Edinburgh Research Explorer

Prof Lydia Plowman

Chair of Education and Technology

Willingness to take PhD students: Yes

Biography

My research interests are accounted for by my early career teaching in secondary schools, followed by working as a postdoc in the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences at the University of Sussex, a period as Research Programme Manager at the Scottish Council for Research in Education, and then as Professor in the School of Education, University of Stirling. I am now Dean of Research in the College of Humanities and Social Science. I am a member of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Strategic Advisory Network, an invited member of panels for the Norwegian Research Council (2013-15) and was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2013. I was a member of the advisory group for the Technology-Enhanced Learning programme funded by ESRC and EPSRC (£12 million from 2008 to 2012) and was Vice-Chair of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Grant Assessment Panel B until July 2015.

All this adds up to more than twenty years’ experience of conducting research with children and technologies. My PhD on designing for group use of interactive media, with a particular emphasis on the role of narrative, was awarded in 1992 - and while the laserdisc technology that I was investigating has long been obsolete, many of the pedagogical and design issues remain the same.

Current Research Interests

My research interests are in digital media and children’s learning in a range of formal and informal settings, but over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested in the ways in which technology is used for leisure, work and educational purposes in the home, with a focus on young children and how technology is integrated into family life. In pursuit of these interests, I draw on anthropology, learning sciences and cultural psychology for theoretical and methodological insights applicable to the study of technology embedded in detailed analysis of its social, cultural and educational contexts of use - along with a concern for interaction design and user experience. The shift in the focus of my research from the compulsory years of schooling, formal learning environments and workplaces to the home and preschool settings has inevitably led to an interest in diverse domestic and leisure technologies, including tablets, dual screen technologies, mobile phones and ‘smart’ toys.

A list of publications can be found on the link at the foot of this page or in my profile on academia.edu or Google Scholar. There are downloadable versions of most of the papers on the academia.edu site. For more information on related research in Moray House School of Education see our website on children and technology.

Collaborative Activity

CONSULTANCY activities include a review of research literature on children's uses of digital media for the Children's Media Foundation (March 2014). This is designed to provide some balanced information on six of the big questions that parents often ask - such as 'will spending too much time in front of a screen affect my child's social skills?' During 2013 I evaluated the learning content of some of the games on the CBeebies website, provided consultancy for Punchcut on digital media in the family context and analysed children's interactions with second screen technologies for SyncScreen.

Thoughts on how to support a young child's early interactions with digital media, 'Are tablets good for children?', were published in December 2014 on the BBC iWonder website and, in 2013, a CBeebies grown-ups blog was written as part of the BBC's 'first time online' initiative whiich provides a range of interactive games for two- and three-year-old children. A BBC Radio 4 programme on 'digital kids' (September 2012) to which I contributed can be downloaded here.

CURRENT RESEARCH, from January - July 2015: Exploring play and creativity with tablet computers, ESRC Knowledge Exchange Opportunities. PI is Prof. Jackie Marsh, University of Sheffield.

RECENT RESEARCH, to the end of 2014: investigated the Internet of Things in the context of children's play at home and considered some of the emergent issues for the toy industry and the public. Another small-scale study is looking at the factors shaping infants' interactions with digital devices, focusing on how these interactions are mediated by caregivers. These studies have been conducted with Dr Andrew Manches and Dr Pauline Duncan.

With researchers in seven countries, I contributed to the European Commission's pilot study on young children (0-8) and digital technology during 2014.

PREVIOUS RESEARCH has investigated toys, technology and play in the everyday lives of young children at home and developed ways of involving children and other family members as active participants in research. As Principal Investigator for Young Children Learning with Toys and Technology at Home, an ESRC-funded project (2008-2011) which investigated how children perceive, acquire and develop their experiences with technology at home, I was able to build on findings from a cluster of projects on children's uses of technology in the early years.

Other projects with a focus on children’s learning and technology funded by the UK research councils include:

  • Entering the e-Society: Young children’s development of e-literacy (Co-I, ESRC, 2005-07) investigated the early development of digital literacies among preschool children aged three to five. The study focused on children’s home experiences, exploring the extent to which children’s developing digital literacies can usefully be compared with their developing print literacy and the opportunities for learning that families offer.
  • Interplay: Play, Learning and ICT in Preschool Education (PI, ESRC, 2003-05) was funded by the ESRC’s Teaching and Learning Research programme and identified ways of enhancing three- and four-year-old children’s experiences with ICT through guided interaction with practitioners, peers and parents, with the emphasis in preschool settings.
  • Educational Research and the Design of Interactive Media, a series of ESRC-funded research seminars in conjunction with Futurelab and sponsored by the Department for Education, Becta, Hewlett Packard and the Scottish Executive (2003-2004, PI) which explored the knowledge needs of designers and policy-makers and the ways in which educational research can inform their decision-making in the context of technologies for learning.
  • Developing research capacity in technology-enhanced learning (2006-07, PI) a small-scale study for the ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme to inform its programme on technology-enhanced learning.
  • Exploring and mapping interactivity with digital toy technology (2001-02, PI), a project funded by the ESRC/EPSRC.
  • Narrative construction and the comprehension of interactive multimedia, funded by ESRC/EPSRC (1996-99, co-applicant) on the role of narrative in the design of interactive media and its impact on the learner's construction of meaning.

Projects funded from other sources, include:

  • Digital Childhoods, a series of events funded by Scottish Universities Insight Institute (2011) with Joanna McPake and Christine Stephen.
  • Children's access to ICT at home and their preparation for primary school (funded by Becta – British Educational Communications & Technology Agency - with Joanna McPake and Christine Stephen) which focused on how economically disadvantaged preschool children and their families use technologies at home.
  • Three studies to develop an ICT strategy for the early years of education (Scottish Executive, 2002-03).
  • Evaluation of a local authority ICT network for schools (Scottish Executive, 2000-02, PI).
  • Evaluation of the Digital Broadcasting Competition (DfEE/Becta, 2000-01, PI).
  • Evaluation of the Science On-Line Support Network (Scottish Executive, 2000, PI).

Research outputs

  1. When the technology disappears

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

  2. Digital toys

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary

  3. Centre Report 2019: Centre for Research in Digital Education

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

View all (48) »

Research activities & awards

  1. ‘Growing up in front of a camera’

    Activity: Other activity typesTypes of Public engagement and outreach - Media article or participation

  2. The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (External organisation)

    Activity: Membership typesMembership of peer review panel or committee

  3. ESRC (External organisation)

    Activity: Membership typesMembership of peer review panel or committee

View all (8) »

Research projects

  1. Developing Children's Understanding of Personal Data

    Project: University Awarded Project Funding

  2. Children and the Internet of Things

    Project: Research Collaboration with external organisation

  3. Zero to Three

    Project: University Awarded Project Funding

View all (6) »

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