Kelly Johnston,* Fay Hadley* & Kate Highfield^

Shared understandings of technology to support children’s digital citizenship

Kelly Johnston,* Fay Hadley* & Kate Highfield^ *Macquarie University & ^Early Childhood Australia Wednesday 15 August 2018

For young children, understandings of technology as a cultural tool are both ‘inherited and transformed’ (Rogoff 2003: 51), and often differ from previous generations’ perceptions of technology. We believe that these disconnections in experience have an impact on how early childhood educators include technology in their programs for young children.

Technology in early learning environments

It is commonly understood that children learn best in play-based programs, and this position underpins Australia’s early years learning framework (EYLF) (Department of Education and Training 2009). As technology is an everyday part of most modern children’s lives, they need opportunities to ‘make sense’ of technology as an embedded tool or resource. It has been argued that exploring technology in early learning settings helps develop childrens’ cultural capital and, as noted by Paino and Renzulli (2012), results in greater empowerment for those with higher technological competence. Early learning settings can help to bridge gaps in the experiences that different children have with technology elsewhere in their lives, creating greater equity by fostering foundational skills necessary to support children’s experiences in an increasingly digitised world.

‘Our research gained insights into the factors influencing the beliefs and practices of early childhood educators regarding technology integration for play-based learning, and explored ways for new knowledge and perspectives to be introduced and adopted.’

However, current research from Australia’s leading early childhood advocacy group, Early Childhood Australia, shows that understandings of technology in play-based programs are still emerging (Edwards et al 2018). The research found that while educators are comfortable with non-digital technologies (such as paint brushes and pencils), over half of the educators surveyed stated that early learning programs should not focus on developing children’s skills with digital technologies. This contemporary snapshot of educator perspectives in the Australian context indicates that there is not only a minimal appetite for including digital technologies in early learning programs, but also a lack of guidance for educators in terms of professional learning and a lack of knowledge of how to integrate digital citizenship in play-based programs (ibid). Our research (Johnston et al 2018 forthcoming; to be published soon in the British Journal of Educational Technology) gained insights into the factors that influenced the beliefs and practices of early childhood educators in relation to technology integration for play-based learning, and explored ways in which new knowledge and perspectives could be introduced and adopted.

Rogoff’s planes of sociocultural activity

We found a close alignment between Rogoff’s (1995) planes of sociocultural activity (participatory appropriation, guided participation and apprenticeship) and the factors that impacted upon educator willingness to include technology in their programs. Educator beliefs about technology were influenced by their own experiences and the attitudes of other stakeholders such as families or service directors (participatory appropriation). Collaboration and sharing of knowledge supported learning-created connections in understanding between stakeholders (guided participation). Collaborative learning and shifts in thinking occurred when stakeholders were able to learn from each other’s expertise (apprenticeship).

Investigating educator beliefs and practices through Rogoff’s (1995) planes enabled educators and other stakeholders to be understood within the specificities of their contexts. The need to create connections in understanding between educators, families and service directors is pivotal to developing and implementing early learning programs that integrate technology in socially and culturally relevant ways, to challenge misconceptions, and to be ‘ready to accept the “digital child” of the 21st century’ (Palaiologou 2014: 19).


Department of Education and Training (Australia) (2009). Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. Retrieved from:

Edwards S, Straker l and Oakey H (2018) ‘Discussion paper: Towards an Early Childhood Australia statement on young children and digital technology’, Fyshwick, ACT: Early Childhood Australia.

Johnston K, Highfield K and Hadley F (2018 forthcoming) ‘Supporting young children as digital citizens: The importance of shared understandings of technology to support integration in play-based learning’, British Journal of Educational Technology

Paino M and Renzulli L (2012) ‘Digital dimensions of cultural capital: The (in)visible advantages for students who exhibit computer skills’, Sociology of Education 86(2): 124–138.

Palaiologou I (2014) ‘Children under five and digital technologies: Implications for early years pedagogy’, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 24(1): 5–24.

Rogoff B (1995) ‘Observing sociocultural activity on three planes: Participatory appropriation, guided participation and apprenticeship’, in Wertsch J V, del Rio P and Alvarez A (eds) Sociocultural studies of mind, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 139–164

Rogoff B (2003) The cultural nature of human development, New York: Oxford University Press

Kelly Johnston is a lecturer, and Fay Hadley a senior lecturer within the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Kate Highfield is the general manager, professional learning and research translation at Early Childhood Australia. The authors have a shared interest in investigating effective professional learning and development strategies for early childhood educators and pre-service teachers. Their recent research investigated practitioner inquiry as a way to support educator agency in professional learning, with a focus on issues relating to technology integration.