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!
Encouraging children to take on any form of technology can be tricky for so many reasons. A quick search for computers for kids brings up hundreds, thousands of choices which compete for our attention. Each has a seemingly impressive list of specs and multiple capabilities, from an adult perspective. Usually, we manage to decide on one (whether it be for gaming, learning, communication or all) but the excitement of tearing away the polythene wrapping and dislodging it from its polystyrene cocoon quickly turns into a reality that now, you’re on your own and it’s up to the child to use it or not.
If it’s engaging you’re onto a winner. The device begins to mesh into everyday life, across home, school, grandma’s house and other and the excitement snowballs until everyone that needs to, can recognise its value. If it’s boring and too difficult to learn to use then it is destined for the cupboard; occasionally to be brought out to humour the well-intentioned speech therapist who is recognised to be working with what they have.
Within the field of technology design, participatory methods are increasingly being called upon to embed the values, needs and preferences of users at early stages of the design process, moving towards technologies that are closer aligned to what users want from their systems. It’s great to see more and more design research involving children with neurodiversity. Some key studies that have developed methods and frameworks for engaging children who have diverse needs can be found here, here and here. Whilst utilising therapeutic strategies and prompting us to consider total environmental factors, there is still a need to look at use cases, particularly for what is potentially the ‘hardest to reach’ who have severe speech and physical difficulties as well as additional needs.
Well-established augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) frameworks have provided both the foundations and pillars to my clinical work over the years (see Janice Light’s definitions of communicative competence) but it is only now that I’m starting to question where the child and their choices fit into this. By choices, I mean authentic views and engagement that goes beyond the limitations that we, with adult eyes, impose on children.
Perhaps not all children want to use words and language to express themselves? Perhaps the learning and communication environments we provide are only pushing our adult agendas? Perhaps we need to stop and reflect on what children are telling us when they let out an audible sigh as we once again dust off their communication aids that lurk in cupboards?