Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is big, there is no denying it. There are now many different medias providing more information which can then be reformulated and communicated back via more media. Gone are the days of pull down charts, slates, blackboards, slide rules and (even) pencils and paper. We now have computers, the internet, software, DVD’s, digital cameras, notebook laptops which, when written on with a specific pen, can convert the handwriting to typing!

ICT touches all seven of the Essential Learning Areas of the NZ Curriculum Framework and is referred to in all the Essential Skills, most notably Information, Communication and Problem Solving.

While ICT is big, it is not a separate curriculum learning area. Instead, it is deemed to be a “cross curriculum enhancement of children’s learning” (Auckland College of Education. (2004). Study Guide: An Introduction to Information and Communication Technology. (p.6)).

“It seeks not to just build technical skills, but to promote the use of ICT to extend and enrich educational experiences across the curriculum, building digital and information literacy, so that all learners become confident and competent in using technologies to an innovative and thriving society.” (Ministry of Education. (2003). Digital Horizon: Learning through ICT. (p. 6.)).

All the Essential Learning Areas have uses for ICT. The most obvious are Technology, Science and Mathematics. Within the Arts, ICT is mentioned, “Recognised art forms include those of recent origin, such as film and video …” (Ministry of Education. (1993). The New Zealand Curriculum Framework. (p.15). The Learning Media). Using video, digital cameras, scanners and various software.

Within Social Sciences, ICT is mentioned, “…develop a wide range of general and specific skills, including skills in research, critical and creative thinking, communication and social participation.” (Ministry of Education. (1993). The New Zealand Curriculum Framework. (p.15). The Learning Media). Using the Internet, email, computers, etc.

Within Language and Languages, ICT is mentioned, “The ability to use spoken and written language effectively, to read and to listen, and to discern critically messages from television, film, the computer and other visual media …” and “… students will be provided with frequent opportunities to observe, learn, and practise oral, written, and visual forms of language, to learn about the structures and use of language, and to access and use information.” (Ministry of Education. (1993). The New Zealand Curriculum Framework. (p.10). The Learning Media).

ICT is even mentioned within the curriculum of Health and Physical Well-being in the following, “They … will be encouraged to develop personal responsibility and judgement, matters of values and ethical standards. (Ministry of Education. (1993). The New Zealand Curriculum Framework. (p.16). The Learning Media). Using websafe and email policies.

In all of the Areas students can use ICT hardware and software to “access, retrieve, store, organise, manipulate, and present information.” (Ministry of Education. (2003). Digital Horizon: Learning through ICT. (p. 5).

Now we have all of these ways and means of gaining information how do we go about turning it into knowledge? We teach and learn how to use the equipment and how to present information but how do we actually gain knowledge from it? Information Literacy is the term given to this process. Information Literacy is defined well by “Doyle (1994); the ability to access information; the ability to evaluate information; and the ability to use information from a variety of sources. An information literate person is one who can transform information into knowledge by reshaping it and communicating the new synthesis to clearly to others.”

(Auckland College of Education. (2004). Study Guide: An Introduction to Information and Communication Technology. (p.14).

For years we have been ‘learning’ by doing ‘projects’ at school. We all had our own special ways of doing the ‘projects’ with pretty borders, pictures cut from travel brochures and statement copies verbatim from encyclopaedias. Generally, it was the ‘projects’ which were the well presented that received the good marks and in general, they were usually the ‘projects’ done by girls. Ask me now what any of the projects were about and I could not answer you, and it is there that the problem of ‘projects’ arises. We were asked to complete tasks and we completed them but we were not pushed to research further and ask questions.

Now, with even more sources of information available, it is easier to cut and paste a good looking project and not gain any ‘knowledge’ on the topic. “The development of information technology has meant that we not only have faster access to information but we also have more information than we can handle”. (Grant V. (1998).

So what is involved in Information Literacy? Information skills form part of the Essential Skills area.

“Students will:

* Identify, locate, gather, store, retrieve, and process information from a range of sources;

* Organise, analyse, synthesize, evaluate, and use information;

* Present information clearly, logically, concisely, and accurately;

* Identify, describe, and interpret different points of view, and distinguish fact from opinion;

* Use a range of information-retrieval and information-processing technologies confidently and competently.”

(Ministry of Education. (1993). The New Zealand Curriculum Framework. (p.18). The Learning Media).

Key parts of these skills are found throughout the other Essential Skills in the New Zealand Curriculum Framework. When they all work together we develop Information Literacy. The difficulty has been with ‘how’ we teach the skills. I cannot remember how I became ‘information literate’, so how do I teach it?

