Pedagogical Practices when using Educational Apps in Classrooms

Our resident Pre-School and Primary School EdTech blogger, Neelam Parmar, discusses the types of teaching methods which may be more suitable when using mobile apps. 

While many early years and primary school settings now recognise the need to integrate educational apps within a classroom setting, less emphasis has often been placed on integrating the technology in pedagogical terms where the term pedagogy is referred to as an art of teaching.  This can take the form of an interactive process between teacher and learner and that which takes place within a learning environment (House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Employment (2000)).

Whilst there is much influence and hype for including new apps into education, there is also much evidence to suggest that simply providing technology equipment and/or a collection of ‘electronic gadgets’ to teachers and schools is not necessarily enough to make a difference.  There is plenty of academic evidence (and more awareness within the commercial sector) to suggest that what is of immediate importance at present is to develop more appropriate models of learning and pedagogic practices within the classrooms.

Several pedagogic practices are based on developmental theories that have influenced teaching practices for some time.  Therefore, the next question is to understand whether these pedagogic practices are appropriate in the context of educational mobile technologies.

The following popular pedagogy styles have been highlighted:

1. Drill and Practice

Studies in South East Asia suggest that teachers adopt a traditional whole class teaching approach that relies on drill and practice because ‘they know it works and know how to conduct it’. Unfortunately though, highly structured didactic teaching is found to result in children showing high levels of stress and anxiety behaviour (Burts et al, 1990).

Academic scholars argue strongly for educators to abandon the use of the ‘drill and practice’ for technology based instruction with young children in education. Although there is strong research evidence to suggest that technology mediated instruction can be effective in some areas of mathematical practices in curriculum, there are also a number of longitudinal studies which suggests that initial successful gains are often short lived.

2. Independent Exploration 

Negroponte (1995) suggests that whilst a significant part of learning comes from teaching – of good teaching with good teachers – a major measure comes from exploration, from re-inventing the wheel and finding out for oneself.  However, it would seem that this theory is based on two key assumptions: that the educational app is developmentally appropriate and that children need time to experiment and go through trial and error.

Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests that often apps are introduced into a classroom as a ‘good thing’ that will motivate children to get involved with some literacy or numeracy activity without giving much consideration as to how the app fits in with existing pedagogic practices. All too often, children are found to be finger touching the screen just to get some type of animation which is generally unrelated to learning.

3. Guided Interaction 

The guided interaction approach suggests that whilst the integration of new technologies in curriculum can be beneficial, the role of the teacher is fundamental in developing an appropriate learning environment.  This is especially facilitated through dialogue and communication.

Working more along the lines of a perspective of the effective outcome, the concept of Guided Interaction can be expanded to include the active role of the adult in actively supporting and enhancing the children’s interactions with the technology.

But, whilst this sort of interaction can be considered one step forward, another backward, there is the perceived danger that the teacher, or more skilled peer, can easily be found to focus predominantly on what children should know (i.e expected goal within curriculum) rather than extending and celebrating or helping to consolidate learning to an even greater extent or as it occurs.

A major concern using the Guided Interaction approach, as developmentalists, have repeatedly warned is that when we give children assistance and direction, we encourage them to depend on others to know what and how to think, thereby undermining the ability to think for themselves.

4. Communication and Collaboration

By extending the theory of Guided Interaction, the Communication and Collaboration model points to the more effective interactions between adult and child.  The role of collaboration is very influential in providing opportunities for the co-construction of possible solutions in the learning processes  where both the more experienced peer or adult and the child can learn alongside one another where they are actively in jointly constructing new knowledge (as constructed by Dewey).

However, the co-construction of information and collaboration on its own does not successfully occur when teachers simply bring children together. Instead teachers often need to ‘orchestrate collaborative interactions if there are to be learning gains’ (Crook, 1994).

This is found to be especially suited to young children of the 21st century that are just as knowledgeable, if not better, than their peers in learning settings.  Unfortunately, there is no current research using communication and collaboration pedagogical practices whilst using new learning educational apps with young children.

In conclusion, whilst it would seem that introducing educational apps in classroom settings is not difficult in the 21st century, making good use of the technology whilst using appropriate pedagogic practice to enhance learning with young children is crucial.  Although respected educators strongly advise against the use of ‘drill and practice’ pedagogical practices, this type of method of teaching is still being practised. And where it would seem that independent exploration has its benefits, it is clear that adult intervention and collaboration with the children can be found to be especially effective.

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