Theorising teacher motivations for participation in research into digital play in early childhood education

Year: 2016

Author: Nuttall, Joce, Edwards, Suzy, Grieshaber, Sue, Wood, Elizabeth, Mantilla, Ana

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The rapid adoption of digital technologies amongst young children has not been matched by early childhood teachers’ uptake of digital technologies within play-based approaches to curriculum and pedagogy. Scholars have traditionally argued that this reveals limitations in teachers’ knowledge and motivations, and that the solution is to provide more professional development to help teachers learn to use these technologies with children (e.g. Chen & Chang, 2006). In our current research (ARC DP150102040) we are approaching this ‘problem’ from a different angle by attempting to re-position teacher uptake of technologies in early childhood education as a field-specific issue related to defining and understanding young children’s digital play, rather than an issue of teacher knowledge. We illustrate this argument through analysis of a focus group conversation between Lynne, Anne, and Tara (all pseudonyms), three teachers involved in the pilot work for the ARC project. Our early contact with these teachers suggested they were not only knowledgeable but highly motivated about digital technology use by young children, yet they told us they still struggled to incorporate digital play into the curriculum. Since this seemed to contradict the current literature, we set out to identify alternative explanations of their motivations for participation in the research project. Using Leont’ev’s (1978) cultural-historical concept of ‘hierarchy of motives’, our analysis of the teachers’ exchanges within the focus group suggested they understood their collaboration with us not only as research participation but as an important professional learning opportunity, even though the project was not designed as a professional learning intervention. This re-focused our analysis on what the teachers understood to be the ‘motive object’ (Leont’ev, 1978) for their learning, leading us to argue that the teachers’ participation in the research project was motivated less by their own knowledge needs than by their commitment to strengthening children’s play-based learning. We conclude by arguing that researchers need to understand the complex motivations teachers bring to professional learning, research engagement, and engagement with digital technologies in early childhood education, and that these are best understood in relation to teachers’ aspirations for children and families, rather than as problems of teacher knowledge and motivation.Chen, J., & Chang, C. (2011). Using computers in early childhood classrooms. Teachers' attitudes, skills and practices. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9(3), 169-188.Leontev, A. N. (1978) Activity, consciousness and personality. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.