Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Kano Lets Kids Make Their Own Computers, Design Their Own Games

©2013 Kano

Raspberry Pi is back in the news this week, with the announcement of an incredibly cool new Kickstarter campaign aimed at financing the production of a spiffy, child-friendly "kit" for building a desktop computer fuelled by the tiny, single-board Pi. Kano - "the computer everyone can make" aims to make the activity of building your own computer as much like playing with Lego as possible, and in so doing, teach kids about the inner workings of computer systems more generally. The designers claim that the kits are intuitive enough that a child can put them together without needing instructions. Once the computer is built, it comes with a Linux operating system and is pre-loaded with a number of programs and games, including a version of Minecraft. Oh yes, and the entire thing is open source.

In less than 18 hours, the project reached its funding goal of $100,000. When I viewed the site earlier today, pledges were nearing the $1million mark. Incredible! The following excerpt is from Liz Stinson's review of the product (or, product idea?) for Wired online
Today, children grow up surrounded by shiny objects that look and act like magic. There are screens that respond to touch and computers that can do just about anything a five-year-old can dream up. But even though kids have been immersed in technology since birth, it’s rare for them to actually know how it works. 
A new kit called Kano is hoping to change that. Released last week on Kickstarter, the Raspberry Pi kit merges basic computer science concepts with gorgeous, functional design, turning just about anyone into a computer maker. Each kit, created by London startup Kano, is comprised of bits and pieces that are constructed to build a functioning computer that can be hooked up to a monitor. On the Kano OS, kids can reprogram Pong and Minecraft, compose music, learn to code and even just word-process—all through a computer they built themselves.
Although the campaign has reached its goal, you can still pledge and thereby pre-order your own Kano kit on the Kickstarter site. They also have a Kano Lab package in place for classrooms and backspaces that includes 10 kits, a daylong workshop and a digital curriculum pack.

While no mention is made about it in the campaign video or accompanying description, I couldn't help but notice some signs of gender inclusiveness in both the product design and its marketing. The aesthetic design of the kit is cute and playful, and appears to be purposefully gender-inclusive. For instance, the logo/user icon is androgynous, they stayed away from typically gendered colours (i.e. pastels for girls, red/black/grey/blue for boys). The tagline and descriptions emphasize that the computer is for everyone. Although the video itself is initially dominated by men and boys (likely a byproduct of the fact that the creators and the source of inspiration for the project were men and a boy respectively), there are plenty of girls featured throughout as active users of the kit.

What I especially love is that they've included (or at least attempted to include - I haven't seen the actual kit yet, so can't say for sure!) multiple points of entry in the kit design -- including storytelling -- without labelling these in essentialist terms. This is noteworthy because the dominant discourse in computer and game design is that 'girls are drawn to stories' and 'boys are drawn to challenges'...which of course is just gender essentialism and ignores the many boys who love telling stories and the many girls who thrive on being challenged. A truly gender inclusive design will attempt to include different preferences and play modes, without labelling these as "for girls" or "for boys"....an approach which Kano has apparently espoused, and which is a really refreshing position to take. The contrast with Goldie Blox is palpable, and has me thinking that there might be a compelling study in comparing the marketing and discourses surrounding the two projects.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

New Publication Alert: My UBC Law Review Article is now Available!!

I found out over the weekend that the special issue on Media & Video Game Law, edited by Jon Festinger, for the UBC Law Review journal is now in print!!! 

The issue includes a great assortment of articles, moral rights and mods (Michela Fiorido), privacy rights and computer searches (Lisa Jorgensen), legal implications of virtual item theft (Tina van der Linden), an overview of judicial ethics in a digital age (Lorne Sossin & Meredith Bacal), and an exploration of FTC's Google settlement (Michael A. Carrier). Topped off by an intro by Festinger, who is the leading Canadian thinker and legal expert when it comes to video game and various other digital media law. 

I'm honoured to have an article included in this issue myself. In this piece, I finally delve into some of the lingering issues/problems with EULAs in kids' games that I've raised, but never fully explored, in some of my previous works on policy/ethical dimensions of commercial children's games. I learnt a TON in the process, thanks in no small part to the peer reviewers, all of whom were generous enough to give me thorough and thoughtful feedback, as well as a bit of a crash course in minors' restrictions and the infancy doctrine.

