The major purpose of the 3 year EC-ELT study, conducted by Macomb Projects in the College of Education and Human Services at Western Illinois University, was to describe and explain the effects of an Interactive Technology Literacy Curriculum (ITLC) on emergent literacy knowledge and abilities of 3, 4, and 5-year-old children who demonstrated mild to moderate disabilities. Because ecological systems must be considered, the effects of the curriculum on preschool staff, setting, and families were also of interest. Based on rigorous naturalistic inquiry, the study incorporated a case study approach, studying 16 preschool classes in West Central Illinois communities. Four different types of classrooms, the unit of measurement, were studied, in depth, and categorized on their technology use for comparison purposes. The impact of the ITLC was determined using qualitative and quantitative data from the children, their families, the staff, and the settings of the participating classrooms. The ITLC demonstrated positive effects on emergent literacy knowledge and skills of the children in the classrooms studied.

The study was designed in three phases. Phase 1 occurred in the first year, Phase 2 during the second, and Phase 3 during the third. Preschool sites in rural and small urban Illinois public school settings participated in the study. The classrooms were classified according to the teacher's technology experience. Type I classroom teachers were beginning to use technology. Type II classroom teachers were experienced in using technology. These classrooms received the Interactive Technology Literacy Curriculum during Phase 1. Type III classroom teachers had technology available, carried out typical preschool activities, and served as a comparison group. During Phase 2 and 3 Type IV comparison classroom teachers who did not use technology were added. The Types I and II classrooms were subdivided further for purposes of data analysis.

Phase 1 provided a description of the effects of implementing the Interactive Technology Literacy Curriculum in the initial three preschool classroom types. Phase 2 tested the findings of Phase 1 and gathered data on Phase 1 sites over time. During Phase 3, longitudinal data was continued in Phase 1 sites, as well as the Phase 2 sites. During each Phase, new sites were added as classrooms changed classifications.

Data collection included pre- and post-tests, observation, interviews, examination of records and materials, analysis of videotapes, content analysis, and other methods. Records of individual child behaviors, dyads and small groups during curricular activities, and videotapes of ITLC use were maintained.

The Interactive Technology Literacy Curriculum, based on an emergent literacy approach and Macomb Projects' successful experience with young children and technology, included software selected via an analysis of the quality and interactivity levels of the software, appropriateness, and appeal to children. The curriculum is organized in four sections which were presented differentially to Classrooms I and II during Phase 1 and again in the next two phases. The sections are (1) interactive literature-based commercial software, (2) software classrooms produce themselves with HyperStudio, a software authoring system, (3) software other classrooms produce using HyperStudio, and (4) tool function software such as graphics and story-making. Each section of the curriculum contained on-computer and off-computer activities which contain important elements of emerging literacy.

Results indicated that across experimental ITLC sites, children made significant gains not only in emergent literacy behaviors, including communication, but also in positive social interactions. We had not expected that two classroom management tools would generate such powerful positive effects on child behaviors--the use of KidDesk and the use of sign-up sheets or books. The effects of interactive commercial software, tool function software including graphics programs, and class-produced HyperStudio stacks produced positive behaviors in literacy, communication, and social interaction. However, children's use of HyperStudio stacks made by those in other classrooms was not successful and produced little interest. Significant effects emanated from the research staff conducting ITLC activities, as compared to classroom teachers (no matter what their previous experience with technology), a finding that led us to analyze our data using the presence or absence of the research staff's activities as a variable. Families and teachers in all ITLC classrooms reported changes in children that correspond to behavior observations in the classrooms.