Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Education versus fun?

It may be no surprise to many, but it seems that computer games focused on educational objectives may not be the most effective way to learn. A game entitled 'Arden, the World of Shakespeare' was developed with a $250,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation and now its creator claims that 'It's no fun'! Of course it is not possible to draw any conclusions from one instance, but it is an interesting reminder that simply adopting a popular genre/media for educational means is not always successful. I don't think it is impossible, however, to combine education and digital pleasures, we only have to look at the work on blogging going on in many schools as examples of that. One of my favourites is 'Interactive chatting teddies', a development of the common activity in many primary schools of teddies accompanying children on trips and sending postcards back to the classroom - here, the children blog the teddies' adventures!

Friday, 30 November 2007

Byron Review

UKLA has submitted its response to the Byron review on 'Children and New Technology', which you can access here. Let's hope the review leads to appropriate educational policy and an investment in teachers' professional development which will enable them to engage effectively in the use of the Internet in classrooms. If you haven't seen it already, look at Their Space for some useful reflections on this issue. Also useful is this list of useful Web 2.0 tools for schools (scroll down to comments for additional links).

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Moving image education

The BFI conference on Friday was very successful and there were some wonderful presentations by teachers who had been involved in the BFI 'Lead Practitioners' Project on Moving Image Education. This was a project in which schools developed units of work based on films, most of them using the excellent resources produced by the BFI. I will be posting details of how you can access the full evaluation report shortly. In the meantime, for those teachers I met on Friday who were interested in our online MA in New Literacies course, in which we explore the use of film in classrooms in addition to lots of other exciting new literacy practices, further details can be found here.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

School blogs

I am speaking at the BFI 'Reading on Screen' conference for teachers tomorrow and although my main aim is to report on the evaluation of the very successful BFI 'Lead Practioners Project', I do want to highlight the potential that blogs have for disseminating children's film productions and facilitating their peers' critical comments on the films. I was contacted a few weeks ago by
Margaret Vass, who is a Primary 7 class teacher at Carronshore Primary School, Falkirk. She told me about the excellent blog she has set up for the children in her class - I really like the children's 'WeeMees' and love the Voki posting developed by Bethany...blog on, Carronshore Primary 7!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Pink technologies

This is Sakura, the first robot designed to appeal directly to girls. Drawing from anime (Sakura is also the name of a popular anime character) the robot has typical anime features, such as large eyes. She also has, as the adverts are keen to stress, the ability to do a number of alarmingly unadventurous things:

'She can give you compliments and knows exactly what to say. Sakura also loves to give you your fortune, answer yes or no questions and can tell you fun facts, jokes and even fashion tips...the Sakura Robot is a girl's best friend, will keep her secrets, talks, dances and plays music.'

Soon there may be a robot that will apply one's nail varnish, I guess. It would have to be pink nail varnish, of course.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Nano kids

OK, just one more babies and iphones post and then I'll move on! If your baby really loves your iphone, then you will be thrilled to learn that you can get a range of related babywear for 'your little nano' at iPopWear. If I knew where the YouTube baby below lived, I could send him one. His parents have posted a second video showing how he can now also turn the iphone on and use the zoom feature:

Friday, 9 November 2007


Today is the launch of the iphone in the UK, a pretty exciting event for those of us who are Apple fans. I have always liked the interfaces of Apple products because they facilitate work with young children - imovie is a good example of that. Perhaps not surprisingly for those of us used to observing young children with technologies, it would seem that the use of the iphone touch screen is also rather intuitive for babies, as this YouTube post indicates:

Monday, 5 November 2007

Digital media literacy

Unfortunately, I can't make the 'Digital media literacy' summit at Channel 4 on Thursday, but it looks like it will be an interesting event. I hope someone from the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) attends. I would have liked to have drawn participants' attention to some of the digital media literacy that is going on in schools e.g. the brilliant Web 2.0 work that Peter Winter has been doing for a few years now on blogging and podcasting at Monteney Primary School in Sheffield, or the fantastic work of Lynn Scott in the Foundation Stage at Childwall Valley Primary School in Liverpool, which she has undertaken as part of the BFI Training Scheme for Lead Practitioners on Moving Image Education. Eve Bearne and I have been evaluating that scheme and we are just completing the final evaluation, which I will post on this blog once it is complete. There has been some wonderful work undertaken in schools as part of the project, which has helped to move the media literacy agenda along in the local authorities that have taken part in it - so the DCSF do need to be involved in conversations about media literacy, or this work won't get taken forward in schools in the way that it needs to be.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

First-hand experience?

