IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Using technology to measure children’s social life and engagement in primary school

This research will make use of innovative wearable digital and sensor technologies to study children’s informal social activities with peers in school.

This research project proposes the combination of exciting and innovative wearable digital and sensor technologies.

These are used along traditional methods of data collection to examine the connections between playground social activity, classroom engagement and well-being in primary school children. 

Project duration: Jan 2021 - Sept 2021


Peer relations

There is growing international evidence that children are socialising less with peers outside school and within school. However, informal relationships with peers play a central role in children’s engagement, learning, and their feelings about school.

Children who are accepted by their peers, who have positive friendships and are involved in groups with well-adjusted peers, are more positively disposed to engagement and learning in class and attending school. 

Conversely those who are rejected, victimised and with conflictual relationships, are increasingly likely to be disaffected, less engaged with and disruptive of classroom activities, also negatively affecting their learning.

Understanding the connections

We know relatively little about the day-to-day processes that explain these connections and the possible explanatory mechanisms are under-theorised and under-studied.

It is important to understand these connections because they can make a big difference to school staff trying to enhance children’s engagement, learning and wellbeing in school. 

Playground and classroom

A main site in school for peer interactions is the school playground and there are important ways in which the playground and classroom contexts may be connected. Positive (or negative) experiences in one setting may have important implications for the other.

This research aims to examine these connections between the day-to-day processes in these two settings. 

Digital technology for data collection

Capturing sufficient quantity of nuanced data in these settings usually involves many researcher hours and complex observational designs.

Recent advances in digital technology provide exciting opportunities for an efficient collection of detailed data on children’s physical and social activities. 

This research will establish their usability with children and the validity of resulting measures whilst developing a methodology for future work.

This will provide the basis for innovative studies that have the potential to clarify the complex interconnections between momentary activity and more enduring outcomes, both within and between class and play settings. 


The project aims to:  

  • Examine the extent and ways in which children’s social relations, interactions and activities in the playground relate to their classroom engagement, learning and well-being 
  • Develop and test the feasibility of using digital and sensor technologies to collect data on children’s peer interactions, activity in the playground and experiences in the classroom. 
  • Test the validity of measures derived from digital and sensor technologies relative to measures collected using systematic observational methods. 

The research will consist of two case studies of two classes of Year 5 pupils in two primary schools with distinct playgrounds. 

The momentary measures will provide complex multi-level data sets, amenable to multi-level and time-based analytical approaches (e.g., lag sequential analysis).

Data collection 

Methods include:

  • sensor technology to record interactions between peers in the playground 
  • systematic observation of the same children in the playground and classroom (e.g. in terms of the nature of children’s engagement, behaviour and activity), and 
  • peer relations measures (e.g. sociometric measures of friendship, acceptance, victimisation, conflict etc). 

Sensor technology

In the classroom, a smart watch with experience sampling software will capture pupils’ thoughts, emotions and reflections on the activity they are working on which will then be used to generate measures of cognitive and emotional engagement. 

Systematic observation

General measures of children’s peer relations, wellbeing, teacher assessed attainment, and other background characteristics will be collected at the start of data collection in school and momentary measures on each child over a number of days in school. 


These will provide pupils’ perspectives on their social experiences on the playground and classroom engagement. 


Principal Investigator