transmedia literacy conference – growing research evidence on the good stuff

The Transmedia Literacy International Conference in Barcelona held between 22-24 March 2018, highlighted the rich and diverse skills youth (can) acquire, experience and practise when they engage with digital media. During the afternoon workshop sessions researchers from Latin America, Europe and Australia demonstrated evidence of the various opportunities and benefits young people gain when they engage with digital media. This post sums both some of the evidence and the pending issues remaining unresolved that were also brought forward during the three-day event.

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growing research evidence on the skills & literacies children (can) obtain from their informal engagements with digital media

Some examples include:

Video games: There is growing evidence that children learn a range of skills by playing video games. Yet, some parents are more likely to impose restrictive mediation towards video games or other content that they are not familiar with themselves. During the conference, Carla Sevillano Ballesteros, a graduate in applied games and thematic entertainment, demonstrated how, by playing games (don’t think the ‘shooting’ kind only) young people can learn and develop a range of important skills:

  • strategic thinking and planning
  • concentration
  • reflexes
  • resource management
  • decision-making – some games, as Ballesteros demonstrated, allow players to see another person’s point of view, thus encourage empathy
  • social abilities, cooperation and collaboration

Language, cultural, technical and social skills: Leticia Tian Zhang and Boris Vázquez-Calvo and Mariona Pascual demonstrated how fans can engage in passionate amateur translation and go beyond the technicality of a language.

Reading, critical thinking, marketing and social skills: the growing popularity of BookTubers – young people who review books on personal YouTube channels – has taken Hosé Miguel Tomasena to dig deeper into the motivations and skills from such engagements young people dedicate their time to.

Creativity, writing, story-telling, connecting: Italian teenagers have taken on Wattpad – an online community platform for reading and writing enthusiasts – to express their inner voices through creative story narratives.

Navigating their moral universe: Heather Horst, professor from University of Sydney, Australia, stressed how young people navigate through various moral universes – their homes, the digital infrastructure and the youth-generated digital worlds they enter. This pinpoints to the complex worlds of young people in which they learn about, experience and build their moral compasses.

work in progress

Reflecting upon the discussed research during the conference leads to at least three conjectures, as it were.

  1. Young people’s engagements with digital media happen within a multifaceted continuum.

These engagements involve experiences, experiments and exchanges of all kinds. Teens are not necessarily ‘digitally savvy’ and not necessarily ‘native’ to any of these experiences, experiments and exchanges. Nor teens are certainly unaware, even less so – ‘addicted’ or gullible – to the effects and the possible results from these same experiences, experiments and exchanges they engage in. Rather, young digital media users, in the most natural way, take on the oftentimes limited freedoms afforded by the digital domains to explore and learn, to construct their identities, to find meanings, to make meaningful connections with others, to nurture personal interests, to pursue inner motivations – all of which are oftentimes unrecognised, even discouraged by the ‘expert others’, often adults.

2. Young people’s digital media engagements are highly nuanced, trans-media and often changing.

Children don’t just play video games. They don’t just scroll down the Instagram thread. They don’t just watch YouTube videos. Things aren’t black and white as much as parents, educators and policy makers sometimes wish to simplify in order to make their own decision-making, if not easier, at least more straightforward and risk-free.

3. Research findings are like a cloud that doesn’t seem to reach everyone equally. Does the cloud have clout?

While the event allowed for fellow researchers and academics to exchange their own work, findings and further questions, it remains to be seen how this knowledge can reach parents, educators and policy makers in order to realign formal and informal learning in which they all play a role in educating children. For example, Huw Davis from Oxford Internet Institute presented his study in which one of the salient points was that there is “a great mismatch between formal and informal digital media experiences”. In this regard two key issues/questions were addressed but still without solutions.

media literacy education?

David Buckingham spoke about the need for formal as well as informal education; the need for a comprehensive and coherent approach to media literacy.

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Emeritus professor David Buckingham, University of Loughborough, UK, discussed the new challenges to media literacy, fake news, post truth and privacy

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Prof. Divina Frau-Meigs, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, France, proposed that media information literacy must be part of the core curriculum alongside with teacher training and collaboration with other stakeholders.

how do we encourage and sustain children’s creative explorations with digital media?

Prof. Sonia Livingstone of LSE raised the (second pending) question of how children’s creative explorations can be sustained, as well as acknowledged and encouraged? Children try out various things using digital media platforms, their interests often seem short-lived or only skin-deep. While Prof. Livingstone referred to one class of 13-14 year-olds, similar pattern of short-lived explorations was evident throughout my research where I had interviewed over 300 seven- to 11-year-old children in Malta.

On the one hand, children seem to self-navigate chasing their curiosities. They would try various platforms, applications, tools and ideas. Perhaps, they would try to edit pictures, run a blog, make music, videos, or create a Tumblr account. Such interests often seem to die soon after a few attempts. On the other hand, many of their interests – and potentials – also often go unacknowledged by parents, educators and other adults in their lives, which can further result in missed opportunities and actual benefits. I spoke about this and gave account in more detail here.

afterthoughts?

The research presented during the conference contributes immensely to literature. While more, or at least other, questions come as it often happens after research, it is exciting to see how the presented work has managed to paint a richer canvas of the activities, discoveries and engagements of children and young people from different parts of the world.

I leave Barcelona with two afterthoughts and with more passion to pursue my current efforts for primary media literacy education.

  • Stretch the cloud, spread the word: Research evidence must reach beyond the researchers and academics. Mainstream media must give equal place to the positive, not only the negative aspects of children and young people’s media engagements. The attitude of media and that of parents, educators, policy makers and other professionals in the lives of children and teens, should be with focus on the process(es) of these engagements, not on the outcome. Or at least give equal measure. Perhaps, there never will be one single outcome as much as a normal living human being would never cease to learn. And engagements with digital media  undoubtedly lead to various kinds of learning;
  • Media literacy education – a ‘core’ subject in primary schools: While this gets complicated and is a subject for another article, the thinking of media literacy education must begin and end with the ‘human’ and ‘social’ alongside ‘technology’. This should be the guideline whether children learn to read advertising messages or to code.

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