Interview - Natalia Kucirkova

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Graduate student at the Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology, Open University.


Tell us a bit about the background to your research and the development of the ‘Our Story’ app?

My research interest lies in exploring how personalization influences the process of story-sharing and story-creation. I’m especially interested in innovative ways of promoting early parent-child shared book reading and the impact of self-made books on children’s language and literacy skills.

The app Our Story builds on my interest in personalizing and sharing stories via new platforms in that it allows children to create their own, personal stories on a tablet or smartphone, and share them with their parents or friends.  The app enables children as young as two years to make their own audio-visual digital story books on an iPhone or iPad. Digital literacy is what today’s children are born into and I find it important to understand the potential of new platforms for personalizing and sharing children’s stories.

What was the impact on children’s learning of the app for the pre-school children in the study?

As part of my doctoral research, we explored the use of the app with a group of 33 children for six months in a local nursery school. The practitioners in this setting were mostly keen on raising children’s narrative skills, so we focused on any changes in children’s narrative skills over the course of the project. The study was designed as a formative experiment which means that we were interested in finding out not only what works (or doesn’t work) but also what would work better. Our Story was used as part of other activities occurring in the classroom and largely contributed to children’s language progress over time. When analysing children’s stories, we found that children who took part in the study produced longer and more elaborate stories, with more evaluative and supplementary comments than at the beginning of the study.  With the app, children were given the opportunity to choose and load their own content (in this case, photos, text, recorded words) in addition to practising traditional story skills (such as story sequencing). As such, children developed an increased understanding of the variety of story forms and story contents. We also noticed that use of the app increased children’s sharing skills, as taking turns is crucial with touch-screen technologies (a simple tap may mean deleting a child’s story!).

Our findings were echoed by colleagues at the Strathclyde and Stirling University, who used the app in two Gaelic-medium nurseries and found that the app has potential to support the development of children’s Gaelic language and early literacy skills.  We also established the learning potential of the app in a larger project at the Open University which involved ipad use in a pre-school, primary and special needs setting.

How did practitioners use the app and what did they view as benefits of using Our Story with young children?

Because of the relative newness of iPads, there are few practical, and even fewer research-based, examples of how to best integrate iPad apps into the context of early years education.  The practitioners we worked with first needed to familiarise the children-and themselves- with the device and establish best practices of its use in their classrooms. Often taking the device home to explore the various ipad functions or "playing around" with the ipad during breaks were part of the ways staff developed ways of effective use of the app. In some respects, the use of Our Story highlighted the need and desire for ICT training in early years.

We saw the app used in several ways, adapted to the particular classroom contexts and practitioners’ preferences , which reflects the open-ended character of the app.  For example, one practitioner co-created a story with the children based on the pictures taken from the nursery, while in another setting, the practitioner encouraged children to add their own narration to pictures of a fictional story children were already familiar with. In this same classroom, another practitioner used the app with children’s own pictures and commented on how stories created in the classroom could increase parental involvement in the wide range of children’s interests and story practices.

The app was co-developed with Prof David Messer, Paul Hogan and Dr Denise Whitelock at the Open University.

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