Sarah Eagle
Interaction, artifacts and agency in young children’s learning

Author: Sarah Eagle, University of Bristol.

Title: “Interaction, artifacts and agency in young children’s learning”

This paper presents an analysis of young children’s interaction with others in the course of using designed artefacts (picturebooks, digital toys and screen-based technologies) which pays particular attention to the child’s agency in the activity. The perspective taken is that children learn through shared meaning-making, a communicative process in which interacting partners attend to the focus of attention of the other. A physical artefact is considered to be a potential resource for shared meaning-making, in that cues about the aspect that a partner is attending to become available through gaze, gesture or verbal means. The question of interest is whether which the nature of the artefact has any bearing on the extent to which a child is expected to follow the adult’s interest or attention or vice versa – in other words, the agency of either partner in the interaction. In a detailed analysis of interaction between parents and young children during their use of digital technologies in the home, a general pattern was that parents’ attention was on organising the child’s interest and actions towards particular aspects of the device and its use. Children’s questions and other initiations were rarely attended to or built on. This pattern is discussed in relation to research that investigates children’s learning in relation to the use of picturebooks, which highlights as significant the nature of interaction around the book and its content, and also in relation to research on children’s interaction which ascribes particular significance to children’s agency. It is suggested that popular understanding about the relationship between books and early learning is more closely associated with the content than with the nature of interaction around their use, which in turn downplays the significance of the child’s agency in the interaction. It seems that this conception is carried through into assumptions about digital technologies. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of such assumptions and possible openings for an alternative approach.

The DARE Collaborative is a research partnership focused on the digital arts in education, led by the UCL Institute of Education and the British Film Institute. It has a membership of university researchers, teachers and educators in cultural organisations with an interest in arts, media, culture and new literacies in the context of education and digital media.
Centro en Investigación Avanzada en Educación