The virtual event co-hosted on September 18, 2020 by the London School of Economics and CO:RE, the Horizon 2020 coordination and support framework common to DIGYMATEX and the other two projects, DigiGen and Y-Skills.
“We need to know how we assess and regulate our behaviour on when and how we should use these different devices and technology possibilities, in order to know how to make it beneficial or harmful for our daily behaviour,” said DIGYMATEX Project Coordinator Dr. Marco Hubert of Aarhus University, in explanation of the concept of digital maturity.
The creation of a digital youth maturity index would support this by providing “an evidence-based tool to assist in understanding and determining children’s digital maturity,” and help model and predict children’s digital behaviour, he added.
Furthermore, during the webinar it became really clear how interdependent all funded projects are and “we from DIGYMATEX looking very forward to see how results and insights from all the projects will complement each other”.
Studying digital activity
To that end, DIGYMATEX is investigating the digital activity of children aged nine to eighteen in their daily lives, primarily outside of structured environments such as school. In its work, DIGYMATEX is making a distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” activities carried out on digital devices, while recognising that there is some overlap between the two.
Essential activities are those in which a mobile telephone or application is used in order to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a specific goal. Non-essential activities are other uses of the digital devices, particularly unnecessary activities that distract the user from the essential activities, hindering the user from achieving a goal or performing a specific task. These can occur, for instance, when the user gives in to the urge to check a messaging service while working on an essential task on the same device.
In order to better understand the various factors influencing children in their use of technology and digital devices, DIGYMATEX is focusing significantly on neuroscience and psychological-behavioural research, incorporating existing research and information available.
An important component of DIGYMATEX’s research will be based on co-creation workshops, incorporating inputs of children and involving them in the work of figuring out what solutions could be recommended to support them in their beneficial usage of digital devices, but also to know how to help children when it’s hard for them to use devices beneficially, Hubert noted.
Hubert emphasised that digital maturity is a “dynamic concept”, necessitating flexibility in how it is conceptualised and researched.
“It’s not like a skill or competence that increases by experience or by use or whatever. It is often not a linear process, and we see that it has non-linear effects.” An individual child’s accession from one grade or kind of school to another, for instance, or another change in situation, can bring in other factors leading to new behaviours and challenges.
Children as co-researchers
Speaking on the importance of basing policy on sound research and information, June Lowery-Kingston, European Commission Head of Unit on Accessibility, Multilingualism and Safer Internet, lauded the initiatives as important tools that will “greatly improve our understanding of the online behaviour of children and young people”.
She reserved special praise for the approaches of DIGYMATEX and DigiGen in using children as “co-researchers” with “an active and participatory role” in formulating the projects’ deliverables, since children have a “unique and unparalleled insight into the social experiment that really we are all living.”
Relating the webinar’s content and DIGYMATEX’s goals to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and its effects, Lowery-Kingston said that “this unprecedented and enforced switch in behaviour has shown us all really first-hand, more than any political declaration could ever do, the benefits of the digital transformation, but it’s also left children potentially more exposed to online risks, those immediate risks, but also perhaps to forming new habits that could exceed their digital maturity that we were just hearing about, and potentially in the long term bring further harm.”
To create an online environment that reflects European values, the commission needs “relevant and solid, evidence-based policies”, Lowery-Kingston said. “We obviously need solid and relevant evidence on which to base them.”