Here's the title and abstract: 
“Persistent and Emerging Questions About the Use of End-User Licence Agreements in Children’s Online Games and Virtual Worlds” - Sara M. Grimes
Abstract: The appearance of standard form end-user license agreements (EULAs) in online games and virtual worlds designed and targeted to children raises a number of important cultural and ethical questions—about children’s autonomy, liability, responsibility and authorship—that warrant closer attention. For the most part, EULAs contain highly complex language, terminology, and highly abstract economic and legal concepts, while mechanisms for obtaining user and parental consent are largely inadequate. In addition, many of these documents work to preemptively resolve regulatory grey areas that have not yet been subject to public discussion, as well as expand corporately advantageous power relations into new spaces of childhood. An exploration of current trends, future implications and possible solutions is provided in five sections. The first part examines common terms and arguments made about EULAs, and questions whether and how they might apply to players who are minors. The second section reviews theories used to justify children’s special legal status, specifically in regards to younger children and contracts. The third part explores the notion of parental liability and reviews recent legal developments relating to the enforceability of infants’ waivers. The fourth part examines the converse trend of officially ‘banning’ minors from participation, and considers the legal ramifications for children who misrepresent their age in order to play. The final part explores how the criticisms and problems raised in previous sections of the paper can be used to devise an alternative framework, and provides a series of recommendations for drafting a more reciprocal, balanced and child-centric EULA.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Approaching Deadline: Frances Henne / YALSA / VOYA Research Grant

Via the Association for Research in Cultures of Young People (ARCYP) email list, news about a new research grant opportunity. The Young Adult Library Services Association (a division of the American Library Association) is currently seeking applications for the Frances Henne / YALSA / VOYA Research Grant. In particular, they looking for scholars working on the following four priority areas:

  1. Impact of Libraries on Young Adults
  2. Young Adult Reading and Resources
  3. Information Seeking Behaviors and Needs of Young Adults
  4. Informal and Formal Learning Environments and Young Adults

Full descriptions of the priority areas can be downloaded (in PDF form) here)

Here's the full description, cut-paste from the official announcement sent out to the ARCYP list:

Help advance our profession by advancing your research! YALSA is pleased to support the Frances Henne / YALSA / VOYA Research Grant, an annual competition that awards recipients $1000 in seed money to support small-scale research projects. The deadline for applying is December 1. 
The proposed research must respond to YALSA’s vision, mission, goals, and research agenda; applicants must also be YALSA members.  Proposals are limited to two pages plus an additional page for biographical information. Full information about the grant and requirements for the proposal can be found here: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/awardsandgrants/franceshenne 
The 2013 Henne Research Grant recently supported work by Drexel doctoral student Rachel Magee, who examined how teens use (or do not use) technologies, how the values and relationships surrounding teens and technology impact that use and what that means for the role of information in teens' lives. 
Dr. Carol L. Tilley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, chairs this year’s jury. She is joined by Robert Bittner, Simon Fraser University; Dr. Don Latham, Florida State University; Maribel Lechuga, Kitsap Regional Library; and Dr. Cindy C. Welch, University of Tennessee.
Note that applications are due December 1! Good luck!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Awesome Opportunity Alert: Four-Year Doctoral Fellowship in Digital Fabrication & Learning

Please spread the word far and wide of this amazing opportunity to work with my frequent collaborator and favorite kids' tech researcher, Deborah Fields and her colleague Victor Lee, at Utah State University. Here's the ad, cut-and-paste directly from the original:

4-year Doctoral Fellowship in Digital Fabrication & Learning
Utah State University
Instructional Technology & Learning Sciences
Utah State University's Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences (ITLS) department is pleased to announce the availability of a prestigious four-year doctoral fellowship for a new doctoral student interested in digital fabrication, the maker movement, and education. This involves bringing technologies as diverse as 3-D printers, sewable circuitry, low cost microcontrollers, and robotics to education.
The fellowship provides full tuition and a stipend for four years, beginning Fall of 2014. The fellow will work with two leading researchers in the ITLS department, Drs. Victor Lee and Deborah Fields, who have produced innovative work in the areas of creative learning technologies, craft and computation, informal and formal learning environments, online social networking sites, and STEM education. The fellow will have numerous professional development and networking opportunities as well as access to the newly created “Computational Craft Lab” with brand new equipment and materials for digital fabrication. Drs. Lee and Fields have a strong reputation for providing mentorship and time to doctoral students, involving them in all aspects of research and implementation.
This competitive fellowship is available for one student beginning doctoral studies in August 2014Interested students should contact Victor Lee or Deborah Fields as soon as possible. Please include a resume and letter describing your research background, interests, and how they align with this fellowship.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Keynoting at SBGames next month!!!

