Children and new technology

Special Issue: Children and new technology


Guest Editorial: Children and new technology

R. Joiner, D.E.B. Stanton & R. Luckin, Universities of Bath, Nottingham and Sussex

Email: [email protected]

Until recently desktop computers were the only computational technology for supporting learning and teaching and traditional computer software and hardware was designed with only one user in mind, multiple users had to share a mouse and control over one cursor on the screen. However, in HCI research there has been a general move towards, and much support for, the development of tangible and mobile interfaces to facilitate computer use. Many of these new technologies are being used to support children’s learning. There are digital toys, specialised computational devices and a wide variety of new interaction modes. These new computational devices are part of a larger movement based on Norman’s (1998) ideas on invisible computing, ubiquitous computing (Weiser, 1991) and tangible interfaces (Ishii & Ullmer, 1997), in which the technology blends into the environment and is not necessarily visible. Funding agencies have not been slow to see this change and a number of European and USA funding programmes have been initiated to investigate the use and design of this new digital technology for supporting learning. For example the European Commission funded a number of the projects reported here under the Experimental School Environment theme, which focussed on early learning, typically children aged 4-8 years. Themes included toys and games for learning, learning through story-telling and drama and augmented learning environments. This Special Issue of JCAL brings together a selection of papers by leading researchers in the field

The first two papers investigate young (age 6 years and under) children’s interactions with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) from the standard desktop PC to digital toys. Plowman & Stephen review the literature about the ways in which computational technologies are used in both formal and informal pre-school settings. The review addresses the debate over the value and desirability of using computers for young children. They investigate the relationship of these technologies to a media environment that also includes variety other formats including television and books and stress the complexities of the quality evaluation process that faces parents and teachers seeking to select the most appropriate resource for particular contexts and/or learners. This paper also highlights the problems that ensue from the inadequate or absent pedagogical models used in the design of pre-school computer resources.

Luckin et al. report a study that investigates young children’s use of an interactive digital toy technology. The toys are cuddly cartoon characters with embedded sensors that can be squeezed to invoke spoken feedback. The toys can be played with on their own or connected to a computer. When connected to a PC running compatible educational software the cuddly toys interact with the on-screen cartoon characters and offer children hints and tips about how to use the software successfully. Luckin et al., conclude that these toys, as they stand, are not very effective collaborative partners because of their limited repertoire. However the technology has potential. The children can master multiple interfaces of the toy and the screen and the presence of the toy can increase the amount of verbal communication that occurs between child and peer, child and parent or child and teacher/researcher. The cuddly interface can offer an advantage and the potential for fun interfaces might address both the affective and the effective dimensions of learners’ interaction.

Four papers examine the use of tangible interfaces in schools. Fusai et al. in their paper investigate the use of POGO. POGO (funded by the European ESE research programme) is a set of distributed tools that allow children to create stories by connecting the physical and the virtual worlds. Fusai et al. evaluated POGO and found that the tools supported the social nature of narrative construction and transformed the activity into a creative, productive and stimulating experience. Creating a rich sensorial interaction where the physical and affective elements of children’s realities were explored, analysed, decomposed and recombined in new and exciting ways.

Under the same European initiative, Lingnau et al. report an study of a Computer-integrated-Classroom (CiC) which is a classroom that is equipped with specialist software and hardware. Lingnua et al. describe a study where the children in the CiC use a WACOM interactive tablet to interact around a shared workspace using a specific software tool. This tool introduces a new method of teaching reading and writing. Lingnua et al., report that the children quickly became familiar with the system and working co-operatively with it. They also report findings that show that children who used this system improved their spelling.

Ryokai et al. report a study with an embodied conversational agent called ‘Sam’. Sam is presented to children invited to play at a toy castle though a projection screen. It appears as though Sam is also playing with the toy castle and taking turns to move toy characters and tell stories about their adventures. Sam was designed to tell stories collaboratively with children. Sam tells stories that are developmentally more advanced than the child’s stories and in doing so models narrative skills important for development. At the start, Sam greets the child and starts to tell the story by moving a virtual figurine around the castle. Sam then asks the child to tell a story and the child tells a story by moving the real figurine around the castle. Sam watches the child and prompts and asks questions such as what happened next. Rykoai et al. found that children who played with the virtual peer told stories that more closely resembled the stories narrated by Sam. Children used more quoted speech and temporal and spatial expression. Also they listened carefully to Sam assisting him and suggesting improvements.

