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Exploring young children’s social interactions in technology-rich preschool environments

Savage, Lorna and Stephen, Christine and Plowman, Lydia (2011) Exploring young children’s social interactions in technology-rich preschool environments. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Abstract

In contemporary UK preschool, technological resources have become a standard feature of the environment. This has prompted widespread discussion around the appropriateness of technologies in preschools and for some time concerns were raised that technology is socially detrimental for children. These concerns have since been challenged as it has been argued that they are unsubstantiated and not evidence-based. Yet despite this realisation, few studies have been conducted about children’s social interaction around technologies in order to contribute to this debate. Furthermore, negative concerns have largely been attributed to the technological artefacts themselves and the cultural and wider preschool context is often overlooked. In the 1980s, research on the ecological preschool environment in relation to children’s social behaviours was widely available but similar studies situated in contemporary technology-rich preschool environments is limited. Thus, a body of literature to inform the technology debate in relation to social interaction is restricted. This study provides an empirical foundation to begin exploring 3 to 5 year old children’s social interactions in technology-rich local authority preschools by: identifying the observable child-child interactions as children engage with technology in preschools; exploring the preschool characteristics which may contribute to these interactions; and exploring the role that technologies play in contributing to these interactions. The study adopts an inclusive definition of technology and addresses a broad range of resources, providing a new perspective on the role of technologies in education and in relation to social interactions. These areas of interest were addressed using four qualitative methods: observation, activity mapping, researcher-led games with children and interviews with practitioners. Following the nine-month data collection phase and iterative thematic analysis, two key findings emerged from the data. Firstly, children’s social interactions during technological activities in preschool were complex and multifaceted with few discernible patterns emerging. Secondly, the wider preschool context made a large contribution to the contingent and divergent interactions observed, diluting claims that technological artefacts alone influence children’s social interactions.