Research


From drawing pictures to writing stories, children have long participated in do-it-yourself (DIY) media at the individual and local scale. These practices are a core part of children's cultural and social experience, and provide key opportunities for learning and developing valuable skills. With the rise and spread of "web 2.0," children's DIY media production increasingly takes place online and in the public realm. Children design games, post fan fiction and create mash-ups using various digital tools and platforms. 

This development has important social and policy implications. For one, it challenges established norms within children's media, which historically has been made for children by adults. Second, children, parents, media makers and service providers now face complex new questions about what exactly their rights and responsibilities are when it comes to children's digital content production - roles that are not well delineated within current regulatory frameworks, particularly where minors are involved. Third, it contributes to the democratization of media, as the means of production and distribution are opened to a user community that has traditionally been largely excluded from these processes. Outside of a handful of ethnographic studies, however, we currently know very little about the children's DIY media phenomenon. There are significant gaps in our knowledge of the frequency with which children engage in these activities, the features and functionality of the tools they use, how their content is shaped and moderated by companies who provide the tools, or the contents of the media they create. 

My current research aims to remedy some of these gaps, through three interrelated projects:

Kids UGC Games: The first project is my ongoing study of children’s user-generated content (UGC) games, which represents an important and particularly under-examined area of the children’s DIY media phenomenon. Funded in part by GRAND DigiKidz, this study seeks to determine what types of tools and templates are provided to kids within this emerging genre, analyze how kids’ content is framed and managed (e.g. what gets censored, who owns or claims to own the content, etc.), and explore the contents of the games themselves (what kinds of games do kids create, what themes do they incorporate, what limitations do they confront, etc.). The document and content analysis data collection stage of the first case study is now complete, and the next step will be to design and distribute a survey of child-creators in order to map out user practices and experiences.

Playing at Making: The second project builds on themes and findings that have emerged out of my UGC games study, by examining how these tools and practices may at times accommodate, and at times exclude, children who are otherwise systematically marginalized in much of the mainstream game designs and discourses--including girls, children of diverse race/ethnic backgrounds, children from rural areas, as well as children with physical and sensory disabilities. In collaboration with Dr. Alison Harvey, and in conjunction with and partially funded by the IDI, this project aims to test and extend upon my preliminary findings and conclusions, while developing strategies and opportunities for more inclusive design practices, resource sharing and inclusive play among children with and without disabilities through the use of DIY and UGC game tools. 

Kids' DIY Media Partnership: The third is a praxis-oriented, cross-sector collaboration, which recently received full funding through a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant. While this partnership is just now launching (funding was secured last month), the first stage of research will commence this summer, including a literature review and systematic mapping of DIY media sites and tools for children, followed by additional case studies and a workshop bringing together diverse experts from academia, child advocacy, education and the children’s media industries. This study will play a key role in expanding the purview of my research in this area to date, moving the analysis beyond games to include film, stories, art, comics, and various other media forms.

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