Think tags are an example of wearable computing. They are small computational devices about the size of a name badge that have been used to involve people in participatory simulations (Collella, 2001). Andrews et al. report a study evaluating a dental hygiene participatory simulation. Teeth decay caused by the accumulation of sugar is a very difficult process for young children to understand. Participating in the dental hygiene simulation allows children to work with digital manipulatives that provide rich personal experience and rapid feedback. They can experience improving or decaying dental health without any of the adverse effects. Andrews et al. found that the program was effective and the children engaged with the task very enthusiastically.

The final three papers report studies that have investigated the use of single display groupware which allows two or more co-located users to interact with a computer system simultaneously whilst feedback is provided via a single display screen. Scott et al. in their paper report two studies evaluating a single display groupware game. In their first study they compared a paper-based version, a computer version with a single shared mouse and a computer version with multiple mice. Children exhibited more off-task behaviour in the one mouse setting whereas they behaved concurrently and preferred the two mouse version. In the second study, Scott et al. compared a shared display, side by side display and separated displays. Children with separate displays sometimes found it hard to reach an agreement. Children rated the game easier in the shared display Scott et al. conclude that children appreciate technology that supports concurrent activity. Forcing children to share one input device contributes to off-task behaviour and boredom.

In a classroom-based study Stanton & Neale investigated the process of collaboration when pairs of children were asked to recreate a poem in pictorial format using either one mouse or two mice. An in-depth qualitative examination of interaction highlighted differences in working styles between conditions. When children shared a mouse they demonstrated varied behaviours ranging from highly collaboratively work to extreme domination by one partner. Pairs in the two-mouse condition would often divide the task up and work in parallel with little reciprocity and little co-elaboration. Having multiple mice changed the interaction. There was little co-construction of ideas, but equally there was less opportunity to dominate. Stanton & Neale conclude by discussing classroom-based decisions about computer use based on their findings.

Druin et al. report a similar finding in their paper. They introduced a digital library interface where two children could navigate with multiple mice to access multimedia information concerning animals. The paper describes the differences in children’s collaborative behaviour and dialogue when using two different versions of single display groupware to search for animals in the digital library. Half the children used a structured condition where they had to ‘confirm’ their collaborative activities. The other half used the condition that allowed ‘independent’ collaboration. Druin et al. found that there was no clear condition that best supported collaboration. The structured condition supported more focussed and accurate search results. It also led to more discussion of shared goal. Children in the independent condition talked more about strategy and more discussion of the search process. Druin et al. conclude that there is no clear cut better interface. Each interface had its strengths, which educators can use to support the appropriate learning objectives.

All the papers in the special issue report research that shows the potential of new digital technology in supporting children’s learning both in formal and informal settings. However, there is clear evidence within them that the fulfilment of this potential is no easy matter. Success requires careful attention to the pedagogical framework that can underpin the design of such technologies and sensitivity to the affordances of the particular learning context of use and the requirements of the tasks.


Collella, V. (2001) Participatory Stimulations: building collaborative understanding through interactive dynamic modelling. In Carrying forward the conversation(CSCL2) (eds. T. Koschmann, R. Hall & N. Miyake) pp. 357-391. Lawrence Erlbaum, London.

Ishii, H. & Ullmer, B. (1997) Tangible Bits: towards seamless interfaces between people bits and atoms. In Proceedings of CHI’97. (ed. S. Pemberton). pp. 234-241. ACM Press, New York.

Norman, D. (1998) The invisible Computing. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Weiser, M. (1991) The computer for the 21st Century. Scientific American, (Sept. 1991), pp. 94-104.

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2, 145-148

A ‘benign addition’? Research on ICT and pre-school children

L. Plowman & C. Stephen, Institute of Education, University of Stirling

Email: [email protected]

This paper reviews the international research evidence on the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICT) are used in both formal and informal pre-school settings. The review addresses the debate over the value and desirability of young children using computers and computational toys; the relationship of these technologies to a media environment which encompasses television, video, books and magazines; the literacies involved in using these media; and interface design and interactivity.

