The Institute of Education has joined a commercial and academic consortium in a Pounds 3.4 million European-funded project to develop a virtual playground for young children.
IOE researchers are visiting schools to set trial challenges, tasks and problems to groups of children of mixed abilities, aged from four to eight. Their research will be used to further the Government's objectives for information and communication technology in schools.
The Playground project will not only concentrate on computer technology but also give children the chance to interact with other children in schools elsewhere on a network of computers, designing their own educational games.
"We have to think hard now about whether we will be happy for children to grow up merely as consumers of technology, or whether we try to equip them with ways of controlling and understanding that technology," said Richard Noss of the mathematical sciences group at the IOE in London.
The project will use two packages donated by the education software company Logotron. ToonTalk (www.toontalk.com), written by former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Ken Kahn, is an animated programming environment influenced by games such as Lemmings and Zelda.
Later in the year the project will use SuperLogo, a program that gives children a set of open, extensible and easy-to-use tools for modelling, communicating ideas and enabling collaborative work.
"We need to combine the best ideas from software design and educational theory," Professor Noss said.
"Our aim is simple: to build the most advanced system we can that takes advantage of kids' engagement with computers and computer games but harness it for learning."