Technology advances in the twenty-first century have provided new options for teaching children literacy skills. With the availability of digital media items such as iPad tablets, e-books, and computer games, teachers have a variety of technologies that can keep students engaged and motivated to master reading skills. Though many technologies available for classroom use is less than one decade old, many researchers have already begun to assess the impact that these technologies have upon students and the classroom environment. This literature review will evaluate recent research that addresses the benefits and disadvantages of utilizing technology to enhance the literacy skills of prekindergarten and kindergarten children in the classroom.
Several studies have assessed the overall benefits of utilizing technology in the classroom. As Lieberman, Bates and So (2009) assess, technology can be utilized to introduce students to abstract concepts that would otherwise be too advanced for the student to understand (p. 272). The article identifies several benefits of utilizing technology to teach students. As a survey of the research reveals, it is determined overall that technology applications can enable students to improve their math skills and boost their vocabulary skills (2009, p. 272). As McManis and Gunnewis (2012) note, thoughtful planning can enable the successful introduction of technology in the classroom. As the authors assert, methods for ensuring that technology implementations meet the needs of students include: 1) establishing learning goals, 2) identifying the hardware or devices that will be utilized, 3) analyzing the features and content of the software meets these learning goals, and 4) developing a plan to integrate technology in the classroom (2012, p. 17). As the optimistic assessments by these two articles assert, the successful use of technology to teach literacy skills to students is primarily in the hands of the educator.
Research on the efficacy of tablet computers in a preschool classroom setting highlights the potentials of new technology for motivating students. A common objection to introducing newer technologies to preschoolers is that young children are too young to understand and benefit from technology. Yet, Couse and Che (2010), determined in a mixed-method study of 41 preschool students between the ages of 3 and 6 that children are able to easily learn how to use tablets to complete classroom projects (2010, p. 93). Further, they determined that students over the ages of 53 months were more persistent in their use of tablets and more willing to overcome obstacles in understanding how to use the tablets to complete a specific task (2010, p. 93). As the research demonstrates, young children are at a suitable age to understand the uses of newer technology.
Further research addresses the desirability of introducing technology to young children. Another objective of utilizing tablets is that it leads to anti-social behavior among students. However, Higgins et al. (2012), determined in a study of 10- through 11-year old children that working with multi-touch tablets enabled users to gain a shared understanding of their schoolwork and complete classroom projects 25 percent earlier than the control group that completed a paper-based task (2012, p. 1051). These findings were also confirmed by Shifflet, Toledo and Mattoon (2012) in a qualitative evaluation of a classroom of preschoolers. As the researchers observed, the introduction of tablet technology increased the interactivity of children and encouraged students to collaborate on creative projects (2012, p. 37-38). This research conflicts with the concerns that technology hinders social interaction among children and suggests that technology can actually facilitate cooperation.
In addition to addressing the overall benefits of utilizing technology in the classroom, the research addresses how technology aids literacy. As Hisrich and Blanchard (2009) assess, educators and students can choose from a wide range of digital media related to teaching and improving literacy skills. As they note, there are several products that fall under the category of digital media, including DVDs, computer software, websites, electronic learning aids, and video games geared towards literacy (2009, p. 244). Research also assesses the impact that e-books have on young preschoolers. As Korat and Shamir (2012) assess in a study of Israeli kindergarten students, e-book programs that assist students in understanding the meaning of words through highlighting and dictionary programs increase the word and story comprehension of students (p. 140). However, this study demonstrates that there are limitations to the ability of students to acquire literacy skills through the use of technology alone. Hillman and Marshall (2009) assert that the effect of technology is enhanced when students engage with students while they are learning (p. 267). The primary restraint of the literature reviewed is that they lack concrete measurements of the performance of students who utilize technology to learn how to read over the long run. The dearth of assessments of the effects of technology on literacy skills on preschool children needs to be addressed by future research in this area.
Couse, L.J., & Chen, D.W. (2010). A tablet computer for young children? Exploring its viability for early childhood education. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(1), 75-98.
Higgens, S., Mercier, E., Burd, L., & Joyce-Gibbons, A. (2012). Multi-touch tables and collaborative learning. British Journal of Educational Technology. Doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01259.x
Hillman, M., & Marshall, J. (2009). Evaluation of digital media for emergent literacy. Computers in School, 26, 256-270. Doi: 10.1080/07380560903360186
Hisrich, K., & Blanchard, J. (2009). Digital media and emergent literacy. Computers in the Schools, 26, 240-255. doi: 10.1080/07380560903360160
Korat, O., & Shamir, A. (2012). Direct and indirect teaching: Using e-books for supporting vocabulary, word reading, and story comprehension for young children. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 46(2), 135-152.
Lieberman, D.A., Bates, C.H., & So, J. (2009). Young children’s learning with digital media. Computers in the School, 26, 271-283. doi: 10.1080/07380560903360194
McManis, L.D., & Gunnewig, S.D. (2012). Finding the education in educational technology with early learners. Young Children, 14-24.
Shifflet, R., Toledo, C., & Mattoon, C. (2012). Touch tablet surprises: A preschool teacher’s story. Young Children, 36-41.