The internet of toys: A posthuman and multimodal analysis of connected play

Marsh, Jackie
Teachers College Record

Background: The study that is reported in this paper focuses on an
exploration of the role and nature of play in young children’s use of toys that
connect physical and digital domains.

Purpose: The purpose of the paper is to explore the nature of the
connections that are made in play that transverses physical and virtual
domains. The paper draws on post-human theory in order to explain some of
the complexity of the play that occurs in these contexts.

Research Design: The research took place in the UK and the overall study
consisted of four distinct stages: (i) A survey of 2000 parents of children aged
0-5, focusing on children’s access to and use of tablet apps; (ii) Case studies
of pre-school children’s use of apps in six families (iii) Observations of
children aged 3-5 in a school using apps (iv) Content and multimodal analysis
of apps. The focus of this paper is on (ii), although some of the survey data
from the first stage of the study are also shared in order to provide context.

Data Collection and Analysis: The focus for this paper is the play of a threeyear
old girl, Amy. In addition to ethnographic data constructed over a 2-
month period (field notes, interviews, photographs and films), Amy’s mother
collected data between the researchers’ visit by making films of her
daughter’s use of apps. Amy also collected data herself by wearing a GoPro
Chestcam. The data that informs the analysis in this paper is a film created by
Amy (11.05 minutes) and a video filmed by Amy’s mother (5.21 minutes).
Data were both inductively analyzed using multimodal (inter)action analysis
and deductively analysed, utilizing a posthumanist approach.

Findings: Amy’s play connected digital and non-digital components in
complex ways. An app and related physical object that typify the Internet of
Toys provided opportunities for Amy’s play to take place across physical and
digital domains, and the inorganic objects embedded in the electronic toy and
related app were an important element of this play, shaping Amy’s responses
at times. However, Amy’s play was not always determined by the design of
the electronic objects and she demonstrated agency within play episodes.
There were multiple connections made across a variety of domains/
dimensions, which added to the complexity of the play.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Young children’s play increasingly
connects digital and non-digital domains and post-humanist theories can
enhance understanding of how connections across these time/spaces are