There are some interesting chapters in the Educase e-book 'Educating the Net Generation.' I enjoyed the chapter 'Planning for neomillenial learning styles', despite not knowing what 'neomillenial' means and being rather sceptical about the whole notion of 'learning styles'. Although the chapter is focused on the implications for higher education, there are important issues to note in relation to early childhood education. For example, the author of the chapter, Chris Dede, suggests that 'Mediated immersion creates distributed learning communities, which have different strengths and limits than location-bound learning communities confined to classroom settings and centered on the teacher and archival materials'. Education in the early years has focused almost exclusively on the off-line bounded setting and there needs to be consideration of the potential role that mediated online environments can have. This creates an interesting tension in relation to one of the cornerstones of early years education, the value of 'first hand experience'. I was once told by an early years/ literacy consultant (who will remain nameless!) that my work with young children using laptops to create animated films was not good early years practice because it wasn't 'first-hand experience'. I would like to contest the notion that first-hand experiences in the off-line world should be privileged in early years education; this position needs re-thinking in the digital age. Of course, children often experience online what are in fact representations of the off-line world, so in that sense they are second, not first-hand, but this does not mean that those experiences are intrinsically of less value to children's social, emotional, cognitive and linguistic development, nor does it mean that they are less 'real' experiences, in my view.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Baby Einsteins

Couldn't resist linking to this photograph, from Trendhunter, which accompanies an article about how Baby Einstein videos 'make infants dumber', according to research by Zimmerman and Christakis at the University of Washington. More interesting than the study itself is the report about how Disney, owners of Baby Einstein, have asked the UoW to retract its media report, given the critique of the study's methodology (for a brief overview of those criticisms, see here). If this is true, then this raises a number of important issues about the relationship between academia and the media industries. Rather than demanding the retraction of media reports, Disney should simply provide a critique of the study in question themselves - after all, that's how things work in peer-reviewed journals. However, perhaps more significantly, this story illustrates the misplaced emphasis in much of the research on young children and media effects, which often seeks to prove causation rather than correlation between factors and is thus open to promoting sensational media headlines...it would be good if we could move on from this narrow and limiting agenda.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Famiglia e Cittadinanza

I am speaking at this conference in Padua tomorrow, in the beautiful ‘Palazzo Bo’, pictured left. For the conference participants, the link to the ‘Digital Beginnings’ project is here. I cannot fail to notice the popularity of mobile phones whilst I have been here in Italy; they appear to be even more widely used than in England, if that is possible. Interesting then, that Italy appears to be the first European country to ban the use of mobile phones in schools. I don't know if I will have time to mention research on the potential educational use that can be made of mobile technologies in my talk, but in case I don't, an interesting report can be found here.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Copyright confusion

Copyright laws are confusing for many educators and academics, as this report, 'The cost of copyright confusion for media literacy' outlines. I myself am not entirely comfortable about sharing presentations online just in case I am in some breach of copyright through my use of images from websites. I am making an exception this week for folks at the University of Birmingham (thanks for a very interesting discussion at the seminar!). I posted my slides from the presentation here for a few weeks, but have now taken them down until I can check the copyright issues.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Future directions in literacy

I did say at the 'Future Directions in Literacy' conference that I would post the paper I gave there on to this blog. I have no idea if anyone did want to download it but if you did, I apologise for the delay. I have posted the paper here, which is a new venture for me, so I hope it works!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

MA in New Literacies

The colleague I mentioned in the previous post, Julia Davies, has developed an online masters programme, the MA New Literacies which begins this Monday. I am very pleased to be a member of the programme team, as the programme site offers a very exciting learning space – and is also visually appealing, thanks to Julia’s imaginative layout! I am looking forward to sharing my research with the students on the programme and finding out about young children’s digital literacy practices in their own countries (the students are located across the globe). We are also intending to hold seminar sessions in Second Life, which will be a novel experience for me – although I am interested in children’s use of virtual worlds, I haven’t used them extensively myself. I guess when I do, I will be even more in awe of many children and young people’s dexterity in using these spaces. For an example of their skills in online worlds, see the Club Penguin machinima here.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

