Tech and Early Ed - Unlikely Partners?

August 16, 2018

Takeaways

We need teachers in early ed spending more quality time with the students, not completing administrative tasks.
Getting voice assistant, shared services, and other tech innovations in the hands of teachers, not students.

We often think of the use of technology in early education as detrimental to child development. Images of toddlers glued to tablet screens or throwing tantrums when denied access to a parent’s phone are making many parents legitimately skeptical about the value of technology for young children. Yet, the reality is that technological innovations have an incredibly valuable role to play in the classroom. 

The role for technology isn’t what you might think – it’s not giving every toddler a tablet and leaving them alone – it’s about finding new and innovative ways to incorporate technology into the classroom to improve the delivery, connectivity of, and access to high-quality childcare and early education services. 

Businesses and service providers throughout the United States are creating and implementing innovations in Artificial Intelligence (AI), tech consulting, and web-based tools in ways that are changing the game for childcare professionals and business owners. Here are a few worth mentioning.   

Tech Innovation in Early Ed

Case Study #1

Arkansas Early Learning (AEL), the largest provider of Head Start services in Arkansas, is testing and utilizing tech solutions in several centers to enable teachers to spend more time educating and supporting their students. 

After reports that teachers were frustrated about spending too much time dealing with administrative tasks, such as incident reports, and not enough time educating and taking care of children, AEL, with the support of the Head Starter Network, invested in AI tools like Google Assistant to help digitize reporting requirements.

Using voice activated technology, the AEL Google Assistant can guide a teacher through a report while they are responding to an incident or changing a child’s diaper. For example, once activated, the Google Assistant asks the teacher questions about the incident including child information and incident details. The teacher’s verbal answers to the questions are then automatically inputted into the digital form. A final version is emailed to the center director and the child’s parent for sign-off while, simultaneously, the data populates into a database. Not only does this save teachers time, it also increases safety, reduces paper costs (environmental and otherwise), and most importantly fosters a child’s language development by exposing them to new words. 

The data obtained from the voice interaction is aggregated and analyzed with the goal of making better data-driven decisions. For example, the diaper change data could lead to more robust budgeting and accountability of supplies or even an observation of patterns, then predictions, and eventually prevention of future illness outbreaks. Additionally, the accident report data leads to changing the indoor or outdoor environments based on who, what, when, where, and why accidents are occurring at the center to mitigate the risk of future accident occurrences.

To reinforce desired language to improve outcomes, the voice device can also listen for cues, such as defined self-talk by the teacher, as a prompt to begin the routine. Although this technology is still in a pilot phase, AEL is hopeful that they can implement the technology in all of their centers soon. 

While AEL is using advances in technology to improve the quality and efficiency of its own centers, Wonderschool uses technology innovations to introduce a brand new business model to the industry: merging childcare and early education with the sharing economy. 

Case Study #2

Wonderschool, a San Francisco-based company, works with experienced educators and childcare providers to get them the resources they need to start or manage their own home-based preschools and childcare centers. One out of every five American families spends more than a quarter of their income on childcare. And even then, it’s not typically a lucrative business for childcare providers, many of whom stop working simply because of the cost of childcare for their own kids is almost as much as what they make.

With an Uber-like model, Wonderschool has helped childcare professionals and teachers get past this hurdle and become entrepreneurs. Borrowing from the principles of the sharing economy, this solution helps ease the demand for quality childcare while helping teachers start their own business. Home-based practitioners can focus on education and care while Wonderschool’s tools and advisors provide support for marketing, licensing, business consulting, accounting, and other processes. 

Case Study #3

Representing a third application of technology innovations in the early childhood education and care space is Oakland based Early Learning Lab (ELL). ELL creates innovative teacher professional development processes, provides tech consultation to parents and community organizations, and works with non-profits and local agencies to help parents serve as an educational resource to their children. With so many educational tech products on the market, a part of ELL’s service is to provide advice to parents on which web applications and other tech products are purposeful and useful for early learning. 

One exciting ELL project is the “Quick Check.” The Quick Check is a weekly online self-reflection practice tool that lets teachers efficiently evaluate their teaching methods by receiving frequent, clear feedback loops of data.

There are so many teaching methods and practices a teacher can learn, but with Quick Check, the teacher uses a quick 10-minute survey framework to think about and record their teaching practices each week – what they are doing, not yet doing, or want to try next – to assess their success incrementally as they master new methods and practices. 

By looking at the technology readily available in the world today, and considering how that technology can transform the classroom for teachers and students, AEL, Wonderschool, and ELL are paving the way for the next breakthrough innovation. How else can we help make early childhood education and care more efficient, effective, and accessible? If you have an innovation to share, please contact us at education@uschamber.com.