Monday, June 24, 2019

Call for Participants aged 10-18 yrs in the GTA for a Study/Consultation Conducted by UofT Researchers on Children's Rights in the Digital Environment

My colleague Prof Leslie Shade and I were invited by the RErights team at Western Sydney University to contribute to a global study of children's own thoughts, opinions, and experiences with the digital culture and connected information technologies. The results will inform the UN's upcoming General Comment on Children and the Digital Environment, so this is a pretty important and unique opportunity for Canadian youth to have their say. Here is the official call for participants (below). If you, your child, or someone you know might be interested, please pass it along to them. And if you have any questions, don't hesitate to get in touch with me directly.


Would you like to tell the United Nations what children  think about growing up in a digital age? 

Researchers at the University of Toronto have partnered with the RErights project, with 5rights, Western Sydney University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, working with children around the world to find out your experiences of and ideas about digital technology. We invite kids between the ages of 10 and 18 years to participate in a workshop where you and a group of children will complete activities to tell us how you use digital technology in your daily life, and discuss the opportunities and challenges digital technology brings. Our workshops will be held next month (July 2019) at the University of Toronto St. George campus. Each participant will receive a $25 visa gift card, TTC/public transportation fare, and light refreshments will be served. 

The work you do with us during these workshops will be sent to the RErights research team in Australia and analyzed with other countries around the world. The results will be included in a report, and will help write the General Comment on Children and the Digital Environment, which is a document that will help governments and other organisations interpret the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

For further information, and to express your interest, please get in touch with Professor Sara Grimes at or call/leave a message at 416-978-5269.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Heads up: Contribute to the UN's upcoming General Comment on Children's Rights in Relation to the Digital Environment

Heads up: The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has announced that they will be drafting a new General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. In addition to holding consultations with children around the world, they are inviting interested parties to contribute comments on aspects of the concept note. Details are as follows. The deadline is May 15 (2019), 6 pages max.

Concept note for a General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment

Call for submissions
The Committee on the Rights of the Child will draft a General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment.  
The Committee invites all interested parties to comment on the concept note of the General Comment. Submissions are welcome on all aspects of the concept note for the General Comment, with a particular focus on the following:
  • The purpose and scope of the General Comment;
  • The structure of the General Comment; 
  • General measures of implementation by State parties needed to realise children’s rights in relation to the digital environment; 
  • Views on the issues and questions raised in the concept note; and 
  • Suggestions for new issues for inclusion in the General Comment.
In particular, the Committee welcomes relevant research evidence; knowledge of the sector; findings from consultations with children; examples of laws, policies or programmes; or evidence of good practice that would contribute to the drafting process.
All submissions:
  • Should be submitted in one of the official languages of the Committee - English, French or Spanish; 
  • Should be in one concise document focusing explicitly on the implications of the digital environment for the realization of children’s rights and must not exceed 6 pages
  • Should include a short statement introducing the submitting organization or individual;
  • Should be submitted electronically in WORD format to the following email address:
  • Shall not be translated; and
  • Shall be posted on the Committee’s webpage devoted to this draft General Comment.
The deadline for submissions is 15 May 2019 No submissions received after this deadline will be considered or posted on the webpage.
In parallel, consultations with children in diverse contexts across multiple countries, as well as with experts from relevant fields, will be undertaken to ensure that their perspectives are fully reflected in the General Comment. After due consideration of all inputs provided, the Committee will prepare a first draft of the General Comment for additional consultation with relevant stakeholders.
The concept note is available.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Awesome Event Alert: MediaSmarts @ the KMDI-Semaphore Speaker Series

Kara Brisson-Boivin, the Director of Research at MediaSmarts will be presenting at the KMDI-Semaphore Speaker Series. 

When: Thursday, March 14, 2019 | 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
Where: Room 417, Claude T. Bissell Building, 140 St. George Street, Toronto
This is a FREE event.  Light refreshments, coffee, tea and cookies will be served.

Please RSVP on the link below.

Title: “Use, Understand, Create: Cultivating Digital Literacy In Young Canadians”


As increasing numbers of businesses, services and even democratic processes migrate online, citizens who lack digital literacy skills risk being disadvantaged when it comes to accessing healthcare, government services and opportunities for employment, education and civic participation. In order to be literate in today’s media-rich environments, Canadians (especially young Canadians) need to develop knowledge, values and a whole range of critical thinking, communication and information management skills for the digital age. MediaSmarts is a Canadian not-for-profit charitable organization for digital and media literacy with a vision to ensure that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with digital media as active and informed digital citizens. In this presentation, I will provide an overview of the emerging issues we see in the areas of technology, information, and society as well as MediaSmarts’ recent and upcoming projects that aim to promote digital literacy in Canada. In particular, I will discuss our community-based research framework including who our stakeholders are, how we disseminate our research, and what our research is used for and by whom.

About Our Speaker

Dr. Kara Brisson-Boivin is the Director of Research at Mediasmarts, Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy. Kara oversees all of the planning, methodology, implementation, and dissemination of key findings from original MediaSmarts’ research studies. She researches the various impacts of digital technology and digital culture on Canadians broadly and youth in particular. Kara's current research projects examine digital citizenship and the intersections of digital publics and democracy, digital well-being among families, and what life online looks like for young Canadians. Kara also holds an appointment as an Adjunct Research Professor in the Sociology Department at Carleton University. 

Details for the KMDI-Semaphore Speaker Series are posted on our website link below.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

RESCHEDULED Awesome Event Alert: Critical Gaming Night on Super Smash Bros. Melee. NOW on Feb. 13 @4pm


I am so happy to announce the revival of Critical Gaming Nights, a student-run initiative that has yielded many fantastic conversations and play sessions in previous years. Here are the details:

"Bonds Between Players in Competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee" 
- presented by Augusto Schmitt

In this presentation Augusto Schmitt, international Master's student from Brazil, will be talking about the competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee player subculture, and analyze it through the lens of media studies, cultural studies and communication theories. Come to talk about this community and how they have managed to withstand the test of time, build themselves into something that wasn't intended by the developers, and grow stronger than the game's successors in the franchise.

Critical Gaming Nights are an occasional series of events that combine presentations of works-in-progress by digital game researchers (students, faculty, practitioners), informal group discussions, and game play sessions. Each game night focuses on one particular game (or game-related activity), and considers how that game can be analyzed using critical theories drawn from multidisciplinary fields of study. It is sponsored by the Critical Games Lab, a part of KMDI-Semaphore. 

These events are not only for academics, but for anyone interested in games, such as game developers, players, modders or enthusiasts who want to engage with new perspectives and questions relating to the social, cultural and technical dimensions of digital games and gaming. 

This event is more of a conversation than just a traditional talk, so take this as an opportunity to discuss and engage. There will also be a setup available for everyone to play and learn about the game firsthand in the later part of evening.

The event will be held in room 417 in the InForum, on the 4th floor of Bissell Building (140 St George St) from 4PM to 9PM on February 13th, 2019 (REVISED DATE). 

Monday, January 07, 2019

Spread the News: Seeking an RA to assist with preparing a big grant application for KMDI + Semaphore


Professor Sara Grimes, Director of the KMDI and Semaphore, and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, is seeking to fill a Research Assistant position focused on preparing a literature review and assisting with a large grant application. 

The RA will assist with research and activities relating to an upcoming grant application led by the Institute, its Director and Lab Heads, which will seek to establish a sustainable model for engaging in cross-sector, responsive research aimed at improving the lives of humans within an increasingly technologized information society. 


- Previous experience with both research and grant writing
- Formal training in common qualitative social science research methods
- Excellent written/communication skills
- Excellent organizational skills (including scheduling, note - taking, categorizing digital files and
  folders, etc.)
- Ability to work both independently and as part of a team

Preference will be given to PhD students (current or recent graduates), but Master’s students are also welcome to apply if all other criteria and qualifications are met. Qualified applicants must be available to complete a majority of the work in person at the University of Toronto St. George campus. 


- Conducting a literature review that incorporates both theoretical works as well as relevant
   previous academic research in the areas requested
- Assisting in the design and coordination of workshops and meetings aimed at establishing
   common themes, goals and methodologies among project partners;
- Assisting in writing portions of the grant application(s) (LOI and full application)
- Assisting in the supervision and coordination of Master’s and undergraduate level RAs
- Assisting in coordinating, communicating and liaising with project partners (e.g. ensuring partner
   access to project documents and online components, providing timely feedback to and from
   partners on deliverables, ensuring partners are reminded of upcoming due dates, etc.)

The successful applicant will be offered an initial contract of 200-275 hours, to be completed over the course of the Winter 2019 semester (with a possibility of renewal for the Summer semester, and beyond). Salary will be commensurate with experience, projected between $35-$39/hour. 

Please note that only successful candidates will be contacted for an interview.

To apply, email a CV and cover letter to Dr. Sara Grimes at by January 16, 2019. Questions may be directed to Dr. Grimes or to the KMDI Administrative Coordinator, Rekha Morbia

Monday, June 11, 2018

Cool Event Alert: Loot Boxes: Video Game Gambling, Paying to Win, and the Question of Game Design, Talk by Drs. Mark R. Johnson and Tom Brock

Long time no see!

I am resurfacing after a pretty long hiatus from academic/public life, which included both a yearlong sabbatical (or research leave) and a (nearly) yearlong maternity leave. Work on Kids DIY Media is in full swing, as we are nearing the end of our data collection and analysis, and getting set to finalize our project reports, and I'll have more news on that in the coming months, along with some additional exciting announcements about the status of my book, courses, etc.

In the meantime, however, I'm so happy to be involved in this upcoming talk, hosted by Semaphore,  the Jackman Humanities Institute, and Gambling Research Exchange Ontario, which is happening on June 19th, 2018, 3-5pm, and will delve into some extremely key issues relating to pay-to-play models found in an increasing number of digital games. All of the details are below, and can also be found on the Eventbrite page for the event. I hope to see many of you there!

Loot Boxes: 

Video Game Gambling, Paying to Win, and the Question of Game Design

A Research Talk by

Dr. Mark R. Johnson (University of Alberta) and
Dr. Tom Brock (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Sponsored by the Semaphore Lab, Jackman Humanities Institute, and the
Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO
This talk is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.
Attendees are invited to join the speakers and organizers at a local pub after the Q&A.

Abstract:  A 'loot box' is a consumable virtual item purchased and redeemed within a video game to receive a random selection of virtual items. In the last eighteen months, their implementation in many major and independent titles has led to extensive controversy. For example, in April 2018, gambling authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands declared that loot boxes risk creating a new generation of problem gamblers, whilst China, the UK, US and Canada have expressed concern over whether that loot boxes lower the threshold of gambling by integrating 'games of chance' into otherwise skill-based gaming experiences. Despite public and policy outcry, research has not engaged with those who actually design and develop these systems: the voices of designers are missing from the debate. In this talk, Drs. Johnson and Brock will outline their present research program into this phenomenon, which is believed to be the first project to interview industry actors on loot boxes within video games development and integrate these voices into local, national and international debates about the regulation and funding of games development. They will outline their main research questions, interview data and findings to date, and potential directions for further investigation into loot box implementation, effects, and impacts on both policy and regulation, and video game players themselves.

Speaker Bios: 
Dr. Mark R Johnson is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. His research focuses on the intersections between play and money, such as eSports, live streaming, fantasy sports betting, gamification, and loot boxes. He has published in academic journals including Information, Communication and Society, The Sociological Review, Convergence, and Games and Culture, and his first book, The Unpredictability of Gameplay, is due out in late 2018 from Bloomsbury Academic. Beyond academia he is also an independent game developer and a former professional poker player.

Dr. Tom Brock is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests include video games, social theory, digital cultures and political protest. Tom currently co-convenes the BSA Realism and Social Research Group and steers the BSA Theory Group. He is an Associate at the Centre for Social Ontology at the University of Warwick and is also the co-author of the edited book, Structure, Culture, Agency: Selected Paper of Margaret Archer (Routledge).

Headshot of Mark R. JohnsonDr. Tom Brock headshot

Thursday, April 05, 2018

CFP Alert: Special issue of Information and Learning Science on "Youth and Computational Thinking"

The Journal of Information and Learning Sciences is currently undergoing a major revamp, and in this vein has a number of super exciting special issues coming up. Here is the CFP, cut and paste from the journal website, for an upcoming issue on youth, computational thinking and digital/computer literacy movements. The deadline is coming up soon (May 14).

Learning to Code, Coding to Learn: Youth and Computational Thinking
Special issue call for papers from Information and Learning Sciences

A special issue of Information and Learning Sciences

Professor Jeannette Wing's provocative and influential article entitled "Computational Thinking" appeared in the March 2006 issue of Communications of the ACM; in the twelve years since, educators, computer scientists, policy makers, and technologists have been working to define this conceptual space, measure it, and assess the role that computer science can and should play in the education of young people. While Wing is by no means the first person to notice that computer science can play an important role in developing problem solving capacities in youth across the curriculum (see: Papert, 1980; Clements and Gullo, 1984; Harel and Papert, 1990; diSessa, 2001, to name just a few), her call to arms fueled increasing research attention and policy interest (e.g. Aho, 2012; Cooper and Cunningham, 2010; Guzdial, 2008; Wing, 2008).

Since that time, the Computer Science Education (CSE) movement has gained considerable momentum, led by a coalition of scholars, non-profits, and industry partners. Coding interfaces such as MIT's Scratch platform, Gamestar Mechanic, Kodu, and a host of others (Anton and Berland, 2014; Resnick, Maloney, Monroy-Hernandez, et al., 2009) have opened new possibilities for youth to develop their own interactive games.  The “Computer Science for All” Initiative begun during the Obama Administration suggests that the United States is not far behind France, the UK, and other nations in mandating coding for children beginning in the elementary grades. Programs and initiatives in the US context that contribute to these efforts include, Hour of Code, and the work of organizations including BlackGirlsCode, GirlsWhoCode, iRemix, Code Savvy, Globaloria, KidsCodeJeunesse, and others.

Scholars in formal and informal learning have been working to make computer programming more accessible to young people. According to a recent survey, coding is already a part of the formal curriculum of 16 countries in Europe (Balanskat & Engelhardt, 2014). Curricula in game design, such as those developed by Constructionist scholars and instructional design experts Yasmin Kafai, Idit Harel and their colleagues (e.g., Kafai, Peppler and Chapman, 2009; Fields, Searle, Kafai et al, 2012; Reynolds & Harel, 2011; Reynolds, 2016) have engaged thousands of young people across several US states in formal, intensive in-school introductory CS education coursework. Public and school libraries also present a context and opportunity to engage children in playful introductions to coding through drop-in making activities (Martin, 2015; Prato, 2017).

These initiatives, and the growing base of research evidence, offer support that the incorporation of computer science concepts in learning programs is an idea whose time has come. Computational Thinking, or CT, can be defined as "the process of recognising aspects of computation in the world that surrounds us, and applying tools and techniques from Computer Science to understand and reason about both natural and artificial systems and processes" (Royal Society, 2012 p. 29). We argue in this call for our special issue that Computational Thinking is a generative space residing between the learning sciences and information sciences, drawing on concepts of cognition and development (e.g., motivation, self-regulation), the system sciences (e.g., algorithmic representation, design of data structures), and areas of shared or interdisciplinary concern and interest (e.g., digital literacy, problem solving).

The guest editors are seeking high-quality, innovative articles to address conceptual, empirical, and theoretical issues in the broad area of computational thinking and youth: the who, what, where and why of learning to code. Topics of interest include (but are not limited to):
•    Critical, conceptual, epistemic explorations of code and coding
•    Relationship between computational thinking and literacy or literacies
•    Informal spaces for coding education, including libraries, museums, maker spaces
•    Design and architecture of learning platforms for coding
•    Innovative coding curriculum and pedagogy
•    Emergent and designed communities for learning computing skills and concepts
•    Learner assessment approaches and techniques
•    Effect of coding instruction on youth skills and behaviours
•    Equity, gender, status and identity issues in coding and computation environments

Eric Meyers, University of British Columbia

Hong Huang, University of South Florida

Submissions should comply with the journal author guidelines that are here. Submissions should be made through ScholarOne Manuscripts, the online submission and peer review system. Registration and access is available at

Initial submission due: 14 May 2018
First round decisions made: 30 July 2018
Revised manuscripts due: 10 September 2018
Final decisions made: 15 October 2018
Anticipated publication date:  Issue 2, March/April 2019


  • Aho, A. V. (2012). Computation and computational thinking. The Computer Journal, 55(7), 832–835.
  • Anton, G., & Berland, M. (2014). Studio K: a game development environment designed for gains in computational thinking (abstract only). In Proceedings of the 45rd SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. New York: ACM Press.
  • Barr, V., & Stephenson, C. (2011). Bringing computational thinking to K-12: What is involved and what is the role of the computer science education community? ACM Inroads, 2(1), 48–54.
  • Berland, M., & Lee, V. R. (2011). Collaborative strategic board games as a site for distributed computational thinking. International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 1(2), 65.
  • Clements, D. H., & Gullo, D. F. (1984). Effects of computer programming on young children’s cognition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(6), 1051–1058.
  • Cooper, S., & Cunningham, S. (2010). Teaching computer science in context. ACM Inroads, 1(1), 5–8.
  • diSessa, A. A. (2001). Changing minds: Computers, learning and literacy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Fields, D. A., Searle, K. A., Kafai, Y. B., & Min, H. S. (2012). Debuggems to assess student learning in e-textiles. In Proceedings of the 43rd SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. New York: ACM Press.
  • Guzdial, M. (2008). Education: Paving the way for computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 51(8), 25–27.
  • Harel, I., & Papert, S. (1990). Software design as a learning environment. Interactive Learning Environments, 1(1), 1–32.
  • Kafai, Y. B, Peppler, K. A, & Chapman, R. N. (2009). The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and creativity in youth communities. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Martin, C. (2015). Connected learning, libraries, and connecting youth interest. Journal of Research on Young Adults and Libraries. connected-learning-librarians-and-connecting-youth-interest/
  • Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books.
  • Resnick, M., Maloney, J., Monroy-Hern├índez, A., Rusk, N., Eastmond, E., Brennan, K., Silverman, B. (2009). Scratch: programming for all. Communications of the ACM, 52(11), 60–67.
  • Reynolds, R., & Harel Caperton, I. (2011). Contrasts in student engagement, meaning-making, dislikes, and challenges in a discovery-based program of game design learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 59(2), 267-289.
  • Reynolds, R. (2016).  Relationships among tasks, collaborative inquiry processes, inquiry resolutions, and knowledge outcomes in adolescents during guided discovery-based game design in school. Journal of Information Science: Special Issue on Searching as Learning. 42(1), 35-58.
  • Royal Society (2012). Shut down or restart: The way forward for computing in UK schools.
  • Prato, S. C. (2017). Beyond the computer age: A best practices intro for implementing library coding programs. Children & Libraries, 15(1), 19-21.
  • Wing, J. M. (2008). Computational thinking and thinking about computing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366(1881), 3717–3725.