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Children and Technology: Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities.

Educators face compelling questions regarding the integration of technology into the instructional environment. Although the use of technology by young children is particularly controversial, successful integration of technology is an issue at all levels.

The "Net Generation"

As technological developments accelerate, a new demographic group of students can be identified--the "net generation." They are techno-literate and often exceed the abilities of their parents and teachers; they and their parents have high expectations concerning the availability of technology in school; they expect learning to be fun and entertaining; and they expect customization, flexibility, and immediacy (Hay, 2000). Interactive learning, made possible by technology, brings significant changes to teaching and learning. Linear learning gives way to hypermedia-based learning, instruction becomes construction and discovery, teacher-centered instruction cedes to learner-centered instruction, the teacher transforms from transmitter into facilitator, and an emphasis on absorbing material shifts to one on navigating information (Tapscott, 1999).

Which Children Are Using Computers and How?

A 1999 survey reports that 71 percent of U.S. households with children ages 8-17 have computers, and 67 percent of those computers connect to the Internet (Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2000). A separate study of "on-line households" with children ages 6 through 12 showed that 81.2 percent of the parents or guardians had post-graduate degrees, 75 percent had college degrees, and 42 percent had high school degrees. Seventy-one percent had incomes of more than $50,000; only 14.8 percent had incomes below $15,000 (Holton, 2000). In one survey of 291 parents with children in kindergarten through 6th grade, the parents reported that games and educational software were used most often by boys, and that word processing and creativity software were most likely to be used by girls. Internet use most frequently entailed information retrieval and net surfing, followed by E-mail and chat rooms; girls' use of those Internet functions was lower than boys' in all but the chat room area (Kafai, 1999).

In addition, a pre-Internet, longitudinal study of 7th- through 12th-graders showed that computer ownership, parental interest, and student gender were the most important predictors of heavy computer use. Frequent users were found to have high degrees of self-satisfaction and confidence, a strong social network, and were proficient academically. This finding contradicts studies suggesting that frequent computers users are socially isolated and withdrawn (Rocheleau, 1995).

Further evidence exists to quell fears that computers isolate children and diminish social relationships. Rather, it can be argued that children's interpersonal lives and computer activities reflexively amplify and reinforce each other. Rather than isolating children, computing may provide an adaptive social environment. Boys, however, are much more likely to socialize in relation to computers than girls are. The female culture that attaches minimal importance to a computer-focused social world has significant implications as computer expertise becomes the standard for achievement (Orleans, 2000).

One revealing factor to examine is whether other activities are displaced by the Internet. Not surprisingly, the advertising industry is studying this question, since the results have implications for the allocation of advertising dollars. Thirty-nine percent of one group of 4th-grade children said they were willing to give up a favorite activity in favor of exploring the Internet. Within this group, the activities surrendered were: playing with friends or siblings (89 percent), watching TV (67 percent), and reading or playing a musical instrument (33-38 percent) (Henke, 1999). Research also demonstrates that children are susceptible to advertising and promotional efforts. Children as old as 9 have difficulty identifying the intent of advertising on a Web site (Henke, 1999), however, whereas previous research indicates that even young children can identify the persuasive intent of age-appropriate television advertising (Donohue, Henke, & Donohue, 1980). While children and teens may share their parents' concerns about on-line privacy, many are enticed by offers of free gifts into revealing personal or family information such as brand preferences, the nature of free time activities, allowance amounts, political positions, drinking patterns, place of worship, and more (Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2000).

Conclusions about Internet addiction in the adult population are conflicting, due to problematic research methodologies. While "addiction" may be too politicized a term, some criteria applicable to impulse control disorders may be insightful. These include: regarding the habit as the most important activity, feeling good when using it, needing to use more to achieve the same result, and feeling symptoms of withdrawal when not using it (Griffiths, 1998). While Internet addiction in children has not been studied, studies done on adolescents regarding video game addiction identify a parallel to a gambling addiction in terms of meeting the above criteria for impulse control disorders (Fisher, 1994). These addictive behaviors among youth suggest that careful monitoring of, and future research on, Internet use are warranted.

Educational Benefits of Information Technology

One of the first longitudinal studies to examine and demonstrate the benefits of instructional technology was the Buddy System Project, launched in 1988 (Corporation for Educational Technology, 2000). Another was Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT), which demonstrated that technology in the classroom can significantly increase the potential for learning (Apple Computer Inc., 2000). The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (2000) also conducted a broad-based assessment to document the benefits of technology, surveying, beyond simple computer counts, the degree of integration of computer competencies, student achievement, and professional development support.

