Literacy and digital culture in the early years

Year: 2013

Author: Dooley, Karen, Dezuanni, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

We report research investigating the use of iPads for early literacy education. The project was conducted in three Brisbane community kindergartens. We focus on digital culture in young children’s lives as devices such as smart phones and tablet computers become almost ubiquitous (Drotner, 2013). Digital culture includes a host of activities in the home and formal education environments such as kindergartens, including play, entertainment, learning and communication. Extant literacy research has looked at the potential of the iPad for enhancing print literacy outcomes (e.g., Northrop & Killeen, 2013). Our interest is in documenting the range of literacy education practices emerging in our study sites.

We identify a continuum of practices that extends from ‘educational apps’ teaching handwriting, sight words and so forth to uses of the iPad as a device for multimodal literacy development and substantive conversation around children’s creative work. At the current time high stakes testing and the implementation of the Australian Curriculum are producing new literacy education challenges. In this context we ask critical questions about the literacies enabled by educational software available on iPads (Ito, 2009). We look critically, too, at the relationship between digital play and literacy development; and at the literacy ecologies that develop around creative production with iPads through activities such as photo taking and painting (Mackey, 2007).

The paper draws on data collected in the three kindergartens over the course of nine months during 2013. Each kindergarten was provided with ten iPads, a Macbook laptop and credit in the iTunes store for purchasing relevant apps. The kindergarten teachers were involved in professional development and curriculum planning sessions and parents took part in workshops and were able to borrow an iPad to use at home with their children. Data include interviews with teachers, children and parents; classroom observations; artefacts; and a survey. Data were collected across three cycles of implementation during the year: an early implementation phase, a consolidation phase and a culmination phase during which a model to enable productive literacy education practices with iPads in kindergartens was developed.