Online Symposium "Keep on Playing!" - Report on Children and Digital Media in the Time of "Life with COVID-19" - CRN Events



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Online Symposium "Keep on Playing!" - Report on Children and Digital Media in the Time of "Life with COVID-19"

Japanese Chinese
Keep on Playing! - Children and Digital Media in the Time of "Life with COVID-19"

Currently, digital media such as smartphones and tablet devices have become ubiquitous in everyday life, making them part of the environment surrounding children. Furthermore, due to the ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the importance of digital media is becoming a major issue among families and childcare providers. Under such circumstances, Child Research Net (CRN) hosted an online symposium titled "Keep on Playing! - Children and Digital Media in the Time of "Life with COVID-19" on Sunday, August 30, 2020. This symposium was intended to share the latest findings and practices at childcare facilities in order to think about how digital media should be best utilized. In this report, we will describe the progress of presentations and discussions provided in the symposium.

Part I : Presentations of research studies and practices
(1) Case study: Use of tablet devices in childcare aiming to assist in adaptation to elementary school education
Hiroshi Hotta (Professor of Sonoda Women's University)
Hirokazu Itoh (Director of Child Welfare and Health Division Child-Rearing Promotion Department in Ashiya City, Hyogo Prefecture)
(2) Real-life circumstances of parents and the utilization of digital media under the impact of COVID-19
Tomomi Sato (Associate Professor of Aichi Shukutoku University)
Atsuro Sakamoto (Parent)
(3) The use of digital media in giving assistance to infants with disabilities
Yoichi Sakakihara (Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute, and Professor Emeritus of Ochanomizu University)
Q & A Session
Part II: Discussion on "Keep on Playing! - Current Conditions and Issues in Childcare Facilities Dealing with the Impact of COVID-19"
Hiroshi Hotta (Professor of Sonoda Women's University)
Hirokazu Itoh (Director of Child Welfare and Health Division Child-Rearing Promotion Department in Ashiya City, Hyogo Prefecture)
Tomomi Sato (Associate Professor of Aichi Shukutoku University)
Atsuro Sakamoto (Parent)
Yoichi Sakakihara (Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute, and Professor Emeritus of Ochanomizu University)
Ayumi Sato (Lecturer of Shimane University)
Taiichiro Okubayashi (Integrated Center for ECEC "Ishikiri Yamate Kindergarten")
Keiko Katsumi (Integrated Center for ECEC "Angel Kindergarten")
*Listed in order of presentation
Moderator: Aiping Liu (CRN)

(Video in Japanese)

The usage of digital media for collaborative activities, etc. is increasing

First, CRN Director Yoichi Sakakihara gave a welcome speech representing the symposium hosts. He explained the theme of the symposium, saying, "It seems that the use of digital media such as tablet devices and smartphones has been rapidly increasing among families and childcare providers due to the spread of COVID-19 infection. In this symposium, we will discuss the "daily lives of infants and digital media" in the time of 'Life with COVID-19'."

Next, Professor Hiroshi Hotta of Sonoda Women's University, who has been working on research studies relating to early childhood education and digital media, gave a presentation. Professor Hotta explained the results of his survey research on "the use of tablet devices in early childhood education at the dawning stage," which has been going on since 2018. He said, "Regarding the benefits of tablet use in childcare facilities, parents came up with positive answers such as "It will add depth to children's knowledge" and "It will help children in their academic learning in and after elementary school." However, some parents expressed concerns such as "It may cause deterioration of children's eyesight" and "It may reduce children's opportunities for interacting and playing with peers." Finally, he summarized the usage of tablet devices in the field of childcare, by classifying it into four categories: "individual use," "administrative use," "collaborative use" and "use for parent-child interaction." He also introduced practical examples from each category at childcare facilities.

For example, Mr. Hirokazu Itoh, who is the director of the Child-Rearing Promotion Department, the Child Welfare and Health Division in Ashiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, described the initiatives of Ashiya City Seido ECEC Center as an example of "collaborative use." This daycare center implemented a group activity program to create a picture book in the six-year-old class on three occasions in the year. In this program, children are expected to create a picture book through collaboration with their peers, using the application "PeKay's Little Author" installed on their tablet devices. Mr. Itoh explained the positive outcome of the program, saying, "We observed a collaborative attitude among the children, communicating their feelings and thoughts with each other." He also noted that it would be necessary to consider a balance between activities using a tablet device and conventional activities, as well as to determine the rules for tablet device use with parents.

The use of digital media offers significant advantages but requires specific rules for use in childcare facilities and families

Next, Associate Professor Tomomi Sato at Aichi Shukutoku University discussed the issues concerning the widespread use of digital media among families. Based on the results of the "Survey of Media Use by Children and Parents II (2017)" (conducted by the Benesse Educational Research & Development Institute), Associate Professor Sato explained that those parents that participated in the survey were able to recognize, like childcare providers, not only the advantages of digital media use but also the disadvantages.

She also introduced some recommendations regarding children's use of digital media announced by the American Academy of Pediatrics. She explained the recent issue of "Technoference," which is defined as negative interruptions in family communications and interactions in everyday life caused by the use of digital media. "Due to the spread of COVID-19 infection, families tend to spend more time at home, and more parents rely on the use of digital media. These recent developments further emphasize the necessity to discuss how to use digital media," she said.

Therefore, we decided to invite parents for discussions in this symposium to share the practices and issues associated with the use of digital media at home. Mr. Atsuro Sakamoto, who works for Benesse Corporation with his wife, reported the actual conditions of digital media use in his family.