The report "Does It Compute?" (Weglinsky, 1998) documents a study that used a national database, the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress in Mathematics, as well as advanced analysis techniques, to isolate the effects of the computer from the myriad other factors involved in student achievement. This study found that both teachers' professional development in technology and the use of computers to teach higher-order thinking skills were positively related to academic achievement in mathematics and the social environment of the school. Furthermore, the greatest inequities in achievement were found in how computers were used, not how often they were used (Weglinsky, 1998).

Several recent research literature reviews examine the benefits of educational technology on student attitudes, applications to basic and advanced skills, and strategies for implementation (Kosakowski, 1998; National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC], 2000; Project Pegasus, 1999). An industry-sponsored study, "Research Report on the Effectiveness of Technology in Schools," reports that technology benefited student achievement, student self-concept and attitudes, and teacher-student interaction, in addition to improving software design (Software & Information Industry Association, 2000).

Computers and Young Children

Claims that computers are a powerful learning tool for very young children are difficult to document because of problems in execution of research methodologies, confounding variables, and rapidly changing technologies. At issue is what best serves children's development and learning in the long term. Although software developers and industry advocates recommend introducing infants and toddlers to computers, child development experts are firm in recommending against exposing children to computer use until they reach age 3, because computers do not match the learning styles of the very young (Haugland, 1999). Questions about the appropriate use of information technologies with young children can be informed by the research of Lilian Katz (1995, 1999) regarding what young children should be learning, and what is developmentally appropriate.

Preschool children can learn much about technology: that people control technology, that technology can take different forms, that technology has rules that control how it works, and that computer programs require different ways of organizing thinking (NAEYC, 2000). Haugland (2000) reviewed research indicating that 3- and 4-year-old children who use computers with activities that reinforce educational objectives have greater developmental gains, and that kindergarten and primary age children show improved motor skills, enhanced mathematical thinking, increased creativity, higher scores on tests of critical thinking and problem solving, and increased scores on standardized language assessments. An NAEYC position paper (2000) reaffirms that, when used appropriately, technology can enhance children's cognitive and social abilities, that it should be used as one of many options to support children's learning, and that it has many implications for early childhood professional development. Nevertheless, computers should only supplement, and not replace, highly valued early childhood activities and materials, such as art, blocks, sand, water, books, exploration with writing materials, and dramatic play.

Researchers found that substantial levels of scaffolding by computers increased preschoolers' language-related cognitive skills (Shute & Miksad, 1997). Scaffolding provided by the computer and Internet resources also can be successful in promoting a collaborative environment, as discovered in a study of Internet exploration using partnered 3rd-graders on paired keyboards (Peters, 1996). How computers are used with young children appears to be more important than if computers are used at all. Issues of parent collaboration, teacher training, and selection of appropriate software are also key to the ultimate success in integrating instructional technologies (Haugland, 2000).

Programs demonstrating the effectiveness of integrating technology into early childhood education are accessible on the Internet. One notable program is the Early Childhood Technology Literacy Project, Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools, which won the 2000 Computerworld Smithsonian Award in the Education and Academia category. Several organizations and commercial sites supporting the use of educational technologies make available research reviews and supporting resources. Among them are "Technology and Young Children," a site of the National Association for the Education of Young Children's Technology Caucus (2001) found at index.shtml, and "Children and Computers" found at www.children (Kids and Computers, Inc., 2000). Desirable improvements for expanding the on-line, networked environment for children include an ability to incorporate drawings in addition to text in E-mail messages; an increased availability of on-line collaboration tools; and improved visual cues between the Worldwide Web, E-mail, and other forms of on-line communication (Druin & Platt, 1998).

Cautions Against the Use of Technology With Young Children

Opponents of using technology with young children claim that it is developmentally inappropriate, that instructional benefits are unproven, that an improper focus on "edu-tainment" prevails, and that technology is integrated at the expense of music, art, sports, etc. The most vocal opponent of computer use by young children is the Alliance for Childhood. A report from the Alliance, Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood (2000), calls for seven action points, including a focus on basics such as creative play and hands-on experiences, a report to be issued from the U.S. Surgeon General on the health consequences of children's computer use, and an immediate moratorium on the introduction of computers in early childhood and elementary education classrooms.

Armstrong and Casement (1998) offer an equally strenuous argument against children's use of technology. Extensive research led Jane Healy (1998) to voice similar concerns. Leu (2000) argues that the decision to use information technologies is based on current realities in business and in higher education. Rather than conducting studies on the efficacy of the Internet for teaching and learning, research should explore how to support teachers' efforts to tap the potential of the new technologies.

