Tracking children's digital lives

Dr Louise Starkey, senior lecturer in Victoria University’s School of Education, has a passion understanding education in the digital age.

Last year she was involved in a research project commissioned by the Ministry of Education, who wanted to understand children’s use and experience with digital technologies in their everyday lives, particularly in the learning environment.

“The Ministry was looking to make some policy decisions around the young people, so we sat down with small groups of ten-year-olds in very different geographical areas and we asked them about their use of digital technology,” says Louise.

With a particular focus on education and learning activities, the aim was to understand what influences children’s use and experience of digital technologies and identify what support might be needed in order to make the most of their online learning experiences and manage online risks.

Interviews were carried out with around 70 children in 12 schools across New Zealand. The children were asked to describe what they do online, when they do it, why, what they most enjoy, what they learn, what worries them when they’re online, and what devices they wish for but don’t currently have

”It was a fascinating experience,” says Louise. “Interviewing ten year olds is always hilarious. When we went out I didn’t really have any preconceptions, but I did think we would find more kids in the social media space at that age than we did.”

They found that the children weren’t really engaged in social media independent of their families. “There seems to be a sort of moral panic about what kids are doing but what our research showed was, actually they are pretty sensible, they’ve got all sorts of strategies and the parents are reasonably switched on about it.”

One of the key findings of the research that differs to international research was that of the children that they spoke to, most of them didn’t have cell phones at ten years old.   

Louise and her team published a full report on their research in June this year, with the following recommendations:

“The findings from our research suggest that the following would be a set of first steps towards ensuring all New Zealand children are capable 21st century learners and citizens.

  • Treat Internet access for education and learning as a universal right
  • Invest in children’s online access, but, more importantly, online knowledge and skills and self-management in the online environment and in particular on Social Media
  • Promote a personalised online learning experience (e.g. one device per child)
  • Invest in teaching capability (e.g. teacher curriculum) and a supportive teaching environment
  • Invest in strategic school leadership capability (e.g. strategic understanding of the role and integration of ICTs in the school curriculum)
  • Promote online understanding, skills, and knowledge of parents from lower decile schools
  • Improve access to Netsafe resources at schools”

Understanding children’s use and experience with digital technologies Final research report, Page 8
Miriam Lips, Elizabeth Eppel, Hiria McRae, Louise Starkey, Allan Sylvester, Pouaka Parore, Lynn Barlow
Victoria University of Wellington June 2017