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A new project led by a Concordia education researcher offers insight into teens’ online lives

Youth Media Practices serves as hub for resulting educational material for K-12 educators, administrators, youth, and parents/legal guardians
February 26, 2018

If you want to know what high-school students really think about online privacy, it’s best to ask them directly. The same thing applies if you want insight into their digital media practices.

“In the existing research, we often hear from experts and parents speaking on behalf of their children,” says Giuliana Cucinelli, assistant professor in the Department of Education at Concordia.

“I flip that top-down approach. My objective is to put youth voices out there.”

And Youth Media Practices is her vehicle. Officially launched earlier this month, it’s Cucinelli’s online hub for educational material to help us better understand how young people engage with digital media.

The research was funded by a new professor grant from the Fonds de Recherche Societé et Cultures (FRQSC).

Triple threat: doc, game, infographic

The website content has three components: an infographic; an educational game; and an interactive documentary called Define Privacy.

“These are accessible tools I created with students, K-12 educators, administrators and parents in mind to springboard into a discussion about taking a more mindful approach to using technology,” says Cucinelli, co-director of the Participatory Media cluster, part of the Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology at Concordia.

“I worked very closely with my team of research assistants to design and develop the material. It was important for me to work with RAs that had teaching and classroom experience to inform the work.”

In the documentary, approximately 20 kids between the ages of 14 and 18 riff on privacy and what it means to them.

“When viewing all the footage, we kept hearing the same eight words come up over and over again: power, boundaries, share, control, identity, information, choose, consequences,” says Cucinelli, winner of the 2016 Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching.

She structured the interactive film around those eight words, with each as a clickable topic. Select “control” and you hear a girl say, “Your business is your business!” about keeping a clamp on her privacy settings.

“The interviews led to surprising discoveries,” says Cucinelli. “The first thing we noticed was how open they were to sharing. I was overwhelmed by their response. The interviews often stretched from five minutes to 25 minutes.”

Cucinelli and her team of graduate students were also surprised to learn how much the students care about online privacy and how well they understand its implications.

“They get what an online identity means and how you curate that image. What came up a lot is how the photos you post of yourself could affect your future on the job market.”

The card game

Look@me is the website’s educational card game, calling for six players per group. It’s paper-based rather than digital, so it’s available to be downloaded and printed. Players choose a random profile and character description. They select five random action cards. An example of an action card is visiting a restaurant, or sitting in a boring class.

Taking turns, everyone “plays” one action card by reading it out loud and placing it next to their profile, as if it’s a Facebook wall. Next, one player takes an event card and reads it aloud. An event card could be about getting a community award, for example, or getting suspended from school.

Players have to decide who should get the event card based on their existing profile wall. The winner places it on their wall and gets points, or loses points if it’s a “negative” event card.

“The game is discussion-based,” says Cucinelli. “It’s about understanding what it means — both the positive and negative aspects — to post something and how to take a more mindful approach to using digital media.”

Next step: tech policy in schools

Cucinelli and her team are taking the card game and the documentary into three Montreal schools this spring to collect data and get feedback.

That feedback will inform her next project, which is helping school boards develop and integrate a technology policy.

Watch Define Privacy, an interactive documentary.

Learn more about the Concordia's graduate programs in educational technology.


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