Bristol Early Years Research and Development

Bristol Early Years Research
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Girl looking at ipad

ICT and the use of Digital Technology in Early Years

Flewitt, R., Messer, D. and Kucirkova, N. (2015) New directions for early literacy in a digital age: The iPad. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 15(3) 289–310.

The authors discuss how iPads offer innovative opportunities for early literacy learning but also present challenges for teachers and children in a Children’s Centre nursery (3- to 4-year-olds), a primary school reception class (4- to 5-year-olds) and a Special School (7- to 13-year-olds). They discuss their potential uses with staff, observing how they were integrated into practice over a two-month period, highlighting variability in the ways iPads were used across the settings. A common finding was that well planned; iPad-based literacy activities stimulated children’s motivation and concentration. They also offered rich opportunities for communication, collaborative interaction, independent learning, and for children to achieve high levels of accomplishment. In some cases, this led teachers favourably to re-evaluate the children’s literacy competence, and enabled children to construct positive images of themselves in the literacy classroom.

Livingstone, S., Marsh, J., Plowman, L., Ottovordemgentschenfelde, S. and Fletcher-Watson, B. (2015) Young Children (0-8) andDigital Technology.  London: London School of Economics and Political Science.

This recent study recruited ten families from London, Sheffield and Edinburgh with at least one child aged 6 to 7, to examine children’s use of digital technology, including engagement with tablets, computers, gaming consoles and other devices. The authors present a number of key findings, making some recommendations for parents, childminders, educational settings and schools. The study concludes that the children in this study led active and varied lives in which technology played an important, but not overwhelming part. Use of technology was balanced with many other activities, including outdoor play and play with non-digital toys. Technology was embedded into everyday family life and included intergenerational interactions around technology. Extended family members and networks outside of the home play an important part in socialisation with regard to children’s technology use.

Edwards, S.  (2013) Digital play in the early years: a contextual response to the problem of integrating technologies and play-based pedagogies in the early childhood curriculum, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 21:2, 199-212.

 The early childhood literature still talks about the inadequate integration of digital technologies into early childhood curricula. For various reasons the problem is often attributed to teachers, for example, teachers might be described as not being fully aware of the digital lives children have outside of preschool. This article proposes the concept of the Digital Consumerist Context (DCC) as a way of bridging the gap between play as a basis for pedagogy in early childhood education and the use of technologies and digital media in the early years. It is suggested that a contextual orientation towards the problem of digital play in the early years might better support teachers to effectively engage children in the range of critical thinking skills that are associated with the ‘new learning’ and ‘new literacies’ movements in both primary and secondary education. If it has been possible to talk of new literacies and new learning for older children, surely it should now be possible to bridge the gap between play and technologies in early childhood curricula and talk of ‘new’ play.

Wolfe, S. and Flewitt, R. (2010). New technologies, new multimodal literacy practices and young children’s metacognitive development. Cambridge Journal of Education, 40(4), 387–399.

 This study investigates 3- and 4-year-old children’s encounters with literacy as they engage with a range of printed and digital technologies at home and in a nursery. The study goes beyond analysis of spoken language, giving a more complete understanding of literacy learning processes through detailed analysis of how children use multiple communicative modes as they experience literacy in different media. Drawing on notions of literacy as social practice, this paper discusses how the advent of new technologies has introduced new dimensions into young children’s literacy learning, the implications of which have not yet been fully recognised in early years policy guidance, training or practice. The authors emphasise that multimodal analysis of children’s literacy activities involving new technologies is only just beginning to reveal how children’s learning might be ‘scaffolded’ in the ‘information age’, concluding that understanding the role of digital technologies in the processes of young children’s literacy development is crucial to ensure that all children have equal access to opportunities to learn in schools today.


Kerckaert, S. Vanderlinde, R. and van Braak, J. (2015) The role of ICT in early childhood education: Scale development and research on ICT use and influencing factors, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 23:2, 183-199.

This study not only aims to get a clearer picture of ICT use in early childhood education, but also explores the factors that are important in understanding ICT use in preschools. The study was conducted in Flanders (Belgium), drawing on the responses to questionnaires, of over two hundred early years teachers. The researchers found that whilst teachers have positive attitudes towards the possibilities, other barriers inhibit the use of ICT. Other limitations include the available resources, knowledge and skills of teachers, and barriers at the school level, such as policy and leadership. Whilst preschool teachers don’t view ICT as a threat to playful learning and children’s development, some may need to be challenged to think about the role that ICT can have in their classroom practice.

Palaiologou, I. (2014): Children under five and digital technologies: implications for early years pedagogy, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 313-325.

Investigating the types of digital technologies children under five are using at home and assessing the possible implications for early years pedagogy, the research was carried out in four European countries: England, Greece, Malta and Luxemburg. Analysis of the qualitative data emerging from the interviews suggested that children are ‘digitally fluent from a very young age’. One of the key findings was that parents felt that their definition of an illiterate person no longer corresponded to the traditional view of someone who cannot read and write, but rather was considered as a person who cannot learn, unlearn, relearn and use digital technologies as part of their everyday lives. The project concluded that there should be a re-conceptualisation of young children’s learning that cannot be overlooked by early years education.

Kucirkova, N.  (2014) iPads in early education: separating assumptions and evidence. Frontiers in Psychology. 1-3.

This article focuses on the emerging iPad research in early education using data from children aged between 2 and 8 years old. A number of promising avenues including the use of apps are explored. A unique insight found that children’s use of exploratory talk was similar with apps that support joint problem-solving, open-ended content and that have incrementally difficult tasks to solve. The findings allowed the researcher to inform educators and policy-makers of the innovative features of iPads.

Edwards, S. (2014) Towards contemporary play: Sociocultural theory and the digital-consumerist context. Journal of Early Childhood Research, October 2014; 12 3: 219-233.

This article considers the concept of contemporary in relation to existing ideas of children’s play, learning and development from a sociocultural perspective. This study was conducted in response to arguments suggesting that the quality of children’s play has declined in line with their increased access to digital technologies, digital media and consumer-based products. The character of Peppa Pig was selected for examining the concept of contemporary play. Rather than positioning technologies, media and products as causes of deficiencies, it is suggested instead that the digital contexts promotes direct cultural participation for young children (0–8 years of age).

Price S., Jewitt C. & Lanna L.C., (2015) The role of iPads in pre-school children’s mark making development, Computers & Education. Pre-publication copy.

For both artist David Hockney and young children in early childhood settings, iPads offer new opportunities for using graphical marks as symbolic representation. This paper reports a comparative study of tablet computers versus traditional physical paint and paper. Children aged 2-3 years engaged in a free finger painting activity and colouring in activity in both paper and digital environments. The findings are discussed in terms of shaping young children’s mark making, the implications of the use of touch screen technologies in literacy development for educational practitioners and technology design.

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