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The role of technology in the development of children

College of Education, Human Development Department Children play games, chat with friends, tell stories, study history or math, and today this can all be done supported by new technologies. From the Internet to multimedia authoring tools, technology is changing the way children live and learn.

This may seem of obvious importance, because for almost 20 years the Human-Computer Interaction HCI community has pursued new ways to understand users of technology. However, with children as users, it has been difficult to bring them into the design process.

Children go to school for most of their days; there the role of technology in the development of children existing power structures, biases, and assumptions between adults and children to get beyond; and children, especially young ones have difficulty in verbalizing their thoughts.

Based upon a survey of the literature and my own research experiences with children, this paper defines a framework for understanding the various roles children can have in the design process, and how these roles can impact technologies that are created. Categories and Subject Descriptors: They should also be friendly like my cat. I can talk much better! Researcher Notes, April 3, 1999, Quote from an 8 year-old child. Children have their own likes, dislikes, curiosities, and needs that are not the same as their parents or teachers.

As obvious as this may seem, we as designers of new technologies for children, sometimes forget that young people are not "just short adults" but an entirely different user population with their own culture, norms, and complexities Berman, 1977. Yet, it is common for developers of new technologies to ask parents and teachers what they think their children or students may need, rather than ask children directly Druin et al. This may in part be due to the traditional power structure of the "all-knowing" adult and the "all-learning" child, where young people are dependent on their parents and teachers for everything from food and shelter, to educational experiences.

At times, these relationships may make it difficult for children to voice their opinions when it comes to deciding what technologies should be in schools or at home.

The Use of Technology in Early Childhood Classrooms

In addition, we as designers of technologies have our own biases and assumptions about children. All of this adds up to a large amount of personal experience about young people that we may or may not choose to bring with us when we develop new technologies for children.

They are still children that must go to school and depend on their teachers and parents for learning and living in this complex world. In addition, as we know, young children have a more difficult time verbalizing their thoughts, especially when it concerns abstract concepts and actions Piaget, 1971; Piaget, 1973. While children can be extremely honest in their feedback and comments concerning technology, much of what they say needs to be interpreted within the context of concrete experiences Druin, 1999.

In the Human-Computer Interaction community, we have a short but rich history of developing shared paths for communication between diverse users and technologists. However, this history of shared communication is even shorter and less developed for our children as users, testers, informants, and partners in the technology design process.

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With the emergence of children as an important new consumer group of technology Heller, 1998it is critical that we support children in ways that are useful, effective, and meaningful for their needs. With this in mind, we need to question how we can build new technologies that respect children for their ability to challenge themselves and question the world around them. We need to understand how we can create new technologies that offer children control of a world where they are so often not in control.

I believe it is in understanding the role that children can play in the technology design process that will lead to answers. The better we can understand children as people and users of new technologies, the better we can serve their needs. This paper will suggest a framework for understanding the role children have historically had in the technology design process. How these roles can impact the technologies developed and the research methods that are used will be discussed based upon a survey of the literature.

How these roles for children compare to adult participation will also be examined, along with the strengths and challenges associated with children in the design process. Once relegated to one or two CHI conference papers a year e. These early discussions focused on the impact that new technologies could have on children as learners.

With this understanding, researchers suggested new directions for future technology development, and new possibilities for future learning experiences with technology.

Benefits of Technology & the Right Kind of Screen Time for Children

During these early years, there were only rare instances where children had more direct involvement with technology developers, and actually tested experimental technology before it was in wide release. Interestingly enough, the development of programming languages such as Logo Papert, 1977 and SmallTalk Goldberg, 1984brought children into the process more than any other technologies created for children during the 1970s and early 1980s.

From his results, he proposed general HCI guidelines for designing enjoyable user interfaces. A neglected issue in educational software. The sporadic appearance of papers that discussed children and HCI issues would not significantly grow until the early 1990s e. As the literature grew, so too did the active involvement of children in the technology development process.

What Role Does Technology Play in Reading Development?

Based upon an analysis of the literature and my research with children as design partners, I have come to see four main roles that children can play in the technology design process: In the role of user, children contribute to the research and development process by using technology, while adults may observe, videotape, or test for skills. Researchers use this role to try to understand the impact existing technologies have on child users, so future technologies can be changed or future educational environments enhanced.

  1. During these early years, there were only rare instances where children had more direct involvement with technology developers, and actually tested experimental technology before it was in wide release.
  2. The survey language needs to be age appropriate, and easily comprehensible. So designers added an additional hotspot animation.
  3. In some cases, ethnographic or qualitative descriptions of children as technology users are done to capture data as well.
  4. Yet, surprisingly enough, if you looked closely at the design practices of this community of researchers, it was not common to find children as researchers or partners in developing those constructivist tools. Logo programs could be created to manipulate words and sentences, but not images or graphics.
  5. For teachers, this role may be challenging. It truly depends on the time the university researchers or industry professionals have to listen.

In the role of tester, children test prototypes of technology that have not been released to the world by researchers or industry professionals. These testing results are used to change the way future iterations of the pre-released technology are developed.

