The Use of Literacy Based Computer Programs in Early-Childhood Literacy Education

The influence of technological innovations on children’s literacy education has been observed through a multitude of studies. The bank of evidence suggesting positive influences on early childhood literacy education by way of computer programs and software becomes representative of a technological innovation posing advantages to humankind at large. Additionally, there remains a concern for the loss of, and a heavy belief in the teaching styles offered by a human teacher in a standard classroom setting. Web-based literacy computer programs such as ABRACADABRA offer teaching strategies in early-childhood literacy education that are more effective than alternatives, ultimately suggesting that technology can assist in creating a generation that is literate at a younger age than previous generations.

 The element of technology’s potential influence on literacy education is exampled through the computer program used in a succession of early 21st century studies on early-childhood literacy education. The program ABRACADABRA (hereafter, ABRA) is a web-based literacy education program that features educational games or “lessons” that inform and assess children’s literacy. ABRA has been used to assess children’s literary abilities in the comparison of web-based literacy programs and in person teaching strategies (Savage, 2009). 

Researcher Erin Comaskey has conducted multiple studies on the effectiveness of computer programs in pertinence to youth literacy education. In particular, Comaskey’s 2009 study produced significant results of kindergarten student’s improved ability to construct and dissect words by sound. This ability of kindergarten student’s was particularly tested as recognition of word sounds has proven to be a early process used in the recognition of relating words to each other.  This analysis was conducted through the observation of children’s ability to recognize new words through an additional word’s shared rhyming sound. When students were presented with a rhyming task which challenged them to recognize a connection between words, the results proved more successful for students who received their lesson via ABRA than those who received their lesson in the regular class setting (Comaskey, 2009). This experiment allowed for the literate ability of being able to recognize connections between how written words sound and how similarly written words sound to become explicit (Comaskey, 2009). Additionally, this experiment serves as a piece of evidence of the beneficial approach towards literacy education that computer programs offer, as the web-based computer program used in the study, through containing elements of a task that cannot be fully replicated on paper or in person, headed more successful results.

The ability to connect words through rhymes, though reflective of a literacy skill, does not become fully encompassing of one’s literacy. As the priorly described experiment’s basis was in the children’s ability to recognize word sounds (rhymes) rather than word structure. Reading comprehension becomes an essential element of literacy as it gives insight on the holistic literacy of an individual. Additionally, improvements in reading comprehension gain importance through the large amount of focus put upon it in early-childhood literacy education (furthering of word recognition). 

A study of reading comprehension was conducted by Professor R. Savage. Grade 1 (6-7 years of age) students were individually assessed for their reading comprehension levels after having engaged with non-technological literature educational strategies, their comprehension then showed significant improvements after engaging with literature material and activities on ABRA (Savage, 2009). In the case of this ABRA study in comparison to Comaskey’s 2009 study, the elements of technology’s exclusive abilities that lead to said improvement become much more explicit. The ABRA program utilized a digitally represented story with comprehension activities within it that delved further into aspects of the story, whilst additionally featuring icons on the screen that would read aloud the text to the student if clicked. The significant improvements observed in the student’s understanding of the story, and to a degree, the words within the story, allowed for the positive nature of elements that only a computer program could present to be brought to light. 

A similar study was conducted on primary school students in Hong Kong through use of the program ABRA. The study gained results in an observed increase in the children’s phoneme segmentation and nonsense word fluency abilities upon using the ABRA literacy activities (Mak, 2017). The study additionally suggests that the success of the ABRA program may be due to increased student engagement as a fondness of the ABRA program was reported amongst children in the study (Mak, 2017). This notion gives weight to the educational strategy benefits that technology such as ABRA offers in comparison to the standard educational practice. Engagement and enjoyment of lessons becomes an important element for students in their early-childhood. An additional observation was made within Mak’s study of ABRA consistently showing particular benefit in countries of low socioeconomic background or in remote school settings (Mak, 2017). This attribute would suggest that the teaching strategies present within the program ABRA offer a distinct teaching element that isolated or impoverished children require, and were not before obtaining. 

The success of the use of computer programs in literacy training becomes reflective of a grander issue of technological innovation influencing systems we have already had in place, such as education. This concept gains significance as the use of computer programs to allow young children to be more successful in literacy, alludes to a more literate society being created. Literacy in this case becomes one of the representative cases of how technology can inform education, thus making humans of the next generation literate at a younger age than previous generations. This idea suggests the implication that technology could be utilized to create a human race that is more academically educated, at a younger age. 