©2010 Warner Bros., Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 promo still

I am so excited and honoured to announce that I will be the Keynote Speaker of SBGames Culture track at next month's SBGames Conference. The conference will take place in São Paulo, Brazil, from October 16th-18th. According to the conference organizers, SBGames is the most important academic games events in Brazil, drawing together academic researchers, game developers and game design students. In addition to the Games and Culture track (the one I'm speaking in), the event also features tracks of talks and activities related to Computer Science, Arts, and Design and Industry.

Here's the title abstract of my keynote presentation (prezi slides to follow):

So Many Ways to Play”: Branded Worlds, Toy Tie-Ins, and the Rise of Transmedia in Children’s Digital Games 
Children’s games provide a unique site of inquiry for thinking about the role of transmedia in digital games—not only for the complex questions they raise about the commercialization of children’s culture and the impact of transmedia on game design and content, but also in terms of the deep and complex levels of engagement that transmedia texts and toys can inspire among the children who play with them. Through an overview of transmedia studies, its core theories, history and emerging trends, this paper will explore both the key challenges and the potential opportunities associated with the rise of cross-media intertextuality in children’s games.

I'm really looking forward to the conference and to visiting Brazil for the first time. And if we cross paths at at the conference, be sure to say hi!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Job Opp Alert: 2 Positions at the Dept. of Childhood Studies at Rutgers

Just want to make sure that the word gets out about these two academic, tenure-track job openings with the Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers. This is a dynamic program, filled to the brim with amazing scholars and students, so definitely worth a look if you're on the market.

Cut and paste from the original ad posting:

ASSISTANT and ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, CHILDHOOD STUDIES.  The Department of Childhood Studies, Rutgers University—Camden, New Jersey, USA invites applications for two positions:  Assistant Professor (tenure-track) and Associate Professor (tenured) of Childhood Studies to commence on 1st September 2014.

Building on the strengths of its established, internationally recognized program, the Department seeks outstanding scholars whose research interests and projects address the lives or contexts of children and childhood from an interdisciplinary perspective.  All areas in the social sciences and humanities are welcome, including interdisciplinary fields such as performance studies, gender studies and disability studies. The disciplinary affiliation of an applicant is of less importance than the quality of his/her research and the demonstrated appreciation for multidisciplinary approaches to the study of children and childhood.  We are particularly interested in receiving applications from those whose work addresses the following areas, broadly conceived, and can speak to both national and transnational
contexts: children’s sexualities, literacies, media, health behavior, geographies and disabilities.  We seek applicants with experience supervising doctoral students and interest in contributing to leadership roles within the department.

Established in 2007 as the first doctoral-granting granting program in childhood studies in the USA, the Department graduated its first Ph.D. 
students in May 2013. Childhood Studies offers a robust, multidisciplinary curriculum for BA, MA, and Ph.D. degrees.  The Department has hosted several major international conferences, sponsors an array of lectures and symposia, and annually welcomes visiting scholars from around the world. It enjoys an active faculty and graduate student body whose work often integrates scholarship with social engagement.

Rutgers University—Camden, a beautiful, urban campus expanding to accommodate the growth of Southern New Jersey, is located just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.  Rutgers is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.  The University and our Department seek to attract an active, culturally diverse faculty of the highest caliber.  Women and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply.

Candidates can learn about the campus and the Department of Childhood Studies at http://childhood.camden.rutgers.edu/ and by contacting Department Chair, Dr. Lynne Vallone. Applications should include a cover letter indicating the ways in which their research adds to the Department’s strengths and focusing on how their teaching and research may enhance a multidisciplinary program, along with a CV and no more than two publications for the Associate Professor position and one for the Assistant Professor position.  Applicants to the Assistant Professor position should forward three letters of recommendation while applicants to the Associate Professor position should forward a list of at least three potential referees.  Applications—electronic submissions are encouraged—should be sent to cstudies@camden.rutgers.edu or to Dr. Lynne Vallone, Department of Childhood Studies, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 405-407 Cooper Street, Camden, NJ 08102 USA.  The positions will remain open until filled, but completed applications received by 7 November 2013 will receive fullest consideration

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Rebelle, Rebelle, You've Torn Your Dress": Nerf for Girls!

