Natalie Petersen

Hi there…my name is Natalie Petersen. This is my final year of a very long but extremely rewarding Masters degree. I have taken many years to complete this degree but I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel! This course looks and feels very different to the others that I have studied and I feel a little bit "out of my comfort zone". Luckily, I have had lots of practice outside the comfort zone throughout my career!
I have been teaching students with severe intellectual and physical impairments of all ages for over twenty years. Currently I am working full-time in an Early Childhood Development Program (ECDP)in Brisbane run by the Queensland Department of Education. I work with children with special needs aged from three to six years old and their families. I have been working in this particular setting for six years and really enjoy it.
I chose this course as technology is being used regularly by our students at home - iPads, iPods, other tablets, learning apps, "fun" apps, home computers, Youtube clips, music - and yet our setting has been very slow at working with families and incorporating these technologies in educational programs. (Perhaps due to the age and skill levels of the staff?!) I'm interested in making links with home technology use and with looking critically at how technology can influence and improve our programs.
I am also the proud mother of two great boys, ten and thirteen, who are very tech-savvy! Gaming, online homework, Instagram, iPads/ iPods and laptops are all increasing features of our world. However, we also all like to relax and socialise at the beach -snorkelling in northern NSW our favourite if we could just have a sunny day once in a while!
I look forward to learning with you all this semester.

Assessment Item One

We bought an iPad! Now what do we do? Parents, teachers and kids making decisions about using mobile touch screen technology.
Mobile touch-screen technology (iPads, other tablets) have arrived in the area of early childhood special education with much fanfare. Claims about the ways this technology will revolutionise special education and change children’s lives abound.
There have been a small number of early studies detailing the implementation and the success so far of mobile touch-screen technology in both special education settings in Australia (Ellis, 2011; Marks & Milne, 2008) and within early childhood settings (Lynch & Redpath, 2012). However, there appears to be very little research conducted so far relating to very young children with special needs using tablets for learning beyond anecdotal reports. The lack of research is not surprising considering the short period of time this type of technology has been available.

Most reports and studies describe a number of common, positive observations of the use of this type of technology in education contexts including:
• increased engagement and motivation,
• increased accessibility both to screen content through touchscreens and to devices through portability and durability
• ability to personalise content.
• and, access to a number of specialised apps to increase access for students with different learning needs including communication impairments.
(DeCurtis & Ferrer, 2011; DEECD, 2012; Ellis, 2011; Lynch & Redpath, 2012; Marks & Milne, 2008). This certainly matches up with my experiences and observations using the iPad in my classroom.
While our education department have supplied us with brand new iPads and parents are purchasing them specifically for the child’s learning, the most commonly asked question among parents and teachers – now what do we do?
The key here is to continue to use the same processes we use for planning any learning experience in an early childhood setting – observe and discuss learning with the child, engage with parents about learning in the home setting, and reflect on what learning looks like in early childhood special education by looking at curriculum and approaches from Australia (Early Years Learning Framework, 2009) and overseas (e.g. Reggio Emilia approach). Learning experiences are part of an emergent curriculum approach, play-based and child-centred.
By forming learning communities (McMannis & Gunnewig, 2012; Wesley and Buysse, 2001), children, parents and teachers can use and learn about this technology together and have important discussions about the role of play and games in learning. This method of thinking about learning with technology places the child at the centre of the discussion rather than the piece of technology. And hopefully, this will prepare us for the next wave of revolutionary technology.

References:
Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. (2009). Belonging, being & becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. Canberra, Australia.

DeCurtis, L. L., & Ferrer, D. (2011, September 20). Toddlers and Technology: Teaching the Techniques. The ASHA Leader. Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/Publications/leader/2011/110920/Toddlers-and-Technology.htm

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), Victoria. (2012). iPads for learning: Evaluation. Retrieved from http://www.ipadsforeducation.vic.edu.au/ipad-student-trial/ipad-research

Ellis, S. (2011). Teaching the future: How iPads are being used to engage learners with special needs. Screen Education, 63, (Spring), 60-64. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary:dn=445341941466124:res=IELH557

Lynch, J., & Redpath, T. (2012). Smart technology in early years literacy education: A meta-narrative of paradigmatic tensions in iPad use in an Australian preparatory classroom. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 0, (0), 1-28. doi: 10.1177/1468798412453150

Marks, G., & Milne, J. (2008, July). iPod therefore I can: Enhancing the learning of students with intellectual disabilities using emerging technologies. Paper presented at ICICTE: International Conference on Information Technologies in Education, Corfu, Greece. Retrieved from http://archimedes.ballarat.edu.au:8080/vital/access/HandleResolver/1959.17/17504

McManis, L., & Gunnewig, S. B. (2012). Finding the education in education technology with early learners. Young Children, (2012, May), p.14-24.

Wesley, P., & Buysse, V. (2001). Communities of practice: Expanding professional roles to promote reflection and shared inquiry. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 21(2), 114-123.

Other interesting reading from a parent's perspective…

Rosin, H. (2013, March 20). The touch screen generation. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/the-touch-screen-generation/309250/?single_page=true

The next step…

I worked with a small group of parents to develop an approach to learning together about iPads.
It started with a small iPad playgroup at school (four parents with their children). The term playgroup emphasised the ideas of experimentation, play and fun. The parents used the time together to demonstrate, observe and talk together about their children and their experiences using the iPad. However, the playgroup had its flaws. The session had to be cut short due to the behaviour of some students. Parents found it difficult to talk while attending to their child’s needs. Two parents jokingly asked if we could run the playgroup again without the children! A playgroup without the children? This started a new idea…

Parents suggested setting up a Facebook page to chat and share information. Unfortunately, the Department of Education’s social media policy was quite restrictive which made the administration team resistant to the idea. So we set up a private Google+ community as that was similar to Facebook but without the privacy issues.

Unfortunately, due to the privacy settings on the community, I can’t provide a link for the outside world. Here is a brief description of what the community looks like at the moment. The community is called Technology and Little Learners. It has six members so far – three parents, two teachers and a speech therapist. So far posts have followed a narrow theme reflecting issues discussed by parents – managing the device, links to parent-friendly blogs and websites, links to apps that were popular with the students. Initial posts have been short, easily accessible, relevant and useful to ensure people are motivated to return.

There have been some successes and hiccups…
Unfortunately, I spent insufficient time was spent exploring how Google+ communities are created which led to confusion from all members about how to join. Members were able to join eventually with personal support. Grant (2010) encourages schools and teachers to ensure proper consultation, support and training is given to parents before engaging in a digital communication strategy. People have been slow to post but that will improve over time, I hope, as the group takes a shared ownership of the community.
However, the community has had the following real benefits:
• An extra forum for sharing information about what is happening for the child at both home and school- giving me as the teacher more information.
• An authentic resource that addresses current specific identified needs.
• A way for our team to share the load of sorting through the huge amount of information available on a topic such as learning with iPads.
• A novel and new way to engage in the parent- teacher relationship which has actually increased face-to-face conversations with the parents involved.
• A forum for sharing that is available beyond the traditional school hours.
• A reinforcement of the importance of our parent’s contribution to their child’s learning at school.
• Has the capacity to grow and evolve according to the members’ needs or to respond to the arrival of next new piece of technology.

Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE), Queensland. (2013). Use of social media for school, TAFE and departmental promotion (v. 2.1). Retrieved from http://ppr.det.qld.gov.au

Grant, L. (2010). Developing the home - school relationship using digital technologies. Bristol, UK: Futurelab. Retrieved from www.futurelab.org.uk/handbooks