Amidst the societal benefit that the innovation of literacy computer programs offer, there are additionally pieces of complicating evidence that allow for the net benefit of the innovation to falter. With the emergence of every new form of technology there is an inherent corresponding good and bad that is brought forth (Postman, 1998). This is reflected by the argument that popular attempts to hurry children intellectually are conflicting with the natural pace of human development (Cordes, 2000). This idea purports that because literacy has previously been obtained through a human to human teaching process, the present use of technology in literacy education conflicts with the natural course of literacy education, and thus the results of it can not be predicted. The suggestion here is of this technology potentially having adverse effects that although are not yet present, will become evident. This potential issue could consist of an issue in either children’s eventual mental or physical health, or an interruption in their social, emotion, intellectual, or moral development (Cordes, 2000). The idea of a piece of technology such as literacy computer programs posing adverse effects that cannot be observed now serves as a piece of complicating evidence as it is possible that the future humankind who used this technology as children, although more literate than prior generations, would not necessarily be more informed. 

An additional piece of complicating evidence, is the dependance on the teacher’s implementing said technology in classrooms for its success in literacy results (Chen, 2006). The evidence supporting the use of technology in the classroom setting for improved results in student literacy has taken place through observation of studies undertaken by graduate students trained in the field of research. As of 2006, it is evident that over half of teachers did not feel comfortable with technology and thus were not able to properly implement it for their students (Chen, 2006). This case becomes complicating of how literacy computer programs are beneficial, and to whom they benefit. For many teachers (although this landscape is changing) the technology does not correspond with their teaching style, and thus if implemented, may not be implemented properly or effectively. This suggests that although web-based programs prove themselves to be effective tools in heeding better results in literacy skills, it may not be a system that is worthy or able to be fully implemented. 

An important consideration to take through the representative lense of literacy education in young children is of the difference in content and structure of all programs encompassed by the term “literacy computer programs”. The contrast between web-based literacy programs and offline programs (CD-format) has been examined as web-based programs have proven themselves to offer more comprehensive content (Savage, 2016). Beyond the avoidance of installation issues that offline programs have the potential to cause, web-based programs additionally gain prevalence through the lack of instruction required in implementing web-based programs (Savage, 2016). Offline literacy software requires knowledge of installation by instructors which limits the programs to solely classes in which the instructor is knowledgeable of software installation and utilization. Furthermore, web-based programs offer the benefits of active adjustment of content and easy updating of the program. This becomes an important factor when considering the troubleshooting process or limiting content of CD software. As such, the effective nature of future technological innovations in literacy computer programs is assumed to be associated with web-based programs, especially considering the shift in analytic research towards web-based program studies (ABRA) rather than CD software (the basis of early 2000’s studies) (Savage, 2016).

The attribute of technology having noticeable impact in education when implemented is undeniable. However, even with a bank of evidence supporting the positive effects of literacy computer programs in literacy education, the limitations of a statement for their support must be observed. As such, these limitations manifest through concern for future generations and awareness of a large requirement on the instructing end of the educational interaction. However, the success of literacy technology in allowing young children to improve on their literacy skills suggests the implication of future generations having gained further educational value as a cause of technology’s utilization in early childhood education. Web-based literacy computer programs such as ABRACADABRA offer teaching strategies in early-childhood literacy education that are more effective than alternatives, ultimately suggesting that technology can assist in creating a generation that is literate at a younger age than previous generations. However, the potential for unforeseen adverse effects from use of computer literacy programs at a young age, and the large potential for improper or ineffective implementation of web-based literacy programs in the classroom, allude to complications in the effectiveness of these programs for early-childhood literacy education. 

Works Cited


Cordes, et al. “Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood.” ERIC, 2000, eric.ed.gov/?id=ED445803.

Chen, Jie-Qi, and Charles Chang. “Using Computers in Early Childhood Classrooms: Teachers’ Attitudes, Skills and Practices.” Journal of Early Childhood Research, vol. 4, no. 2, June 2006, pp. 169–188, doi:10.1177/1476718X06063535.

Comaskey, E. M., Savage, R. S., & Abrami, P. (2009). A randomised efficacy study of Web-based synthetic and analytic programmes among disadvantaged urban kindergarten children. Journal of Research in Reading, 32(1), 92-108.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9817.2008.01383.x

Savage, Robert S., et al. “A Randomized Controlled Trial Study of the ABRACADABRA Reading Intervention Program in Grade 1.” Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 101, no. 3, 2009, pp. 590-604. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/614514620?accountid=13631, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1037/a0014700.

Savage R, Wood E. Literacy Technologies and the Early Years of School. In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Rvachew S, topic ed. Accessed April 2, 2019.

Klein, P. S., Nir-Gal, O., & Darom, E. (2000). The use of computers in kindergarten, with or without adult mediation; Effects on children’s cognitive performance and behavior. Computers in Human Behavior, 16(6), 591-608.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0747-5632(00)00027-3

Segers, Eliane, and Ludo Verhoeven. “Long-Term Effects of Computer Training of Phonological Awareness in Kindergarten.” Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol. 21, no. 1, 2005, pp. 17–27., doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2005.00107.x.

Mak, B.S.Y., Cheung, A.C.K., Guo, X. et al. Educ Inf Technol (2017) 22: 2671. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1007/s10639-017-9620-3

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