Video Conferencing in Early Childhood Education: Teachers' Perspectives
“Today’s children are growing up in a rapidly changing digital age that is far different from that of their parents and grandparents” (National Association for the Education of Young Children & Fred Rogers Center, 2012, p. 1). With such changes within communities, and globally, partly due to nearly constant increases in digital technologies available, it is important for the education sector to continually reflect on their practices. Seeking ways to appropriately incorporate or adopt new technology (digital or otherwise) into the education system will always be a relevant, interesting, and sometimes difficult and challenging, topic (Allen & Blake, 2010). One tool of digital technology is video conferencing – the use of visual and audio technology to communicate with others via the internet. This particular tool is being explored in many areas, from holding meetings with participants in different geographical locations, to those with families so they can remain in closer contact while travelling, or if they live at distances from each other. This aspect of technology combines elements of community building, communication, and otherwise impossible exploration, while remaining distant and remote from the other party. The curiosity of this researcher was sparked by personal experience and knowledge of video conferencing and wondering how it would relate to an early childhood setting. This research aims to aid teachers and centres who are considering, or already implementing, video conferencing in their practice, by providing some of the possible benefits and downfalls it may have when used within early childhood education. This small scale study looks at the perspectives of a few teachers on digital technology within society, digital technology within early childhood education, and video conferencing in early childhood education, to reflect on the question of what teachers’ perspectives could be around the possibilities of using video conferencing within early childhood education. As digital technology and its tools are changing society, it is important that the education sector reflects on what tools are available for children’s learning, with attention given to the possible implications, both positive and negative, to children’s growth and development in all areas. There is a need for continual questioning in regards to ‘digital childhoods’, with the understanding that there may never be a definitive, or one universally correct answer, with more value being gained from a constant purposeful approach and ongoing questioning of practices (Gibbons, 2015). Education settings need to be reflecting critically on how and why they are using digital technology in their practice, not only in terms of educational goals, but also as resources within the setting (21st Century Learning Reference Group, 2014). It is also important for teachers of young children to remain mindful of what children already know and what type of world children are a part of outside of the centre, and to create environments within their centres that reflect what is important to those children, families, and societies, while maintaining their professional reflections on what is important within their early learning setting, and why. Part of a teacher’s role is to reflect critically on what they are doing, the learning environments and opportunities they are providing or inhibiting, and why they are doing things the way they are. “If we are to grow and develop as individuals, and contribute to significant issues in the field of early childhood, we must think back on what we do and why we do it” (Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dockett & Farmer, 2005, p. 118). This research provides a way for the teachers involved in it, to reflect on their own practice and share that with others. It allowed them to have different topics raised and brought to the forefront of their minds, so they could think more deeply about their practice and what it meant for them as individuals, for the centres and children whose learning environments they contribute to, and where their beliefs sit within their communities. Key themes revealed through the interviews included a shared understanding that digital technology is part of the future for children. Teachers participating in the study generally felt digital technology should only be used for academic tasks within the centre environment. They had some understanding of the importance of the wider community in the lives and education of young children, but limited ways to connect the centre and the wider community; they also held the attitude that they would be willing to implement video conferencing within their centres if they saw a purpose. Within the early childhood sector in New Zealand, all early childhood education settings are required to adhere to Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum of New Zealand. As well as the national early childhood curriculum, each centre has its own philosophy which will impact on how and why that centre and its teachers implement the use of digital technology and video conferencing within the learning environment. As with any decisions made in early learning centres, decisions around digital technologies and video conferencing, and their place within individual settings, need to be made by each centre, based on relevant information available, teacher beliefs, the centre’s philosophy, community values, and the national curriculum. The intention of this research is to highlight the perspectives of a few teachers as a starting point for further research on the possibilities of video conferencing, as well as starting conversations amongst teachers about what video conferencing could mean as a tool within early childhood education settings.