©2013 Hasbro, via Renegade Chicks

One of my awesome iSchool MI students/RAs reminded me about the highly gendered Hasbro "Rebelle" Nerf-for-girls line this week (depicted in the ad above), which motivated me to revisit the toy and some of the criticisms that have emerged around its aesthetics and design since the product was first announced back in February (2013). Clearly a response to the recent Brave and Hunger Games-inspired boom in the popularity of archery among tween and teen girls, the Rebelle brand includes girl-targeted bows, crossbows and guns or "blasters," adorned in pink and purple and sporting pseudo-"tough girl" names like Heartbreaker and Pink Crush. Admittedly, my initial reaction to the toy line was somewhat mixed. As I wrote on Twitter back in February:
"yet another example of gendered toy design, although admittedly Hasbro's Rebelle nerf-bow does LOOK pretty cool"
Above all, I liked how the Rebelle signified a departure from Hasbro's usual approach when it comes to NERF guns, in which the product designs, packaging and marketing all try to make it very clear to consumers that these toys are "meant for" boys. Finally, it seemed that the company might actually be starting to realize that (some) girls like to get their warrior on and engage in backyard battles just as much as (some) boys do.

But as a number of children's toy/media critics pointed out on Twitter (posted back in February, 12, 2013), the pinkification going on here was too blatant to ignore. For instance:
 ‏@LetToysBeToys  Entorien It challenges the stereotype .. but then panders to it.”  
 ‏@EntorienLetToysBeToys If they want girls to feel like Merida or Katniss, model on their bows, which were plain.
In reading through these comments, as well as the broader news coverage, corporate pr, and ensuring public reaction, it all started sounding eerily similar to last year's LEGO-for-girls launch. For instance, Hasbro representatives claimed that the gendered elements weren't actually stereotypes because they came out of research (3 years worth! just like LEGO) and represented the wants and preferences of girls themselves. As cited in Hillary Busis' article for Entertainment Weekly
"I think if anything, we went into this without any stereotypes and instead talked to young girls, found out what they wanted, and then designed a line of products that addressed that opportunity,” [John Frascotti, Global Chief Marketing Officer of Hasbro] told EW in an interview, saying that Hasbro did research for over three years while creating the line.
And, just like LEGO, Habro described an approach that clearly aimed to position the Rebelle girls' line in a way that kept it as separate as possible from their regular, i.e. boy-targeted, toys. As Busis writes,
"Trying to encourage girls to buy existing Nerf toys or easing up the gendered overtones of those products was never really on the table."
Wow. Well, at least this acknowledges, to some extent, that the company is aware that its other Nerf products are gendered in a way that works to exclude girls (although some girls will, of course, defy marketing discourses and play anyway...but they aren't a "market" problem for Hasbro, are they?). As Molly Freeman, at Renegade Chicks notes, this is the same company that only a couple of months earlier was garnerning accolades and praise for "coming out with a line of gender neutral Easy-Bake Ovens." 

Of course, in that case, the move toward gender-neutrality was driven by a pretty widely-publicized Change.org petition launched by 13-year-old McKenna Pope, expressing her frustration that marketing/gender-coding for the Easy-Bake Oven toy excluded boys, a cause she took up on behalf of her little brother who loved to bake and cook. As Pope wrote in the petition description:
I want my brother to know that it's not "wrong" for him to want to be a chef, that it's okay to go against what society believes to be appropriate. There are, as a matter of fact, a multitude of very talented and successful male culinary geniuses, i.e. Emeril, Gordon Ramsey, etc. Unfortunately, Hasbro has made going against the societal norm that girls are the ones in the kitchen even more difficult. Please join me to ask Hasbro to feature males on the packaging and in promotional materials for the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, as well as offering the product in different, non gender specific colors, i.e. primary colors. 
Pope's story inspired 45,000 others, including celebrity chefs, to sign her petition. Ultimately, Hasbro invited her to its office and unveiled plans for a black-and-silver Easy-Bake Oven, which is now available and looks like this:
The inclusion of both a boy and a girl in the image on the box is a nice nod toward gender-inclusivity. In relation to the Rebelle toy line, however, Hasbro's response to the Easy-Bake Oven petition strikes a noticeable contrast to the company's more recent assertion that making existing Nerf toys more gender-inclusive "was never really on the table."

