Lancaster academic provides Governments with advice on home schooling

Child at play using baby computer

A literacy specialist from Lancaster University has been contacted by the Cabinet Office to help provide advice and support for parents with children learning at home during the coronavirus crisis.

Dr Julia Gillen, a Reader in Digital Literacies in the Department of Linguistics and English Language, has provided advice and suggestions to the Open Innovation team in the Cabinet Office working on a COVID-19 urgent project on remote education.

This stems from a policy brief “Digital Literacy and Young Children: Towards Better Understandings of the Benefits and Challenges of Digital Technologies in Homes and Early Years Settings” that Dr Gillen led last year, when co-chairing a working group as part of the EU COST programme ‘The Digital Literacy and Multimodal Practices of Young Children’ (DigiLitEY).

Dr Gillen, whose research explores and expands the boundaries of digital literacies, led a team of Europeans on the policy brief, together with Dr Lorna Arnott, of Strathclyde University.

The Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia has also recently contacted Dr Gillen for permission to translate the policy brief into Arabic and make it publicly available. 

Dr Gillen’s research explores and expands the boundaries of digital literacies.

She said: “Children are growing up in media-rich homes and spaces, but the range of access to adults’ understanding of digital technologies varies enormously. 

“There are excellent opportunities through digital technologies to support young children in learning and developing creative, social and critical dispositions.”

The policy brief, prepared last year, said parents and educators of young children were receiving mixed messages about new technologies and sometimes lacked confidence in supporting effective use. 

Many educators, added the brief, received little or no relevant training. Depending on parents’ own expertise they were more likely to either perceive benefits or risks of children’s digital activities. 

Some children may be exposed to risk of inappropriate content, accidental purchases, health and social impacts and misuse of data. 

But parents and educators should be encouraged to engage with their children’s use of technologies, playing, learning and enjoying activities together. 

Dr Gillen is continuing to develop her research with European partners on families with children under three and their use of digital media in homes. 

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