Children interacting with a digital tablet with an adult supervising

The fast pace of technological change has created a pressing demand for unified research networks to examine and respond flexibly to the learning potential of both existing and emerging communicative technologies. This includes wearable technologies, 3D printers, robots, augmented reality apps, toys and games and relevant aspects of the Internet of Things, all of which impact on the lives of young children. Children’s digital literacy skills as they engage with these technologies are important to recognise, foster and extend.

The 2013 EU High Level Literacy Group’s report recommended that challenges relating to digital literacy at all levels of education had to be addressed if literacy levels across Europe were to be sufficient, let alone competitive. There was an urgent need for the development of a unified research agenda in this area (Erstad and Amdam, 2013).

This COST Action took forward some of the EU High Level Literacy Group’s recommendations in a timely fashion and reported on outcomes for policy and early childhood practice, with the aim of enabling educational provision in both formal and informal settings to respond to the challenges and potentials of digital and mobile communication.

We focused on children aged from birth to eight, an age group for which there had been comparatively little research in this area (Grimes and Fields, 2012; Holloway, Green and Livingstone, 2013). The early years provide crucial foundations for lifelong literacy learning, therefore it was important to ensure early education policy and practice across COST countries were developed in order to equip our youngest citizens with the skills and knowledge needed in a digitally-mediated era.

Across Europe in the first decades of the twenty-first century, there was a scarcity of research data on the extent, range and potency of young children’s engagement with new media devices in homes and communities and the data available was concentrated in a few countries. We addressed this gap in knowledge by building a framework for collaborative research teams to share expertise and develop coordinated research agendas.

This research involved participants from a wide range of disciplines including:

  • applied linguistics

  • childhood studies

  • children’s literature

  • computer science

  • cultural studies

  • early childhood education

  • information studies

  • language and literature

  • media studies

  • psychology

  • sociological studies

This interdisciplinary approach was essential to the construction of knowledge in this area. The COST network integrated the interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approaches of its members to produce a series of themed research insights into the complex nature of contemporary early literacy practices in COST countries. This was a necessary approach if we were to understand fully the dynamic nature of communication in the digital age.

The network also identified new methodologies for working with young children and provided a theoretical framework that captured the digital literacy experiences of the whole child (at home, school, library, kindergarten and so on) in a holistic and ethical manner.