Collaborative storytelling in distance education: a preliminary research with pre-school children

From Firenze University Press Journal: Form@re

Silvia Gasparin, University of Trieste

Distance education generally refers to the delivery of lessons and courses over the Internet in synchronous or asynchronous form (Hrastinski, 2008; Moore, Dickson-Deane & Galyen, 2011; Singh & Thurman, 2019; Watts, 2016).). It is adopted in many contexts and especially in universities to broaden the educational offer and meet the needs of working students (Moore et al.,2011; Rao & Tanners, 2011). It is also adopted in schools of all levels in situations which prevent in-person attendance at classes (Singh & Thurman, 2019; Yildiz & İşman, 2016).

In school contexts, distance education contributes to solve geographical problems and makes it possible to remedy attendance impediment of students who are hospitalized or anyway forced home due to illness. In March 2020, the use of distance education was necessary in many countries around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic.Especially for university students, distance education offers some advantages such as autonomy in the choice of times and place of learning, flexibility in learning pace, broader self-determination (Bailey & Card, 2009; Bell & Fedeman, 2013; Cole, Shelley, & Swartz, 2014). On the other hand, even in these privileged contexts, students run the risk of isolation compared to face-to-face courses, which translates into demotivation and a higher dropout rate (Brindley, Blaschke, & Walti, 2009; Lee, Choi & Kim, 2013; Yuan & Kim, 2014).

It is especially when applied to preschool children that online education limitations become apparent. Children have limited experience with online learning tools (Lindahl & Folkesson, 2012; McPake, Plowman, & Stephen, 2013); requireadult supervision for Internet access and adult availability and involvement during the lessons (Plowman, Stevenson, McPake, Stephen, & Adey, 2011). Besides, especially asynchronous learning requires adults to read written information for children and type responses when needed (Fedynich, 2014; Schroeder & Kelley, 2010). Furthermore, compared to adult learners, children need to be involved in more play and hands-on activities, which are difficult to recreate at a distance (Manches & Plowman, 2017). In manysituations, it becomes necessary to explain the activities and purposes of the lesson to parents in advance, ask for their cooperation to make available the materials required for the lesson (Fedynich, 2014).

A further negative factor is the scarcity of interactions between children (Lindahl & Folkesson, 2012). In the constructivist perspective, sociability and collaborative learning are fundamental for an adequate cognitive, emotional and social development in early childhood (Jonassen, 1999; Papert, 1991). Consequently, although technological difficulties inevitably encountered by children also represent an opportunity for the construction of digital skills (Stephen & Plowman, 2008) and the need for help given by caregivers has the positive side of involving parents in their children’s learning (Plowman et al., 2011; Schroeder & Kelly, 2010), the scarcity of relationships between peers is a factor that must be necessarily modified


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The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy