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While studying to become a reading specialist, Debbi Rooyakkers (third author) selected as one of her methods requirements a course called "Literacy Development in the Early Years." Debbi's reflections, which appear in the sidebar on pp. 228-229, illustrate that the technological revolution has doubtless made its mark. It has dramatically changed learning and communication in the process. On a daily basis we check our email, go to automatic teller machines for cash, and coordinate our schedules on handheld computers. With technology an integral part of everyday life, it is our responsibility as educators to teach students how to use relevant equipment.
This article describes a project designed to enhance the technological ability of university students enrolled in an early literacy course. By modeling the use of technology as a tool for literacy instruction for them, we hoped that these teachers and future teachers would become more familiar with technology and use it when teaching their early childhood students to read (Morrow, 2001).
Technology and literacy development
A responsibility of education is to prepare students for the future. We have to teach our students to use technology if we want them to succeed in today's world. Valmont and Wepner (2000) stated,
Functional literacy means that people are able to process print in their environment, whether it be newspapers, train schedules, or official documents. Now included in this array of materials for which people must have functional literacy is information technology. Everywhere we go there is a reference to an online address. Radio and television advertisements send their listeners and viewers to web sites to get additional information about the many items advertised. Retail stores and local services boast about their 24-hour accessibility through their specialized web sites. (p. 5)
In order to prepare our children, we must recognize the impact of technology in today's workplace and train them accordingly. Technology can help to support and enhance the development of reading, writing, and the language arts, which are the foundation for success in school and in life (Reinking, 1999).
We have entered a time when technology is developing rapidly, which has an important effect on literacy development (Leu, 1997; Rickelman & Caplan, 2000). The changing constructions of literacy within new technologies will require us to train teachers to prepare children for these changes (Leu & Kinzer, 2000). The literacy needs and demands of a changing society must be addressed in school when children are very young. The World Wide Web has created the necessity for new literacy abilities such as search and navigation strategies and synthesis and critical thinking (Reinking, 1999). Technology can be used as an instructional tool to support literacy development. Computer technology is effective when it is used to supplement, not to supplant, the teacher (Balajthy, 1989; Labbo, 1996).
Using technology in literacy instruction--benefits
Research suggests that there are benefits to using technology as a tool in literacy instruction. Technology appears to motivate children and to increase the time they are willing to spend practicing important academic skills. This is especially helpful to teachers when trying to work with children who have difficulty acquiring reading skills and who may become easily frustrated and disinterested. According to Stanovich (1986), extended involvement in reading is essential for developing reading ability. Daiute (1983) found that students exhibited a higher level of motivational engagement when using technological tools. Studies that compared word processing revision versus handwritten revision commonly found that children were more highly motivated to revise when using the computer, which led to more time spent on the revision process (Kamil, Intrator, & Kim, 2000).
Another benefit of technology use is that computers can provide individual reinforcement of skills. Providing instructional activities designed for individual abilities has always been a challenge for teachers. However, many software programs have adjustable levels of difficulty, and children can be trained to use this software on their own. Children can use it in learning centers when the teacher is working with other children in small groups. The computer provides opportunities for cooperative learning as children work in pairs or small groups. Cooperative learning promotes academic achievement, social interaction, and positive attitudes in the classroom (Baker, 2000).
The computer allows teachers and children to communicate and share ideas with others around the world. At the same time, it offers the opportunity to discuss how to carefully read the information acquired on the Internet and assess its reliability. Computers and Internet use provide teachers and children with access to information all over the globe. Children can direct their own learning as the computer brings them into contact with information not available in print. The computer may provide the most current information and is always being updated. Nevertheless, children must also learn how to evaluate the accuracy of that information. Both verifying and referencing information are important literacy skills whether the information is from the Web or from a book (Baker, 2000).
Using technology in the classroom--challenges
Although there are many benefits, a major challenge with technology is the cost. Many school districts are now equipped with computers, and hardware costs continue to fall; however, the ratio of computers to students is still just 1 to 5 (Symonds, 2000). In addition, keeping up with equipment upgrades, current software, monthly telephone/cable/Internet provider connection charges, printer ink cartridges, paper supply, diskettes for students, and so on is a constant challenge (Leu & Kinzer, 2000).
Training children to use technology is challenging due to time constraints in the school day. The level of technical expertise among the children varies. For example, some students will need instruction in how to use software programs, access the Internet, do searches, and use word processing. Others will already have these skills. Many districts provide a computer class as a special subject, like art or music, where students learn these skills and the burden is not on the classroom teacher. In addition, there are many good software programs that students could use to practice these skills. If teachers incorporate technology into their instruction, this model will heighten their children's awareness about the use of technology.
Technology in preservice and inservice training
Preservice and inservice professional development of teachers is probably the most overlooked yet essential component for integrating technology use with literacy instruction. Teacher training is essential to provide children with quality learning experiences involving technology. As in all educational endeavors, a committed, knowledgeable teacher is the most instrumental factor in effective instruction (Leu & Kinzer, 2000). Because new technologies continuously appear, staff …