Why is research about children and digital technologies relevant for educators?
Research is necessary to find answers to the many questions that arise when children and young people interact with new technologies: Does social media affect young people’s wellbeing? Do digital technologies support learning? Can screen time be detrimental for young children? Do girls possess higher digital skills than boys? Without good quality research, it would be impossible to provide objective and unbiased answers to these and many other questions about how and why children and young people engage with digital technologies and how this may impact their lives.
Research provides helpful evidence to update and improve teaching and learning content, but also teaching objectives. For instance, according to the results of the first survey conducted in Spring 2021 by the ySKILLS project, when it comes to digital skills, more adolescents possess high communication and interaction skills as compared to information navigation and processing skills. Based on findings such as these, schools could consider including lesson plans, and activities, or even adapting their learning objectives to support their students in acquiring higher levels of information navigation and processing skills, for instance, by including topics such as online mis- and disinformation.
Research is vital to learn which (new) sets of cognitive, social and emotional skills are required to foster aspects such as digital literacy or online resilience, but also to better grasp which styles of parenting, education, and even counselling or treatment are most successful to boost positive uses of online technologies while preventing potential harm.
You can use research to stay up to date on emerging trends on children and digital technologies and to identify areas where teacher training may be needed.
Research serves to improve teaching and learning practices. For instance, based on current research, decisions such as increasing collaborative or peer-to-peer learning activities at school can be informed. For instance, a literature review carried out by the ySKILLS project shows that children who co-use technology with their friends and communicate with friends about technology use have a higher chance of improving their digital skills.
Research provides evidence that can help schools make decisions about their extracurricular offer. If schools wish to provide additional support to pupils on areas such as STEAM, developing digital skills, online safety, etc. they can consult recent research or get in touch with researchers in their country to be better informed about the aspects where support may be most needed and, thus, make better-informed decisions.
Research is vital to inform strategic and policy decisions at school. For instance, if a Ministry of Education wants to propose curricular changes or if they want to push for more technology use at school, research can help schools decide what types of technologies or what pedagogical activities would be most effective to use.
"We have taught them for years how to log in, how to produce a PowerPoint presentation, but we have not taught them how to critically analyse the things that they see or how to manage their online persona, how to deal with (...) cyberbllying and these sorts of things. These have not crept into the curriculum in the way that I think they need to." Teacher, Belgium.
There are several advantages to incorporating research about children and digital technologies into teaching and learning practices, for instance to:
Help you in discovering solutions to specific (online) issues that may arise in your school or classroom or even outside school, but which could have repercussions at school. For instance, a cyberbullying incident involving children for the same school can be better dealt with if whole-school interventions based on research evidence are used at school.
When implementing change, such as curriculum, pedagogy, or assessment, research can help you to define adequate and up to date strategies and learning objectives.
Research helps you stay up-to-date and connects you to reliable information sources and evidence-based educational resources.
By identifying researchers and experts in your city or country, you can strengthen your school support networks and increase the opportunities to support school staff’s professional knowledge, competence, and understanding of issues related to children and online technologies.
Inside your school and more broadly within the profession, using research in education will help you and your colleagues develop your agency, impact, self-efficacy, and voice. It will also give you more confidence to integrate digital technologies in your everyday school activities and be better prepared to deal with unexpected challenges and potentially problematic situations. Ultimately, research will help you make better informed decisions that will positively impact your professional performance and will enhance your students’ learning experiences.
How to use research at school?
There are several ways in which educators can use research at school. Here are some ideas:
To be up to date on issues related to children and digital technologies, you can consult relevant local and international research through their project websites; you can also follow research projects, research groups or individual researchers through social media or sign-up for their newsletter where the latest research project developments and findings are regularly announced. More and more researchers share their key publications and results via Twitter, Facebook, etc., and bigger research projects usually have dedicated websites where they announce their latest news and publish results in less academic formats such as blogs, infographics, vlogs, etc.
After having identified a few key sources of research and information, such as the CO:RE knowledge base or the resources recommended in this toolkit, you can deepen your knowledge in the areas that you feel are most important for your professional development and for your students to be well prepared to use digital technologies in positive, empowering, and responsible ways.
When preparing classes and lesson plans on topics related to digital technologies, you can consult relevant research project websites or one-stop-shop platforms such as CO:RE, where you can find the latest research in the area of children and digital technologies.
When defining the teacher training offered at your school, research can help you decide which topics are important to include in your next pedagogical training. For instance, research shows that cyberbullying remains high in Europe and worldwide. However, many teachers and schools feel ill-prepared to prevent, detect and tackle cyberbullying at school. Findings such as these can help schools inform their teacher training offer accordingly.
"When I look at my colleagues, some of them are really still very afraid of using technologies in class." Teacher, Belgium.
Your students, class or school can participate in research projects or activities. This will help strengthen your school's relationship with research institutions and establish long-term cooperation that can be useful for your school. For instance, in the ySKILLS projects, some national teams have organised workshops with the schools participating in their research activities (e.g., taking part in a survey) to share the results of the research but also to train them on topics such as young people and digital skills.
You can consult the latest research to identify areas where teacher training may be needed. For instance, research shows that cyberbullying incidence remains high in Europe and worldwide. However, many teachers and schools feel ill-prepared to prevent, detect and tackle cyberbullying at school. Findings such as these can help schools inform their teacher training offer accordingly.
By being up to date on research trends on children and digital technologies, you and your school can gather evidence to make better-informed decisions about curricular and extracurricular activities. If schools wish to provide additional support to pupils on areas such as STEAM, developing digital skills, online safety, etc. they can consult recent research or get in touch with researchers in their country to be better informed about the aspects where support may be most needed and, thus, make better-informed decisions.
You can also consult research if you want to implement new technical or online communication systems at school and to inform decisions about learning platforms and online educational tools and software. For instance, many schools nowadays use platforms such as ClassDojo to communicate with parents. However, research shows that many of these platforms can pose risks in relation to data protection and child privacy and to how children, teachers and parents interact.
Identify local researchers and experts at universities or research centres in your country or city. Researchers working on topics related to children and digital technologies are very keen to work with schools and they are usually looking for new schools to participate in their research, surveys, experiments, consultations, etc. So proactively contacting relevant research groups in your country can help you establish mutual cooperation. Here you can find a list of European universities and research centres working in this area.cc