Safer by Design : A call for teaching practices that empower young people to become more connected, critical and compassionate digital participants

La résilience des jeunes à l'ére numérique

It has never been more important to consider how we are centring connection in our work in Education. In this keynote talk, I offer some insights on how we might centre connection, critique and compassion in the work we do, systemically in schools to support learners. Resilience is a complex and multifaceted process — and it requires risk. But how do we help kids respond effectively to the risks they meet online? What seems to support good outcomes are strategies that Sonia Livingstone and her colleagues have described as active mediation strategies: talking to kids about what is good and not good online; talking about motivations, and the ways that the Internet works, digital practices to critique; inviting kids to create representations of digital dilemmas; talking through problems and how to solve them. 

When kids have strategies, the harms of troubling things encountered online may be reduced.  In schools, we could be doing more of this. And, we could be questioning the just-say-no approaches that include acceptable use policies and surveillance, particularly when these are not sufficiently integrated in programs of support. It isn’t enough to tell kids what not to do. They need modelling, practice, discussion and opportunities to create digital products so that they come to understand the ways that digital systems work. 

Let’s centre connection, critique and compassion. I think kids will be safer and stronger as a result.

Transcript of talk here

Slides below. 

In a click: Podcast with Jamilee Baroud

I had the chance to meet up with Jamilee Baroud this week to record an episode for her new Podcast called In a Click. Jamilee is an up-and-coming superstar in the ed-tech/critical digital literacies research community and it has been such a privilege to work with her during her PhD program at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Education. Here’s our conversation — 40-ish minutes of us talking about technologies, research, teaching and learning, deep fakes, embodied cognition, VR, makerspaces…and my first ever research project that helped me to reflect deeply on the complexities of digital technologies, teaching and learning. It as a lot of fun to do this — and I feel really lucky to have been invited onto Jamilee’s show.

I hope you will join me in following Jamilee’s work at In a Click as she shines light online.

New Article: Digital literacies learning in contexts of development

In July of 2018, the International Development Research Centre of Canada invited me to conduct an external review of key findings in a set of 44 reports of research on digital learning. The reports, funded between 2016 and 2018 were incredibly diverse in their methods, questions, and findings. That report (currently in press with the IDRC) can be found here.

At the same time Dr. Hiller Spires of NC State University issued a call for papers for a special edition of Media and Communication called “Critical Perspectives on Digital Literacies: Creating a Path Forward”. My paper, entitled Digital literacies learning in contexts of development: A critical review of six IDRC-funded interventions 2016-2018 will appear in this special edition and should be published online by the end of May, 2019. Thanks to the open access policies of this journal, I can share a pre-print of the article here for anyone interested in reading the full text.

Beyond the Screentime Debate: NCTE Panel Presentation

With colleagues, I will be adding my perspectives on children and screentime to an important session at the NCTE Annual Convention in Houston, TX today.

From our proposal: “There are legitimate concerns about children’s physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being; yet conversations about screentime focus predominantly on the time spent on devices, often overlooking fundamentally important questions about what youth are learning by using technology. How do we navigate our own parenting lives when we are immersed in a field that values critical and creative use of devices, both in school and out, in order to build skills that are necessary for success in today’s world? What challenges do we as educators and parents face? How do we approach parenting in an age of screentime?

This session will bring together teachers and professors who are also parents to explore these questions and the notion of screentime itself. The opening keynote will situate the context by exploring the following questions. How is screentime portrayed in the media? Is all screentime created equal? What do we actually know from research? Then roundtable presenters will share challenges faced as parents.”

For my part, my Ignite-style talk (which, if you’ve never done one or seen one is 20 slides, timed to transition every 15 seconds) explores the challenges and opportunities that Virtual Playgrounds offer tweens going through tough transitions. Soon after we moved to Ottawa, my then 10-year old daughter started playing in a virtual world called Animal Jam. She loved it because her friends from school were playing, and as she told me in a conversation a couple of months ago, she felt successful there. At a time when everything was new, and she was always “the new girl” at school, she could be special in Animal Jam because she had “rare items” such as a coveted pair of butterfly wings. One afternoon, though, the wings were stolen by another player. Through her sobs, my daughter admitted she was tricked into giving out her account password by someone who had been her “friend” for some time in the game.

In the talk I offer five insights that align with and extend research on tweens’ virtual play in these kinds of virtual worlds. I also offer three big take-aways that could inform teaching and research.

Insights

  • For tweens, virtual playgrounds are about making and strengthening friendships.
  • Virtual worlds are an onramp to social media platforms and participation.
  • In virtual playgrounds tweens can feel more successful, powerful, liked, important and altruistic than they feel at school.
  • Getting scammed in a virtual playground can teach children important life lessons about trust.
  • Kids need grounded, lived experiences, not lectures about “not giving out their passwords”.  Kids don’t believe they’ll be scammed — but when they are scammed, they learn.

Implications for Teaching and Research

  • Creating safe opportunities for kids to experience online scams could be an effective approach to teaching online interactions, safety and citizenship. Role play online scams and then talk about it with students.
  • Open reflection over time with a loving adult, and without fear of judgment, seems important. My daughter was ashamed at first. She knew what she did. But reflection in the short and longer term has allowed her to articulate why she was tricked and learn from her mistake.
  • For tweens going through tough transitions, online games can be important social onramps. But parents and teachers need to help kids find other ways to connect with friends and community in real (rather than virtual) life too.

Online and Offline Resilience?

Going through a difficult move, and then experiencing an online deception left my daughter feeling vulnerable. However, situating stress in opportunities for connection and conversation may enable tweens to become more resilient both online and offline. As a parent, this is my hope. As a researcher, this question warrants future study.

The full transcript of my talk, with the interview that I conducted with my daughter, Zoë, can be found here.

I have published all of this with her permission, but I ask that if you use this talk, or the transcript of our conversation for any reason (research, professional development sessions etc.) that you do not use images of my daughter, or of her art, without permission from me.

Thanks to Kristen Hawley Turner, Troy Hicks, Tom Liam Lynch, Bill Bass, Lindy Johnson, Sara Kajder, Lauren King, William Kist, Ian O’Byrne, Kristy Pytash, Michelle Walker, Angela Wiseman, Carl Young and Andrea Zellner for their work for this panel and for their collaborations on this session.

References

Kafai, Y.B. & Fields, D.A. (2013). Connected play: Tweens in a virtual world. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.