Children, Media, and Pandemic Parenting: Family Life in Uncertain Times

I am very pleased to have contributed, even if only by way of a forward, to this new book, available here. Edited by Rebekah Willett and Xinyu Zhao, the book examines changes in families’ rules and routines connected with media during the pandemic and shifts in parents’ understanding of children’s media use.

Drawing on interviews with 130 parents at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the book explores specific cultural contexts across seven countries: Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, South Korea, United Kingdom, and United States. Readers will gain an understanding of family media practices during the pandemic and how they were influenced by contextual factors such as the pandemic restrictions, family relationships and situations, socioeconomic statuses, cultural norms and values, and sociotechnical visions, among others. Further, encounter with theoretical framings will provide innovative ways to understand what it means for children, parents, and families to live in the digital age.

Database as method: Exposing ‘data’ about educational technology through a design intervention

As part of my work at the Centre for the Digital Child I have been working with colleagues on the political economy of Edtech. Here is one preliminary article exploring some of these themes.

Ubiquitous datafication of children and families in educational and everyday settings is both a result of and catalyst for power asymmetries between digital platforms and their users. These platforms seek to know their users by extracting and analysing various streams of personal information, often discreetly. However, the users are rarely equipped to do the same to the platforms as information about these platforms is often obscured, convoluted, or simply unavailable. This article explores the possibilities of reversing such power imbalance via the design intervention of an Australia-focused educational technology (EdTech) database developed by the authors of this article. Employing a design intervention method, the database is a collection of publicly available information about EdTech companies and products that target young children and their parents or educators in Australia. This alternate commentary article presents and discusses the ongoing processes of developing the database to reflect on what it says about the power relations between EdTech providers and their users. It demonstrates how the database works as a pedagogical space where people learn how to critically unpack and think about contemporary EdTech platforms. The database is positioned as a point of convergence for different actors involved in children’s digital learning to collectively understand what needs to be done to enact and protect children’s digital rights in education.

Who else is reimagining learning in digital worlds besides big tech?

I gave this talk recently at a seminar held at the University of Utrecht called Platforms and Pedagogies: Digital technologies and new perspectives for Youth & Education which concluded the Learning in digital Worlds project held jointly between Deakin and Utrecht. A PDF of my slides can be found here. I tried to offer way of not being subsumed by a “platform gaze” arguing that we need to think of platforms as a larger process owned jointly by a range of actors and institutions which constitute the under-the-surface work of a platform, and that future research needs explore the work of these various sectors and organisations as part of any agenda examining platforms in education.

I also visited colleagues at the University of Groningen offering a PhD masterclass on platform pedagogies and a talk reprising The Class asking whether it still asks the right questions in a post Covid platformed vision of society.

Digital Futures for Children

I am on the advisory board for the joint research centre at the LSE and 5Rights Foundation, Digital Futures for Children. This launches today (21 Nov 2023) with 4 key aims, to:

  • Conduct critical and practical research: We conduct high-quality research on current and emerging areas relevant to children’s rights in the digital environment. This includes research on topics such as online safety, digital literacy, and the impact of emerging technologies on children and young people.
  • Provide an evidence base for advocacy: We produce research outputs that contribute to a robust evidence base for advocacy on children’s rights in digital contexts. This will include longer-form research reviews, rapid response research briefs, and other materials that will provide key insights and recommendations to policymakers and other stakeholders.
  • Facilitate dialogue between academics and policymakers: We facilitate a bridge between academic research and policymaking, facilitating dialogue and exchange of ideas between scholars and policymakers to ensure that children’s rights are central in decision-making processes relating to digital provision and policy.
  • Amplify children’s voices: We ensure that children and young people have a meaningful voice in our research, and that their views and experiences are taken into account in the development of policy and practice. We will seek to capture the perspectives of diverse groups of children and young people, including those who are often marginalized or underrepresented.

Manifesto for a better children’s internet

I have been involved with project that imagined the digital products, services, and content that children experience online as ‘the Children’s Internet’. Our Manifesto, available here analysed the numerous things we can do to create a better Children’s Internet for the future.

As a society, we will benefit from an ongoing public conversation about how to create better children’s internet experiences. After all, a better Children’s Internet makes a better Internet for all, prompting us to consider what it really means to have fun, productive, safe, diverse and ethical internet experiences.

New PhDs -Young people’s learning in digital worlds: the alienation and reimagining of education.

