Fingerpainting on the iPad

Author: Lucrezia Crescenzi, Sara Price and Carey Jewitt

Experience shows that babies are able to use mobile devices and touch screen… but to what extent is it true? From what age could they start being able to use a tablet? And how could that change the way they play and explore reality?

Often when a new technology appears, critical or enthusiastic valuations precede the scientific study of the potential and limits of the technology use. The tablet, as an attractive resource or medium (in the sense of “tool” and as latin plural of “media”), could potentially be used in the field of learning. Thanks to characteristics such as mobility, a touch screen and its light weight, it seems suitable for preschoolers. Nevertheless it is necessary to describe its features and to relate them with learners, who are subjects in developing. This study aims to explore the dynamics and interactions that very young children create around this new tool.

Under the MODE project (Multimodal Methodologies for Researching Digital Data and Environments. Research project 2: Multimodal methods for research on embodiment with emerging digital technologies) we are developing a studio with a group of preschool children participants from one and half years old in a nursery setting. We explore the role of physical action with touch screen and touch technologies in play and drawing. The iPad and other educational applications in context-embedded learning activities provide a lot of scope for exploring how finger painting processes might change in digital (iPad) vs. physical (paper) learning environments.

The study uses multimodal methods of description. The methods of data collection include observations and video recording of painting activities. Data analysis will build on multimodal procedures for working with video, with a focus on the mode of touch, manipulation, gesture, bodily posture, motor execution and gaze. Findings will be related to parent interviews about habits, practice and familiarity with technologies, such as touch screen and handheld devices.

The project outcomes will have a significant impact on contextual and embodied-based learning. We begin pilot testing in the coming weeks and the first results will be announced soon…watch this space.

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