Svein Sando visited eight preschools, observing how they use ICT (Information and communications technology). He looked at what they did in actual practice, and he talked to staff about the new technology they used. He was interested in identifying what ethical reflections staff had made regarding the use of ICT.
‘I think I expected to find a great deal of room for improvement. I didn’t. All of them were experimenting with ICT, although very few had taken courses or received instruction. Many applied their intuition as educators and had made ethical reflections regarding the use of digital photos, games and the Internet.
‘The study was carried out in 2009/2010, and it is natural to believe that both the technology and the ethical challenges have become more pressing since then’, says Sando.
TALK TO THE CHILDREN ABOUT PHOTOS!
Digital photos are currently being posted and spread across the Internet faster than ever. This poses ethical challenges for preschools, too. When parents join their children for a festive breakfast just before a holiday or take part in other preschool events, they often take photos of their own children. Some post those pictures on Facebook. But what happens if little Emil is pictured standing in the background, crying? How does he feel about a picture like this being spread on the Internet? Most likely, no one ever bothers to ask his opinion. Those who posted the image have done so with the best of intentions. But would they have liked to see a picture like this of themselves in tears, with a runny nose or make-up all over their face?
One of the preschools Sando visited had considered this question extensively. They experienced parents sharing things on Facebook, and that their pictures included children other than their own. The preschool responded by devising a rule stating that “outsiders” were not allowed to take pictures in the preschool at all. Staff were the only ones allowed to take photos. Their pictures were used in discussions with the children. One of the questions they raised was whether it was acceptable to hang pictures of the children on the walls at preschool, or to pass them along to the other parents.
There may be relationships between some parents and children that could put a child at risk if a photo fell into the wrong hands. However, a situation need not even be that serious before ethical warning lights start flashing.
‘Most of us prefer to be perceived as cheerful and nice in photos that are shown to others, but in many situations, that is not the case. This is true of children, too. We can talk about this with the children. They themselves can help decide whether a photo should be hung on the wall or posted on the preschool’s internal website. This also aligns with the principle of children’s participation in preschool’, Sando points out.
INAPPROPRIATE ONLINE CONTENT
‘Photography was the area of ICT that was easiest for employees to talk about with the children’, the researcher found. It was more difficult to talk about websites that the children encountered when searching for games, etc.
Half the preschools Sando visited had Internet connections. The educational justification for using the Internet was the children’s interest in different topics. The children especially liked searching for music on YouTube.
Occasionally, pages featuring inappropriate content popped up. That presented a challenge for staff. For example, a child who was looking for music by Michael Jackson stumbled upon related music videos by people playing zombies. That sort of thing can give a child nightmares.
‘In preschools, I experienced that accidentally stumbling across a picture of a naked women on a website could create quite a stir. The only way to react was to shut down the Internet connection. Otherwise, the adults would have to check websites in advance before the children were allowed to access them, but that is all but impossible in actual practice.
‘It doesn’t have to be that way’, explains the researcher. ‘Unless content is too gross, it is possible to use the incident as food for thoughtful reflection. “What was it that you saw? Did it upset you? How can we avoid coming across this kind of content?”’
SHORTAGE OF DIGITAL RESOURCES
To varying extents, staff at the preschools Sando visited helped the children play computer games. One of the preschools took gaming seriously, and co-workers tried to stay informed of developments. That particular preschool had set up a separate room for gaming since children need to concentrate when gaming, explains the preschool teacher.
‘I experienced that having a shortage of digital resources was actually a great advantage in that particular preschool. The children had to cooperate to play games. Only one child at a time could use the mouse and keyboard, so the other children gave instructions about what to do. I see this as extensive cooperation’, smiles the researcher.
‘The greatest challenge with computer games is the sheer volume’, adds Sando.
‘Preschools can help children play computer games without allowing electronics to dominate the children’s lives’, says the researcher.
MUST TALK ABOUT THE FORMATION OF IDEAS
Sando believes that the formation of ideas is closely related to reflection.
‘It is essential to strike a balance between too much and too little, between being too liberal or too reserved. That is best accomplished by talking with the children.
‘We must dare to engage in self-criticism’, he continues.
‘We must dare to make mistakes. It’s good to have ideal goals, but they are no more than indicative of a direction. We won’t achieve the formation of ideas if we feel that we have to be perfect all the time.’