“The ability to handle information is often taken for granted, because teachers themselves are simply unaware of what is involved. It’s likely that nobody consciously taught them these skills either”. (Auckland College of Education. (2004). Study Guide: An Introduction to Information and Communication Technology. (p.25).

There are several different models on the best ways to turn the information received into knowledge.

Gawith, Bond, McKenzie and Patterson all provide quality models or tool-kits on how these skills can be taught. They all revolve around five basic stages, “a planning stage, resource locating stage, use of information stage, synthesis stage, and evaluation stage”. (Grant V. (1998).

These stages all feature the asking of questions from the teacher to the student and from the student of the information being searched. Whatever model is employed by the school or teacher, there will need to be a change of pedagogy.

“teachers need to move from content based programmes to a process based approach giving students a way of finding and using information effectively to enable them cope in the 21st century. Teachers who have been used to being information providers now need to change their roles to that of being coaches of learning”. (Grant V. (1998).

This requires a shift in learning approaches.

Traditionally in New Zealand schools and in Early Childhood Education a behaviourist approach to learning has been implemented but to encourage Information Literacy a move to cognitive and co-constructivist learning is happening. Along with a change in pedagogy, many teachers themselves are discovering how to use a new range of equipment, much of which their students seem more confident with than themselves.

When I first went to a computer class at school, the students sat two to a BBC computer and watched and listened and did only as we were told by a teacher. I now watch my seven year old son install games onto our home computer, search the world wide web, copy numbers from the television to ‘text his vote” and copy off compact discs of his favourite music. As a learner of today, he does not enjoy learning within the behaviourist confines. ‘Drill and practise’ software holds no interest for neither him or to his peers.

Skinner believed that programmed instruction was the most efficient means available for learning skills and that “teaching was a process of arranging contingencies of reinforcement effectively to bring about learning”. (Roblyer, M., & Edwards, J. (2000).

These theories result in the ‘good grades for well presented projects’ style of learning rather than knowledge learning from extended questioning and learning.

The ‘co-constructivist’ approach within the cognitive theories beings together theories from Piaget, Bruner, Papert and Vygotsky amongst others and uses ‘scaffolding’ to develop knowledge, acknowledges that children learn differently during the stages of their development and that their own world has a direct impact on them.

“What children learn and how they think are derived directly from the culture around them …” (Roblyer, M., & Edwards, J. (2000).

“…a child’s development from one stage to another takes place through a gradual process of interacting with the environment”. (Roblyer, M., & Edwards, J. (2000).

The models that Gawith, Bond, McKenzie and Patterson all implement co-constructivist approaches and scaffolding techniques.

To learn with ICT requires a blend of both behaviourist and cognitive theories. Basic skills of how to use and operate equipment and navigate systems are learnt through behaviourist learnings and co-constructivist approaches are used to utilise all of the information and pathways found.

In early childhood education, it has been difficult to work out where ICT fits in. “Children’s learning in early childhood centres has for decades been supported from a Piagetian framework, which advocates the individual child’s construction of knowledge with minimal intervention. Under this paradigm, it is now realised that children are being denied access to some of the most readily available and knowledgeable support – that of the adults working closely with them”. (Jordan, B. (1999).

This is obvious in centres where ICT tends to revolve around behaviourist software. It has become apparent that young children can develop further ICT skills and gain knowledge with a co-constructivist approach with teachers scaffolding to new levels.

Using ICT, teachers can learn more about ICT themselves and their scaffolding skills can be developed to further enhance the children’s knowledge learning. Teachers in ECE can use ICT both as a tool for learning and also to monitor their own teaching as described in Barbara Jordan’s research “Technological Tools Supporting the Scaffolding of Learning”.

Instead of the traditional ECE practices of allowing children to learn by play or exploring their environment, teachers can help guide children by posing questions to help them convert what they are seeing, and doing, and discussing into knowledge. By observing the children, teachers can learn what works or does not work.

The skills of listening to what the children’s ideas are is one of the key tools to scaffolding to the next level of learning.

“The process of listening of their own dialogues with children was a powerful tool for change for the teachers. The teachers realised that they needed to provide more space for the children to talk. They also needed to listen to what the children were saying to encourage the children to listen to each other, and often, themselves, be silent”. (Jordan, B. (1999).

As the teacher develops this skill, the child will soon begin asking questions without prompting and the teacher will move from guiding with questions to supporting the children’s ideas.