While revisiting Rebelle this week, my student pointed me toward a short but compelling article by Ashley Perez on Buzzfeed. What I particularly appreciate about Perez' article (or, more accurately, image/photo essay) is that expands the critique beyond colour-coding and gendered marketing to examine the actual affordances of the toys themselves. I'm a huge proponent of this type of design-focused analysis, because it allows us to understand how "gendering" a toy often involves a lot more than merely slapping a coat of pink paint on it. As feminist scholars of technology like Ellen Van Oost, Pat Kirkham and Carol Colatrella argue, for many designers and companies, re-branding a particular object specifically to girls and women (whereas previously that object was advertised as "for boys/men" or was largely non-gendered), often means changing fundamental design features as well... such as simplifying the design, making it less customizable or more fragile, or otherwise gendering it at the functional level (i.e. how it can be used). I've been applying this type of analysis to my study of the Lego Friends (i.e. Lego for girls) line with some pretty fascinating results

Perez's analysis suggests that the Rebelle toys don't simply look different but also come with different features, which in turn impact on how they're used. Key among which is her comparison of the number of "darts" (soft, reusable ammo that Nerf toys shoot) included with one of the Rebelle toys (Power Pair) versus Nerf (for boys) toys: 2 (per gun blaster) versus 6, and in another case 2 versus 25! Of course, there's a clear motivation for Hasbro to try its best to get players to buy additional darts (sold separately), and for the Rebelle line, they've even gone so far as to try to brand the darts themselves as "collectibles." But 2 darts also means shorter intervals between shooting and retrieving darts (always a pain when playing Nerf), which could be significant. I'd be interested to see how this compares with the average, and how (or if) it affects gameplay, puts Rebelle owners at a disadvantage, etc. I'm also very curious to see if Rebelle toys can shoot regular, non-Rebelle, non-collectible darts. 

Perez's analysis of the Rebelle ads is indeed just a small, anecdotal comparison (and likely not representative), but it's definitely on the right track. It points to the need for some further comparative analysis in terms of what's included, what's assumed and what's made possible/impossible by the designs (and accessories) of the toys themselves. Do the Rebelle toys shoot as well as regular Nerf? As far? Are they as sturdy? Hasbro claims that Rebelle toys will have the "same performance" as their regular Nerf...what I'm looking forward to now is for these toys to finally hit stores so that we can start hearing feedback from players who have put this claim to the test.

******Update: please see first few comments (below) for a counter to Perez' claims re: number of darts, as well as correction on terminology ("blasters," not "guns"). Big thanks to Matt for sharing his expertise on all things Nerf-related.

Friday, July 05, 2013

This Looks Awesome Alert: New NPR Series on Kids' Culture

©2013 NPR Monkey See: currently running a very cool series of stories on 
kids & media, literature, culture, toys and play

Via Emma Mustich over at the Huffington Post, news about a recent, month-long series by NPR examining various aspects of kids' media culture and consumption practices, from questions of representation (gender, race), to contemporary (and enduring) toy trends. Here's an excerpt from the HuffPo article:
"...why don’t we pay closer attention to the art and entertainment our kids experience on a regular basis? How carefully do we really consider the media they are ingesting at the library, in the playroom and when they sit in front of the TV?
In a month-long radio series, NPR has approached this question from myriad angles -- examining everything from the lack of racial diversity in children's books to how the media presents hard subjects like cancer, school shootings and genocide.
"Media," for the purposes of this series, is a broad term, meaning books and TV shows, but also physical toys -- from blocks to dolls. In an upcoming story, we learn about the rise of kids playing with "goth Barbies" (better known as Monster High dolls)."
 Here are the links to some of my favourite stories from the series (so far):

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Traditional Toys and Digital Devices

©2009 John Crane Ltd (via Pintoys)
A new report from The NPD Group was released this week, relaying findings from a recent study that examines how/if digital games and devices might be displacing traditional toys among different age groups. Here's an excerpt from Kidscreen's iKids News coverage of the study by Jeremy Dickson:

The report, entitled The Evolution of Play, found that 51% of parents felt electronic devices had no impact at all on their child’s play time, while 40% felt their child was spending less time with traditional toys.
Looking at age, as kids get older and more social they become more adept with digital apps and tablets, thus decreasing time spent with traditional toys, whereas younger children who use technology are still more likely to request traditional toys.
While the report in its entirety is only available for purchase, the NPD's press release outlines a number of additional key findings, including:

  • Use of digital devices by younger children is "perceived [by parents] to have little effect on play time with toys.
  • Parents who spend the most on technology products (e.g apps, etc.) are also the heaviest purchasers of traditional toys (i.e. "more likely to shop most toy categories and spend more when they do make a purchase"). (***noteworthy)
  • As well as: "Parents were unequivocal in praising electronic devices for their educational potential and for helping children to build skills. However, they are equally concerned that too much technology could make their kids lazy, foster unhealthy solitary experiences, or lead to “over-connectedness.”" 