More VIPs

The latest in the 'virtual worlds linked to offline artefacts' phenomenon aimed at girls is the Littlest Pet Shop VIPs, (Virtual Interactive Pets) by Hasbro, a clear copy of the Webkinz and MyePets forumla, which is:

a) A physical artefact, a 'cute' pet that has its own individual, 'secret' code.
b) A certificate of ownership or adoption.
c) Excessive use of pastel shades in the products themselves and related artefacts and texts.
d) The physical pet can be represented on screen in a related virtual world once the owner enters the code on the relevant website and becomes a member of the 'community' of owners. Websites incorporate aspects of social networking e.g. chat, collaborative games. For example, the 'Littlest Pet Shop VIPs' marketing blurb states:

'A virtual world wouldn’t be complete without knowing what’s going on in your community. The LITTLEST PET SHOP VIPs world will include fun and informative community features such as “Breaking News” and a “Community Calendar” alerting girls to the new and exciting activities that are unfolding, “Pet of the Day” a random spotlight on a pet based on photos submitted by VIPs owners; and “High Scores” to see how you and your pet stack up against others in overall rankings of the 16 mini-games.'

e) Discourses of care and nurturing permeate the sites - owners are encouraged to house, feed, play with and pamper their pets. For example, you can 'pamper and primp your e-Pet at the Spa'.
f) Owners are able to personalise their pets, both on- and off-line.
g) There is on- and off-line marketing of a range of related texts and artefacts e.g. cards, books. This includes an area on the websites which offers a 'store locator', or guidance about how to buy the pets and related goods.
h) Membership procedures involve the company having email addresses of customers.
i) Websites include areas for parents which reassure them about safety issues (but not economic ones).

Littlest Pet Shop VIPs will be launched in the US in October, followed by a global launch in spring 2008. My colleague at the University of Sheffield, Julia Davies, wrote about a similar phenomenon, that of the virtual baby site, 'Babyz'. In her paper, she talks about how some of these site users 'barbarise' their babyz. Maybe the same will happen to these nauseous virtual pets...

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Losing pounds

As confirmation of the fact that computer games have become a major part of our lives, it seems that Halo 3 sales have exceeded £84m in 24 hours, setting a record for the first-day sales of an entertainment product, including films. That might help the fortunes of the XBox. As a latecomer to games, I, in common with older folks in retirement homes, prefer the easier Nintendo Wii. In a nice counterpoint to the 'couch potato' discourse, it seems that playing active console games can enable you to lose up to 27lb a year. The way I play the games, it is more likely to be 27lb a decade, but who's counting?

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Mi (Pink) Digi World

The latest in the pink technologies phenomenon is the Mi Digi World.
The marketing blurb states that it is "built around modern girls’ interests like make-up, fashion, friends, parties, horoscopes and blogging". Well, at least blogging is up there, I guess. Interestingly, the gadget enables users to create an avatar that can then be uploaded and used on a PC, maybe in preparation for the much-hyped ability of 'Web 3.0' , which will, allegedly, enable us to navigate the web using a consistent avatar across programs and software. So, the technology moves on but not, unfortunately, the retrogressive discourses embedded in some of these gadgets. This one enables users to 'analyse whether a boy and girl are compatible' and 'dress them up for a romantic date'. Judith Butler's notion of the 'heterosexual matrix' writ large here.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Social graph

I am currently in Melbourne and this is the first opportunity I have had to blog since I arrived in Australia. I have been learning about a lot of the exciting digital literacy work going on in Australian schools, and discussing issues that face educators both here and in England. For example, we have talked about the need to move beyond conceptualising the digital divide in terms of access to hardware and software, although that is important. What will be of significance in the future will be how well embedded individuals are in the social graph. I for one will be well out of it, as I have resisted joining Facebook for various reasons and am willing to accept the limitations that will bring. But what are the consequences for young children if they are not able to make choices about social networking because they are not aware of the options available to them? Social capital will become social networking capital, which will relate in some ways to economic and cultural capital. I was interested to read the National School Boards Association's report in the USA in which parents expressed positive views towards their children's use of social networking sites - this report adds to other work that suggests that schools embrace and not ignore these sites. Every child needs the chance to make choices about whether and where he/she appears on the social graph.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Smart toys?

