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To touch or not to touch? Early childhood educators’ beliefs about using touchscreen technologies with our youngest children

Maria Hatzigianni

The use of touchscreen technologies in the early years has grown, despite strong recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for children under the age of two to have no screen-time, and for those over the age of two to have no more than two hours per day of screen-based engagement (Strasburger et al 2013). In 2014, Christakis proposed to rethink the AAP recommendation, as tablets are interactive and portable, enhance active participation and joint attention, and enable children to make choices and take better control of their learning (2014: 400).

Research on early childhood and primary teachers has highlighted specific factors preventing the implementation of technology, such as technology anxiety, lack of training and lack of efficient leadership (Aldunate and Nussbaum 2013; Palaiologou 2016). However, there is limited research on the beliefs of early childhood (EC) educators who work with children under the age of three, and our recent study (Hatzigianni and Kalaitzidis (2018) aimed at exploring those beliefs..

This project was underpinned by the ecological theory of Bronfenbrenner and Ceci (1994), which adopts a systemic approach, examining social phenomena through overlapping circular systems. Our study focussed only on the two inner systems: microsystem and mesosystem, the ones directly connected with children and teachers (see figure 1). As is visually represented in figure 1, factors that influence teachers’ beliefs are categorised as falling into the different systems. Starting from the inner circle, the ‘microsystem’, we explore teachers’ personal characteristics and beliefs. Then the ‘mesosystem’ is explored with reference to workplace conditions, training, relationships with colleagues and leadership practices. Interrelationships between these two inner systems are finally discussed, including philosophical views, which are both personal and influenced by sociocultural context.

Figure 1: A visual representation of factors influencing educator beliefs based on Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model

As part of our project, EC educators and directors who work or have worked with infants and toddlers in Australia completed an online survey (Ν = 203), and focus groups were conducted to elaborate on their views (n = 21 educators; n = 7 directors/leaders). A detailed online survey and a semi-structured interview guide were employed (for more details on the survey and analysis see our full article, Hatzigianni and Kalaitzidis [2018]).

EC teachers in this study were found to be more confident in their personal use of technology and more open to change. They were well informed regarding what integration of technology means with regards to young children in particular. However, as previously reported by Palaiologou (2016), they are not as convinced about the involvement of technology in play, and about the potential for new touchscreen technologies to enhance children’s free play – a core value of early childhood education.

As personal use of and engagement with technology increases, teachers’ confidence in their digital skills also grows. Training and professional development is an important mesosystemic factor, but what is more important is the need to tailor training to teachers’ everyday needs and interactions with very young children, as is clearly indicated by the findings of this study. Teachers and leaders shared very similar views and seem to work in harmony, and no problems were identified that could prevent teachers from using technology in their rooms (see ‘mesosystem’ in figure 1).

An innovative element of this study was the focus on pedagogical approaches and philosophical views associated with children. Results are mixed, but there is a definite link between educators’ views regarding children and their personal use of technology. When children are viewed as explorers and creators an emphasis is placed on whatever can facilitate their investigations/experimentations. Even very young children are seen as having their own rights rather than just needs. Given the statistically significant results of this study, we suggest that additional work in this area is imperative to further elaborate on teachers’ views around how children learn best and what they consider ‘creative’, ‘developmentally appropriate’, ‘explorative’ and so on in regards to the use of technology. In combination with the need for more holistic training, it would be useful to ascertain whether work on teaching philosophies first, and then technological training subsequently, could be effective for EC teachers.

This blog post is based on the article ‘Early childhood educators’ attitudes and beliefs around the use of touchscreen technologies by children under three years of age’ by Maria Hatzigianni and Ioannis Kalaitzidis, which is published in the British Journal of Educational Technology and is free-to-view for a time-limited period, courtesy of the journal’s publisher, Wiley.


Aldunate R and Nussbaum M (2013) ‘Teacher adoption of technology’, Computers in Human Behavior 29(3): 519–524.

Bronfenbrenner U and Ceci S J (1994) ‘Nature-nurture reconceptualized in developmental perspective: A bioecological model’ Psychological Review 101(4): 568–586

Christakis D A (2014) ‘Interactive media use at younger than the age of 2 years: Time to rethink the American Academy of Pediatrics guideline?’ JAMA Pediatrics 168(5): 399–400.

Hatzigianni M and Kalaitzidis I (2018) ‘Early childhood educators’ attitudes and beliefs around the use of touchscreen technologies by children under three years of age’, British Journal of Educational Technology 49(5): 883–895.

Palaiologou I (2016) ‘Teachers’ dispositions towards the role of digital devices in play-based pedagogy in early childhood education’, Early Years 36(3): 305–321

Strasburger V C, Hogan M J, Mulligan D A, Ameenuddin N, Christakis D A, Cross C and Moreno M A (2013) ‘Children, adolescents, and the media’, Pediatrics 132(5): 958–961