This is never an easy task and tackling theory can seem a daunting prospect. One of the worst “warm-up” questions to ask a PhD student or a junior researcher is about their theoretical framework – most likely they will flinch. Ask an established scholar about the theoretical contribution of their work and quite often they will start by saying “I’m not really a theorist but …”. Many of us tend to shy away from theory but, nevertheless, find it important to master.
The breadth of disciplinary insights on the impact of technological transformations on children and young people continues to expand. This results in ever more fields of inquiry, each centred around its own concepts and priorities, with different theoretical commitments and standards of evidence, though often they overlap or intersect. To help researchers and research users navigate the tsunami of theories and debates, we decided to create a theory toolkit.
We started with a concept map – produced in consultation with experts on children’s internet use from different subfields, it helped us map key areas of children’s technology use and the relevant key concepts in each, thus representing key issues and priorities.
What is a theory toolkit?
We are still trying to perfect the answer to this question and invite suggestions about the resources we should include and what kinds of theory struggles the toolkit should respond to.
If you want to share your views, please do so here; we welcome your input and suggestions.
We will also be holding several consultations at forthcoming conferences, so you might see us there. You can join our first workshop at ECREA here.
The theory toolkit as a freely accessible online resource bringing together the outputs from our theory work in the CO:RE project (concept map, webinars, blogs, vlogs with key thinkers, annotated reading list), as well as useful external resources discussing theory, concepts and significant debates. Designed as a multidisciplinary resource, the toolkit is designed for early career researchers, established scholars, professionals, practitioners and students researching children online, with a focus on Europe.
The initial idea is that the resources provide a “theory pathway” following the full theoretical lifecycle – from choosing or creating a theoretical approach, through working with theory in relation to evidence by testing, applying or developing it, to continuously updating and “renovating” it. In a mix-and match fashion, the toolkit will provide some “starter pack” tools on how to use theory, how to make connections between research evidence and theoretical explanations, and an overview of key concepts and publications. It will also include more “advanced” resources presenting current debates, points of agreement and contestation, and discussions with experts.
Theory toolkit resources
We have created a range of dynamic formats to present and discuss theory:
Multidisciplinary webinars: these illuminate and debate contrasting approaches to key concepts or problems. The topics include: digital technologies in the lives of children and young people; children’s mental health and well-being; digital skills, literacies and citizenship; understanding online risk for children; online opportunities for children and children and the digital environment.
Theory blog series and vlog series: a set of regular blogs and vlogs providing reflections on theory, concepts, disciplinary assumptions and emerging new ideas. Our blogs so far discussed theories, concepts, debates; wellbeing; empowering young people; children with disabilities; the 4 Cs of online risk; risk and harm; and the digital environment. The vlog series offered insights from David Finkelhor, Uwe Hasebrink, Sonia Livingstone, Elisabeth Staksrud, Amanda Third, and Ellen Wartella who discussed with us their theoretical inspirations, go-to theories, and critical interpretations of the current debates. There’s more to come and suggestions are welcome!
Children online: from findings to frameworksChildren online: from findings to frameworks
An annotated bibliography: developed from consultation and an online forum with experts, the bibliography includes resources related to nine key areas relevant to children online (identified in the map). The resources point to relevant key theories, concepts, disciplines.
Reports: short reports which demonstrate in practice how to link empirical research with theorisation.
The forthcoming theory toolkit consultations will help us identify further resources and refine our vision for the toolkit. You are welcome to share your views and make further suggestions.
What do we want to achieve with a theory toolkit?
To harness the multidisciplinary potential and to learn from the existing insights, the CO:RE theory toolkit aims to:
Develop and promote a series of tools to support theoretical development, for use by researchers now and in the future.
Identify a range of disciplinary perspectives relevant to understanding the technological transformations now reconfiguring the lives of children and young people, together with their main contributions and points of mutual difference.
Interrogate the specific theoretical and conceptual assumptions currently shaping research in this domain, mapping their diversity and weighing their significance.
Bring together contrasting disciplinary perspectives on core topics or concepts in a process of fruitful deliberation, to identify synthetic solutions useful to researchers, practitioners and policymakers.
Pinpoint how new theories, ideas or disciplinary perspectives can refresh established lines of inquiry or challenge familiar assumptions, aiding innovation and advancement in the field.
Who is the theory toolkit for?
We want to reach out to both established experts and early career researchers who are:
Academic scholars from various disciplinary backgrounds who work on understanding and conceptualizing children’s use of technologies.
Researchers as they seek ways to synthesize new evidence, elucidate changes and generate new explanations.
Research users including stakeholder groups such as media, policymakers, educators, child practitioners, industry, civil society, and parents/caretakers. These stakeholders work with their own assumptions, understandings, concepts, and expectations for children’s use of technology – or what we might call ‘lay theories’ – which are important for forming public opinion and influencing the direction of the policy agenda over time. Within each of these potential audiences we appeal.
Moving forward with theory
We have been thinking about the best ways of creating theory guidance and help. Here are the questions that we thought we should ask:
What are our main struggles with theory? These could be related to any aspect of the theory cycle, for example related to selecting, using or creating theory.
When we struggle with theory, what kind of guidance or resources could have helped?
Are there any good resources on theory that others find helpful?
What should a theory toolkit look like?
What are the different ways a theory toolkit might be helpful? Who might use a resource like that and for what purpose?
You could use these questions to reflect on your personal experiences and try to identify resources that might help. Please, share your answers with us here – your insights will help us improve the theory toolkit. You can also join our ECREA-affiliated workshop here.