Assessing Children’s Interactions at the Computer

by Carol Bell and Merriam Guzman

The mission of The Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood Education is directed towards improving educational opportunities for children, ages birth through eight, at risk or with mild to severe disabilities, their families, and the staff who provide services for those children. At the Center, we work with teachers, staff, and administrators to show how technology can be used as a tool to facilitate all areas of learning in early childhood classrooms. Using computers in the classroom curriculum can improve the results of a child’s education and improve access to and participation in appropriate activities for children ages 3-6, especially those with special needs.

One tool the Center has used to measure children’s interactions at the computer is the Universal Behavior Interaction Tool, (BIT). The BIT, an observational tool to determine children’s interactions at the computer at the beginning and end of each school year, allows observers to record children’s behaviors and interactions with a peer(s), an adult, and while using the computer alone. The BIT consists of six factors. Each is briefly explained in the information that follows.

Factor 1 scores children’s technology abilities. It is important to test whether children comprehend appropriate handling and use of the computer as well as their responses to using various software programs.

Factor 1: Child attends to computer and demonstrates technical proficiency. 1. Attends to visual stimuli from computer.
2. Attends to auditory stimuli from computer.
3. Looks at monitor to see what happens when input device is activated.
4. Uses input device with intent.
5. Does not turn computer off.
6. Activates input device appropriately and carefully.
7. Handles hardware and software with care.
8. Evaluates programs.
9. Shows pride in work.
Factor 2 focuses on children’s independence and their communication with other children while at the computer.

Factor 2: Child makes independent computer related choices and express enthusiasm in several ways.
1. Selects an activity independently.
2. Does an activity independently
3. Talks to computer.
4. Expresses enthusiasm physically to another child (smiles, claps hands, and waves arms).
5. Expresses enthusiasm verbally to another child.
Socialization is a natural occurrence at the computer center. Factors 3 and 4 monitor children’s positive social behaviors when using the computer.

Factor 3: Child collaborates with peers at the computer.
1. Speaks or signs to a peer at the computer.
2. Asks questions or signs questions to peer about an activity.
3. Takes turns at the computer.
4. Shares ideas with peer.
5. Explains to another child how a device or program works.
6. Works cooperatively if two or more children are at the computer.
7. Moves to improve his or her view of the monitor without interfering with others.

Factor 4: Child interacts with adult at the computer.
1. Can state at least one rule for using the computer when asked.
2. Explains a problem to an adult (e.g. “This doesn’t work!”)
3. Follows rules or directions given by an adult. (This item requires that an adult give a direction to the child.)
4. Communicates a process to an adult.
5. Expresses enthusiasm verbally to an adult.
On rare occasions, children demonstrate unfriendly behaviors toward an adult or a peer in the computer area. When observing children at the computer, note common occurrences of negative behavior. If only one occurrence happens and you have the child having a bad day, you may watch this over a couple of days before marking the appropriate category in Factors 5 and 6.

Factor 5: Child demonstrates unfriendly behavior toward an adult in the computer area.
1. Expresses hostility physically to adult (hits, frowns, pushes)
2. Expresses hostility verbally to adult.
3. Ignores adult when adult attempts interaction.

Factor 6: Child monopolizes computer.
1. Monopolizes computer
2. Child frowns, hits, or pushes to gain or maintain control of computer.
3. Pushes peer away.
4. Manipulates, controls, directs others.

Children’s scores on the BIT are based on one or more observations. If a behavior is not observed or if the child does not want to use the computer at the time of the assessment, the child is observed on another day. The frequency, duration, and conditions of the observations are planned in both pre- and post-testing so that results can be compared.

The BIT has been used in preschools in Illinois and other states since its development in 19831. As a tool, the BIT demonstrates children’s progress not only in computer literacy but also in social interaction, communication, fine motor skills, and cognitive skills involving planning, sequencing, and problem solving. Data from our various sites indicate children’s interactions at the computer increase during the year. Children who are already proficient at using the computer still make gains in social skills as a result of having opportunities to use the computer with peers.

1 The Behavior Interaction Tool was developed in 1983 at Macomb Projects (now the Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood) by P. Hutinger, K. Harshbarger, and P. Struck. The instrument was factor analyzed, revised, and renamed the Universal Behavior Interaction Tool in 1996.



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