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This report reviews three research articles analyzing the effects of technology on language development as well as perspectives of students and teachers on technology and the language learning process. The following articles include research in these areas: (1) “Effects of Home and School Computer Use on School Readiness and Cognitive Development Among Head Start Children: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial” studies the impact of computer use on school readiness and psychomotor skills (Li, Atkins & Stanton, 2006); (2) “How does technology affect language learning process at an early age?” examines teachers and students perspectives on using technology during the language learning process (Itler, 2015); and (3) “How Does the Use of Modern Communication Technology Influence Language and Literacy Development? A Review” studies the current research on skills required for communicating via computer technology, as well as the projected effects of communication technology on children’s language and literacy development (Watt, 2010).
Each article analyzed different populations. Li and colleagues (2006) studied 122 preschool children (57 boys, 65 girls) between the ages of 38-61 months who were enrolled in a Head Start Program in Monongalia County and from a socioeconomically disadvantaged family. Itler’s (2015) study included 12 language teacher candidates and 10 students in the 4th grade (2015). Watt (2010) performed a literature review on the current research on communication technology and language and literacy development. Methods and Procedures Li et al. (2006) randomly divided participants into a control group (CG) and an experimental group (EG). The control group received only the standard Head Start program curriculum. The experimental group received daily computer access in addition to the standard Head Start curriculum. The children selected a developmentally appropriate computer software and had access to it for up to 15-20 minutes a day. Computer use was measured at baseline and post-baseline using teacher’s and parent’s reports. Children’s computer use per week was averaged, then the children were categorized as “infrequent users” “weekly users” or “daily users. ” In order to measure for differences between the CG and EG, four standardized tests were administered at baseline and at the follow-up assessment 6 months later.
The tests assessed the participant’s school readiness, visual motor skills, gross motor skills, and overall cognitive development. The standardized tests included the: The Boehm Test of Basic Concepts – 3rd Edition Preschool (Boehm-3 Preschool) to assess children’s understanding of basic concepts; The Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test for Children to assess visual motor skills, with The Test of Gross Motor Development – 2nd Edition (TGMD-2) to assess gross motor skills; and a shortened form of The Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised to measure cognitive development. The children’s pre-test and post-test scores were compared between the EG and CG using the analysis of variance (ANOVA), and the baseline equivalence of the family demographics and home computer experience between the EG and CG were evaluated using the chi-square test.
In contrast to Li et al. (2006), Itler (2015) conducted qualitative research using a structured questionnaire and found participants by volunteerism, while Li et al. (2006) recruited participants. The questionnaire was designed to explore students and language teacher candidates’ points of view on language awareness and technology. Each questionnaire included six questions related to technology and language learning. The teacher candidates were asked how they could increase students’ motivations in the classroom, whether technology could be a way to improve language awareness, if a student could learn better with technology, as well as their use of technology in the classroom and which types of technology could impact language learning and aid in development of language skills outside the classroom. The students were asked what type of technology they use, if they use the device(s) during language learning, how technology affects their language learning, what they do on the internet to improve their language, whether it’s a good idea to use technology in their English lessons, and finally whether they would prefer to do their homework via the computer.
The results of the questionnaires were examined by two experts in the language teaching field. Watt’s (2010) literature review examined the current research on technology and language development. Watt (2010) began by discussing the nature of “electronic discourse” which can be either synchronous, occurring in real time, or asynchronous, taking place with a time delay. Electronic discourse is highly dependent on the type of service being used and the receiver of the information being shared. Models of language acquisition highlight the usage-based theories of language learning where language is dependent on sociocultural uses and language skills are developed through its use. These models suggest that environmental influences, such as communication technology, do play a role in language acquisition and later developing language and literacy skills.
Watt (2010) discusses research supporting both positive and negative effects of technology use on language development. Technology could be displacing other activities with greater value on development, therefore usage must be monitored. If a child spends a lot of time using technology, their lack of adult-child interaction can impact early learning by inhibiting the use of early spoken language. However, Watt (2010) found a wealth of research highlighting the positive effects of computer use, further supporting Li and researchers (2006) study on computer use and literacy learning. Watt (2010) also found that computer use is shown to boost self-esteem and motivation, while also refining effective thinking and problem-solving skills. Among teenagers, a common concern is that communication technology encourages social isolation, as a lack of face-to-face contact is shown to cause loss of contextual and nonverbal language cues that take place which can negatively impact language skills. Research is conflicting in this area as communication technology has also been shown to enrich pragmatic skills as users must be mindful of the need to provide contextual information and adapt their language depending on the recipient. This calls for a high level of cognitive awareness in terms of pragmatic skills. The contrasting and limited research on communication technology and language development shows further research is necessary to determine communication technology is harmful to conversational language skills.
Li et al. (2006) found that children with access to a computer at home did better than those without home computer access, regardless of experimental assignment. Results of the study found the EG had significantly better scores than the CG on the school readiness test, therefore supporting that the effect of computer use at school was enriched by the children’s computer experience, however, the data of the study were inconclusive in regards to the potential effects of computer use on motor skills. The findings of the study highlight the importance of early childhood computer use in the development of children’s minds and bodies and came from socioeconomically disadvantaged families.
Itler (2015) further supports the benefits of communication technology on children’s language awareness. The results of the questionnaire show language teacher candidates think that technology is inevitable in this world which is why the teacher is the key factor to determine appropriate use. The teacher candidates also indicated that technology does not only teach a new language but also assists young students in gaining new cultural items, which can be appealing for young students. The students did not have the same opinion, as most still prefer to live real language learning in the classroom and instead use the technology for their tasks and homework.
In conclusion, Itler (2010) believes teachers should use technology in their classes in order to increase their student’s language awareness and that they should organize the activities according to children’s age, language level, interests, and needs. Itler (2015) also states that language teachers should lead the young students and their parents to the appropriate websites and should also create task-based activities and project-work for their students to use with the technology. In contrast, Watt (2010) did not find sufficient research on the positive effects of technology use and its impact on language skills, concluding that more detailed research must be conducted to fully evaluate the effects of specific aspects of computer use among the different levels and types of computer usage and how they influence outcomes. Watt (2010) reveals the need for more research into the protentional consequences of technological advances, and that education professionals need to be up to date on the current research in order to support parents and caregivers to ensure children use the communication technology to support their language and literacy development. All of the studies were well structured and used appropriate methods to assess the proposed effects of technology on language development and to gain further understanding into teacher and student’s perspectives. However, Li’s (2006) study requires a better method of data collection to yield more accurate results about the amount of time spent each child spent on the computer, and the effects of computer use among young children.
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