MODE at BERA: Symposia on Early Years, Multimodality and Digital Technology

MODE went to BERA and gave a symposium consisting of three papers linked by their focus on the Early Years, digital technology, and multimodality.

We argued that digital devices, such as iPads and smartphones, are prolific in people’s homes, and their emerging use in higher education and school-based learning contexts means they are important tools that are likely to form a key part of children’s education. Little work to date has examined the use of such devices for very young children in education settings, or how multi-sensory-based digital technologies might reshape current interaction and learning, and experiences. Such devices increasingly embrace direct touch and sensory techniques of interaction on screens of various orientation in ways that highlight the need to understand the role of interaction in meaning making, especially as for very young children this form of interaction is more intuitive than traditional desktop computers that rely on mouse and keyboard interaction, since it exploits their natural exploration strategies that rely on a wider range of sensory-motor forms of interaction. This demands methodological approaches that attend to a wide range of interactional forms: Multimodality offers such an approach and thus provides the focus for this symposium.

The papers each employed a multimodal approach, providing concepts, methods and a framework for the collection and analysis of visual, aural, embodied, and spatial aspects of interaction and environments, and the relationships between these. Together the papers provided a complex fine-grained analysis to get at the details of technologies and interactions with implications for practices and policy in the classroom. The symposium papers collectively explored three themes:

  1. Multimodal methodological innovation – notably research design, data collection and uses of video recording, observation, transcription practices, and coding and analytical processes;
  2. Embodied Interaction in digital early years environments – the need to hone descriptive languages for gaze, touch, movement, and their links to talk and processes of young children learning conventional writing skills;
  3. Understanding the potentials and constraints or ‘gains and losses’ of digital devices in early learning environments.

Paper 1: Finger painting with iPads versus physical paint

Sara Price (1), Lucrezia Crescenzi (2) and Carey Jewitt (1),

(1) Institute of Education (2) Barcelona University, Spain.

Paper 2: Child-initiated play with digital technology in the Early Years: transcribing multimodal interaction

Kate Cowan, Institute of Education

Paper 3: New directions for early literacy in a digital age: the iPad

Rosie Flewitt (1), David Messer (2), Natalia Kucirvkova (2)

(1) Institute of Education, London, UK, (2) Open university, Milton Keynes, UK

These three themes, together with the papers’ shared focus on early years, multimodality and digital technologies provided the coherence for the symposium. Professor Gunther Kress, the symposium discussant responded to the papers and the discussion drew out the concerns and needs of practitioners and other researchers in the early years and primary field: notably the need for more empirical research to get beyond the hype and anxiety and to inform practice and clear decision making.

For more info about these papers see publications at

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