Moray House School of Education

Academic staff

Photo of Professor Lydia Plowman

Professor Lydia Plowman

Chair in Education and Technology & Dean of Research, College of Humanities and Social Science

Education, Community and Society (ECS)


Tel: +44 (0)131 651 6247

Location: St John's Land (Rm 4.01)


My research interests are accounted for by my early career teaching in secondary schools, combined with a very enjoyable time working as a postdoc in the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences at the University of Sussex. This was followed by a period as Research Programme Manager at the Scottish Council for Research in Education, then as Professor in the School of Education, University of Stirling and now at the University of Edinburgh where I am Dean of Research in the College of Humanities and Social Science. I am a member of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Strategic Advisory Network, an invited member of panels for the Norwegian Research Council (2013-15), and was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2013. I was a member of the advisory group for the Technology-Enhanced Learning programme funded by ESRC and EPSRC (£12 million from 2008 to 2012) and was Vice-Chair of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Grant Assessment Panel B until July 2015.

Principal interests

This adds up to more than twenty years’ experience of conducting research with children and technologies and finding out about their play and learning. My PhD on designing for group use of interactive media, with a particular emphasis on the role of narrative, was awarded in 1992 - and while the laserdisc technology that I was investigating has long been obsolete, many of the pedagogical and design issues remain the same.

My research interests are mainly in digital media and children’s play and learning in a range of formal and informal settings, but over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested in the ways in which technology is used for leisure, work and educational purposes in the home, with a focus on young children and how technology is integrated into family life. In pursuit of these interests, I draw on anthropology, learning sciences and cultural psychology for theoretical and methodological insights applicable to the study of technology embedded in detailed analysis of its social, cultural and educational contexts of use - along with a concern for interaction design and user experience. The shift in the focus of my research from the compulsory years of schooling, formal learning environments and workplaces to the home and preschool settings has inevitably led to an interest in diverse domestic and leisure technologies, including tablets, dual screen technologies, mobile phones and ‘smart’ toys.

A list of publications can be found on the link at the foot of this page or in my profile on or Google Scholar. The link to the ORCID public record is here. There are downloadable versions of most of the papers on the site. For more information on related research in Moray House School of Education see our website on children and technology.

If you share some of my research interests and you are thinking about a PhD in the area of children, digital media, toys, play and learning, please take a look at the information on how to write a short research proposal and how to apply to study for a PhD in the Moray House School of Education available here.

Research supervision

Current and recent research

CURRENT AND RECENT RESEARCH, from January 2015: Exploring play and creativity with tablet computers, ESRC Knowledge Exchange Opportunities. The PI is Prof. Jackie Marsh, University of Sheffield, and findings were reported in the Guardian and BBC News in October 2015. A small-scale study with Ben Fletcher-Watson and Dr Andrew Manches is looking at the factors shaping infants' interactions with digital devices, focusing on how these interactions are mediated by caregivers.

During 2014 I investigated the Internet of Things in the context of children's play with toys at home and considered some of the emergent issues for the toy industry and the public in conjunction with Dr Andrew Manches and Dr Pauline Duncan.

With researchers in seven countries, I contributed to the European Commission's pilot study on young children (0-8) and digital technology during 2014.

PREVIOUS RESEARCH has investigated toys, technology and play in the everyday lives of young children at home and developed ways of involving children and other family members as active participants in research. As Principal Investigator for Young Children Learning with Toys and Technology at Home, an ESRC-funded project (2008-2011) which investigated how children perceive, acquire and develop their experiences with technology at home, I was able to build on findings from a cluster of projects on children's uses of technology in the early years. Some of the ways in which findings from this project can inform professionals from the children's media industries were highlighted at an ESRC Festival of Social Science event in November 2012 organised in conjunction with the Children's Media Conference. A 30-minute presentation (with Joanna McPake) from that event on some issues to think about when conducting research with young children can be found here.

Other projects with a focus on children’s play, learning and technology funded by the UK research councils include:

  • Entering the e-Society: Young children’s development of e-literacy (Co-I, ESRC, 2005-07) investigated the early development of digital literacies among preschool children aged three to five. The study focused on children’s home experiences, exploring the extent to which children’s developing digital literacies can usefully be compared with their developing print literacy and the opportunities for learning that families offer.
  • Interplay: Play, Learning and ICT in Preschool Education (PI, ESRC, 2003-05) was funded by the ESRC’s Teaching and Learning Research programme and identified ways of enhancing three- and four-year-old children’s experiences with ICT through guided interaction with practitioners, peers and parents, with the emphasis in preschool settings.
  • Educational Research and the Design of Interactive Media, a series of ESRC-funded research seminars in conjunction with Futurelab and sponsored by the Department for Education, Becta, Hewlett Packard and the Scottish Executive (2003-2004, PI) which explored the knowledge needs of designers and policy-makers and the ways in which educational research can inform their decision-making in the context of technologies for learning.
  • Developing research capacity in technology-enhanced learning (2006-07, PI) a small-scale study for the ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme to inform its programme on technology-enhanced learning.
  • Exploring and mapping interactivity with digital toy technology (2001-02, PI), a project funded by the ESRC/EPSRC.
  • Narrative construction and the comprehension of interactive multimedia, funded by ESRC/EPSRC (1996-99, co-applicant) on the role of narrative in the design of interactive media and its impact on the learner's construction of meaning.

Projects funded from other sources, include:

  • Digital Childhoods, a series of events funded by Scottish Universities Insight Institute (2011) with Joanna McPake and Christine Stephen.
  • Children's access to ICT at home and their preparation for primary school (funded by Becta – British Educational Communications & Technology Agency - with Joanna McPake and Christine Stephen) which focused on how economically disadvantaged preschool children and their families use technologies at home.
  • Three studies to develop an ICT strategy for the early years of education (Scottish Executive, 2002-03).
  • Evaluation of a local authority ICT network for schools (Scottish Executive, 2000-02, PI).
  • Evaluation of the Digital Broadcasting Competition (DfEE/Becta, 2000-01, PI).

CONSULTANCY activities include a review of research literature on children's uses of digital media for the Children's Media Foundation (March 2014). This is designed to provide some balanced information on six of the big questions that parents often ask - such as 'will spending too much time in front of a screen affect my child's social skills?' During 2013 I evaluated the learning content of some of the games on the CBeebies website, provided consultancy for Punchcut on digital media in the family context and analysed children's interactions with second screen technologies for SyncScreen. I evaluated some interactive educational toys for Which? magazine in 2012.

Thoughts on how to support a young child's early interactions with digital media, 'Are tablets good for children?', were published in December 2014 on the BBC iWonder website as a supplement to developing guided interaction points for some of the CBeebies games in conjunction with Juliet Hancock. In 2013, a CBeebies grown-ups blog was written as part of the BBC's 'first time online' initiative whiich provides a range of interactive games for two- and three-year-old children. A BBC Radio 4 programme on 'digital kids' (September 2012) to which I contributed can be downloaded here.