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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/P025544/2
Title: Playing Out with IoT
Principal Investigator: Lawson, Professor SW
Other Investigators:
Luckin, Professor R Durrant, Professor AC Vines, Professor J
Cukurova, Professor M Carr, Dr AL
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Fac of Engineering and Environment
Organisation: Northumbria, University of
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 28 November 2017 Ends: 31 December 2020 Value (£): 659,953
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Computer Graphics & Visual. Human-Computer Interactions
Information & Knowledge Mgmt Networks & Distributed Systems
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies Education
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
28 Feb 2017 DECCC Full Proposals Meeting Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Fewer and fewer children now play outside. This reduction in outdoor active play - or 'playing-out' - has led to a whole range of concerns around health, wellbeing and development as well as continued international calls-to-action to address the issue. Factors behind reductions in playing-out include an increased reluctance of parents to allow children to be unsupervised outside due to concerns about the safety of their neighbourhoods, and in particular, increasing traffic and 'strangers'. As fewer children play outside, neighbourhoods, towns and cities are becoming 'play deserts', places where there are neither formal nor informal opportunities for outdoor play, and where play is simply not welcome anymore. While children play outside less and less, children play online more and more. The under 9s use the internet to search for information, to socialize and to play games. But, while the under 9s are readily understood to consume increasing amounts of content online, they continue to have little opportunity to create and share their own digital content about their lives. This is made worse by an extensive focus on video media for sharing experiences using social media platforms such as YouTube and Vine, where parents and society share many concerns around children's internet safety, and where formal services such as YouTube Kids emphasizes the child as a content consumer, rather than producer.

We respond to these real-world interrelated problems by investigating the opportunity for Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to enable children to transform their neighbourhoods into digitally enhanced playgrounds and adventures. IoT refers to the idea that objects within our environments can be continually connected with the environment and the internet to offer new kinds of services. We think about IoTs as an entirely new mode of digital content that children (or anyone) can create and share. We imagine, for example, how IoT technologies can scaffold a child's play - e.g. a child can create an IoT to augment bricks in a wall to provide temporal targets for her football practice - as well as provide alternative modes to document and share play - e.g. a child can share media of her football practice, and her play's meta-data can be used to program another child's IoT to test and compare their own skills. We propose that by creating new opportunities for play which draw on children's interests and use in digital and social technologies that we can motivate children to play out more. In order to facilitate these kinds of interactions we need to understand and test the kind of support children would need to set-up their own IoTs for playing out, as well as how children would negotiate and create stories around this content which they could safely share. We think making use of the data sensed and collected about a child's play with IoTs could be an interesting way to both record the experience of a child's play while preserving a child's anonymity, and help them share that play with others to try out.

This project will pursue an action orientated 'in the wild' program of research, working directly with the Cedarwood Trust in Meadow Well, BeChange in Aylesham, Playing Out CIC in Bristol and SAMLabs. Together we will co-design and develop technologies which support the under 9s in creating digitally-augmented outside play. We will use participatory design methods to achieve this, working closely with under 9s in both communities to design the tools and the kinds of play they facilitate. We are keen to know whether our 'Playing Out' IoT changes children's play behaviours, changes a child's relationship with their neighbourhood, impacts on the play opportunities in a community, or improves parent-child interactions. To help us understand the impact of our technology we will undertake observations, interviews and questionnaire surveys in both locations. We will also undertake a content analysis of the kinds of play created.
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