How one college is embedding the use of technology in its diploma program to build student capacity and promote continuous professional learning.

The early learning and child care sectors in Canada are increasingly using technology to document children’s learning, communicate with families and engage in continuous professional learning activities.

Today’s families have expectations of technology-rich communication with their children’s educators, and today’s students are increasingly adept at using technology to bolster their own efficiency and professionalism. Many will begin their careers in centres and programs that use sophisticated software for communication, documentation and planning, and they will need to be up to the task.

In the Applied Computer Skills course at the Mothercraft College of Early Childhood Education, pre-course survey results among students in college’s diploma program have generally shown the following over the last three years:

  • One-third to one-half of students are very comfortable with computers and software, while two-thirds to one-half have little or very limited experience and are uncomfortable with technology.
  • Most are familiar with emailing, texting and Microsoft Word, as well as some entertainment applications.
  • Some are also very familiar with social media, but beyond that there is a large discrepancy in the knowledge and skills these students possess.
  • Some students understand that technology can help them administer programs (e.g. track attendance or plan programming), access educator resources, support and document children’s learning, and connect with parents. Others are not at all aware of this potential.

Mothercraft students are exposed to a number of tools through the mandatory Applied Computer Skills course. As part of their coursework, students create a digital newsletter, an e-portfolio, and explore pedagogical documentation, as well as social media’s relevance to their work. Upon completion of this course students should be able to:

  1. Apply technology in creating both professional and academic communication, such as documents, presentations, and online posts.
  2. Practice successful searches for professional online resources.
  3. Identify and understand basic computer terminology.
  4. Demonstrate the ability to manage files and directory structures of drives/disks.
  5. Integrate Ontario’s Early Learning Framework components into everyday practice.
  6. Apply technology as one way to create positive environments/activities to support families’ learning and connections.

This year the software Storypark, a social enterprise and private online learning community, was added to the curriculum.

Utilized by educators in 37 countries, Storypark was designed to “support a cohesive learning experience for children; strengthen professional development and mentoring initiatives for staff; improve the impact of work and deepen outcomes for children and families.” Additional components focus on encouraging reflective practice, parent communication and streamlining assessment and reporting.

Students in the Applied Computer Skills course experimented with the secure Storypark features such as “Community” and “Stories” through in-class exercises. The “Teacher Portfolio” feature was utilized for an e-portfolio assignment, which promoted self-assessment and continuous learning.

As the course concluded, students articulated that they were able to see the value and efficiency of the platform with regards to family engagement, documentation of learning, and the ability to share resources with others for ongoing professional learning and development.

More advanced students began to explore the use of “learning tags” as a way to track what topics were being discussed in their posts, with an appreciation for the idea that these tags could later be used to generate data about what’s happening in the program, and how this data can be used to inform planning.

Their instructor, Athena Skliros, saw additional benefits.

“I believe that the use of the platform has really helped the students to increase their confidence around their use of technology — even those that were particularly anxious about the course have expressed that their knowledge of technology has increased, and they have acquired new skills through our use of the platform,” she said.

Students also expressed excitement around their own personal “Portfolio” areas, where they can continue to add meaningful content and evidence of their professional growth and learning, long after this particular course ends.

The early learning and child care sector in Canada, and around the world, is increasing its use of technology in order to document children’s learning, communicate with families in their preferred modalities, and engage in continuous professional learning activities.

Post-secondary education programs should consider embedding appropriate tools and technologies in dedicated computer and other program courses. In doing so, students with varying levels of technological comfort will be provided opportunities to increase their knowledge and skills in this area, while also enhancing their professionalism and maintaining the privacy of child and family information.