The journey to become an early childhood teacher involves mastery of particular knowledge and skill set that are the basis for quality practice (Ryan & Grieshaber, 2005). It is recognised that early childhood teacher education programs can greatly influence the ways that graduate teachers subsequently impact on the nature and quality of young children’s interactions and experiences in early childhood settings (Ackerman, 2005). Within early childhood teacher education one area that has not been as well articulated is early development, which is the care and education of infants and toddlers (Recchia & Shin, 2010). While the range of early childhood teacher education programs generally claim to address the range for children from birth to eight years of age, typically they do not adequately address the earliest years (Recchia & Shin, 2010) with focus generally on learning about children from three to eight years of age (Ray, Bowman & Robbins, 2006). This was confirmed in a recent study exploring content in early childhood teacher education programs in Australia (Garvis et al., 2013).
The four Australian institutions involved in this study offer early childhood teacher education programs that are approved by state teacher registration bodies (Queensland and Victoria), and the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). Some Early Years programs are focused on education in the formal years of schooling and the year before formal schooling commences (e.g., kindergarten). Thus, pre-service teachers have few opportunities for learning about children from birth to three years of age, which results in less focus on theoretical and practical knowledge about infancy and early development.
This project targeted this gap by providing an online learning resource <U3Vid.com.au> for early childhood teacher educators and pre-service teachers to utilise in order to gain knowledge and experience for the education and care of very young children. The online resource aligns with the recent development of the national Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (DEEWR, 2009) that guides educational expectations for the Early Years. The online resource implemented the educational expectations of young children into all areas of student learning and provided criteria for professional understanding.
Approximately 450 pre-service teachers enrolled in programs in four tertiary institutions engaged with the online resource. Teacher educators from each of the institutions were also involved with delivering the U3Vid website. Regular workshops were held with key stakeholders in Victoria and Queensland (government agencies, professional teacher organisations, early childhood services, higher education institutions) to share new knowledge and understanding regarding the project. A collaborative community was developed that allowed open dialogue about shared commitments to improving early childhood education for children aged birth to three years through improvements in teacher education. In addition, a reference group was established to provide regular feedback on the project.
In November 2013 an evaluation of the online resource was conducted with the pre-service teachers across all institutions, teacher educators and participants at the workshops. The evaluation consisted of online surveys and semi-structured interviews. Key findings were:
- All pre-service teachers who completed the online survey (N=136) recommend the U3Vid website to other early childhood educators.
- All pre-service teachers agreed that the website has improved their knowledge and understanding about young children aged birth to three years and improved their understanding about the Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standards
- Twenty-five cent of pre-service teachers would consider working with this age range in the future after engaging with the U3Vid website.
- Teacher educators found the online resource extremely helpful and congratulated the focus on Australian context. Teacher educators would continue to use the online resource and would like to see if developed further.
- Key stakeholders who attended the workshop wanted to implement the website into the professional learning of current early childhood educators throughout Australia. Members affirmed the value of the website with videos and the reflective tools to address a gap in the pre-service teachers education.
The project has therefore achieved the outcomes of:
- Development of an Australian website that hosts video interactions (child-teacher), provides reflective practice tools and allows online discussion that contributed to the development of the theoretical and practical knowledge about infancy and toddlerhood in a community-of-learners approach. The website was included in early childhood teacher education courses at each of the project partner universities (Queensland and Victoria).
- Through engaging workshops, the project allowed in-depth collaboration between the project institutions and key stakeholders (government agencies, professional teacher organisations, higher education sector) in Queensland and Victoria on curriculum renewal. A research group was established to continue improvement of early childhood teacher education, to develop a national perspective on the education theory and practice for children from birth to three years of age. The group is called Knowledge Communities for Early Childhood and meets regularly in Melbourne and Brisbane.
- Findings from the project have been disseminated in workshops, conference presentations and journal articles.
Recommendations from key stakeholders, teacher educators and pre-service teachers suggest the online website is highly useful for Australian early childhood teacher education and must be available beyond the completion of the project. Key stakeholders would also like to consider the use of the U3Vid website for their own needs of providing professional learning opportunities for current early childhood educators. The project team recommend:
- Further development of video interactions and reflective tools on the website. Given that this was a seeding grant, only a small amount of video interactions were possible. It is recommended that further funding be sought to develop the U3Vid website further to meet the needs of early childhood teacher education in Australia.
- The website is designed to act as a point of dissemination of current research and teaching regarding early childhood teacher education for birth to three years in Australia. It is recommended that resources be allocated to enable the site to serve as a clearing house of relevant literature and hence become the hub for this gap in knowledge and practice in the field.
- Build a stronger collaboration with higher education institutions by extending engagement outside of Queensland and Victoria and thereby develop a national perspective of Australian early childhood teacher education for toddlers and infants.
- Supporting teacher education nationally to integrate the U3Vid website into their curriculum to enhance pre-service teachers exposure to birth to three years of age pedagogical decision, space, and understanding of the role of educators to support learning and teaching.
- Raising the profile of early years educators who work in birth to three year old learning environments within teacher education to influence future educators.
The U3Vid website has provided a much needed online resource for Australian early childhood teacher education in order to focus on understanding the pedagogy and curriculum associated with children aged birth to three years. The grant has allowed the trialling of the online resource and shown a growing need for the website to be developed further and made available to a wider community.
Our project report is available at:
u3vid site is available at: