Exploring Children’s Attitudes Towards Notions of Digital Good/Bad through Hybrid Arts Practice

August 2023 - May 2024
Funded by ESRC Digital Good Network

with Eleanor Dare, Angus Main, John Potter and Steve Love

This project builds on our previous work that taught children about digital sensors, the data they can collect about them and used speculative design to create tools to subvert/block them. This project is broader seeking 9-13-year-old’s attitudes towards notions of digital good/bad and knowledge of how these may differ from adults. It sits within the wider ESRC Digital Good Network and aims to address their central question of “What should a good digital society look like and how do we get there?”, by focusing specifically on children as currently overlooked users of digital technology and emerging digital citizens.

Understanding children’s ideas/ knowledge is crucial in shaping our collective vision and actions. As theorists we draw upon Kress (2012; 1996), Barad, (2007), Nail (2020) and practices relating to ethical implications of digital, and emerging technologies. This will be achieved through networking events leading to hybrid art workshops for children to imagine and shape possible “digital good” futures where technology use is ethical, responsible, and inclusive.

We will add to the work of the Digital Good Network by working directly with children who are marginalised from digital society through being born into one of the most deprived areas of the country. Children’s voices are marginalised in general but in relation to research about Digital Good, many children in deprived areas are invisible through their lack of home wifi access and limited means to use, often shared, technologies.

Additionally, the research will utilise interdisciplinary creative methods drawn from arts education which are currently under taught in formal primary and secondary education, yet create possibilities for experimentation, critique and self-expression that are fundamentally linked to better well-being.

Aims & Objectives

This project focuses on children’s attitudes to concepts of Digital Good/ bad. It does this by scaffolding physical materials with digital ones to allow children with limited access to technologies/the internet to take part in a knowledge generation that traditionally excludes them due to digital poverty.

The aims/objectives are:

1. To establish a specialist network of researchers and practitioners from academic and commercial organisations, whose work intersects with emerging ethical questions related to children’s use of digital technology.

2. Through network events, complete a collaborative literature and practice review related to this topic, and identify key questions for research.

3. To develop research methodologies that use both analogue and digital creativity to engage children in questions related to their use of technology and to share these with the wider Digital Good Network.

4. Conduct small-scale research with children aged 8-13 to better understand their positive and negative attitudes towards digital, virtual, and emerging technologies

5. To evaluate children’s engagement/disengagement with the workshops and insight into whether children have explored these topics previously and if they would like to learn more.

6. To report research findings back to the wider Digital Good Network and identify gaps and topics for future research

Research Questions

In responding to the above aims and objectives we seek to answer the following research questions:

1.What do children aged 8-13 consider are the positive and negative aspects of the digital devices that they use?

2.How would children aged 8-13 wish to change the digital devices they own in the future?

3. How do children’s concerns about digital technology compare with issues raised within existing research and policy?

4.How can physical and digital creativity be used to help children aged 8-13 discuss their attitudes towards technology?

Networking Events

The project starts with two networking events, one focused on theory and industry knowhow and another on education. The first event focused on digital privacy and ethical good practice with emerging technologies, AI and Machine Learning. The education event will invite teachers from the Bradford Active Schools Network to understand: What critical digital and media learning already exists/gaps in schools and how ideas arising from event one resonates.

The first networking event included talks from James Edward Marks (Founders of Playla.bz), Eleanor Dare (Co-Founder X||dinary Stories & University of Cambridge), Angus Main (RCA), Octavia Reeve (Ada Lovelace Institute), George Simms (Doctoral student, University of Plymouth, Thomas Lindtofte (University of Southern Denmark and myself.

Blog posts about the presentations from the first networking event can be found here. Key themes that emerged from the presentations and related discussions included:

  • How can emerging technologies be inclusive?
  • How can we teach children how technologies work?
  • Tensions between protecting and empowering children
  • Do children and adults view technologies in the same way?
  • Do children feel technologies have been designed for them? If so, which ones? 
  • What do children understand by the term AI?
  • What do children think is the climate impact of technologies?
  • Who do children think is developing AI and why?
  • How do children think AI works?
  • How beneficial do children think certain technologies are?
  • How can methodologies for work with children in this area also empower them?
  • How do children want to be able to use AI? 
  • Do children think there is anything AI should not be used for?
  • Do children know which companies are behind technologies? 
  • How do children feel technologies affect them (positively and negatively)?
  • Do children think their parents have too many or not enough rules around their technology use?
  • Do children feel they understand when images/videos have been altered by filters and/or AI?
  • Do children think technologies contain bias? If so, which ones and in which ways?

Child-Friendly Project Information Sheet

Images: Information sheet for children (Yamada-Rice, 2023)

Workshop Planning

We will be working with the artist Richard Nash who will be facilitating a scoping workshop with the full research team to combine the knowledge from our literature review and emerging themes from the networking events with the pedagogical techniques used in our Higher Education teaching of these topics, to explore how to adapt these for children, e.g. workshops to critique AI in digital art workflows and a digital theatrical performance that explored ethical issues connected to machine learning by comparing it to historic over whaling (MozFest, 2023).

We have previously worked with Richard on a collaborative zine that was used to facilitate additional findings from our UK-Japan location-based VR Network project in 2019.

Early ideas between the team have focused on how to produce a series of prompts that can be used for analogue and digital making which when combined could form a prototype activity book. This might include creating backdrops for Augmented Reality creations to be projected on to, visual prompts for drawing or a series of stickers.

Images: Visual Prompts (Dylan Yamada-Rice 2023/24)

Partcipant Workshops

Workshops will be held in Bradford and Plymouth with children aged 9-13-years and John Potter will evaluate children’s responses to them.