Teachers' Adoption and Use of Technology

The U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (1999) closely monitors use of and levels of access to the Internet in schools. Internet access has increased every year since 1994, and the 1999 survey found that 99 percent of full-time public school teachers had access to computers or the Internet somewhere in their schools. Of that group, across all grade levels, 39 percent of the teachers reported that they used computers or the Internet "a lot" to create instructional materials; 34 percent used them for record-keeping; less than 10 percent used them to access lesson plans or to access research and best practices. Teachers with four to nine years of experience were more likely to use the Internet than those with 20 or more years of experience. Sixty-six percent reported its use during class time, and 41 percent reported assigning work that involved computer applications.

Teacher training in technology, which is accelerating rapidly, is a defining element in the acceptance and adoption of technology in the classroom. In 1995, the Office of Technology Assessment reported that "technology is not central to the teacher preparation experience" (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1995, p. 12). However, improvements are being made in colleges of education (Beck & Wynn, 1998). Even as recently as 1997, only a few teachers in a few schools had been trained to maximize technology use (Gatewood & Conrad, 1997), and administrators were even less likely to have had technology training (Epler, 1995).

In a 1999 survey, teachers with more than 32 hours of professional development were more likely to assign problem-solving, graphical presentations, and simulation assignments on the computer. Twenty-three percent reported feeling well-prepared, and an additional 10 percent reported feeling very well prepared in computer and Internet use (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999). Student success and performance are directly related to teacher training. Students of teachers with more than 10 hours of training significantly outperformed students of teachers with five or fewer hours of training (Software & Information Industry Association, 2000). Types of training range from the most common (inservice) to least common (vendor training and regional centers) (Epler, 1995).

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (2000) is in the process of approving new standards that include technology education. During the technology adoption process, teachers generally go through distinct stages as they develop expertise with the Internet--a cyclic process in which they evolve from being learners to becoming adopters of educational technology, then they become co-learners / co-explorers with their students in the classroom, and ultimately arrive at a decision about reaffirmation / rejection of the technologies. Many of those who reaffirm the technology decision become leaders among their peers and become change agents for technology implementation. Reaffirmers require administrative support, an incentive system, and evidence of how their efforts influence teaching (Sherry, Bilig, Tavalin, & Gibson, 2000).

Beyond use for professional development and lesson planning, the Internet presents a powerful tool for teachers to build partnerships with parents. A class Web page can provide information about content, outlines, and time lines, as well as individual student progress. E-mail can provide rapid communication on recent developments (Johnson, 2000). The role of the teacher changes dramatically in a classroom where the Internet is an active component of the curriculum. A survey of secondary teachers who used the Internet concurrent with classroom instruction at least once a week reported that students were highly engaged and more willing to work; that learning is more active, accelerated, and individualized; and that technology enhances the "teachable moment" (Hemenway, 2000, p. 115).

Teachers, parents, and others involved in the education and development of young children must be aware of the issues involved with children's use of technology, and be knowledgeable about the resources available to guide them through this dynamic environment. Many excellent sites provide guidelines for sensible Internet use, links to child-appropriate Web sites, and instructional and educational sites. The appendix is a starting point to identify many of these sites.


Alliance for Childhood. (2000). Fool's gold: A critical look at computers in childhood. [On-line] Available at: www.alliance for computers_reports.htm

Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania. (2000). The internet and the family, 2000. [On-line] Available at pdf

Apple Computer, Inc. (2000). Apple classrooms of tomorrow. [On-line] Available at: /; "Apple K-12 effectiveness reports." k12/leadership/effect.html.

Armstrong, A., & Casement, C. (1998). The child and the machine: Why computers put children's education at risk. Toronto: Key Porter Books.

Beck, J. A., & Wynn, H. C. (1998). Technology in teacher education: Progress along the continuum. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 424 212)

Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. (2000). 1998 CABE technology survey. Executive summary. [On-line] Available at: foreword.htm#

Corporation for Educational Technology, Indiana Department of Education. (2000). Buddy system project. [On-line] Available at:

Donohue, T. R., Henke, L. L., & Donohue, W.A. (1980). Do kids know what TV commercials intend? Journal of Advertising Research, 20(5), 51-58.

Druin, A., & Platt, M. (1998). Children's online environments. In C. Forsythe (Ed.), Human factors and web development (pp. 75-85). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Epler, D. (1995). K-12 networking: Breaking down the walls of the learning environment. Medford, NJ: Information Today.

Fisher, S. (1994). Identifying video game addiction in children and adolescents. Addictive Behaviors, 19(5), 545-553.

Gatewood, T. E., & Conrad, S. H. (1997). Is your school's technology up-to-date? A practical guide for assessing technology in elementary schools. Childhood Education, 73, 249-251.

Griffiths, M. (1998). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the internet: Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and transpersonal implications (pp. 61-75). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Haugland, S. W. (1999). What role should technology play in young children's learning? Part I. Young Children, 54(6), 26-31.