I had the pleasure of co-supervising two PhDs from a collaboration between Utrecht University in the Netherlands and Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. The aim of this project is to explore how learning is shaped through digital media, both in and beyond the classroom. Previous research has explored the potential of digital media for learning, but how digital media have changed the way we understand learning is rarely discussed. Examples of questions both projects investigated are: “How do young people learn in digital communities?”, “How does the structure of digital platforms shape learning processes?” and “How does the use of video games in the classroom changes perceptions of both learning and playing?”

Both candidates successfully recently defended their theses.

At Deakin, Chris Zomer’s thesis,  Laugh, Focus, and Perform! A Critical Ethnography of Gamified Engagement investigated the role of gamification in reshaping understandings and performances of student engagement in a private girls’ school in Melbourne’s inner east. Gamification’s proponents claim it creates engagement through game elements such as points, rewards, and a leaderboard. However, engagement is a problematic term and historical notions of student engagement are not necessarily congruent with perceptions of engagement in user-interface designs and games on which gamification is based. The aim of this research is to analyse how these ‘technoeconomic’ and ‘gameful’ discourses inform representations, performances, and perceptions of engagement.

At Utrecht, Zowi Vermeire thesis Youth’s desire to learn: The pedagogies of platformised learning communities investigated alternative forms of learning that youth create on social media platforms as these question accepted ideas about what constitutes “good” learning She undertook an ethnography of six learning communities on YouTube, Twitch and TikTok acquiring an understanding of how youth shape their own learning online and in doing so how they resist and appropriate pedagogical opportunities and limitations that formal education, social media platforms, and online learning optical communities offer them. The aim of the study is to explain how youth shape their learning online in order to offer inspiration to educators and policymakers to move beyond dystopian perspectives on youth and social media towards reimaginations of educational practices.

A blog from both candidates about their work can be found here.

Youthsites :Histories of Creativity, Care, and Learning in the City

This co-authored book has just been published. It is open access and is available here.

The book is an original study of the youth organizations in London, Toronto, and Vancouver that offer creative and arts learning mainly to youth from diverse and socially marginalized backgrounds. It describes a sector that is often not recognized as such, organizations that don’t like being institutionalized, forms of education that exist outside the mainstream, and types of aesthetic expression that often go unrecognized.

Rooted in the history of community arts movements Youthsites are now part of cities around the world.Technological change, shifts in educational and policy discourses and a decline in funding of formal public schooling have all impacted the growth of youth arts organizations.

Yet, there are to date no systematic studies of the history, structure, and development of this “sector”. We wanted to fill this gap and the book is the first study to develop an internationally comparative, evidence-based, analysis of the organizations, and people who are helping young people to become creators, citizens, or just themselves in times of austerity, crisis, and change.

Digital Childhoods seminar – a conversation with Edtech

The second in a series of public seminars brought together experts in children’s education technology industry experts, and academics to discuss ‘Australian EdTech for Better Digital Childhoods’. The seminar is part of a series focused on digital childhoods, jointly organised by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and can be found here.

A Research Agenda to Examine the Political Economy of Digital Childhood

As part of my work for the ARC centre of excellence researching digital childhood I chair the editorial board for our working papers.

I have also co-authored a review investigating how the historical concept of a political economy of childhood might be usefully applied to children growing up in the digital age in order to establish an new research agenda. The review first defines what a political economy of digital childhood has meant historically in order to map working definitions. It then characterises research into the differing political economies of:

  • communications and the media
  • children and consumerism,
  • digital consumption,
  • and the family and education to see how such traditions might be either brought together or kept apart.

It argues that the research arena of digital childhood sits at a confluence of these academic research traditions bringing together studies of the political economy of the media and of childhood. The paper then reviews contemporary research into the political economy of digital childhood and concludes by offering areas for further research and enquiry structured around the key themes of: markets; institutions and platforms; and value.

Is there a ‘theory of learning’ for cultural studies and is it (still) relevant in an era of surveillance capitalism?

This article questions how cultural studies has been constructed as an educational project to examine if it might offer principles for learning about living in digital culture now. It first considers how the subject of Cultural Studies developed in relationship to education and then revisits empirical studies of cultural studies in schools. The essay engages with perspectives on evaluating the effects of these approaches and situates debates about learning with reference to theories of resistance and the field of reception studies. The final section of the article explores what cultural studies could and should be doing nowadays amidst considerable concern about the politics of digital culture. It challenges whether some of the underlying educational principles which animated its origins have any value in contemporary concerns with forms of surveillance capitalism.