Crowdsourcing a Research Agenda, Part I: Uses in Context

Somehow, I thought this "crowdsourcing" thing was supposed to mean less work for me. I figured the answers would flow in, I'd do a quick "cut and paste" and...instant bloggage. Here's the problem: I got so many good ideas, demanding that I actually curate and connect them! This is what we call a "high-quality problem."
August 14, 2014

Somehow, I thought this “crowdsourcing” thing was supposed to mean less work for me.

Here, I had this brilliant idea for an “easy” blog post. Ask industry and academic colleagues, via my “Children and Media Professionals” Facebook group and Warren Buckleitner’s group for “Dust or Magic,” what researchable questions are hanging out there as important but unanswered. I asked especially for topics that might influence development of media or products for learning and play.

I figured the answers would flow in, I’d do a quick “cut and paste” and…instant bloggage. Here’s the problem: I got so many good ideas, demanding that I actually curate and connect them!

This is what we call a “high-quality problem.” As a bonus, I’ll get two blog posts out of the postings.

This week, I’ll spotlight responses around the context of kids’ and families’ lives around media – the roles of parents, caregivers and educators. Two weeks from now, I’ll feature questions around content and construction This means there’s still time to add your ideas: email me, or join the Facebook group!

Parents, Caregivers, Educators and Joint Media Engagement

Not surprisingly, several suggestions had to do with gaps in our understanding of how adult caregivers support mediated learning. One academic researcher with extensive industry experience noted that “prior research has shown that early learning in the context of the family is critical for the development of a wide variety of skills (including literacy, numeracy, spatial relationships, STEM skills and executive function), and that lower income children are at a significant deficit in the quality and quantity of environmental inputs for learning in the family before they start school.” As a research construct, she wants to develop mobile apps that incorporate proven-effective parental support activities, as this will make them more widely available and create real-world testbeds.

A digital content producer was similarly curious about parents’ and caregivers’ roles, but her inquiry came from skepticism about collaboration and sharing. She asked whether “it’s something kids and families really want. It requires a great deal of parent direction and initiation.” She noted the ongoing drumbeat that “we need to be able to speak to our audience more, educate parents,” but asked for studies into “what do parents think of this? Do parents want to be a part of our conversations? Do they want a better process for making (better informed) digital media decisions, or are they ok with how they and their kids discover and select media?” [Note: A 2013 study from Northwestern University's Center on Media and Human Development suggested that parents are more sanguine than we believed.]

In a few cases, contributors weren’t just seeking answers, but pursuing them. One university-based research and development program director wrote, “one of our projects will investigate joint-learning activities for improving the ways that parents and early caregivers support the growth of children’s early mathematical skills and strategies. So, our questions are similar: could technology help bridge the learning deficit in the early years when parents could play a very significant role?”

Motivations and Media

The digital content producer cited above also expressed need to understand kids’ motivations for media use – do kids see it as “time to be alone, time to zone out, or time to do something creative but solitary”? Do they “reflect on the things they are ‘building’ in digital, without doing it for some greater purpose”? “When kids build with Lego,” Her hypothesis is that, with physical construction toys, “their minds are building this imaginary world but a lot of the experience is internal. I imagine the same with digital creation, it takes time and the output does not always match what’s in your head. Kids need time to reflect and practice (fail).”

Lives Observed, Lives in Balance

Context of use was also very much on the mind of a major app development company founder. “Ethnography. I’d love to know more about how families are actually using apps. Qualitative stuff – anecdotes, stories, context, opinions and personas. I don’t want rubrics or bad attempts at quantitative measures of educational values. Careful in-context observation of how technology is actually used in family/school life.”

He wasn’t alone. A European app developer would love “hard data how devices/apps are used” supplemented by “data proving that kids that do sports, play outside, move a lot and have many friends on the street don´t suffer from using apps/devices.” Her theory is that ‘blame screen time’ debates are really about “missing activity (free play, sports, outside play) hurts child development, and too much sugar/fat hurts child development…and kids that are allowed to use devices a lot often are the same kids that don´t have to possibility to move their bodies.”

Discovery, in Schools and Homes

Finally, two “wish lists” included analysis of content discovery patterns – at home and in schools.  The founder of a European interactive company asked “who chooses apps in schools and where do they go to find apps? The App Store? Blogs? Websites? Newspapers? Magazines?”  A Canadian multiplatform developer seeks demographic insights into mobile and game purchasing – “wondering about the parent’s role in purchasing and finding games and apps versus child initiated, and at what age the flip-over happens.” His particular concern is that, at present, online rules for privacy and purchasing are monolithic, from toddler to tween; knowing how parents allot online freedom by age could lead to more nuanced, practical regulation.

Of course, a major goal of my crowdsourcing research needs and desires was to uncover relevant work already in progress, and to inspire strategies and partnerships to fill knowledge gaps. If you have access to work that matches any of these queries, or if you want to collaborate toward any of the challenges outlined here, contact me at, and I’ll make connections!

About The Author
Analyst/strategist/writer/speaker David Kleeman travels the world as SVP of Global Trends for kids research consultancy/digital studio @Dubit. Home is an aisle seat near the front. Follow: @davidkleeman.


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