The “sweet spot,” the point where technology and instruction meet, is critical to the success of the mobile technology implementation at Seton Hill. In the fall 2011, early childhood education students taught and nurtured literacy to children enrolled in the Seton Hill University Child Development Center by using the iPad.

Seton Hill Students Work with Child Development Center to Embrace Technology in the Classroom

Once upon a time Jossy Blawas wrote a lovely story about a little girl who became a princess, found some kittens and took them back to her new castle. Jossy wrote that story on the iPad, while she learned all about the letters C and K. Jossy is four years old.

Like the other three, four and five year-olds at Seton Hill University's Child Development Center (CDC), Jossy is benefiting from the university's program to incorporate virtual tablets into its education.

Every full-time college student at Seton Hill receives an iPad, and according to Mary Spataro, director for the Center for Innovative Teaching at the university, the device has become a bridge and accelerator for education on many levels. The student interest drove the faculty interest in a true teaching and learning collaboration—the more the students asked to work with mobile technology, the more the faculty obliged, creating spontaneous teaching moments as well as aiding in structured coursework.

That same excitement and desire to discover through the use of technology is also true of early learners like Jossy. By using the app, I Write Words, Jossy listens to how a letter sounds, repeats it out loud, traces it on the screen and discovers simple words which begin with that letter. All this practice and manipulation inspires a story on this day which she then dictates to Seton Hill University student Monique Chamberlain, senior elementary education major. As Monique types the story on the iPad, Jossy becomes the princess and her castle of kittens comes to life.

For Jossy it's just fun, but Kathleen Harris, Ph.D., assistant professor, education, knows the complex thought process behind these simple exercises. "They say it, hear it, touch it, see it, all while combining imagination, technology and fine motor and verbal skills, and incorporating the early learning standards."

All this integration is what Dr. Harris had in mind when she partnered with Georgine Hallam, director of the CDC, and Richelle Gourley, lead teacher at the CDC. "It's the new apple on the teacher's desk," Dr. Harris says. She predicts that with individualized tablets like these, "learning will be awakening in every classroom."

And right now Dr. Harris is loving the introduction of tablet technology for the CDC early learners. Not only have they added variety to content area subjects, there's also the added benefit that many students can use the apps, which concentrate on math, matching and virtual puzzles, at home for practice because so many of the parents already have iPads. In fact, Mrs. Hallam is overwhelmed by the excitement this integration of technology created in parents. "There was 100 percent participation," Mrs. Hallam says. "And, the parents helped us generate a list of apps for the classroom."

When Seton Hill junior Jessica Richard, who's major is pre-k to fourth grade education, began working with the early learners at the CDC, she searched for other educational apps and immediately found 25 of them the CDC could use. "I realized what an asset this could be for the children. You have to feed off their energy," she says. Like many of the university students, she was surprised how quickly the early learners adapted to the technology. "The children love this, "Mrs. Hallam says. "It is their world."

Seton Hill education major Chase Simons agrees. "It's like they were born to use this technology. A child can customize an app for his or her own needs to build upon the modern classroom. It becomes second nature."

"But this was never meant to replace books, puzzles, imaginative play," Mrs. Hallam adds. "We like to maintain a balance. We're using the iPads as tools, not on a daily basis, but once or twice a week."

Because the CDC is a laboratory school for Seton Hill, university students are able to come in and help, just like Monique, Emily, Jessica, and Chase. This added socialization deepens engagement with students. And socialization is a key factor for early learners, which is why the CDC implements peer mentoring and cooperative learning in small groups, always with a teacher to guide students. Part of adhering to early childhood standards includes utilizing technology in the classroom which is developmentally appropriate. This program is proof that the tablets are facilitating individualized learning on many levels.

The experience is also enriching for the university-level students as it provides a real time practicum and an opportunity to use their iPads as teachers as well as students. Like Mrs. Hallam and Mrs. Gourley, who each received an iPad, university students helping out at the CDC can use their tablets for lesson planning and facilitation. Just another bonus to using this exciting tool.

Chase adds, "When I'm searching for a job, I'll be ahead."

No doubt the early learners using this mobile technology will also have an advantage, not just because of the equipment, but also the time spent with Mrs. Hallam, Mrs. Gourley, Dr. Harris, and all the Seton Hill University students who share this experience with them.

And, isn’t sharing supposed to be one of the first lessons we learn, even in a modern classroom?