Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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Childhood in the digital age

Week 1: How different is a digital childhood?


Childhood is a time of rapid change. Some of these changes are obvious, such as height gain, language ability and physical dexterity. Others are less obvious, such as how children make sense of the information in their environment. Social scientists try to understand every aspect of children’s development, including how children learn, think and interact with those around them, and how their personalities and temperaments emerge.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_21st_c_childhood_vid_1080.mp4
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Nathalia Gjersoe
How is digital technology changing childhood - and how can adults keep up? The entertainment and interactivity of tablets and smartphones has made them attractive to children. Touch-screen interfaces mean that digital technologies are now accessible for children as young as 3. But do children find digital technologies exciting for reasons beyond simple entertainment?
The amount of digital technology available to my young son is massively different to that in my own childhood. As both a parent and a psychologist, I’ve found it difficult to make sense of media reports and research findings in this controversial area. Is technology beneficial or detrimental to child development? Does screen time lead to increased distractibility, obesity and loneliness? Or does it offer opportunities for autonomy and experimentation beyond anything imagined when I was growing up?
As the generation gap widens between adults and children’s understanding of new technologies, how will we protect them from the risks while allowing them to benefit from the opportunities new technologies offer? Join in the discussion as we explore the different sides of this heated debate.
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In the video you heard from Dr Nathalia Gjersoe, one of the authors of this course. She is a developmental psychologist in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies at The Open University, with a research interest in children’s cognitive development (as well as a mum herself).

The other author is Dr Natalia Kucirkova, who is a researcher in early literacy, with a specific focus on the role of new technologies, shared book reading and personalisation.

To understand the rapid changes of childhood, children’s abilities are often judged against developmental milestones, such as acquiring language (babbling, talking), cognition (thinking, reasoning, problem solving), motor coordination (crawling, walking) and social skills (identity, friendships, attachments).

The main question here is how digital technology influences the acquisition of these important skills. Does technology hinder children’s physical, social and cognitive development, or does it provide exciting opportunities for learning new abilities?

Activity 1.1

What do you think? Does technology hinder children’s physical, social and cognitive development, or does it provide exciting opportunities for learning new abilities?

Make a note of you thoughts at the start of this course. Use a notebook or Word document that you can refer back to at a later date.

The Open University would love to know what you think of the course and how you plan to use it. We’re really interested in hearing from you whether you plan to study every week, take part actively in discussions or prefer to sit back and watch how they unfold. Your feedback is anonymous but will have massive value to us in improving what we deliver.

Take our start-of-course survey [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .


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