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Faculty members deliver practical approach for using instructional technology in early childhood

Instructional technology in early childhood by Phil Parette and Craig Blum

Instructional technology in early childhood by Phil Parette and Craig Blum

–updated August 16–

On August 14, Phil Parette and Craig Blum, Department of Special Education faculty members and authors of Educational Technology in Early Childhood: Teaching in the Digital Age presented one of four case studies at the Summer Faculty Symposium at the Erikson Institute in Chicago.

The event was hosted by the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network (HITN) Early Learning Collaborative and the Erikson Institute Faculty. It featured national conversation on the creation of new pathways to effective and meaningful teacher preparation in the digital age.

Parette and Blum’s presentation, “Contemporary Issues for Teacher Preparation: Meeting the needs of young children in the age of digital media and technology,” received unanimous support from leaders in the field, including Ed Greene, senior director for educational outreach and partnerships at the HITN, Early Learning Collaborative, and experts in the field from the University, Carlow University, University of Wisconson-Oshkosh and Valora Washington, the CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition.

In addition, the Illinois State technology integration framework was lauded as holding promise for both implementation in preservice and inservice settings nationally.

HITN Summer Faculty Symposium Participants

HITN Summer Faculty Symposium Participants

In 1996, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) published a position statement that examined the role of technology in the curriculum. According to Phil Parette, professor of special education at Illinois State University, the report issued only lukewarm support for the use of technology in early childhood classrooms.

“The problem was that instead of focusing on the use of technology to support instruction, they folded in many unrelated issues such as television violence, viewing time, and others,” Parette said.

After re-evaluating its position, NAEYC published an endorsement on the topic in early 2012.

Phil Parette professor of special education

Phil Parette, professor of special education

NAEYC’s new stance values and supports the use of instructional technologies. In addition, educators in classrooms all around the world have demonstrated that technology-based strategies can enhance learning for all students, including young children.

While NAEYC’s support was an encouraging sign for the field, Parette and Special Education Associate Professor Craig Blum found that something important was still missing. There were no practical guides on the use of instructional and assistive technology for educators of young students with and without disabilities. And it was becoming more apparent that these teachers needed something more effective than a trial-and-error approach.

“What we were seeing in the literature and in working with teachers here in the region was a lack of direction,” Parette said. “Educators are attempting to try things out without completely understanding how to meaningfully integrate the technology.”

So they decided to do something about it. In April 2013 their book Instructional Technology in Early Childhood: Teaching in the Digital Age was released by Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Parette and Blum said the guide took several years to develop, and their ideas were refined through collaboration with their colleagues, school and organizational partners, and perhaps most importantly, their former students.

Parette and Blum worked with teacher education students to determine what strategies were and were not working with the young learners.

Craig Blum, associate professor of special education

Craig Blum, associate professor of special education

They also led grant-funded research that outfitted local preschool teachers’ inclusive classrooms with instructional technologies. In addition to this work, they said that the College of Education’s state-of-the-art Special Education Assistive Technology (SEAT) Center, of which Parette was formerly the director, has served as an invaluable resource for testing out their ideas.

Throughout this effort, their goal was to develop a process that could withstand the test of time and rapid turnover of technology.

“If we had made this into a book only about using specific technologies, it would have been outdated within six to nine months,” Blum said.

Instead, the book explains how early childhood educators should connect standards and benchmarks to a planning process before integrating technology into the curriculum.

“This way, the technology, the instructional technology groupings, and assessment–all couched in universal design for learning (UDL) principles–are all considered in the planning phase before a lesson is actually taught,” Parette said.

“And once it is taught, assessment of children’s learning remains critical given that all the aspects of a planned activity are couched in universal design for learning,” Blum added.

Parette and Blum said classrooms are increasingly inclusive of students with one or more disabilities. That is why they framed their work through UDL, which considers multiple means of engagement, action and expression, and representation for learners. The objective of UDL is to ensure access to all learning activities for every student.

Their work in this area also led Parette and Blum to reconsider existing terminology that describes the involvement level of students with disabilities.

They supplanted the term “partial participation” with “flexible participation.” Through the help of assistive and instructional technologies, students with disabilities can be involved in every learning activity through flexible participation.

To help teachers execute learning outcomes, Parette and Blum devised a four-step conceptual framework:  “EXPECT IT—PLAN IT—TEACH IT—SOLVE IT.” These steps help ensure that educators considers each lesson’s objectives and standards, the abilities of students, and the possible outcomes before bringing technology into the classroom. After they “TEACH IT,” the “SOLVE IT” step empowers educators to employ assessment and problem solving strategies that enable them to continuously revise and improve learning outcomes.

Thus far, the book has received national acclaim in industry journals and from organizations, including the Family Center on Technology and Disability.

However, the authors know there is still work to be done. They plan on revising the edition in the future, providing more online resources, and developing additional guides for implementing technology into inclusive classrooms.

Parette and Blum acknowledge that without the tremendous support they received, this publication may not have made it to print. They particularly would like to thank their former students and Illinois State alumni.

“We are strongly connected with them as a department and they influence our work. And they should know that,” Blum said. “Many of our alums are of course teachers, and we appreciate all the good work that they do. Whether they are a teacher of young children or at any other level, they are an important part of our community. All of us here truly value that.”