Keywords:Implementation; Interface; ICT; Literacy; Literature review; Media; Multimedia; Policy; Pre-school

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2, 149-164

Accepted 15 January 2003

The effects of multiple mice on children’s talk and interaction

D.E.B. Stanton & H.R. Neale, School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham

Email: [email protected]

A classroom-based evaluation study examined the process of children’s collaboration when using one or two mice at a desktop computer. Pairs of children worked together to re-create a poem in pictorial format. In-depth qualitative examination of interaction using ‘collaboration networks’ highlighted differences in working styles between conditions. Children using two mice divided up their task, worked in parallel, and showed limited reciprocity and elaboration of ideas. Children sharing one mouse demonstrated varied behaviours ranging from highly collaboratively work to extreme domination by one partner. The implications of these results for the organisation of tasks are discussed.

Keywords:Collaboration; Creativity; Groupware; Interface; Primary; Process; Qualitative

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2, 229-238

Accepted 15 January 2003

Children’s interactions with interactive toy technology

R. Luckin, D. Connolly, L. Plowman & S. Airey, Universities of Sussex and Stirling

Email: [email protected]

Digital toys offer the opportunity to explore software scaffolding through tangible interfaces that are not bound to the desktop computer. This paper describes the empirical work completed by the CACHET (Computers and Children’s Electronic Toys) project team investigating young children’s use of interactive toy technology. The interactive toys in question are plush and cuddly cartoon characters with embedded sensors that can be squeezed to evoke spoken feedback from the toy. In addition to playing with the toy as it stands, the toy can be linked to a desktop PC with compatible software using a wireless radio connection. Once this connection is made the toy offers hints and tips to the children as they play with the accompanying software games. If the toy is absent, the same hints and tips are available through an on-screen animated icon of the toy’s cartoon character. The toys as they stand are not impressive as collaborative learning partners, as their help repertoire is inadequate and even inappropriate. However, the technology has potential: children can master the multiple interfaces of toy and screen and, when the task requires it and the help provided is appropriate, they will both seek and use it. In particular, the cuddly interface experience can offer an advantage and the potential for fun interfaces that might address both the affective and the effective dimensions of learners’ interactions.

Keywords: Constructivist; Digital Toys; Empirical; IT-use; Preschool; Primary

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2, 165-176

Accepted 15 January 2003

Computer supported collaborative writing in an early learning classroom

A. Lingnau, H.U. Hoppe & G. Mannhaupt, Gerhard Mercator University, Duisburg, and the University of Erfurt, Germany

Email: [email protected]

This paper describes a collaborative experiment in an early learners’ classroom, equipped with special software and hardware to support the acquisition of initial reading and writing skills. This ‘Computer-integrated Classroom’ originated from the EU project NIMIS. Here, a new method to teach ‘reading through writing’ is supported by a specific software tool (T3) in the general framework of the classroom environment. Particularly, a collaborative writing task facilitated by a shared workspace system has been evaluated with a group of first graders using the T3 application. The speciality of this experiment lies in the study of domain-specific collaboration in a rich real world learning setting.

Keywords:Collaboration; Empirical; Literacy; Primary; Synchronous; Writing

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2, 186-194

Accepted 15 January 2003

Media composition and narrative performance at school

C. Fusai, B. Saudelli, P. Marti, F. Decortis & A. Rizzo, Universities of Siena & Liège

Email: [email protected]

POGO is a distributed learning environment that allows children to create stories by connecting physical and virtual worlds. The environment is composed of several interactive tools that children use to compose, edit and perform stories. Together with teachers, five pedagogical objectives were defined as goals to be achieved in narrative. The pedagogical objectives drove the entire POGO design process and constituted a solid reference for the different evaluations undertaken during the project. This paper, after a brief introduction and a presentation of the POGO world, illustrates how the interaction with the POGO Tools supports the fulfilment of the pedagogical objectives.

