Learningful play: Exploring the design of technology, learning and play to enhance children’s engagement with cultural heritage in schools and museums
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This research explores the design, development and evaluation of a Technology-enhanced Cultural Heritage Education (TECHe) learning model to enhance children’s engagement with their local heritage and place. Following an exploratory pilot study playful learning emerged as a way forward for engaging children with their local heritage. Drawing on the theoretical work of Mitch Resnick (2006), ‘learningful play’ which is a combination of play, technology and learning, was adopted as a learning approach. The potential of learningful play for heritage education is that it fosters deep learning and engagement with subject matter. Using a design-based research (DBR) methodology, this research set out to explore if learningful play could enhance children’s engagement with heritage and place. DBR is a flexible, iterative, interventionist approach for designing practical solutions to complex educational problems and is carried out in natural educational settings. Thus, it was deemed to be a suitable approach for bridging formal and informal learning environments. A multi-ontological theoretical framework guided the design. Theories included constructivism, constructionism, place-based learning, flow and playful learning. Through three design cycles, the research explored the development of learningful play using an experiential learning approach that included a physical field trip/museum tour and a digital storytelling (DST) workshop for children. 131 young people (97 in schools and 34 in museums) participated in the study. These seven interventions were undertaken in four Irish primary schools, two in a local museum and one in an American museum. The design process employed a range of methodological tools, including questionnaires, surveys, daily reflections, reflection journals, ethnographic observations, focus groups, video and audio recordings. The data collected was informed by the TECHe framework and the extant research literature and was carefully analysed. The TECHe prototype design model which emerged from the first six interventions and two design cycles detail five criteria, twelve design sensitivities and eight supporting design informants for implementing learningful heritage play in a museum or school setting. A central aim of DBR is to share design models with other educators and researchers to inform educational practice. A significant contribution of this research is the adaptation of the TECHe design model to an American setting. In the final seventh intervention the TECHe model was adapted to a new localised museum context resulting in a new model Sense of Place. Both models offer the potential for integration into heritage and place learning programmes in schools and museums. Future research is positioned in the context of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Education is changing. Schools and museums are faced with rolling closures and are dealing with new digital directions. Both prototype models from this research can be adapted to hybrid (physical and digital) learning resources for educators in schools and museums.
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