The increasing ubiquity of geospatial tools, open source software, mobile devices, and social media sites is not just changing the technological and scientific practices of professionals; this rapidly expanding terrain of accessible technology has supported non-professionals – even young people – in transforming scientific and technological practice to address their own daily needs. In my research, I have explored this emerging and technologically-dense space, looking closely at the role of digital media in the lives of children, youth, and adults through ethnographic and mixed method case studies, classroom and community-focused design studies, and the development and study of undergraduate courses for pre-service teachers. I am most committed to the notion that young people, in collaboration with one another and emerging technologies, have the potential for producing new techno-civic practices that address and influence practical, “on the ground” issues. In my work, I argue that young people’s interest and familiarity with new and mobile technologies remain untapped resources for formal and other designed learning spaces. Wisely leveraging these tools for young people’s learning and engagement requires more ethnographic and small-scale design research about how children and youth use mobile computing in the more informal, transitional spaces of daily life. Capturing and making sense of these flows, or “daily rounds” (Erickson, 2004; Taylor & Hall, 2013) – made even more dynamic in interaction with mobile technologies – demand new, mobile research methods and an updated theoretical lens of the spatio-temporal aspects of learning (Leander, Phillips, Taylor, 2010). I treat learning as distributed (e.g., Hutchins, 1996), not just across individuals and resources, but very much across particular places, biographies, imagined future identities, and all of the sense-making modes of the body.
Ongoing and Previous Work
I am currently the Principal Investigator on a National Science Foundation project, Mobile City Science: Youth Mapping Community Learning Opportunities. https://www.education.uw.edu/mcs/
As a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern, I was focused on how children independently elect to use digital media and how technology can be leveraged to make learning relevant to a diversity of young people across formal and informal environments. In my project with the LIFE Center and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (Learning Across Networked and Emergent Spaces, Reed Stevens, PI), I designed and helped to implement a study that captures what nine to thirteen year old children do with digital media in and around their homes, and how technology influences family interactions. We are particularly interested in moments of joint media engagement (Stevens & Penuel, 2010; Takeuchi & Stevens, 2011) where family members come together to co-view media content, and how JME is changing with the ubiquity of mobile devices in homes. Participating families are from a range of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds in the Chicago area; these households represent a diverse range of how children and parents use digital media for learning and engagement. I have been collecting detailed video recordings of family practices around media, parent and child interviews, doing experience sampling over the phone with focal children regarding their media use, and mapping technology “hot spots” using a geographic information system. Focal children wear head cameras to capture “on the move” media use, and parents are participating in a nationwide survey created by the Cooney Center about their perceptions of “educational media.” All of these data sources coalesce into an analytic construction of children’s daily (media) round of digital activity.
This mixed methods approach to understanding how a diversity of children engage with technology is a throwback to my dissertation project at Vanderbilt (a component of the Tangible Math Project, Rogers Hall and Kevin Leander, co-PIs). This research was a social design experiment (Gutierrez & Vossoughi, 2010) in which I co- created and studied a new curriculum for inner-city youth living in a “mobility desert” to learn (counter) mapping practices with geospatial technologies like GPS and GIS software. The theoretical and design conjectures for this new curriculum were based on findings from a year of ethnographic research conducted with urban planners and residents participating in a community planning process. I worked closely with the director of a local youth-serving organization, urban planners, and the parents and youth of a HOPE VI neighborhood to support young people in re- imagining and re-presenting a new and different story of their community. The director of the program and I expanded and re-mediated the mobility of neighborhood youth with old (e.g., bicycles) and new (i.e., GPS devices and head cameras) technologies through activities like GPS drawing and historical neighborhood geocaches. These new experiences and youth-captured data were the basis for young people to counter-map their neighborhood with urban planners and local stakeholders. By the end of the study, counter-mapping emerged as a new theory of social action and spatial change; counter-mapping created a new collaborative space for learning and interactivity for both professional and younger and older residents that brought together cognitive maps of the neighborhood, professional classifications of space, value-laden feelings of place, older and newer technologies, and embodied responses for imagining new, more equitable spaces for daily life (Taylor, 2013; Taylor & Hall, 2013).
In the Classroom
I do instructional design with pre-service teachers that leverages mobile and geospatial technologies in coordination with the urban infrastructure; this coordination is an intentional design effort to move pedagogical practice away from the classroom-as-container model to an interface where the lived and the represented come together. I was the instructor/designer/researcher of a human geography course for Masters and undergraduate pre-service secondary education social studies teachers at Vanderbilt University. One over-arching aim of that course was to model for pre-service teachers the most effective ways of using publicly available data sets, mobile devices, and community assets to teach important disciplinary concepts like mobility, representation, and scale. One novel designed activity was to support pre-service teachers in re-producing important Civil Rights events through downtown Nashville by creating a historical geocache along important pathways (e.g., the Silent March along Jefferson Street) and points (e.g., the Walgreens lunch counter) that still exist today. This activity, and others like it (e.g., GPS drawing on the university lawn, ground-truthing maps of campus, keeping a record of daily mobility), became fondly known by my students as “learning on the move” activities in which their minds were engaged through the movement of their bodies within familiar, relevant places of human activity and history, in coordination with technology.
My Teaching and Learning Commitments
I am committed to continuing to understand and design technology-rich learning environments that address the practical needs of historically underserved and underrepresented students and communities. I believe that doing so will continue to transform scientific and technological practices so that professionals and non-professionals are producing new activities and learning that intelligently drive processes of learning, community change, and resource management. This research interest extends into schools to support teachers in using digital media and technologies with their students to take place in neighborhood and community-level issues related to science and social studies. My future research will continue to contribute to new methodological and theoretical approaches that understand learning as an affective, embodied engagement in relation to a constantly changing terrain of resources. I hope to continue to formalize these new approaches so that they may help teachers and educators in schools and youth-serving organizations support young people to critically engage in learning and civic processes with technologies and experiences youth already have on hand.
Taylor, K.H. & Pinkard, N. (2017). Community mapping: Moving and discovering across contexts. In J. Roschelle, W. Martin, J. Ahn, & P. Schank (Eds.), Cyberlearning Community Report: The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning With Technology (pp. 12-16). Menlo Park CA: SRI International.
Levinson, A, Siyahhan, S., Pressey, B., & Taylor, K.H. (2015). Diverse families and media: Using research to inspire design. A report of the Families and Media Project. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center.