1999 Conference Proceedings

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TEChPLACEs - TECHNOLOGY IN EARLY CHILDHOOD-PLANNING AND LEARNING ABOUT COMMUNITY ENVIRONMENTS

Letha Clark
27 Horrabin Hall
1 Circle Drive
Western Illinois University
Macomb, IL 61455
Voice/Message: 309-298-1634
Internet: L-Clark2@wiu.edu

Carol Bell
27 Horrabin Hall
1 Circle Drive
Western Illinois University
Macomb, IL 61455
Voice/Message: 309-298-1634
Internet: CA-Bell@wiu.edu

Importance

Public school access to the Internet is increasing at a phenomenal rate. As the National Information Infrastructure provides access to the world outside schools, the current federal and state emphases on Internet access in schools increases. Schools are moving toward the President's goal of having 'every school classroom hooked up to the information superhighway by 2000.' However, Internet access is more than equipment, wiring, and software. Once schools have access to the Internet, a major question for educators becomes, 'what do we do with the technology?'

TEChPLACEs is designed to provide a partial answer to this question, emphasizing thoughtful, planned, and collaborative use of the Internet to promote a learning environment that encompasses communication and interaction among young children with and without disabilities in a variety of locations across integrated content areas in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. A technology-based learning environment, TEChPLACEs provides a potent learning tool that teaches and permits children, teachers, and families to use communication technology themselves as they learn about the varied content that comprises communities. Through the use of a constructivist framework as well as addressing the equity gap in the use of telecommunications and computer expertise, TEChPLACEs speaks to the broader issue of curriculum restructuring.

TEChPLACEs provides an innovative tool process and a state-of -the-art instructional environment for children from 3 through 8 years of age, with a wide range of disabilities across ages, classrooms, and locations, as they construct their own communities and then participate in building a cooperative community on an Internet site. When completed, TEChPLACEs will be an innovative process tool incorporating a variety of media and technologies to use the Internet, an outcome that is intended to open up and expand the lives of children with disabilities by giving them access to and experience using a potent set of learning tools.

The TEChPLACEs learning environment will enable children with disabilities to achieve some of the outcomes expected in the Communication Age, such as a sense of confidence in their abilities to use technology for different purposes, including a means for communication and interaction with other children in classrooms near and far, a value and purpose for productivity, and an improved quality of life. TEChPLACEs, by its very nature, will promote equity in opportunity and will enable children with disabilities to access knowledge, develop skills and problem-solving strategies, and engage in educational experiences that will pave a part of the path to their success as adults who are fully included in our society.

Rationale for children using the Internet

The many capabilities of Internet access can be used as a powerful tool for young children's development. The Internet permits both instant and delayed collaboration and communication opportunities never before available to children or adults. Social interaction, especially cooperative work and play, and interest in other children can be enhanced through the integration of technology, including Internet activities, into the curriculum. When technology is used as a production and communication tool, children's social perspective is enhanced. Children will collectively produce a project that delivers a message to others. Social interactions and self-reflection about social behavior is fostered (Char & Forman, 1994).

The Internet bridges the different worlds and cultures within which children move, including homes, schools, libraries, museums, and places in the community. Additionally, the Internet provides a tool for sustained, collaborative work on topics of interest among children and teachers across locales. Networking can not only increase communication between children, but provide opportunities for collaboration and use of resources as well. Children can conduct projects that actively involve members and resources from local to international communities. The experience will help children bridge the different and varied worlds of home, school, and community. The Internet will enable images and sounds, as well as written text, to be transmitted and received, a capability not available to most children.

The Internet opens the window to a world where children with physical limitations may not be able to reach or experience in body. Technology adaptations can be used in many ways to develop communication, understanding, and appreciation of diversity (Hutinger, 1996). The Internet can eliminate a classroom's physical limitations and expand student's experiences and interactions with people of different backgrounds (Wilson, 1995).

Children who are beginning to read and write can use the Internet to communicate with other children in experiences that combine their fascination with computers with an authentic motivation to read and write. Reading, writing, learning, and computing become integrated in the activities for TEChPLACEs. The students' global interactions arouse curiosity, bond cultures, and invite new directions for education. The Internet makes the global classroom possible by allowing children to communicate with other around the world. For a number of teachers, the enormous potential of computer networking for meeting curricular goals, encouraging creative thinking, and fostering collaborative learning is being realized (Caudell, 1994).

Participant outcomes

Information will be shared about the processes used in the development of the Internet communities and the resulting Internet site. Discussion will include the various methods children, teachers, and families utilized to take advantage of the opportunities offered by their involvement in the project. The design of this session will encourage interaction between participants and presenters. Resource information will be provided for session participants.

References

Caudell, L.S. (Ed.), (1994, February). The Global Classroom. Special Report: Online for Learning. Northwest Report, Northwest Regional Educational Lab., Portland, OR: (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 369385).

Char,C. & Forman, G. (1994). Interactive technology and the young child: A look to the future. In J.L. Wright & D.D. Shade (Eds.), Young children: Active learners in a technological age. (pp.167-100). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Hutinger, P. (1996). Computer applications in programs for young children with disabilities: Recurring themes. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 13(1), 105-114, 124.

Wilson, J., (Ed.), (1995, March-April). Potential for diversity projects abound on the Internet yet go unrealized in the commercial world. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 7(4), 28-30.


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