Learning to use technology through play

As part of my research I am interested in how technology can be used to support teaching and learning in early years education. This week I have been reading an article by Jo Bird and Susan Edwards which looks at how children can use play to learn about technology.

The abstract describes their study:

Digital technologies are increasingly acknowledged as an important aspect of early
childhood education. A significant problem for early childhood education has been how
to understand the pedagogical use of technologies in a sector that values play-based
learning. This paper presents a new framework to understand how children learn to use
technologies through play. The Digital Play Framework is based on the sociocultural
concept of tool mediation and Corrine Hutt’s work regarding epistemic and ludic activity
as basis for understanding play. The Digital Play Framework presents a series of indicators for how children learn to use technologies as cultural tools, first by exploring the functionality of technologies through epistemic activity, and second by generating new content through ludic activity.

The authors identify play as the basis of early years pedagogy and recognise that technology is being used more and more in these settings. They suggest that a common concern is that play can be displaced by technology which can prevent children from using their imagination

One of the areas of the article I found most interesting was an examination of Hutt’s work which identifies two types of play. These are linked to how children use technology:

  • epistemic – exploratory activity, for example, exploring the device and working out what it does and how to use the different functions.
  • ludic – once the child has mastered how to use the device they can then use it in more imaginative ways by focusing on what they can do with it.

Their research produced a Digital Play Framework which identifies behaviours associated with the different stages.  The Epistemic first stage may start with “seemingly random use of a device”. This will then progress to finding out how to do specific things with the device. For example, knowing how to take a picture with a camera, or how to playback a video on an iPad.

At the Ludic stage, children will know how to operate the device and will use their knowledge to use it for a specific purpose. For example, taking photos a model they have built, or using an iPad to film of their pretend play to share with others.

I like the distinction between the different types of play and the importance of recognising the different types of experiences children need when using technology. It is not enough to put out a new device and expect them to start using it purposefully straightaway. However, as I was reading I was thinking about whether all of the different activities they described were in fact play. This is probably due to my perception of play and is an area I need to look at further, I know there are many different types of play.

I did not get a clear sense of what the adult role was during the activities described and to be fair this is identified as an area that needs to be considered in future research. Some of the activities seemed to require adult direction or at least would require an adult to encourage children to focus their attention on specific aspects of a device. This did not fit will my perception that play is child led. I need to spend some time thinking more about this as it may be that the adult’s role could be more subtle that I first thought.

The adult role is a theme that has recurred during my research and I will blog about it again soon.

The full reference for the article is:

Bird, J., & Edwards, S. (2014). Children learning to use technologies through play: A Digital Play Framework. British Journal of Educational Technology, n/a-n/a. doi:10.1111/bjet.12191

It includes these references to Hutt’s work:

Hutt, C. (1966). Exploration and play in children. Paper presented at the Symposia of the Zoological Society of London, London, England.
Hutt, S., Tyler, C., Hutt, C. & Christopherson, H. (1989). Play, exploration and learning. A natural history of the preschool. London, England: Routledge.

About jackcl

E learning consultant in the North East interested in teaching and learning, innovation and new technologies
This entry was posted in Early Years, Educational Technology, Research and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Learning to use technology through play

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