We know that positive behaviors, particularly those related to social competence, are key for children’s early and continued school success (Ravner & Knitzer 2002; Peth-Pierce 2000). One concern about using technology is this might lead to children having fewer interactions with others and becoming socially isolated. However, most experts share the consensus that it is the type of technology experiences available to young children, not the technology per se, that determines whether development is hampered or supported. The development and display of positive feelings when young children use technology is well documented. Children exhibit positive emotions and develop positive attitudes toward learning with computers, demonstrate greater positive affect and interest when they use technology together, and often show a preference for working with peers rather than independently (see McCarrick & Xiaoming 2007; Clements & Sarama 2003; Heft & Swaminathan 2002).
A new technology is making this even more possible in the form of the multi-touch table. A number of children can interact together in a group and all touch the surface at the same time. The research on multi-touch tables is in its infancy. A recent review of the literature reports this is especially true with regard to formal studies on the collaborative capabilities of multi-touch tables in learning environments but what does exists, namely with elementary age children, shows there is a potential to positively impact learning outcomes (Higgins et al. 2011). A recent observational study conducted with preschoolers playing on a multi-touch table, with games specifically designed to promote social competence, found over 75% of the interactions (body and verbal) were cooperative and collaborative (McManis & Gunnewig 2012: “Cooperation and Collaboration Among Preschoolers Using an Interactive Multi-Touch Table” presented at NAEYC’s Annual Conference).
The study found that the majority of the play being cooperative is in line with Parten’s Stages of Play. There is evidence the table and games promote children being more in this stage, since it is usually “fleeting”. The fact that collaborative play, which is advanced, is present represents good support that the multi-touch table is promoting these behaviors. While not pervasive, competition too was present. Competition can be viewed in two ways: some is needed so children assert themselves enough to be involved and set personal goals, but when it is too much on the egocentric and comparison side this is where less than positive outcomes can come in. Additionally, this was a new experience, and when something is highly valued or interesting, children who tend to dominate will increase those behaviors. Some studies with older children which found competitiveness on multi-touch tables attributed this to too few assets (objects that can be moved, interactivity, action, etc.). For this reason, many assets must be available for children. Further, research shows technology can bring out competiveness with young children when the game is competitive and when children who have this trait are involved. However, when these kinds of activities are not presented to children and a teacher manages and guides children how to be more cooperative and less competitive, this drops off and more equality of play emerges (Clements 2012, Hatch Webinar). To learn more about the study described above see our resources on SlideShare. To see footage of children using a multi-touch table please check out this video as well as another video on YouTube.
If you are contemplating bringing a multi-touch table into your early childhood classroom there are some key considerations for you:
1) Think about welcoming technology just as you would other new materials into the classroom. Technology should become integrated and be a part of the learning and play environment. The multi-touch table should never replace such activities as the sand and water table but should be seen as bringing another shared learning experience into the classroom.
2) The children will need instruction, guidance, and encouragement to use the multi-touch table just as they do with any new center. As the teacher you will want to introduce the table, how it works, what its purpose is (for young children as simple as “You will be playing together with your friends.”), and having and communicating the same expectations you would for other shared experiences. Additionally, just as with any other center, having you as the teacher be a part of the activity in which you dialogue and expand children’s thinking, feelings, and language is appropriate and key.
3) The power and potential of the multi-touch table is unparalleled in terms of a shared space as it can register almost 150 touches simultaneously. However, if there are not enough objects to move or create in meaningful ways for children, this power and potential cannot be realized. This makes it very important that the content you choose or create supports the technology’s platform capabilities.
4) The activity time on the table should be a part of your lesson planning along with using the experience as observational information for you as a teacher in monitoring the progress of children gaining skills in the domain of social-emotional development.
As the presence of shared educational technology opportunities becomes more prevalent in early childhood settings, it is vital that educational professionals have an understanding of their benefits and limitations in supporting positive outcomes. One exemplary resource for you is the newly revised joint position statement from NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) and the Fred Rogers Center (2012), “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.” A key message here is that using technology with children should be done in ways that support relationships.
Bio: Lilla Dale McManis, PhD, is the Research Director for Hatch Early Learning, a leading technology development company in early childhood, and a founding member of the Early Childhood Technology Collaborative, a group of research-oriented technologists. Dr. McManis holds degrees in child development, special education, and educational psychology with a concentration in learning and cognition. Over the past 25 plus years, she has served as a public school teacher, teacher educator, evaluator, university faculty member, and researcher. She joined Hatch in 2008 following a position at the University of Texas-Houston in the Children’s Learning Institute and the State Center for Early Childhood Development. Dr. McManis focuses on the design, evaluation, and research of educational technology for early learners.