Haugland, S. W. (2000). What role should technology play in young children's learning? Part II: Early childhood classrooms in the 21st century: Using computers to maximize learning. Young Children, 55(1), 12-18.

Hay, L. E. (2000). Educating the net generation. School Administrator, 57(4), 6-8.

Healy, J. M. (1998). Failure to connect: How computers affect our children's minds--for better and worse. New York Simon & Schuster.

Hemenway, M. V. (2000). What effect does classroom use of the Internet have on the teacher-student relationship? NASSP Bulletin, 84(615), 114-119.

Henke, L. (1999). Children, advertising and the internet: An exploratory study. In D. W. Schumann (Ed.), Advertising and the world wide web (pp. 73-80). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Holton, L. (2000). The surfer in the family. American Demographics, 22(4), 34-36.

Johnson, D. (2000). Teacher web pages that build parent partnerships. Multimedia Schools, 7(4), 48-51.

Kafai, Y. B. (1999). Elementary school students' computer and Internet use at home. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 21(3), 345-362.

Katz, L. G. (1995). A developmental approach to the education of young children: Basic principles. International Schools Journal, 14(2), 49-60.

Katz, L. G. (1999). Another look at what young children should be learning. ERIC Digest. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 430 735)

Kids and Computers, Inc., and the University of Texas Pan-American College of Education. (2000). Children and computers. [On-line] Available at:

Kosakowski, J. (1998). Benefits of information technology. ERIC Digest. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 420 302) ERIC_Digests/ed420302.html

Leu, D. (2000). Our children's future: Changing the focus of literacy and literacy instruction. Reading Teacher, 53(5), 424-9.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2000). NAEYC position statement. Technology and young children--ages 3 through & [On-line] Available at: resources/position_statements/ pstech98.htm

National Association for the Education of Young Children, Technology Caucus. (2001). Technology and young children. [On-line] Available at: www.techand

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. (2000). Program standards. [On-line] Available at: programstds.htm

Orleans, M. (2000). Children's computer use in the home: Isolation or sociation? Social Science Computer Review, 18(1), 56-72.

Peters, J. (1996). Paired keyboards as a tool for Internet exploration of third grade students. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 14(3), 229-242.

Project Pegasus, Edmonton Public Schools, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (1999). Literature review. [On-line] Available at: http:/ / litreview.htm

Rocheleau, B. (1995). Computer use by school-age children: Trends, patterns, and predictors. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 12(1), 1-17.

Sherry, L., Bilig, S., Tavalin, F., & Gibson, D. (2000). New insights on technology adoption in schools. T.H.E. Journal, 27(7), 42-46.

Shute, R., & Miksad, J. (1997). Computer assisted instruction and cognitive development in preschoolers. Child Study Journal, 27(3), 237-53.

Software & Information Industry Association. (2000). Research report on the effectiveness of technology in schools. Executive summary. [On-line] Available at: www.

Tapscott, D. (1999). Educating the net generation. Educational Leadership, 56(5), 6-11.

U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. (1995). Teachers and technology: Making the connection. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 386 155)

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (1999). Teacher quality: A report on the preparation and qualifications of public school teachers. [On-line] Available at: http://nces.ed. gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid= 1999080

Weglinsky, H. (1998). Does it compute? The relationship between educational technology and student achievement in mathematics. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Services. Available at: pic/technolog.html



AskERIC Lesson Plans: Best Practice Resources: Bigchalk: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies Education: EducationWorld: Family Education Network: The Gateway Lesson Plans: Global Schoolhouse: International Classroom Exchange: Lightspan: National Council for History Education (References and ERIC Resources): Online Collaborative Projects [Pitsco]: Technology Plans for K-12 Schools: Family Internet:


Cinco de Mayo (a sample Grades 2-3 site): Hazel's Home Page: Loogootee West Elementary School [Indiana]: Princeton, Ohio: Alachua, Florida social studies site: Montgomery County, Maryland, Schools Social Studies Program:


Ask Dr. Math (E-mail to Ask Jeeves for Kids: GreatSites [American Library Association]: KidsConnect (Q/A service for k-12): MAD Scientist Network: Internet for Kids: StudyWeb:


Ask Jeeves for Kids: Kids Click:! One Key:

Carol Wright is Education and Behavioral Sciences Librarian, Pennsylvania State University Libraries, and PSU Schreyer Honors College Librarian and a Schreyer Honors College Faculty Fellow.
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Author:Wright, Carol
Publication:Childhood Education
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2001
Next Article:Global Guidelines for the Education and Care of Young Children: The Work Continues.

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