actually understanding some of these sophisticated everyday uses of ICT,” Bell said, and he pointed to studies that he and his colleagues are doing with respect to children’s ICT activities in and out of school.
The researchers are observing several on-line spaces where kids, out of school, spend a good deal of time talking with each other about various topics—particularly those that are personally consequential, such as having to do with their understanding of health and their making of health-related decisions. “We are looking at the kinds of argumentation they do in those settings and how those particular technologies allow them to have particular kinds of discussions around data or ideas,” said Bell.
The in-school part of his work has been around scaffolding students’ engagement with scientific evidence. The researchers are trying to see what kinds of supports kids need in order to acquire disciplinary understandings of information they find on the Internet and to create meaningful arguments from that information.
Bell and his colleagues have also been spending time, he said, “following the trends of technology and popular culture. There we are seeing quite a bit of integrated, really tightly bound-up use of ICT in children’s everyday activities across all sorts of settings.” So, for example, with participants who are available on their “instant messenger” list 15 hours a day, “we are trying to understand how that shapes their experience differently from children who are not in that kind of contact with a distributed network of close peers.”
Bell explained that there are two parts to this investigation. The first is focused on cognition and learning with the aid of ICT. Research in this area explores the degree to which learning is domain-specific or domain-general, how people navigate the Internet for information, and how the cognitive work that people do crosses different contexts and domains. The second part focuses on social practices, which he argued are very useful in ICT education activities because they help engage students in a much more concrete way. Bell has observed, for example, that in communities whose members have shared norms about how they cultivate information and share it with each other, individuals are socially obligated to be contributing valuable information to that community as much as they are taking information away. Such “very fit social practices” serve both the group and its individual members.