Lisa Kervin is a Professor in Language and Literacy Education in the Faculty of Social Sciences at UOW. Lisa also serves as the Associate Dean Research and leads the “Play, Pedagogy and Curriculum” research group for Early Start Research. Through the Virtual Excursions and other project work Lisa aims to identify the qualities of adult-child interactions in preschool children’s digital experiences. 

Q: What are you researching or working on in 2019/2020?

My research interests are focused on young children, their literate practices and ways they engage with technology.  During this year (2019) I have been leading a team on a new ARC Discovery Project with Irina Verenikina, Steven Howard, Iram Siraj (Oxford) and Susan Danby (QUT) focused on adult and child interactions when using technology. Our research aims to investigate ways to support children’s language and thinking through interactions between adults and children when these interactions are mediated by digital technologies.

We know social interactions are crucial for children’s language learning, yet we do not fully understand how interactions can be enhanced or compromised during digital experiences. 
A key part of the outreach for the “Play, Pedagogy and Curriculum” Research Group is connected to the Early Start Engagement Centres. These 41 centres are spread across NSW and are virtually connected to Early Start. Under Lisa’s leadership, members of the research group connect with these services through Virtual Excursions. These virtual excursions follow a pedagogical framework developed by the group and aim to connect the children and their educators to the Discovery Space, children’s literature and play-based pedagogies. The experiences are designed to teach language and thinking and serve as exemplars to later deconstruct with educators as opportunities for interactions are examined.

Through the Virtual Excursions and other project work our team aims to identify the qualities of adult-child interactions in preschool children’s digital experiences. 

Q: In regards to your field of research what are some of the most innovative or exciting things emerging over the next few years?

Digital technologies are a reality in many young children's lives, and yet many adults are unsure about the best practices for supporting children’s learning and language during digital play experiences. We know that the developmental effects of digital experiences, particularly play, can be both positive and negative depending on the quality of adult-child interactions. This work will take this agenda forward by developing indicators for quality interaction during digital experiences to empower educators and families to become confident and competent interactants with children during digital experiences.

This project, and many others, will be housed in the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child. This centre will be the home of research programs to improve our knowledge of the role of technology in the lives of children. The NSW node for this centre will be at UOW and a number of UOW researchers will be involved in the centre. Professor Susan Bennett is Deputy Director and will work closely alongside the Centre Director Susan Danby at QUT. Lisa will co-lead the theme focused on the Educated Child, examining questions related to the use of technologies for educational purposes. Steven Howard, Dylan Cliff, Paul Chandler, Irina Verenikina, Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett and Jessica Mantei make up the UOW team of investigators. 

Q: In your field of research what are some of the things readers should be cautious/wary of over the next few years? 

Since digital technologies have entered the lives of young children, their families and education settings, there has been strong debate as to whether such technologies are appropriate and indeed are useful for young children. It is time to shift the debate. We know that young children have access to technology, we know that numerous digital resources and experiences are available for them. We need to find a pathway through so we can be making the best possible decisions to use digital technologies in the best possible ways. 

We know that early childhood is a time where stimulation is essential for cognitive development, and these foundations play an integral role in a child’s later success. The vulnerable position of families and educators is clear though when these perspectives are coupled with warnings about the irreversible changes in human biology that technology brings and the alarm of the addiction that comes with ‘digital drugs’. There is a lot of fear with technology. We don’t really know it’s potential nor it’s possible effects. But we do know a lot about what is important for young children. 

We know that content is important. This pushes us to consider issues of quality in what it is that children have access to. We need to think about the opportunities for interaction each and every digital context that children engage with offer. And above all, we need to think about what digital opportunities offer to the child. 

Make-believe (or imaginative) play is such an important form of play for young children. Through imaginative play children be anyone or anything, take on a range of roles and play these out. This is where technology can really take children into places that are otherwise impossible. Our Virtual Excursions can take children to places they may not otherwise be able to access. Our interactions with children and educators during these excursions can provide models of play-based pedagogy to enhance language and thinking. 

Lisa Kervin PenguinsPic

We don’t want children to be silent when they’re engaging with technology. We want to know the connections children make to their virtual experiences. We have long known the importance of interactions for language development. Adults and children and child-to-child exchanges are fundamental for children learning to communicate. Through their talk they demonstrate their developing knowledge of language and the ways that it works. 

We have found that interaction with others can be supported with technology. Our research has demonstrated that engaging in digital play together with peers, older siblings or adults (parents and educators) is critical.

Q: Where do you believe major opportunities lie for people thinking about future career options?

So much in the technology space is created for children. We are really encouraging designers and developers to think about how they might be able to work alongside children (and educators) to create designs for technology that are both interesting and meaningful for children and what we understand is critical for early childhood learning. 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you could offer to our readers?

Every Australian family and every early childhood classroom is grappling with ways to support young children’s engagement with digital technologies and the role of adults in these interactions. This phenomenon is not isolated to Australia. Given the prevalence of children accessing digital devices, this research focus will have impact in the fields of adult-child interactions in digital experiences, in early childhood education, and in homes as we examine models of adult-child interactions and how technology mediates these opportunities.