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Background

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, and to examine related social, cultural and digital literacy practices related to these. This will attend to key underlying principles as well as examining specific technologies, given the fast-changing nature of the field.

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

This COST Action will take forward some of the EU High Level Literacy Group’s recommendations in a timely fashion and will report 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 will focus on children aged from birth to eight, an age group for which there has been comparatively little research in this area (Grimes and Fields, 2012; Holloway, Green & Livingstone, 2013). The early years provide crucial foundations for lifelong literacy learning, therefore it is important to ensure early education policy and practice across COST countries are developed in order to equip our youngest citizens with the skills and knowledge needed in a digitally-mediated era.

Across Europe, there is currently 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 is concentrated in a few countries. We will address this gap in knowledge by building a framework for collaborative research teams to share expertise and develop coordinated research agendas.

This research involves 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 is essential to the construction of knowledge in this area. The COST network will integrate 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 is a necessary approach if we are to understand fully the dynamic nature of communication in the digital age.

The network will also identify new methodologies for working with young children and provide a theoretical framework that captures the digital literacy experiences of the whole child (at home, school, library, kindergarten and so on) in a holistic and ethical manner. COST promotes flexibility, so that if disciplinary concerns that were not considered in the development stage become pertinent, they can be incorporated into subsequent activities.