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Welcome to a digital world

Nursery pupils show teachers the friendly face of technology and make an easy transition to primary with the help of virtual buddies, reports Douglas Blane

Enunciating slowly, clearly and seriously, a 4-year-old lad demonstrates the use of a digital camera to his peers. "This part goes around your wrist," he says, matching the action to the words. "Now this is important," he pauses for effect. "You have to take this bit away before you press that button."

Joan Fleming, Glasgow's ICT early years adviser, clicks a second chapter of the talking book created by the youngsters at Acredyke Nursery and another talkative boy appears on her laptop.

The talking book was just one part of a webcam project that was a hit with the nursery youngsters. Ms Fleming says: "They are now comfortable with digital cameras and computers. So we decided to introduce them to webcams to develop their communication and language."

Central to the project were the guidelines outlined in LT Scotland's Early Learning, Forward Thinking, says Yvonne Small, Acredyke Nursery's headteacher then. "It's all about technology that is part of their everyday lives."

Elsewhere in the Talking Book a girl shows how to connect to the internet, while a boy explains the fire drill using a dictaphone recording of the alarm."When you hear that sound you have to go and stand beside a lady, because it might be a real fire."

One of the most productive and satisfying parts of the project, says Ms Fleming was Virtual Buddies, in which senior pupils at Knockburn Primary, which shares a building with the nursery, worked with the young ones face-to-face, initially, then via technology.

"At first we visited the nursery every week to read them stories," says 10-year-old Lauren. "You'd maybe start reading to just one, then if the rest liked it they would come over too. You could end up with about 20 sitting listening in front of you. It was great."

The organisers soon realised that using webcams to record a selection of stories by a variety of children would give the young ones freedom to listen, when they wanted, to whatever appealed to them. Ms Small says: "It also helped them get to know more children in the primary, so they would have more friendly faces when they made the transition from nursery to primary school."

Advancing years do bring some doubts and anxieties about technology. "I did a story on the webcam," says Sarah-Jane, now in P7 at Wallacewell Primary.

"I read Lettuce the Dancing Rabbit. I was so nervous."

But in an interesting educational reversal, the older children learned from the young ones. Ms Fleming says: "The nursery kids were comfortable with the webcams, whereas the older ones were a bit hesitant. Watching the wee ones happily using the technology made the older children more confident too."

The fearlessness of the young ones also gave nursery staff the impetus to tackle unfamiliar technology: "We trained the staff to use the webcams," says Ms Fleming.

"What we found - even with those who were uncomfortable with computers - was that if we demonstrated a specific task, and they could see benefits to the kids' education, they became much more enthusiastic."

With the children the pedagogy could be freer, more relaxed, says Ms Small.

"They were allowed to open up the webcam program and record themselves talking in an unrehearsed way. It's a great way for them to learn."

Inevitably there will be knock-on effects as ICT-literate infants appear in schools, says Ms Fleming: "These nursery kids have access to technology not usually available in primary school.

"In Glasgow we are now making videos of wee ones using technology which will help to train and motivate primary and even secondary teachers."

This is not some futuristic idea. The success of the webcams project has led to a proposal to introduce nursery children around Glasgow to the pleasures and educational benefits of webcams for digital conferencing.

"We will then have 3- and 4-year-olds confidently doing things some adults cannot begin to understand," says Ms Fleming.

SETT Virtual Buddies by Joan Fleming of Glasgow City Council, Wednesday, 3pm Also of interest: Engage Me or Enrage Me: Educating Todays Digital Native Learners by Marc Prensky of Games2train, Wednesday, 2pm ICT in the Early Years by Dr John Hall of SCRE, Thursday, 10.30am

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