Multimodal childhoods pilot project: Merging literacies, play and digital technologies in remote communities

Kerrie Mackey-Smith, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work, Flinders University, Australia ( )
Jessie Jovanovic, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work, Flinders University, Australia ( )

Background: Young children (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) who live in remote communities continue to face significant vulnerability and risk in relation to their health, learning and development (Department of Education and Training, 2018). These children are often framed by deficit narratives. Change in one remote preschool began with reframing the child as component and agentive (Halsey, 2018).

Aim: This pilot study sought to explore how digital applications in combination with real world play and dialogue could support the learning needs and development of early literacy skills and capabilities of young children living remotely. The participating local educators were centrally positioned in this pilot study.

Method: Using a Participatory Action Research methodology, we worked alongside educators in a remotely located preschool in central Australia to explore how digital applications may act to enable or limit their early literacy practices. The educators’ queries and wonderings about their practice became the central focus of the research enquiry, and as co-investigators the researchers provided guidance, provocations, and reflective points to deepen the educators’ multimodal practices in context.

Results: Working in multimodal ways enabled the remotely living children to capture their understandings in new ways; highlighting previously unacknowledged sophisticated grasp these learners had of early literacy and numeracy concepts. Embedding digital devices into the preschool’s learning culture saw them quickly become an embedded tool for explorative play and the creative production of media content. In the process, children’s conceptual understandings were routinely captured by the children themselves. As a result, children reframed themselves as learners and a shift occurred in how families and community members engaged with the learning experiences at the preschool.

Conclusions: What this confirms – particularly for remote communities – is that a one-size-fits-all approach to early literacy learning does not work; the standards and requirements specified as ‘quality practice’ need to be context-specific, developed authentically with the learners and learning communities themselves. Fellow educators, leaders, policymakers and researchers can start this process by listening and seeking to co-construct and co-inquire into diverse educational practices cognisant of the people, places, modalities and spaces these exist within.

Implications for children: You are a powerful learner and photographing or videoing your everyday play can change how you see and understand the world around you.

Implications for families: You are a key partner in your child’s learning and when they share stories, photos and videos from preschool they are inviting you to explore what they know and can do; they are connecting you to their learning.

Implications for practitioners: When you consider the use of digital devices as a pedagogic tool you have the means to create opportunities for children and families to have authentic, meaningful dialogues, in turn, building a shared familial learning community that can in turn engage with you.

Funding: This project was funded by the South Australian Department for Education and

Flinders University

Key words: multimodal learning, storytelling, digital play, children’s voices, families’ voices, professionals’ voices, early literacy, education, vulnerable communities, regional/rural communities, qualitative methods, participatory action research

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: