My first “official” research findings!

Following on from our visit to a primary school a few weeks ago, my digital literacy sessions have been spent looking at and analysing the data we collected there. The survey we undertook was based around children’s attitudes and awareness of technology.

Children were asked closed and open-ended questions, in an effort to obtain what they really think. Questions included naming technological equipment (laptop, camera, webcam etc), recognising digital logos (YouTube, Flickr, QR Codes), pinpointing their levels of trust in different media platforms (books, television, internet) and other areas.

The question that most sticks out to me though is “How do you use the Internet at home?” The question offered the following choices: Watching TV, Playing Games, Use Apps, Talk on Webcam, Find Answers to Questions, Buy Things, Check Weather, Blog, Other.

I am particularly interested on how a child’s age can affect what they use the Internet for. This is why when analysing the data, I split the answers up into age difference. The data represents both boys and girls. The infograms I created are displayed below:

Image5 year olds treegram6 year olds treegram

At first glance there may not seem to be much difference between the three age groups, but on closer analysis there a few points I’ve noticed.

The most surprising discovery for me was the quantity of separate uses for each group. 4 year olds use the Internet for six out of the nine potential uses listed on the survey. 6 year olds matched this result. But 5 year olds only used the Internet for 5 out of a potential 9 uses.

This is interesting to me as I, along with many others I presume, suspect that as you grow older, your ability in many areas will increase, including in the use of the Internet. I naively presumed that the older a child was, the more digitally literate they would be, therefore they would be using the Internet for a wider range of purposes. This research argues that point, as there is a dip between the ages of 4 and 6. This idea is explored in Doug Belshaw’s e-book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacy. He talks about how he is more literate than his 5-year-old son, and his son is more literate than his 1-year-old daughter and so on. He argues  “although age does not have a one-to-one relationship with literacy it, too, is a useful conceptual shorthand for ascertaining how literate someone is likely to be.” (Page 10)

For this survey however, that idea has limitations. This survey analyses the types of separate reasons for use, not how much time they are spending on each one. A 4-year-old could be using six different elements of the Internet, but only spending 5 minutes on each. A 5-year-old however could be using only one or two elements, but spending half an hour on each, developing their skills and really learning how to use this element of the Internet.

Another limitation is the low sample used. These results reflect the views of only a handful of students, in one school and in one city in the entire world. The school is different from most others in the area in the way it utilises technology in a far more intense way. If parents made a conscious decision to send their child to this school, the likelihood is they support use of technology and therefore may use it and expose their children to it at home. This means the results could be swayed in favour of Internet usage, compared to a more traditional school elsewhere.

Moving on to look a little deeper into the data collected, I will now examine what the specific uses mentioned consisted of. A common thread across all the age groups is “playing games”. 77.78% of 4 year olds said they used the Internet to play games, and this was the highest type of usage for that age group. In both the 5 and 6-year-old categories, “playing games” came out a winner, with 100% saying they used the Internet for this activity. The increase in playing games from 4 to 5 and 6 year olds could support my theory of rising interactivity as children grow older.

Although not included in this survey it would be interesting to know exactly what type of games the children play. Are they educational games focussing on development, or games purely for fun? A few children mentioned the Cbeebies games online which is not surprising as I know Cbeebies self promote their website, magazine and other merchandise on their channel, which these children are likely to watch.

Another interesting point is that “talking on webcam” showed up across all three age ranges. This could suggest that parents encourage their children to use the Internet in a social way. Presumably they are contacting friends and relatives and this will show children new ways of communication online, other than email and social networking.

Some Internet uses only appear in the 6-year-old category. “Blogging” was introduced for the first time in the results, as was “buying things”. I doubt that children are buying things on the Internet unsupervised (although you never know!) so this could suggest they have witnessed their parents or someone else doing this at home. This demonstrates children’s increasing awareness of digital activity, even if just passively.

A significant point to take away from these results also are that every single child we spoke to used the Internet in some way or another. It could be argued that this is not surprising given the school they go to and the access they have to the Internet. I wonder if this would be the same in other schools? A statistic from a Netmum’s survey concluded that the average age a parent lets their child start using the Internet is 3, so perhaps it would be. Just typing “young children using Internet”, or words to that effect, into a search engine brings up hundreds of responses around introducing your child to the Internet, and learning how to surf safely.

And how much are children using the Internet? Some anonymous surveys mentioned on the Guardian website suggest anything from 3 hours a week to several hours a day although this is a broad statement with no real research support.

Another huge debate is whether the Internet is good or bad for children? But that’s a completely different argument, for a completely different day…

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