14 SES 12 B JS, Agency and Learning in Networks and Families
Joint Paper Session NW 06 and NW 14
To date research on the impact of gaming upon children within psychology and computing science has focussed almost exclusively on the codifying and measuring of possible detrimental effects (Connolly et al 2012) to the exclusion of more complex relational dynamics in which family literacy practices take place. Research within the new literacy tradition has taken a much more socially situated approach (Marsh et al 2017) which takes into account families’ funds of knowledge (Gonzalez et al 2005), that not only reproduce expected educational norms but also adapt available resources in novel and resilient ways to suit their own perceived needs and socio-cultural aspirations. Working in this vein, researchers from UWS were invited to partner with Kettle of Fish, a computer game development company, to develop a better understanding of how games that incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) can promote learning of pre-school and early primary children and how to communicate this learning to parents and carers in an engaging and accessible way. Towards this end, an AI interface that would enable game functionality to adapt to player’s unique strengths, preferences and developmental thresholds whilst at the same time providing feedback about this through Learning Buddy was developed to the alpha test stage. Aspects of the game lend themselves to adaptations that promote self-determination (Ryan and Deci, 2000) that is, the intrinsic needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness to encourage the development of executive functioning, a set of core cognitive skills that underlie more specialised literacy and reasoning skills and that helps children develop skills of teamwork, leadership, decision-making, working toward goals, critical thinking, adaptability, and being aware of their own emotions as well as those of others(Riggs, Jahromi, Razza, Dillworth-Bart, & Mueller, 2006).
Whilst these new digital affordances increase educational opportunities (Gee 2007, Wolfe and Flewit 2010), they also pose a range of risks not least the perceived risk of missing out. Already rehearsed risks around intrusion, entrainment and manipulation remain. However, AI advances pose the likelihood that children enter formal learning with a digital self that educators can engage with to a much greater degree and thus, widen the disparity between households with differing access to and understanding of digital technology (Cross 2008). AI enhancement means that the technology itself to an increased level is an agentive actor and negotiations that involve it are significantly different than those parents are more familiar with.
Although the research is relatively small scale the practices and views expressed by families help demarcate a research agenda of critical importance for educators working with families wherever the global digital market place is embedded within their homes and everyday lived experience. While Kress’ (2003) early work has alerted us to changing literacy practices, recent advances in the kinds of data AI can synthesise and thus the systemic shift in artefacts that can be reproduced and exchanged, mean, once again literacy practices and aspirations of the adults and children negotiating them needs further inquiry.
To gain insight into this, a small case study (Creswell 1998) comprised of direct observation of families interacting with the game, including base line comparison of game play with standard executive functioning assessment tasks for a small sample of participants, focus group discussion with parents and a short exit survey were undertaken in a two hour workshop for families with children under 7 years of age. The use of multiple methods was used to develop a comprehensive understanding of parent and carers’ views on the game design, enabling the team to test validity through the convergence of information from different sources (Denzin 1978). The observation schedule enabled the team to observe from different perspectives in the room the same focussed set of activities. The focus group (Kreuger 1994) enabled parents to share informally their views, and to compare and distill their impressions. The University of the West of Scotland’s ethical procedures were followed, with informed consent of parents gained and continually monitored assent of participating children monitored. Authentic appealing options for children such as art supplies, soft toys and building materials were provided to give children a viable choice to interacting with the digital technology or not. Within the focus group care was taken to allow a full range of parents to be heard. The exit survey that followed allowed each parent or carer to express their views individually in a summary form.
Observations yielded a rich set of findings that revealed the families are blending traditional literacy practices in ways that are similar to the findings of previous research (Gonzalez et al 2005, Gadsen 2000). However, they are making new adaptions to digital resources and agentive capacities. As reported elsewhere (Marsh et al 2017 and Plowman et al 2012 Wohlend 2009) there is a wide variance in how families situate themselves around digital devices which instantiate a wide variance in how parents support their child’s interaction with the game. Focus group discussions revealed that parents draw on their own emerging digital practice with AI in order to anticipate the ways in which AI will impact upon their children, thus, drawing on their own critically self-aware learning to a greater degree to assess risks, preferences and consequences. However, parents expressed concern about the reliability of transferring their knowledge of AI and gauging this in relation to more widely circulating concerns about digital games such as design features that “lock” children in to repetitive cycles of emotional reward. They expressed the view that they would prefer AI capacity within games to do something more innovative and yet had difficulty envisioning what this might be or the active role they would need to take for these advantages to be realised. Parents, whilst voicing concern about screen time and wanting some benefit from it were split on how they conceived that benefit. Parents voiced that children needed to learn new skills and that it would be valuable if the game gave them opportunities to become not only early adapters (Wohlend 2009) by digital designers as well. Parents were aware of the changing needs of digital literacy included both critical and creative skills within rapidly changing socio-economic contexts.
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