Children in early childhood education situations are aware of many different sources of information even if they are not skilled at using them. They know answers to their questions can come from adults, books, pictures, television and the internet. To ensure the best learning outcomes from all of these ICT options, teachers need to develop a rich ICT learning culture. This involves both the environment in the physical sense and a positive atmosphere.

The physical environment is often the easiest to effect and done correctly, helps develop the atmosphere needed for learning.

“Research indicates that placing computers in classrooms rather than in labs is more effective in learning, leading to significant gains in math, reading, and language arts Milken Exchange (1998). Papert (1999) supports these findings, stressing that until teachers integrate computers into their curriculum, computers will not have a significant impact on the education of young children”. (Haughland, S. W. (2001).

Furniture, lighting, acoustics, and even ensuring there are enough power sockets in the room are considerations. Learning in a constructivist environment, whereby groups of up to five children may use a computer, there needs to be enough space for the children to spread out.

While the focus of ICT is often on computer learning, other ICT media such as video cameras, fax machines, telephones, DVD’s, etc also need to be visible so as to stimulate an interest in them.

If a kindergarten or early childhood centre has a computer in their ‘classroom’ then the ICT learning culture is halfway there.

To get the learning culture we must begin with the teachers. They need to be motivated to learn about ICT and to (possibly) change some of the pedagogy used. To be able to integrate ICT in the curriculum, teachers need to be confident.

“Teachers need practical experience, workshops, models, mentors and supervisory follow-up to develop confidence and to learn strategies for integrating computers into their curriculum”. (Haughland, S.W. (1999).

Once experience is gained with ICT, confidence follows. Once the teacher has confidence then they are able to develop and implement strategies for using ICT within the curriculum.

“To integrate computers and maximise children’s learning, four steps are critical: selecting developmental software, selecting developmental web sites, integrating these resources into the curriculum, and selecting computers to support these learning outcomes”. (Haughland, S.W. (2000).

Software is one of the most difficult and contentious area of ICT learning. Shade (1994) mentions that approximately 300 software titles are released each year – and that was ten years ago! Of the software available 10 years ago that was available for young children, only 25-30% was not of the ‘Drill and Practice’ type. Software needs to be chosen that “allows the child to make decisions about what she wants to do and which she can operate with little help … allows the child to set the pace and stop anytime, experiment, operate from a picture menu, and control the interaction … that three year olds can access, yet seven year olds can benefit from because of the more complex knowledge and skills the same software teaches”. (Shade, D. (1994).

Once the software is selected the teacher needs to be comfortable with its operation also to ensure questions can be answered and posed to facilitate learning.

The world wide web poses even more questions as it is such an ever-changing medium. It can be broken down into four basic types of sites: Information, which provides resource information; Communication, chat rooms, discussion forums, message boards and e-mail; Interaction, using online software such as Nick.com; and Publication, where children’s work can be posted for the world to see – some schools do this themselves as part of their own websites.

Integrating these both into the curriculum involves some planning. “Teachers can accomplish this most easily by selecting software or websites that match their learning objectives”. (Haughland, S.W. (2000). These can be integrated into project based learnings or into normal classroom work such as reading or maths to further enhance learning.

Once the strategy to integrate ICT into the curriculum is developed, it must be implemented. To develop the ‘rich ICT learning culture’ of using the ICT tools beneficially it requires the co-constructivist and scaffolding skills mentioned earlier. The teacher becomes a “Guide, Model, Manager, Participant, Planner and Facilitator”. (Ryba, K & Anderson, B. (1990).

Children need to become more ‘independent learners’. They will develop skills in self-direction, problem solving and risk taking and have the ability to accept when they get it wrong. They will also need to be allowed to talk to and question each other and to collaborate in their work.

“…in this new environment children also need to work in partnerships and collaboration and peer scaffolding should be encouraged”. (Auckland College of Education. (2004). Study Guide: An Introduction to Information and Communication Technology. (p.34).

Because these environments are new to teaching, the teachers themselves must learn how to manage and facilitate a classroom that may look chaotic and noisy from the outside but from within groups of peers are bouncing ideas off each other, researching books, searching the web, emailing across the country or watching a video all at the same time.

I am very much in favour of maximising the full capabilities of ICT, to encourage and to enable a child’s knowledge to grow to its full potential. We are teaching a new generation of young people who are growing up with technology and we are now aware and are more respectful that children learn in different ways.

“Enriching the learning environment through the use of ICT is a continuum, a journey that takes us through learning about ICT, learning with ICT and learning through ICT”. (Ministry of Education. (2003). Digital Horizon: Learning through ICT. (p. 8).