The Sakamoto family includes two children aged two years and six years. Mr. Sakamoto and his wife started working from home after the government declared the "State of Emergency" in response to COVID-19. They took advantage of digital media in their daily life with their two children who refrained from attending daycare. According to Mr. Sakamoto, the most useful device was the projector. He explained, "When we gave a tablet device to our kids, they would fight over the tablet device or ignore family rules on its use. However, when we used a projector, they could concentrate on watching cartoons, etc. They even devised innovative uses of the projector by themselves, playing with shadow pictures on the static screen, putting sunglasses on the face of a cartoon character, or dancing with the movement of cartoon characters, which exceeded our expectations. Thanks to the projector, we could concentrate on our work."

Associate Professor Sato summarized three issues in realizing an enriched digital life at home: (1) to diversify the relationship between childcare providers and parents by utilizing digital media, (2) to select more quality content, and (3) to consider the balance between virtual experiences (the use of digital media) and actual experiences.

The use of tablet devices to assist children with communication difficulties

At the end of Part I, Director Sakakihara, a pediatrician specializing in developmental disorders, provided a presentation under the theme of "Use of digital media for children with disabilities." He has been studying the utilization of tablet devices for children with developmental disorders such as autism, to assist them in communicating with other people. He employs the application "VOICE 4U" in his study. This application aims to help people who have difficulty with verbal expression, to communicate their feelings and thoughts to others. More specifically, the application displays various icons illustrating human actions and feelings on the tablet screen. By tapping on each icon, it will output the sound of the respective action or feeling. Director Sakakihara said that the use of tablet devices with such an application would further proliferate within childcare facilities in the near future.

After the presentations of five symposiasts, Lecturer Ayumi Sato at Shimane University provided her comments on each presentation while explaining her own study. She envisioned the future of digital media use by saying, "The use of tablet devices in childcare facilities and families tends to be personal. But if we encourage children to share the use of tablets, they may obtain more advantages, such as the cases of the ECEC center in Ashiya City and the Sakamoto family." In the Q & A session, we received numerous questions, such as how to maintain a balance between conventional childcare practices and the use of tablet devices, and how to utilize digital media to deepen personal and collaborative plays. In addition to the symposiasts, Director Taiichiro Okubayashi at the Integrated Center for ECEC Ishikiri Yamate Kindergarten and Kindergarten Teacher Keiko Katsumi at the Integrated Center for ECEC Angel Kindergarten joined the discussion to introduce their childcare practices.

The use of digital media requires childcare providers and parents to have information literacy

In the discussion session in Part II, numerous opinions were exchanged focusing on current childcare issues, by providing specific examples of digital media usage by each childcare facility during the period where children had to refrain from going out due to COVID-19. Ms. Katsumi said, "We conducted online childcare programs via YouTube for children during the temporary closure period, which received very positive comments from their parents. We plan to continue providing online childcare support for them." Professor Hotta pointed out that "It is necessary for childcare providers and parents to acquire information literacy" as the volume of online information transmitted from childcare providers to parents is expanding. In response to this opinion, Associate Professor Sato said, "In the current information society, the concept of "Digital Citizenship"*1 becomes particularly important. Childcare providers and parents should be aware of this, and consider how to educate children who have just started using digital media." Director Okubayashi also said "There is a significant gap in information literacy among childcare providers and parents who should instruct children in using digital media. I think we should conduct training programs to share information and learn information literacy concerning the creation of contents and the transmission of information."

In this online symposium, we received opinions and questions from the viewers using the YouTube live chat feature. We also provided an interactive opinion exchange channel between the symposiasts and the viewers. One of the viewer messages was "I would like to know how we can utilize digital tools to deepen children's play and how this will lead to their learning and play at the stage of elementary school and thereafter. Another message was "I think interaction and collaboration are necessary to develop children's play. The use of ICT may be effective to enrich verbal communication among children and enhance their play." In response to these inquiries and comments, Director Sakakihara made the point that "I think children can explore new ways of using and playing with tablet devices on their own. The nature of play is exploratory and liberal in the first place. We can start from observing, from the perspective of inquiries, the response of children when they receive a tablet device." In this way, the keywords of "inquiry" and "collaboration" were highlighted in discussing the use of tablet devices in children's play.

Finally, Professor Hotta pointed out that "It is important to consider how we can stimulate the curiosity of children and develop their impulse for exploration with the use of digital media in childcare practices." Associate Professor Sato commented, "I found it very significant that, in this symposium, childcare providers and parents could exchange opinions and concerns from their respective standpoint. I hope both childcare providers and parents can seek a better way to utilize digital media, respectively." Director Sakakihara closed the online symposium by saying, "We have discussed various issues and advantages in children's use of digital media. Along with the viewers' opinions submitted during the symposium, we should consider how to solve such issues. We hope to have another symposium in the future to address the use of digital media in childcare." We will continue thinking about the theme of "Children and Digital Media" in the time of "Life with COVID-19" with our readers.

*1 The term "Digital Citizenship" means the appropriate and responsible use of information technologies, defined as the "ability to effectively identify, access, use and create information as well as to responsibly participate in online/ICT environments." The Digital Citizenship Education Handbook issued by the Council of Europe (2019) specifies Digital Citizenship to be necessary throughout the entire life-span, including the early childhood stage. It also requires family engagement in the education of Digital Citizenship.

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