This last point is of particular interest to me, as it shows that many parents report the same sort of ambivalence vis-a-vis children and technology (simultaneous, conflicting positive and negative feelings) as found in popular discourses, news coverage, etc. We often present these polarized discourses as coming from opposing camps - but this presents the compelling alternative that both can and do co-exist simultaneously, at the individual level and likely at the organizational level as well. Of course, years of exposure to press coverage and reports from the two "sides" of the debate have likely contributed significantly to this ambivalence. These are arguments that I've explored in some of my previous work on the topic (discourses on children and technology), and am currently re-examining in my upcoming book on kids' digital play. Always nice to have some up-to-date stats to refer to!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Job Opportunity: Seeking PhD Student Research Assistant for Summer Position (July-August, 2013)

Seeking one, current full-time doctoral student interested in working with me (Dr. Sara Grimes, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto) on a SSHRC-funded project entitled Children's Do-It-Yourself Media: Mapping trends, policy implications and best practices around children's increased participation in creative cultural production online. The successful candidate will assemble a comprehensive literature review, assist in a survey of children’s DIY tools/sites, and contribute to intellectual direction of theoretical framework. They will act as a key liaison between project partners and assist in coordinating data collection across the research team. Writing reports and papers is a key part of this project.

Some background in social sciences (information, education, communication, sociology, anthropology, etc.) and/or social science research is required. Experience and/or research interests relating to children/youth and digital media would be seen as a key asset. As this is a three-year project, there is a possibility of continuing on the project during the school year. The research assistant must demonstrate genuine commitment, serious interest, good work ethic, a strong writing ability, and enthusiasm for collaborating with a cross-disciplinary team.

If interested, please contact Dr. Sara Grimes at sara[dot]grimes[at]utoronto[dot]ca with a description of why you're interested and what skills you would bring to the position, a writing sample, an up-to-date resume, and a list of 2-3 references (names and contact info only). 

Minimum time commitment: 45-50 hrs/month (salary = $35.00/hr), July-August 2013. Possibility of continuing throughout the school year.

Please note: The project requires that the RA be on site for a significant portion of the research, i.e. the successful candidate must be predominantly situated in Toronto during the time period of the RAship (July-August 2013).

Deadline for application: June 25, 2013.

Project Description:
Children’s Do-It-Yourself-Media
Children have long participated in the production of do-it-yourself (DIY) media at the individual and local scale. These practices form a crucial part of children’s cultural, social and everyday lives, but are also understood to provide significant opportunities for learning. Today, children’s DIY media creation increasingly takes place online, using digital tools that allow them to not only produce and share their ideas with the world, but also develop many of the skills they’ll need to be participants, innovators and leaders in the digital economy. This development has the potential to contribute significantly to the ongoing democratization of the media, by opening up the means of production and distribution to a user group that has traditionally been systematically excluded from contributing directly to these processes. However, outside of a handful of studies, we currently know very little about the children’s DIY media phenomenon, the frequency with which children engage in these activities or what types of media they are producing. There are furthermore significant gaps in our knowledge of how child-made media is shaped and moderated by the companies who design DIY media tools and websites, not to mention what types of policies and design practices work to support children’s DIY media creation and which ones might in fact hinder children’s creativity and cultural rights.

This project is aimed at advancing our understanding of an important emerging phenomenon and mapping the various opportunities and challenges involved. The objectives include identifying the types of support systems--regulatory, infrastructural, and technical--required to foster a rights-based, child-centric, inclusive approach to children's online DIY media production, which will in turn support children's learning, cultural participation and digital skill development. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Job Opportunity Alert! Work-Study RA Position with our Adaptive Games + Inclusive Play project

I can't believe I forgot to post this! Still accepting applications from current, master's level UofT students:

Research Assistant Work/Study Position
We have a work-study position available for a qualified master’s student to come work with us on our kids’ DIY & inclusive design in games project.  If you are a domestic or international Master’s student at the University of Toronto registered in at least 40% of a full course load continuously from May to August, you are eligible to apply.