Ok, as if iTeDDy wasn't enough for now, another potentially popular electronic toy for toddlers is the unimaginatively titled 'Puppy grows and knows your name'. This toy grows from puppy size to full size over time and linked to a computer by USB can be personalised to recognise a child's name, birthday and so on. The marketing blurb suggests that 'together you will sing songs and play a fun barking game'. Can't wait to hear that...anyhow, I am flying to Australia tomorrow, back in a few weeks and not sure how much opportunity I will get to blog, so don't expect any posts for a while. In the meantime, an interesting read is Lydia Plowman and Rosemary Luckin's article on 'smart toys'. Wonder what they would make of the growing and knowing puppy?

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Happy birthday?

Well, I do have a 3-year-old nephew with an upcoming birthday and so it was not for purely research reasons that I purchased an iTeDDy this week...although I am tempted to keep it a little longer! I liked the fact that my family was able to make a short video for my nephew in which we sang “Happy birthday” to him and then uploaded the video onto the MP3 player, along with family photographs and some of his favourite songs. OK, so no doubt when he is able to, some of these files will be the first he deletes, but we liked the idea! The manufacturers are emphasising the receptiveness of iTeDDy to user-generated content, so it will be interesting to examine how families use this feature, if at all, and how children react to it. I will report here if my nephew howls with joy or horror at his family’s rendition of the birthday song coming straight at him from his iTeDDy’s tummy...

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Hi to iTeDDy

There is widespread interest in iTeDDy in the UK, which recently launched itself at a press conference. This MP3 playing teddy is set to be the number-one selling toy this Christmas, according to the superstore Argos. Given how much children love cuddly creatures with technology embedded in their tummies (remember the Teletubbies?), then I would not be surprised. The adult interest in this toy reminds us of the social and cultural roles that toys play in society, as discussed by cultural theorists such as Barthes and Agamben. Children are inducted into society's technological interests and practices through such toys, as I argued five years ago now in this piece. Whilst the article might now be old and outdated, I stick by the sentiments!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Parent power

Online sites aimed at children are becoming increasingly focused on giving parents and carers reassuring messages about safety- they realise that the path to commercial success has to take account of parental needs. Club Penguin is popular with parents because of its limited chat possibilities and the close monitoring of open chat, strategies that are explained carefully to parents in specially marked areas of the site. The social networking site aimed at 8-14 year-olds, imbee, even considers the needs of parents whose technical skills might be less well developed than their children’s. Their marketing brief states:

"For adults who might be intimidated by technology, imbee.com has made its powerful parental monitoring tools easy-to-use and making it simple for parents and guardians to have effective insight and control over their child’s online activities."

These moves are proving to be persuasive (link here for an example of a parental review of Club Penguin, for example). For younger children, this attention to the needs of parents will be irrelevant to their own engagement with these social networking sites - what do they care who else the sites they like cater for as long as they are fun for them? But at a later age, children will start to get a little itchy about this... it would be interesting to trace children’s developing sensitivity to social networking sites’ orientations to the parental audience. Another project I'll never have time for, unfortunately...it's enough just to be focused on tracing children's changing interests in popular culture and media and considering the implications for educators!

I will be away from a computer for the next 10 days, so no more blog posts from me for a while. I hope to be seeing some sea life, not the virtual penguin kind (fun though that is), here.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Virtual worldz

The virtual world market for young children continues to grow, with the news that Disney have just bought Club Penguin for 350 million dollars(set to be £700m if the site meets targets). In the meantime, check out Webkinz, which requires you to purchase a pet in the 'real' world before you can join the virtual one. A parent writes about his six-year-old son's experience of using it here. A big and growing business - just let's hope the producers begin to offer better fare for girls than the Barbie experience. Scary, then, that the Barbie Girls virtual world will soon be bigger than Second Life in terms of membership...