In the role of informant, children play a part in the design process at various stages, based on when researchers believe children can inform the design process.

Before any technology is developed, children may be observed with existing technologies, or they may be asked for input on design sketches or low-tech prototypes. Once the technology is developed, children may again offer input and feedback.

  • Through child-testing, they found that children became frustrated with Barney, if they could not interrupt themselves and move on to another activity Strommen, 1998;
  • The researchers also found that the vast majority of teachers already integrated the use of technical gadgets in their lessons by using tables, desktops or interactive whiteboards to enhance the teaching and learning environment and to help them to build stronger relationships with children over subjects discussed in class.

And finally, with the role of design partner, children are considered to be equal stakeholders in the designof new technologies throughout the entire experience.

As partners, children contribute to the process in ways that are appropriate for children and the process. The four roles that children may have in the design of new technologies I have come to see the role of technology in the development of children each role, user, tester, informant, or design partner can shape the technology design process and impact the technologies that are created. While each role for children is used today by some portion of researchers or developers, each role has its own historical roots with its own challenges and strengths.

These roles are not necessarily different from that of adult users however the methods, context, and challenges can be different thanks to the involvement of children.

While each of these roles have clear differences, each role includes aspects of those roles that historically have come before it see Figure 1.

For example, in the role of informant, children may be asked to test certain prototypes as a testeras well as be observed with competing software as a user.

The sections that follow will present a detailed analysis of what it means to have children as users, testers, informants, or design partners in the design process.

The historical context of each role, the research methods needed for such a role, the impact that this can have on technology, and the strengths and challenges will be presented. While all four roles will be discussed in a somewhat similar manner, it should be noted that this paper was written by a researcher who is actively involved with children as design partners.

Whatever biases and experiences I have had with children will no doubt color my discussions. In particular, a more personal look at the role of design partner will be presented. There are generally two reasons for researchers to ask children to take on the role of technology user: With this role, the technology used is not continually being developed and changed.

The technology has been created and distributed widely for commercial or research purposes. Historical Context The role of child as user is perhaps the oldest and today remains a common role for children in the research process. This role first emerged in publications, in the late 1960s and early 1970s e.

This was a time when mainframe computers were common, and educational applications were by and large "drill and practice" experiences in everything from math to English.

The computer was an individualized teacher and led a child through a series of carefully moderated exercises. The curriculum was broken down into small concept blocks with exercises that had different levels of difficulty. When the computer presented reading materials and questions to answer, and the child was asked to respond.

If for example, a correct answer was given, the child was rewarded by being allowed to go to the next level of materials. Sample interaction with "drill and practice" experience While these technologies automated the learning experience, they did not offer a great deal of control to the child learner and user. What was to be covered and how it was to be presented was pre-programmed by the computer system. In some sense, this lack of user control was also reflected in the limited involvement of the technology user in the development process.

But even in the early years of CHI conferences, papers still discussed users in regards to technology development as not really knowing what they needed. This can be strongly contrasted with the cooperative design movement that was emerging at the time from the Scandinavian countries which promoted the notion of co-design with users Bjerknes et al.

In terms of children as technology users, the majority of the literature during the 1970s and 1980s reflected their limited involvement in the technology development process the few exceptions will be discussed in later sections. The main contribution of children as users was seen in the observations that researchers could make of them, the work children the role of technology in the development of children using the technology and the tests children took before and after using technology.

These experiences could tell researchers more about the impact of technology. The role of child as user can still be seen today. It is more common in the literature of educational and child psychology, as well as the broader educational research community, but it still can be seen as a tool to consider the future of new technologies and new educational uses of technology. Methods Used The research methods utilized when children are users in the technology design process vary depending on the information of interest, the size of the user population involved, the research philosophy, and the experience of the researchers involved.

Typically researchers will use some methods of observation to look for patterns of activity, and general user concern e. This can take the form of observations via one-way mirrors or live television monitors.

Video cameras can also be used to capture data for later analysis e. For example, in a recent study by researchers at the University of Sussex, the Open University, and the Scottish Council for Research in Education, video was used to record two forms of data: In addition to video, participant observation where researchers are in the room with users can also be of value e.

It is common for researchers to become a part of classroom activities demonstrating software, answering questions, and more.

Technology in early childhood education

At the same time, it is quite common to include teachers in the research experience. They too can collect data thanks to their own first-hand experiences in the classroom e. These methods were useful, for example, in understanding early hypermedia technologies with children. In addition to activity observation, data concerning user impressions can also be collected.

Qualitative surveys can be given to children concerning their like, dislikes, difficulties, and interest areas. More formal quantitative surveys can also be administered, where questions are answered on a numerical scale or with various options e. These kinds of surveys can be at times difficult to develop. The survey language needs to be age appropriate, and easily comprehensible. It is common for tests to be given to children before and after the use of technology over a period of time.

Typically, these tests are quantifiable instruments concerning subject matter knowledge e. In some cases, ethnographic or qualitative descriptions of children as technology users are done to capture data as well.

In these case studies, a small number of children can be observed over an extended period of time e. Data collection can be done, by asking children to write their thoughts in journals.