Recently we welcomed the return of our colleague Teresa Sofia Castro from Portugal to share her postdoctoral journey. She first visited Ipswich in 2014 as part of her PhD in children and digital technologies, supervised by Professor Emma Bond. In May 2018 she once again visited the University of Suffolk to forge connections for her postdoctoral research with Portuguese families living in Ipswich. As part of this cultural exchange we were invited to visit Universidade Nova de Lisboa to present our own research around digital technologies and meet with the EU Kids Online's Portuguese research team.
After navigating our way through the hilly and cobbled streets of Lisbon we arrived at ICNOVA and were greeted by Christina Ponte, Head of Department for Communication Sciences and leader for the Portuguese EU Kids Online Longitudinal research project. We met with the rest of the EU Kids Online team and other faculty researchers where we engaged with lively discussions around cultural variations, technological progression and wider social contexts and their implications for children and technology today.
It was enlightening for us to see the cultural variations in the development of media in Portugal compared to the UK. Despite the later introduction of television in the 1980s, media consumption has developed rapidly in Portugal leading to similar issues and concerns around children and technology as the UK such as, the Risk and Opportunities that technology affords. One overarching theme that seemed to apply to both the UK and Portuguese research is that role of the social context in the everyday practices of children and technology. A noticeable difference seemed to be around the levels of parental mediation of children’s use of technologies, with Portuguese parents seeming to have more active parental mediation evidenced by greater involvement and open dialogue between parent and child.
Following these debates and discussions, it was our turn to present our research. We were invited to give a seminar on our research projects to postgraduate students and academics within the faculty. There was an interdisciplinary audience who responded through questions and discussion and were very interested in knowing more about our work. We presented research relating to the use of technology, digital wellbeing and digital civility encompassing children and young adults ranging from 11 years to 24 years old.
Vanessa presented research that she and Katie Tyrrell had carried out as part of the National Citizen Service (NCS) Suffolk initiative, to provide an evaluation of the Digital Wellbeing learning sessions that were delivered with over 500 young people. Vanessa began by explaining to the Portuguese audience the purpose of the NCS programme across England as a social mobility opportunity for young people aged 15-17 years old, organised within local regions and communities, to work together for the benefit of their communities and to create social cohesion and citizenship engagement.
The evaluation research applied a mixed methods approach involving a qualitative and quantitative questionnaire and focus groups to gather significant and meaningful data on young peoples’ evaluations of the sessions and gather their views on and experiences of online safety and digital wellbeing. Vanessa highlighted the need for practical research approaches with limited internet access. In discussing the findings, questions from the audience related to young people’s rights and practical online strategies for managing risks through their collaborations with peers and activities within online communities. Vanessa emphasised that young people’s perceptions are vital in developing effective, informed and meaningful online safety educational programmes, which reflect young people’s everyday lived experiences.
Kelly presented findings from her PhD entitled “Children’s Digital Landscapes: Risk, Resilience and Agentic Participation. This research investigates children’s digital cultures particularly focusing on the perceptions of risk associated with the uses of digital technologies such as the internet and mobile technologies.
This research is situated within the Sociology of Childhood and Children’s Rights discourse. Qualitative focus groups and interviews drawing from feminist epistemological approaches were conducted with twenty-one 11-14 year olds. Key emerging themes explored here included: risks associated with digital technologies and how these are perceived by young people, which included how the participants are negotiating and managing their risks through self-regulation, and digital media literacy; and ‘Agentic Participation’, which includes consideration of how these technologies are used including consumerism, ‘social sharing’, fandom and subculture.
What these emerging themes demonstrate and what was argued here is a challenge to the negative perceptions of children’s and young people’s access to the internet and digital technologies as problematic and inherently risky to notions of childhood innocence. Kelly argued that the participants have demonstrated awareness of the risks involved and a capacity for resilience in negotiating and managing these risks. Further argued was the notion of ‘agentic participation’ whereby children and young people are successfully engaging in cultural and social production and reproduction in their creative pursuits of digital technologies.
Katie presented ongoing research around the 'Digital Civility' project at the University of Suffolk. In 2015, the UK Taskforce released the 'Changing the Culture' report around harassment and hate crime affecting university students, with suggestion that there was a lack of consideration for online experiences. In response, universities across the UK have been funded to investigate experience of online risks and methods of increasing student safety online.
In this seminar, the University of Suffolk approach as well as preliminary findings including outcomes from the baseline Microsoft Digital Civility survey were discussed. Initial survey results suggest that over half of students felt that their identity was less secure online than a year ago, and this was only to get worse in future.
Furthermore, emerging themes from focus groups with students were discussed, including the diversity of risk exposure and experience. Next steps, including focus groups with University staff and academics were also discussed*. Students at NOVA were asked to reflect on the themes and whether similar experiences were present in their cultural context, which encouraged discussion around types of online risk, as well as methods for engaging students in research.
Following the disseminations of our research, we met with Carla Maria Bapista, Sara Salvaterra Martins and Subdirector of International Relations and Erasmus, Luίs Oliveira Martins to discuss future collaborations and opportunities within the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. We discussed many exciting opportunities for research collaboration and potential cultural exchange through the Erasmus scheme, so watch this space!
Lisbon proved to be a real delight, with our cultural experiences incorporating fantastic food and wine, and the amazing sights that Lisbon and Sintra had to offer, such as Palacio de Penna, Funicular trams (Elevador da GLORIA!), custard tarts, Fado music and Ginja!**
A big obrigada (thank you) to the team at ICNOVA and the Universidade Nova de Lisboa we have very much enjoyed our time in Libson and are looking forward to future connections, collaborations and cultural exchange opportunities.
*If you are a member of staff or an academic at the University of Suffolk and would be willing to participate in a focus group around student and staff Digital Civility, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more!
**A very strong cherry liqueur drunk from an edible mini chocolate cup.