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Children and video games

I was a little concerned to hear that Boris Johnson MP is standing for election as London's Mayor, against Ken Livingstone. Have you read Johnson's ill-informed rant about children and computer games? Scary stuff. Maybe Boris hasn't read the review which highlights the inconsistencies in research that purports to demonstrate causality between playing computer games and violence. Let's hope the majority of London voters have more sense...

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Children's television

Things are not so good for children's television in the UK. Changes in advertising and funding streams means that some commercial broadcasters, such as ITV, are stopping the commissioning of new programmes for children. I talked about the role of television in young children's lives (drawing from the 'Digital Beginnings' study) at an event on this issue last week - for a report on the event, link here. Unsurprisingly, the study indicated that television features largely in young children's daily lives. If they end up having to rely totally on imported programmes and repeats of old UK-produced material, what are the consequences? I am not suggesting imported programmes aren't valuable - what would we do without The Simpsons, for example - but children need a wide range of programmes, including programmes that reflect something of their own cultural lives and social concerns. Keep up-to-date with what is happening in this area at the 'Save Kids' TV' website.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Virtual genetics

If you think that the Barbie Girls world is rather saccharine, then you will no doubt think that the virtual community that is Pony Island is just as bad, filled as it is with My Little Pony creations, including newborn ponies...Participants can raise and train their ponies but if you think that it is just all play then the Pony Island creators claim on the parents' page that it 'uses a simplified version of real life genetics, our players will over time learn about dominant and recessive genes, how they work and are used'. Simplified genetics? Surely young girls deserve better than this as they begin to explore virtual worlds?

Sunday, 22 July 2007

2020 and beyond

Envisioning the future is always risky and so I admire Nesta Futurelab for attempting to do just that in their report '2020 and beyond'. They offer some fascinating thoughts on what might lie ahead in terms of technologies and discuss the implications for education. Lots of food for thought. I was a little dismayed, however, to read on page 25 that I might have to don 3D glasses in order to get my furniture flatpack up – I always hated those 3D glasses we had in the 60s and 70s (they made me feel travel sick) and I would have liked them to have disappeared down history lane. Anyhow, I am hoping in the hyper-techno future that IKEA will sell robots that you can take home in order to put their impossible furniture up.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Tuning up

I was at this conference today, where I enjoyed presenting alongside Lynn Scott, a very talented teacher at Childwall Valley Primary School, Liverpool, on young children's digital literacy practices. Lynn amazed the audience with the high quality of digital animation work produced by the 3 and 4 year-old children in her foundation stage setting. You can see some of the films produced by children in other classes in the school on their website, here. The children in the foundation stage also created their own soundtracks for their films using GarageBand - it took me two sessions today before I got the hang of the software, but of course the children were much quicker than that! (And I have to confess...produced much better tunes than I did!)

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Making movies

There is so much film-making by children and young people happening in schools and community spaces currently, it is very exciting. The wide audience offered by the web is a great incentive, although it has been my experience of film-making with children for many years that they have always been excited by the challenges the process offers. Still, the thrill of posting your film on the web to be enjoyed by unknown others is great and so the Web 2.0 spaces for these productions abound. I really like 'theoneminutesjr.' site, which hosts films made by young people that last exactly 60 seconds. Impressive stuff. To see films made by younger children, visit the cinema in Film Street.

Sunday, 15 July 2007


I have been interested in machinima for a number of years now, having listened to a fascinating discussion of these films (made within computer games) at the Showcomotion Children's Media 2005 conference. Over the past few years, the films have become more sophisticated in nature and are appealing to a wider audience, not just fans of the computer games featured. For example, this film is popular with children because it features characters from the game 'World of Warcraft' dancing to MC Hammer's song 'Can't touch this'. This intermedia-textuality (or intertextuality across media) is a central feature of children's popular culture, as Marsh Kinder noted 16 years ago now. What's different in 2007 is the way in which this weaving together of disparate texts is central to children's production of texts as well as those they consume. This remixing is, as Colin Lankshear says, the 'stuff' of new literacies.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007


I have not had chance to blog recently as I was at the UKLA conference, where I talked about the work of Peter Winter, a brilliant teacher who has been working on blogs with primary children for a few years now. Here is the first blog the children developed, related to a project on dinosaurs. The blog uses the tools offered by a number of sites such as Evoca (for podcasting) and Bubbleshare (for constructing slideshows with caption bubbles). Luckily, these sites have not been blocked by the local education authority's firewall, which is the case with YouTube. Rather ironic, then, that YouTube posts videos giving advice about getting past school blocks of YouTube.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Digital natives?

No doubt you will remember the story of 3-year old Jack who bought a car on e-bay because his parents left their PayPal details on the computer. Some people were surprised at the time that a 3-year old could do this, but people now seem more accepting of the notion that many young children are competent and confident users of technology. Frequently, the term ‘digital natives’ is used to describe them. I confess to some discomfort with that term, as the native/ immigrant dualism leads to 'othering' and too stark a dichotomy is posed between groups. In addition, not all young children have access to a wide array of technologies in the home and so do not have opportunities to develop skills and knowledge in the same way. It is not just about access to hardware and software either - even in families where children have access to the technology, they may not get to use it for a variety of reasons. There may also be great variation within families - I was interested in this woman's reflections on the digital divide between children within her own family. And if you haven't yet read it, then Nesta Futurelab's report on the digital divide contains some interesting stuff. There are a number of challenges posed for early years educators in considering these issues, not least the need not to make assumptions about children's access to and experience with technologies before entering nursery. We may well encounter children like novice ebay-er Jack in nurseries, but we should also consider the needs of children who have had very little opportunity to develop these kinds of skills and knowledge.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Strategic moves

Pictured here, 5-year-old Lucy loves watching her favourite Avril Lavigne videos on YouTube and uses the search engine effectively to do this - perfect spelling not needed, as YouTube conveniently asks her, 'Did you mean 'Avril Lavigne'?'! I am interested in the strategies young children use to find information on the web or locate their favourite sites when they are not yet fluent readers and writers. For example, in one study I did, a parent told me that her child was able to use the computer independently because the child had memorised the icon for Internet Explorer and then, once online, went to the 'Favourites' menu to find the 'CBeebies' site, having memorised that word without being able to decode it phoneme-by-phoneme. If only the Rose Review had recognised the varied reading strategies that many young children use!

Wednesday, 27 June 2007


There are certain phrases that resonate strongly throughout early childhood educational practice. 'Child-centred education’ is one of them, a concept that dates back to Rousseau, perhaps even earlier. However, what does it really mean? If we were really undertaking a child-centred approach, then why don’t childhood cultures, including popular cultures, have a central place in early years curricula? If we were being truly child-centred, would the discourse of ‘toxic childhoods’ have such a strong hold on the professional world of early childhood education and care? I objected, for example, to a letter sent to the Daily Telegraph in England, with over 100 signatories who are apparently concerned about childhood. I felt strongly that some of the sentiments in this letter were rather misguided. Take, for example, the suggestion that children:

“still need what developing human beings have always needed, including real food (as opposed to processed “junk”), real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives.”

What is “real” play? Why is play that takes place via screens not “real” play? There is a false juxtaposition here that sets up engagement with technologies and “real” play as oppositional. In addition, screen-based entertainment is not exclusively sedentary (have these signatories seen children using dance mats?). For example, the Digital Beginnings study indicated that young children engage in a range of activities whilst watching television, including singing, dancing and talking to characters.

We are drowning at the moment in the current torrent of moral panics around children and new technologies, phrases such as ‘toxic childhoods’ and ‘lost childhoods’ flowing around us. Moral panics in relation to childhood are nothing new, as Springhall has demonstrated, but it seems to me that as technological developments progress at a rapid pace in these first years of the 21st century, retrogressive discourses around childhood and adolescence are becoming even more prevalent. Those of us working in this field need to shout loudly and clearly that child-centredness should not mean ripping the contemporary cultural and social centres out of childhood.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Parents as scaffolders

A couple of years ago now, I contacted this blogger, Beth, as I was very interested in what she had to say about scaffolding her child's understanding about blogs and wanted her permission to include her practice as an example in a chapter I was writing about young children and digital literacy. It seemed to me that Beth was supporting her child's understanding about blogging as a social practice in a similar manner to the way in which many other parents support their children's understanding of print-based literacy practices. Since then I have kept in touch with Beth's blog and noted that she has recorded other instances of family digital literacy practices. I do recommend a visit to Beth's blog for those of you interested in early childhood and technologies (click on the category 'Ed tech and early childhood' in the LH column). I am very interested in the phenomenon of 'tech-savvy' parents blogging about their technological practices with their children, as this, I think, gives us an insight into what other parents might be doing more generally with their children in five or six year's time, but I have not come across any other blogs like Beth's - let me know if you do!

