International researcher part of FILIORUM

RESEARCH CHAT: "I am so excited that the University of Stavanger got the funding for FILIORUM. It gives us an opportunity to do new and innovative research in early childhood education and care," Professor Natalia Kucirkova says.

Natalia Kucirkova

Natalia Kucirkova is the new professor at the Centre for Learning Environment. She leads the work package “Play” in FILIORUM.

"Many strong researchers within early childhood education and care (ECEC) are linked to the centre, so I am really looking forward to the work ahead.  I can already see that my interest in young children’s contemporary reading experiences can be combined with research that has already been carried out and research that is ongoing," she says.

Natalia was born in Slovakia, but have lived in many countries, most recently in the UK. After only four months in Norway, she speaks Norwegian impressively well.

"I am attending an intensive language course in Norwegian, which has been very helpful. Everyone has been so good and patient when practicing with me," Natalia says.

Inspired by Scandinavian research

The research Natalia has done is based on the British way of understanding research. However, she has always been very inspired by the Scandinavian way of doing ECEC research.

"What attracted me to Stavanger is the Scandinavian understanding of early childhood education research, which is quite different from the Anglo-American understanding. I appreciate the difference in approaches, as it is always useful to see things from various viewpoints."

Natalia knew the University of Stavanger quite well before starting in January, as she has been one of the international advisory group members for the VEBB project at the Reading Centre.

"This project was my initial contact with the university, and I very much enjoyed the Scandinavian researchers’ scientific approach. So, when the professor position at the Centre for Learning Environment came up I was very keen to apply."

Personalisation in early years

Natalia’s research covers innovative ways of supporting children’s book reading, digital literacy and exploring the role of personalisation in early years.

"I am interested in young children’s contemporary reading practices, which nowadays include the use of e-books and story apps. I am particularly interested in reading experiences that are personalised, where the child is positioned as the story maker, or where products are adapted to the child’s needs and preferences."

Currently, Natalia carries out research on personalised books, both digital and print.

"A personalised book can be just like a traditional print book, or it can be a very exciting interactive personalised book. I do not buy into the dichotomy of comparing digital versus print books. To me it is about comparing what is more and what is less personally meaningful for the child. Children follow the story rather than the format. If you ask them; what did you read? What was it about? They do not answer I read it on an iPad, but instead talk about their own worlds and what they are interested in, whether it is princesses, dinosaurs or superheroes," she explains with a smile.

Digital technologies supporting children’s book reading

There is evidence of both positive and negative effects regarding the use of digital technologies and young children. Natalia briefly explains her view.

"I am aware of the negative effects. I am trying to optimise the design of digital technologies to support children’s book reading in a good way. Digital technologies are here to stay. Therefore, it is rather a question of how we can empower young children to use them wisely. We need to educate children from a young age so that they understand that there are different choices. Parents, teachers, librarians and others also need to be educated and informed about both the positive and negative effects of digital technologies to support children’s reading."

Why public engagement and science communication matter

Natalia engages with the press and the wider public, writes blog posts and is active on Twitter. In the UK, she was part of a project called the Digitally Agile Researcher, which resulted in a book. The book is a practical guide presenting the opportunities and challenges for researchers in the digital landscape. As explained on the website:

“The digitally savvy researcher connects, builds and sustains varied and global audiences interested in their research. They are likely to blog, tweet, geotag and produce multimedia content. In brief, the digitally savvy researcher uses new technologies to create and extend impact with their work.”

"I want to encourage members of the work package “Play” and other members of FILIORUM to carry out more public engagement and science communication. Public engagement is about involving diverse members of the public in shaping the research agenda. We have to make sure that the research we have is shared more widely outside of academia," Natalia explains, and continues:

"One aspect is that it is very important that researchers know how to engage with the media if a journalist calls them one day. Another aspect is for researchers to be active themselves in disseminating their research, by for instance, writing blog posts. This is a very different format than writing an academic article, but you learn to communicate your research in a language that is more understandable to diverse stakeholders. I am not suggesting that everyone becomes a blogger. If a new study is out, it can just as well be published as a Tweet or Facebook post. My point is that sharing your research with a wider audience can increase the impact of your work and make it more meaningful."

At Norsk barnehageforskningskonferanse’s pre-conference for PhD candidates Natalia and Professor Roberta Golinkoff from the University of Delaware will talk about public engagement.

"Roberta is such a big name in early childhood education, and a researcher I strongly admire. She will be talking about public engagement and I will be talking about the Digitally Agile Researcher project. The conference also offers a great opportunity for PhD candidates to do some real networking," she ends excitedly.

Text: Linda Berg Kjærås
First published: 07.05.2019