Here are the details:
We are seeking a research assistant (RA) to participate in the launch of an interdisciplinary project at the Faculty of Information, Semaphore Lab, on children’s do-it-yourself media practices, focusing in particular on children’s user-generated content in video games and questions of inclusion, across multiple populations. These include but are not limited to girls, children with disabilities, rural children, and children of colour.

The RA will assist the Principal Investigator and the Postdoctoral Fellow with a range of activities to support the launch of this project, directly engaging in study design, recruitment, and depending on timing, data collection and analysis. The ideal applicant will possess strong communication skills, an ability to work independently as well as in a team, and an interest in digital games and youth media culture.

Interested applicants can find the posting and instructions by logging into the Career Centre website and searching for Job Order Number: 2013.WS.0664. Alternatively, you can email Professor Sara Grimes at sara[dot]grimes[at]utoronto[dot]ca

This job posting will close end of day on THIS FRIDAY May 17, 2013.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Join the iSchool - New Concentration in Culture & Tech (Master's level) launching Fall 2013, still accepting applications!

For those of you who haven't heard, we've added a new concentration option to the Master's of Information program at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, in Culture & Technology, launching in Fall 2013. We welcome applications from students with interests in exploring the intersections of society, culture and technologies, from digital game studies and media studies, to cyborgs and biotech. Here's a brief description, full details available on the website:
The new Culture & Technology (C&T) concentration, effective September 2013, brings technical, philosophical, and critical perspectives to bear on these social issues. It recognizes the demand for specialists who can identify, interpret, explain, and shape the socio-cultural impact of technologies at the micro and macro levels. Employers increasingly appreciate the importance of understanding such developments. Graduates of the C & T concentration will be ideally equipped to provide access to these forms of knowledge and understanding. The C&T concentration is designed to allow students to examine how society, culture, and understanding of the human condition influence, and are influenced by, technological development. It will provide students with the resources needed to understand, integrate, assess, and deploy multi-methodological arguments, in order to develop powerful, balanced, and integrated positions. Affiliated with the McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology (a program of the Coach House Institute), one of the aims of the concentration is to renew Coach House's role as a space where searching minds and intense visionaries can be enlisted, giving such students a place where they may focus on socio-technical issues related to computing, information systems and services, media, and the Internet, in order to (re)think the digitally-mediated world.
If you'd like more info, you can email me directly, and/or contact anyone in the Admissions office. The deadline for applications is June 15th (with documents due July 2), and we accept on a rolling basis!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

(Re)Read Fahrenheit 451: Upcoming Talks at the Keep Toronto Reading Festival

©2013 Toronto Public Library

The Keep Toronto Reading Festival starts this week, and this year's One Book city-wide book club selection (the book everyone in Toronto is supposed to be reading) is the dystopian sci-fi classic, Fahrenheit 451 by the great Ray Bradbury. There's a broad assortment of really cool events, discussions and exhibits (including an alternate reality game!!!) organized around the book that you can attend as part of the (free) festival. And it just so happens that  a number of my colleagues here at the University of Toronto iSchool and I will be participating in some of them. 

First up, this week, Professor Alan Galey, our expert on book history (and future!) and print culture will be giving two talks:

And next week, I'll be participating in this panel being held at the Toronto Reference Library:

Keep Toronto Reading: Amusing Ourselves To Death

Mon Apr 08, 20137:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.60 mins
Toronto Reference Library Bram & Bluma Appel Salon
Are we as a society dumbing down as Bradbury warned about in "Fahrenheit 451"? CBC's Nora Young (Spark) moderates a panel discussion on the effects of 24/7 media saturation.
* Philosopher Mark Kingwell
* Pop Culture Journalist Johanna Schneller
* Dr. Sara Grimes, University of Toronto
Doors open at 6 p.m. Join us for a cash bar reception at 6 p.m.
As most Appel Salon events are free of charge, it is our policy to overbook. In the case of a full program, your free reservation may not guarantee admission.
Unclaimed reservations will be released to standby customers ten minutes prior to the start of the program. We recommend that you arrive early.
Related link:
Book two free tickets here

Friday, March 15, 2013

Kids Maker Movement

©2012 TEDx
I just stumbled across this archive of the TEDx Kids @ Brussels, which took place back in June 2011, and is entirely focused on the theme of "Maker Kids"!! I vaguely remember someone mentioning this to me before, but it's the first chance I've had to really go through it and explore its contents. Lots of great resource material here for my project and courses. I'd heard of some of these initiatives and organizations before, of course (e.g. Tinkering School), but it's always interesting to see how they get boiled down (i.e. idealized) and TED-ified for these events. Also, very happy to have been introduced to a number of groups/project I hadn't heard of yet, including Sugar Labs and Layr.

