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The Internet of Toys: A Posthuman and Multimodal Analysis of Connected Play


by Jackie Marsh — 2017

Background: The study reported in this article focuses on an exploration of the role and nature of play in young children’s use of toys that connect physical and digital domains.

Purpose: The purpose of the article is to explore the nature of the connections that are made in play that transverses physical and virtual domains. The article draws on posthuman theory to explain some of the complexity of the play that occurs in these contexts.

Research Design: The research took place in the United Kingdom, and the overall study consisted of four distinct stages: (a) A survey of 2,000 parents of children aged 0–5 years, focusing on children’s access to and use of tablet apps; (b) case studies of preschool children’s use of apps in six families; (c) observations of children aged 3–5 years in a school using apps; and (d) content and multimodal analysis of apps. The focus of this article is on (b), although some of the survey data from the first stage of the study are also shared to provide context.

Data Collection and Analysis: The focus for this article is the play of a three-year-old girl, Amy. In addition to ethnographic data constructed over a 2-month period (field notes, interviews, photographs, and films), Amy’s mother collected data between the researchers’ visits by making films of her daughter’s use of apps. Amy also collected data herself by wearing a GoPro chestcam. The data that inform the analysis in this article are from a film created by Amy (11:05 minutes) and a video filmed by Amy’s mother (5.21 minutes). Data were both inductively analyzed using multimodal (inter)action analysis and deductively analyzed using a posthumanist approach.

Findings: Amy’s play connected digital and nondigital components in complex ways. An app and related physical object that typify the Internet of Toys provided opportunities for Amy’s play to take place across physical and digital domains, and the inorganic objects embedded in the electronic toy and related app were an important element of this play, shaping Amy’s responses at times. However, Amy’s play was not always determined by the design of the electronic objects, and she demonstrated agency within play episodes. There were multiple connections made across a variety of domains/ dimensions, which added to the complexity of the play.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Young children’s play increasingly connects digital and nondigital domains, and posthumanist theories can enhance understanding of how connections across these time/spaces are made.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 11, 2017, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22073, Date Accessed: 10/18/2017 10:58:09 AM

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About the Author
  • Jackie Marsh
    University of Sheffield
    E-mail Author
    JACKIE MARSH is professor of education at the University of Sheffield. She has led numerous research projects engaging children, teachers, parents, and children’s media industry partners in research on young children’s play and digital literacy practices in homes and schools. Jackie is chair of COST Action IS1410, DigiLitEY, a European network of 34 countries focusing on research in this area (2015–2019). She is currently leading a project on makerspaces in the early years, MakEY (2017–2019) funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme (http://makeyproject.eu). Recent publications include “Digital Play: A New Classification” in Early Years: An International Research Journal (2016).
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