Keywords: Audio; Constructivist; Distributed; Ethnographic; IT-use; Mediated; Primary; Video

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2, 177-185

Accepted 15 January 2003

Understanding children’s collaborative interactions in shared environments

S.D. Scott, R.L. Mandryk & K.M. Inkpen, Departments of Computer Science, Universities of Calgary, Simon Fraser and Dalhousie

Email: [email protected]

Traditional computer technology offers limited support for face-to-face, synchronous collaboration. Consequently, children who wish to collaborate while using computers must adapt their interactions to the single-user paradigm of most personal computers. Recent technological advances have enabled the development of co-located groupware systems offering support for concurrent, multi–user interactions around a shared display. These systems provide a unique collaboration environment in which users share both the physical and the virtual workspace. This paper examines how such technology impacts children’s collaboration. Findings from this research show that when concurrent, multi–user interaction is supported on a shared display, children exhibit collaborative behaviour similar to their interactions during paper-based activities. The findings also suggest strengths and weaknesses of various mechanisms for supporting synchronous interactions that have implications for the design of computer systems to support children’s face-to-face collaboration.

Keywords: Collaboration; Face-to-face; Groupware; Interface; IT-use; Primary; Qualitative; Quantitative; Satisfaction; Secondary; Synchronous

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2, 220-228

Accepted 15 January 2003

Concept development for kindergarten children through a health simulation

G. Andrews, E. Woodruff, K.A. MacKinnon & S. Yoon, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Email: [email protected]

According to many dental professionals, the decay process resulting from the accumulation of sugar on teeth is a very difficult concept for young children to learn. Playing the dental hygiene game with Thinking Tags not only brings context into the classroom, but also allows children to work with digital manipulatives that provide rich personal experiences and instant feedback. Instead of watching a demonstration of the accumulation of sugars on a computer screen, or being told about dental health, this simulation allows pre-school children to experience improving or decaying dental health without any real adverse health effects. Small, wearable, microprocessor-driven Tags were brought into the kindergarten classroom to simulate the decay process, providing information about sugars in foods and creating a discussion about teeth. Preliminary analyses suggest that this program was effective and enthusiastically received by this age group.

Keywords: Collaboration; Dialogue; Discourse analysis; Pre-school; Simulation; Wireless

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2, 209-219

Accepted 15 January 2003

Virtual peers as partners in storytelling and literacy learning

K. Ryokai, C. Vaucelle & J. Cassell, MIT Media Laboratory

Email: [email protected]

Literacy learning — learning how to read and write — begins long before children enter school. One of the key skills to reading and writing is the ability to represent thoughts symbolically and share them in language with an audience who may not necessarily share the same temporal and spatial context. Children learn and practice these important language skills everyday, telling stories with the peers and adults around them. In particular, storytelling in the context of peer collaboration provides a key environment for children to learn language skills important for literacy. In light of this, an embodied conversational agent, Sam, who tells stories collaboratively with children was designed. Sam looks like a peer for pre-school children, but tells stories in a developmentally advanced way, modelling narrative skills important for literacy. Results demonstrated that children who played with the virtual peer told stories that more closely resembled the virtual peer’s linguistically advanced stories: using more quoted speech and temporal and spatial expressions. In addition, children listened to Sam’s stories carefully, assisting her and suggesting improvements. The potential benefits of having technology play a social role in young children’s literacy learning is discussed.

Keywords: Collaboration; Empirical; Literacy; Pre-school; Storytelling; Virtual peer

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2, 195-208

Accepted 15 January 2003

A collaborative digital library for children

A. Druin, G. Revelle, B.B. Bederson, J.P. Hourcade, A. Farber, J. Lee, D. CampbellHuman–Computer Interaction Laboratory, University of Maryland

Email: [email protected]

Over the last three years, a digital library interface has been developed where two children can collaborate using multiple mice on a single computer to access multimedia information concerning animals. This technology, SearchKids, supports past work in copresent collaborative zoomable interfaces for young children. This paper describes the differences in children’s collaborative behaviour and dialogue when using two different software conditions to search for animals in the digital library. In this study, half the children had to ‘confirm’ their collaborative activities (e.g. both children had to click on a given area to move to that area). The other half used an ‘independent’ collaboration technique (e.g. just one mouse click allowed the pair to move to that area). The participants in this study were 98 second and third grade children (ages 7–9 – year-old) from a suburban public elementary school in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The results of the study show distinct differences between conditions in how children discussed their shared goals, collaborative tasks, and what outcomes they had in successfully finding multimedia information in the digital library.

Keywords:Change; Collaboration; Information systems; IT-use; Navigation; Primary; Qualitative

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 2, 239-248

Accepted 15 January 2003

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