Of particular interest is the fact that the event then spawned a kids-only follow up event in 2012 (FrakenKids), which was "ONLY for kids, no parents program, no speakers, no auditorium - just kids doing cool stuff."Very awesome concept - I wonder how it turned out!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Sesame Workshop Coming to TIFF Kids

©2013 TIFF

Yay yay yay. It's official! As TIFF announced in this morning, two of my favourite names in kids' media -- who also just so happen to be two organizations doing the most to promote high quality, diverse, inclusive, compelling and entertaining kids' content across platforms -- are teaming up for this year's TIFF Kids International Film Festival!!!! That's right - Sesame Workshop will be joining forces with TIFF Kids next month, contributing to this year's event by participating in various facets of the festival's public and industry programming. Here are some of the details from Kidscreen's coverage of the announcement (or check out the TIFF press releases here and here).

On April 20 and 21, meet-and-greets with Sesame Street mascots Elmo, Cookie Monster and Abby Cadabby will take place throughout the TIFF Bell Lightbox, a free screening of Elmo’s Alphabet Challenge will be held on April 20, and Additional Sesame activities for kids include a free, hands-on make-a-film workshop, a Sesame Street app showcase in the digiPlay Space Appcade...

For you industry types, people from Sesame will also be participating an invite-only pitch fest (where candidates will be given a unique opportunity to pitch Sesame Workshop producers for the chance to make a short film for the show....i.e. Sesame Street, and will give a Master Class on "Inspiring the Global Child" for industry attendees. 

Also....I finally get to meet Cookie Monster!!!! And Abby Cadabby. Huzzah!

Also, also - the rest of this year's programs look amazing. In particular, I highly recommend the digiPlaySpace, which debuted last year and included an amazing array of installations, games, maker and DIY media activities, and a ton of LEGO. This year, the digiPlaySpace will feature an app area for families to chill out and play together between screenings. I was on the advisory committee that selected the featured apps, and the line-up is truly awesome and notably diverse (in terms of ages, play styles, etc.). 

See you there!

Friday, February 01, 2013

Awesome Job Opp Alert! 2013-14 Cooney Center Fellows Program Now Accepting Applications!!!!

Just announced: The Cooney Center Fellows Program, a professional development opportunity designed to foster new leaders in the field of digital media and learning, is now accepting applications for 2013-2014. Here's the description from the official announcement:
The fellowship involves a one-year, in-residence commitment at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center here in New York, and pays a $50,000 stipend. The selected Fellow will take the lead on some of the Center's current initiatives (see attached for descriptions), and pursue projects based on his/her professional interest. I invite you to spread the word to recent or soon-to-be-graduating masters and doctoral students in education, computer science, design, child development, communication, or related fields, and encourage them to apply to the Cooney Center Fellows Program. Please feel free to forward the attached announcement to your mailing lists, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and other channels of communication. Applications are due April 1, 2013.
And here's some extra info from the website:
The Cooney Center Fellows participate in a wide range of projects and, in doing so, develop broad exposure to scholarship, policy, and practice in the field of digital media and learning. This professional development program offers opportunities to: Conduct research on digital media use among elementary school-age children; Publish research that responds to practical industry and practitioner needs; Expand the influence research has in government, education, philanthropy, and industry decision making; and Develop new skills and perspectives that are critical to becoming a leader in the field of digital media and learning. Current and former Fellows have led research investigations and published reports and articles on digital media innovations, industry trends, and policy solutions. They have also developed public presentation and media outreach skills, organized major cross-sector convenings, and contributed to the overall growth of the Cooney Center.
Lots more info on the site, so if you're interested, be sure to check it out (and apply!!!).

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Updates Coming Soon!!!

Just a quick note to assure my readers that I haven't forgotten them...I've just been excessively busy with the start of a new year, new semester, and new project launches. Stay tuned for updates, which I promise are coming soon!