Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow, LEAP Fellow

Natalia Kucirkova

University of Stavanger and The Open University

Natalia Kucirkova is Professor of Early Childhood Education and Development at the University of Stavanger, Norway and Professor of Reading and Children’s Development at The Open University, UK. Natalia’s work is concerned with social justice in children’s literacy and use of technologies. Her research takes place collaboratively across academia, commercial and third sectors. She blogs for Psychology Today and her latest book is ‘The Future of the Self’.

Research Focus

Natalia Kucirkova’s work is concerned with social justice in children’s literacy and use of technologies. Her research takes place collaboratively across academia, commercial and third sectors. She is the founder of the International Collective of Children’s Digital Books that connects research and design in children’s e-books and Chair of the Children’s Digital Book Award that is the first award judged entirely by teachers. Natalia Kucirkova’s research led to the development of the Our Story app, which places children at the center of the story-creation process and positions them as active makers and story-authors.

My plans for the fellowship period

During my Fellowship, I will combine innovative technologies with traditional research methods to enhance children’s literacy in three countries: Malawi, Norway, and England. I will draw on insights from psychology, education, human-computer interaction, and literary theories to develop optimal approaches to young children’s engagement with digital texts. Such texts can appear in various forms, and I will focus on those that can be created by children on tablets. In particular, I will involve children aged between five to six years as authors of their own stories, which are composed with children’s own texts, images or voice-overs. It will be important to see what types of stories work best for which children and in which contexts. Honoring children’s voices in the story-making and story-sharing processes means providing them with appropriate tools and support that enhance their individuality and at the same time, widen their horizons. I will therefore explore the role of culture and teachers’ attitudes in facilitating children’s story-making, as well as the impact of different sensory stimulations. I will include work with teachers and children’s e-book designers/publishers, so that research insights are not only published in academic journals but also implemented in classrooms and incorporated into the design of new e-books.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

Today’s children access stories in fundamentally different ways than their grandparents: stories can be enhanced with moving images, hyperlinks with dictionary, photos contributed by the readers, music or voiceovers as well as algorithms that automatically record readers’ actions and recommend new content. Research to date shows that not all digital stories are beneficial for children’s learning and that the learning quality of most bestselling children’s digital books is very low. Some of the personalized digital books use children’s data for commercial or marketing purposes and some overstimulate children with too many “bells and whistles”. What is more, teachers and parents have little competence in supporting children’s reading with such stories. This needs to change. My project will explore, test, and develop various types of digital books for children aged between five to six years. I will work closely with teachers, developers of apps, designers of algorithms and most importantly, with the children themselves. The more involved children can be in the process of research, development and use of new digital stories, the more they can be part of the change that is urgently needed in this area.