way. The software did allow Christina to talk about what she had created, and she often vocalized what she had done on the computer. Although she had no physical impairments, Christina did experience difficulty learning to use the mouse. After a period of time, however, she became more comfortable and her motions were more fluid. Nevertheless, her speech problem did sometimes lead to conflict. She sometimes mumbled, and so the other children sometimes did not understand what she was saying.

Gender variation was seen in the frequency of computer use, with the boys using the computer more than the girls. This pattern has been observed in other studies (e.g., Haugland & Wright, 1997). Teachers need to monitor computer usage in order to ensure that girls have equal opportunities to use them. It is critical to note that almost all of the conflicts involved children of the opposite gender and that the most number of interactions occurred within mixed-gender observations. Therefore, it might be worthwhile to continue mixed-gender groupings, if only to utilize this volatile and fertile opportunity for teaching conflict resolution, cooperative problem-solving, and group decision-making.


These results are limited by many factors. First, the study lasted only two months. An extended period would have allowed for more in-depth study of individual children's interactions. Second, the duration of some of the observations was short. This factor was outside the researchers' control because the children chose when and how long they worked at the computer. Third, observations of the children's off-computer interactions would have helped to enhance the results and give a more holistic picture of their interactions. It would be worthwhile to explore these factors further.

This study carries several serious implications for teachers and parents. First and most important, it highlights the rich social environment offered by computer usage. Teachers should take advantage of this opportunity for fostering such cooperative learning behaviors as sharing ideas and group problem-solving. Second, girls preferred to work with other girls. However, mixed-gender partnerships led to greater interactions. Therefore, teachers need to assess the levels of cooperation exhibited by different pairs of children and then decide on the optimum pairings. Third, given the right directions, children are capable of resolving their own conflicts. Teachers, therefore, need to be careful about when they intervene and how much help they offer. Teachers and parents can better empower children by teaching them appropriate conflict resolution strategies. Finally, the headphones did not inhibit interactions. They might actually help some children, especially those with special hearing needs. Therefore, teacher s should not hesitate to use them in the classroom.
Table 1

Frequency of Occurrence of Patterns of Interactions

Date Duration of Peer interactions Teacher
 observation interaction
 Observe, Comment Sharing
 acknowledge being ignored or

10/18 32 min 16 4 4 2
10/20 29 min 5 0 0 1
10/25 23 min 6 0 2 2
10/29 43 min 1 1 2 2
11/1 32 min 7 1 1 3
11/3 49 min 13 3 0 2
11/5 20 min 4 0 0 2
11/8 4 min 0 0 0 0
11/10 40 min 7 0 1 12
11/22 43 min 8 0 1 5
11/29 17 min 4 0 0 2

Total 71 9 11 33

Date Conflict Total

10/18 2 28
10/20 0 6
10/25 2 12
10/29 0 6
11/1 2 14
11/3 6 24
11/5 0 6
11/8 0 0
11/10 3 23
11/22 3 17
11/29 0 6

Total 18 142
Table 2

Description of Patterns (With Frequencies) Observed Within Peer

Patterns Description of Patterns (Frequency)

1. Children observing and Child 1 comments. Child 2
 acknowledging each other acknowledges child 1 with either a
 look, a comment, or a computer
 action. (71)
 a) One child observes another, Child 1 comments. Child 2
 but has no reaction. acknowledges the comments with a
 look. Child 2 does not speak or do
 anything. (29)
 b) One child observes another Child 1 comments. Child 2
 child and does the same action, acknowledges with a look. Child 2
 without comment. does not speak, but replicates
 child 1's computer work on his or
 her own machine. (20)
 c) One child observes another Child 1 comments. Child 2
 child and comments, but does acknowledges with a look, makes a
 not do the same thing. verbal comment, but does not
 replicate child 1's computer work
 on his or her own machine. (6)
 d) One child observes another Child 1 comments, Child 2
 child and comments, then does acknowledges with a look, makes a
 the same thing. verbal comment, and replicates
 child 1's computer work on his or
 her own machine. (16)
2. Children commenting and being Child 1 comments. Child 2 shows no
 ignored. acknowledgement of the comment--no
 looks, comments, or actions. (9)
3. Children sharing or helping each Children invite each other to
 other. share computers or headphones.
 They invite participation in
 computer activity, listen to
 suggestions, respond to
 suggestions by acting on them,
 acknowledge each other's reactions
 to the computer screens. (11)
Table 3

Gender Combinations Within Observed Patterns of Interaction

Gender Peer interactions Teacher Conflict
 Observe, Comment Sharing
 acknowledge being ignored or helping

Boy-boy 27 4 5 -- 3
Boy-girl 41 5 6 -- 15
Girl-girl 3 0 0 -- 0
Boy -- -- -- 17 --
Girl -- -- -- 16 --

Total 71 9 11 33 18

Gender Total

Boy-boy 39
Boy-girl 67
Girl-girl 3
Boy 17
Girl 16

Total 142


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Author:Swaminathan, Sudha
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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