Monday, 25 June 2007

Digitally gendered

Digital texts offer spaces in which children can perform both transgressive and conformist gendered acts. The interaction between structure/agency here is obviously key, and what concerns me at the moment is the way in which popular texts for young children are attempting to shape particular readings and performances. I have written about the sexism embedded in the ‘Bob the Builder’ site in a paper available here on gender and early digital literacy, but another pre-school animation that is irritating me greatly at the moment is ‘Underground Ernie’. Why, in a programme commissioned by the BBC in the 21st century, we have the two female trains described respectively as ‘a motherly figure‘ and ‘a hippy chick’ and the male trains described as being mathematical wizards and loving technology is beyond belief. Not only that, but the way in which technology is often shaped for young female interests (pink technologies) is also frustrating. Yes, a postmodernist take recognises that young girls can adopt an ironic and reflexive stance in relation to some of these items whilst still finding pleasure in them but the fact remains that often these replicas of adult technologies are reductive in nature in that the functionality of artefacts aimed at girls is of a lesser quality than similar items targeted at boys. So what’s new? This has always been the case with toys, but I do worry that the transition from home to nursery technologies then becomes that much more of a challenge for young girls. Julia's work with older girls certainly points to full engagement by many in digital lifeworlds, so maybe these early experiences are not as potentially limiting as I think...

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Children's virtual worlds

I have been observing my 5-, 8- and 9-year-old nieces as they navigate the virtual worlds 'Club Penguin' and 'Barbie Girls'. Interestingly, the social side of this 'social software' appears to take second-place to identity construction and shopping (and therefore needing to earn enough money to shop). Children's play has been embedded within commercialised practices for many years, but this engagement with a virtual labour market is novel. Some parents may no doubt quite like the idea of their children developing a work ethic, but it seems to me that this aspect of these worlds mitigates against more extensive social involvement and further entrenches children in the markets of globalised commodities. For example, the Barbie virtual shopping experience is linked to the 'real'-word purchase of a Barbie MP3 player - once you have purchased that (with 'real' $s, not 'Barbie bucks'), you can buy more, even cooler, things in the online world. I guess what is going on here is little different to some of the adult activity in virtual worlds - this is, as we know, a booming real-word economy. This analysis of virtual (or 'synthetic') world economies draws on Bourdieu's concepts of economic, social and cultural capital, concepts as relevant to these spaces as 'meat-space'. Certainly, an analysis of the interactions of these three forms of capital can help to illuminate much of the current activity in 'Club Penguin' and 'Barbie World' and is informing a current paper I am writing, which I will post here when I set up the appropriate feeder site. It will be interesting to hear about the project Guy is involved in, in which he is working with schools on constructing and using a virtual world - what form of capital becomes of most value in an educationally-orientated virtual world? Virtual cultural capital?

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Beginning digital beginnings

I have been meaning to develop this blog for a while now, having been a keen blog reader for a number of years and thus recognising their potential. I finally decided to take the time to set it up as I realised that I needed a space in which I can post reflections on and links to my area of research interest (young children's engagement with popular culture, media and new technologies in homes, communities and educational settings) - use it as an online notebook, in other words. I also want it to be a space where I can post links to my favourite sites and blogs; it will be great to have them all in one place. Finally, it will be handy to post my papers/ presentations here so that I can point people to the blog if/ when they ask me for these things - no doubt there are other sites that would be better for that, but this will do for now. So, a multi-purpose blog, let's see how it goes - if you happen to call in, you are most welcome! (And a note to all of my blogging friends - no need AT ALL to feel you have to post a comment, I have been reading your blogs for years without posting them!)