PLAYTrack Bootcamp

"What´s going on in there?" - Means and challenges of doing research with and about kids

2018.02.07 | Anne-Mette Pedersen

Date Tue 24 Apr
Time 09:00 17:00
Location IMC Meeting Room, Jens Chr Skous Vej 4, Building 1483-312, 8000 Aarhus C
Registration has closed

This bootcamp is organised with means and interests of the IMC project PLAYTrack, funded by the LEGO foundation and dedicated to developing, using and disseminating methods to study Play and Playfulness. 

As if it would not be hard enough to investigate these topics in adults, they by definition bear a special interest in children - with kids being the actual experts in Play and Playfulness. The event is therefore the first in a planned series dedicated to expose the challenges as well as some tested solutions of studying this specific participant group (with a focus on primary school age). 

In accordance with the IMC´s strong focus on interdisciplinarity and mixed methods it will bring together four researchers of very different background to present their very own work and engage in most interesting discussions about how a science of play in general might best take place. 

Speakers are:

  • Sarah Beck, School of psychology at University of Birmingham. Sarah examines children’s and adults’ thinking about time and knowledge. She is interested in how children become able to speculate about events in the past and future and how they handle uncertainty, and how adults’ apparently sophisticated thinking in these areas is often irrational. 
  • Kate Cowan, UCL Knowledge Lab.  Her research covers areas including early childhood education, play, digital technologies and Reggio Emilia. Kate’s doctoral research was part of the MODE project which developed multimodal methodologies for researching digital data, including the ethics of video-based research with young children. Before joining UCL IOE, Kate worked as a nursery teacher and she remains committed to connecting research and practice. In addition to academic publication in books and papers, Kate has written for early years teachers, students and the general public.
  • Katherine McAucliffe, Department of Psychology at Boston College. Katherine is studying the development and evolution of cooperation in humans, with a special focus on how children acquire and enforce fairness norms by means of lab experiments mostly. Katherine has vast experience with how to translate experimental designs created for adults to studying kids and what challenges might still occur in the process.
  • Azzurra Ruggeri, Max Planck Research Group iSearch. Azzurra is interested in how children and adults actively search for information when making decisions, drawing causal inferences and solving categorization tasks. She has closely worked with children documenting how they adapt questions to achieve efficient search!  


Abstracts (printable version)

Ecological learning: How children adapt their active learning strategies to achieve efficiency

Azzurra Ruggeri, Max Planck Research Group iSearch

How do young children learn so much about the world so efficiently? This talk presents the results of recent studies investigating theoretically and empirically how children actively seek information in their physical and social environments as evidence to test and dynamically revise their hypotheses and theories over time. In particular, it will focus on how children adapt their active learning strategies, such as question-asking and explorative behavior, in response to the task characteristics, to the statistical structure of the hypothesis space, and to the feedback received. Such adaptiveness and flexibility is crucial to learn in situations of uncertainty, when testing alternative hypotheses, making decisions, drawing causal inferences and solving categorisation tasks.


Studying children’s imagination and problem solving experimentally

Sarah Beck, School of psychology at University of Birmingham

Children appear to be imaginative and creative in their everyday lives, perhaps more so than adults. However, experimental studies requiring children to direct this imagination towards the real world, for example to solve physical puzzles, can reveal difficulties. 

I will present a series of experimental studies in which (relatively) large numbers of children are tested on short, simple puzzles. An important aspect of these tasks is that they make low verbal or reflective demands and I will discuss the interplay between researchers designing studies for human children and non-human animals.

These studies advance our understanding of the cognitive processes involved in innovation. I will also include new studies that emphasise the importance of the social context for children’s performance. Overall, I will argue that experiments are an important tool for understanding children’s minds and that sometimes the results should lead us to change our interpretations of everyday behaviour. However, it is essential that experiments are informed by understanding of children’s real life experiences.


Multimodal Methodologies for Researching Young Children’s Play

Kate Cowan is a Research Associate at UCL Institute of Education.

Children’s playful learning is often expressed in subtle ways, through silent actions and interactions as well as through language. In order to explore the complexity of play, apt theories and research methods are necessary for attending to the many ways children make meaning. A multimodal perspective recognises that play involves multiple modes such as movement, gesture, facial expression and use of objects in addition to language, yet such an approach presents challenges for researchers. A particular issue is developing forms of transcription that account for multiple modes in fine-grained detail, with the conventions developed for transcribing language proving insufficient.

This presentation will share insights from an ethnographic case study carried out in a nursery school in England using video-based observations of child-initiated play. It will present a multimodal perspective in which multimodal transcription acts as an analytic device to bring ‘invisible’ aspects of play to the fore, highlighting ways in which children’s play is complex, layered, transformative, creative and agentive. In this way, multimodal methods are positioned as tools for recognising and valuing meaning-making which may typically be overlooked in research methodology, educational theory and practice.


Measuring cooperative decision-making in children

Katherine McAucliffe, Department of Psychology at Boston College.

My work focuses on the development of cooperative problem solving, with a focus on how children learn rules governing fairness in their respective societies and how they begin to comply with and even enforce fairness rules in their early years. Many of the studies I have designed focus on the contexts in which children are willing to sacrifice personal rewards to achieve fair outcomes. To do this, my studies often involve adapting existing economic games from the adult literature for use with children. In my presentation, I will review some of the designs that have (and have not) proven to be successful in assessing children’s cooperative behavior. In reviewing these designs and the decision-making behind them, I will focus on four main methodological challenges: (1) how to make tasks engaging and appropriate for children across cultures and across ages; (2) how to ensure that children understand different economic games; (3) how to create multiplayer games and (4) how to reconcile the tradeoff between experimental control and social validity when working with children.




The bootcamps, as started in 2016, continue as events directed to an interdisciplinary (and not exclusively academic) public willing to invest a full day (9 am – 5 pm) to acquire fundamental knowledge about the respective topic. The talks therefore are planned to start on a basic level, though quickly leading up to state of the art research of the speakers. A shared panel discussion at the end is thought to allow comparisons and combinations of the different approaches. Participation is limited to 40 participants max. and registration is acquired (SEE LINK ABOVE). Please note that we would like participants to join for the FULL day (not only for single talks) to allow the progress described. Lunch and coffee is provided by the IMC.  

Contact: Assistant Professor Katrin Heimann