A mixed methods study on early childhood services' touchscreen tablet use and non-use in New Zealand
With the ongoing debate on young children’s Information Communication Technology (ICT) use in early childhood education (ECE), empirical studies have reported that the increase in young children’s access to and use of touchscreen tablets, hereafter referred to as tablets, could positively and negatively impact their learning and development. According to the New Zealand ECE curriculum, Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 2017), children growing up in the context of a changing society could benefit from using technology. This research, which explored tablet use in New Zealand’s four major early childhood service types: education and care centres, home-based services, kindergartens, and playcentres, provides useful information on the reasons why services used and did not use tablets as well as how teachers/educators used tablets to support children’s learning. The two phases to this sequential explanatory mixed methods study were underpinned by two research paradigms, the postpositivist paradigm for the quantitative phase and the constructivist paradigm for the qualitative phase. First, a national survey that was sent to all early childhood providers from the four major service types and then a collective case study was conducted in two sub-phases. Phase 2A consisted of focus group interviews with a tablet non-user service from each of the four service types and a tablet user service from each of the four service types. Phase 2B consisted of stimulated recall (SR) focus group interviews with the same tablet users who participated in Phase 2A. The survey responses revealed considerable variation in the use of tablets and the purposes for which tablets were used. More education and care services and kindergartens used tablets than home-based services and playcentres. Both quantitative and qualitative phases revealed complexities involving tablet use such as the types of scaffolding used and issues surrounding screen time and policies on tablet use including the use of personally-owned tablets and cybsersafety concerns. Particularly, the findings from Phase 2 confirmed that the socialized nature involving tablet use aligned with Te Whāriki. Thus, tablet use is not necessarily limited to a dichotomy of use and non-use but is spread across a spectrum ranging from limited, to specialised, and to comprehensive use.