Cultivating Care

photo of yellow green red and brown plastic pieces on surface that shows they are connected through a web

For the benefit of three years down the line, when the pace of London life will likely resume to ‘business as normal’, I’m writing this post as daily routines are disrupted, relations protracted, and thoughts linger a little while longer. Like many others who are reflecting on the social impact of the corona virus pandemic, the past few weeks have made me acutely aware of how care practices are being enacted right now; what this means for how care can be cultivated, and what I choose to leave behind.

In my PhD research, one of the most unanticipated insights was observing the ways that children with severe speech and physical impairments enacted care practices with others. Care was a key value, evident both through children’s forms of engagement and through the subject matter of what they communicated.

For instance, when children in my study spent time out of school or in hospital for extended periods, a networked arrangement of people, technologies, artefacts and processes all allowed for care to be enacted as an ongoing process. I watched as children repeatedly asked after their friends and made cards for them in their absence. ‘We miss you’ cards were physically created, electronically transported and digitally remade in new contexts. People, crafted materials and online platforms and processes all allowed for these co-created and ongoing practices to take place (see also Light & Akama, 2014 and Brown & Choi, 2018 for more discussion on designing for care).

Care was expressed through material objects, like decorating children’s belongings in their absence and making cards, but also by finding affinity in what children said they liked to do, by trading stories and creating common ground. Care was evidenced through closeness and touch; holding hands, leaning on each other, and perhaps most powerfully, being at another’s side.  

Fast forward to March 2020, I observe how similar arrangements are both cultivating and inhibiting care. Having spent the past two weeks largely by myself, my laptop and mobile phone have been a lifeline for care. Regular video and audio calls, messaging, exchanges of funny memes and videos, as well as daily YouTube yoga and mindfulness sessions, are all collaboratively practiced in one form or another. Added to this, in my working hours, regular video calls, emails, chat forums (and hopefully more social virtual coffee and lunch breaks) are all reinforcing networks of care in my daily routine, in the absence of closeness and touch.

What is less helpful, are those shared ‘beware’ threads and videos that are making their rounds. I appreciate that these are probably shared with all good intention, but they do nothing more than exacerbate panic and stress. No, I won’t keep my groceries outdoors for 5 days before bringing them in the house, nor will I use that 50% homemade Cypriot ‘zivania’ brandy I have in my cupboard to clean my worktops (I mean, seriously…).

Right now, I’m trying to turn down the volume of all that unnecessary chatter to learn from insights gained from children. Right now, I’m attending more to making care. Right now, I’m making in a physical sense and drawing on technology and networks to remake this in new and care-ful ways. I highly recommend it!

A video study on AAC use in conversations

line drawing of two girls facing each other with their eye gaze devices mounted in front of them. Their deivces are blocking their view of each other.

 

I’m so delighted to share details of my first full paper co-authored with Mina Vasalou and Mike Clarke. It’s to appear in the CHI 2018 proceedings and has been awarded an honourable mention.

 

Design Opportunities for AAC and Children with Severe Speech and Physical Impairments

 

My PhD project is loosely split into three slices which inform each other. The first slice investigates how high tech AAC devices are used in conversations involving children and adults in school, with design implications in mind. The second slice is exploring how communication manifests more broadly; with and without technology. The focus is on how children with severe speech and physical impairments communicate meanings about themselves and their lives. The third slice is looking at representing this information from a child-centred perspective with empathy. The broader goal is to generate a tool for design that prompts new ways of thinking about how digital technologies can advance communication. (wow. my whole phd in six sentences 😉 )

 

The paper documents the first part of the project, examining how communication is created when AAC is present. I focus on analysing video data from conversations in school involving five child participants, their peers and adults. Please get in touch to share your thoughts.

 

line drawing of two girls facing each other with their eye gaze devices mounted in front of them. Their deivces are blocking their view of each other.
‘AAC as a material object’

A focus on values

silos of lego

 

 

Over recent years, child computer interaction (CCI) research has pushed the agenda for interaction design, embedding the contributions of children throughout the design process. Researchers are teasing out and critiquing the roles that children are proposed to play and the impact this has on their contributions (see for example Alison Druin’s work on the hierarchy of roles, 1999). What is less clear, particularly for children who have neurodiverse profiles, is how their contributions actually impact on design decisions in practice. This leads me to side-step and explore what we are actually expecting from kids in research.

 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that we as adults cannot begin to assume what children might want from their technologies without asking them, which pretty much just repeats and reinforces the direction of recent qualitative CCI research. What I have struggled to gauge is how we begin to describe children’s meaningful contributions in terms of reflecting what is important to them and what we call this.

 

I’ve noted that some researchers, particularly those working in the fields of co-design (or related) are exploring the notion of values. It is increasingly becoming apparent that defining the term ‘values’ is a tricky task as any variation on its definition consequently impacts on its exploration.  But how can we investigate it if we can’t define it? Surely there’s some synergy to be had!

 

This post isn’t intended to be a review of the literature so I won’t be defining and cross-referencing here (but look out for that soon).  This post is intended to shine a light on adult expectations for what we think children will want to share (overtly or indirectly) then challenge this so that we can once again reflect on all the things that actually reflect meaningful life experiences for children that we miss – because we define in narrow terms.

 

Confused, right?  Well, yes.  It’s a muddy topic that has silos of mind-blowing advancements which are just that; self contained and not quite applicable for real-life cases that challenge predefined scenarios.

 

More on this topic to follow in later posts.

 

.silos of lego

Interaction Design and Children 2016: pre-conference workshop ‘Roles & Values’

IDC 2016

IDC 2016

Today I was fortunate to participate in the IDC 2016 pre-conference workshop which explored Roles and Values of Children in Design.
‘Role Workshop’ organisers: Monica Landoni, Elisa Rubegni, Emma Nicol, Janet C Read

‘Value Workshop’ organisers: Helle Skovbjerg, Tilde Bekker, Wolmet Barendregt

The course organisers carefully orchestrated discussions on how participants of this interdisciplinary group reflected on the multitude of assumptions and positions we take in striving to involve children in positive and meaningful ways.

For me, the main take-home messages focused on:

  • how multi-stakeholders approach this with different design and research goals which ultimately influence the roles we may already pre-conceive for children
  • Fostering a dialogic learning process for all
  • negotiations with different stakeholders; whether this be academia, industry or families around the child, and
  • tools for helping to promote reflexivity.

The organisers introduced a card based tool to support in questioning designer / researcher assumptions about a ‘type of child’ that technologies might be intended for; which allowed again, for reflecting on and questioning a specific persona one may have in mind for specific technologies.  The group also presented the Clothes Line approach for supporting the design process whilst working through, ‘sorting’ and ‘airing’ ideas.

A really interesting day packed full of many fruitful mini discussions!