This report covers the content of the first seminar in the series, funded by the ESRC and entitled ‘The educational and social impact of new technologies on young people in Britain’. The seminar series was conceived as a multi-disciplinary initiative, bringing together academics, policy makers and practitioners from many different backgrounds, in order to consider the ways in which new technologies were affecting young people, and in particular to look at ways in which new technologies were having a positive effect on the lives of adolescents in our society. It will consider the benefits of new technologies for young people, exploring the ways in which society can ensure that information and communication technologies (ICT) contribute to positive educational outcomes and examining how an multi-disciplinary framework could assist in developing a new understanding of this important topic. This, the first seminar in the series, had three main goals. First, we wanted to consider ages and stages, and to think through whether, and if so, how the particular concerns of adolescence mesh with the opportunities afforded by new technologies. Secondly we were interested in technological determinism, and wanted to have an opportunity of looking at questions relating to constructivism and determinism in the context of youth today. Finally we wanted to look at formal and informal education and ask, what is the role of ICT in learning, however that is defined. The seminar consisted of a welcome and introduction from Sonia Livingstone, a short paper from Chris Davies on the views of young people, and then three papers, each dealing with one of the topics outlined above. Each paper had a discussant, and at the end of the seminar there was a panel debate and open discussion. A lively and enthusiastic expert audience contributed to an informative and enjoyable seminar. In her Introduction Sonia Livingstone argued for the importance of a wider and more critical discussion about the ambitious hopes society holds out for ICTs, along with a recognition of some of the constraints associated with new technologies. She identified several unresolved questions so as to set out a research agenda for the future. Chris Davies, in his presentation of the views and practical experiences of young people, highlighted the continuing differences between the use of technology in the home and at school. Although based on a small sample, his findings demonstrated the limitations that characterise in young people’s use of ICTs in the school setting, especially when compared with the flexibility and positive attitudes shown by adolescents when using these same technologies at home. John Coleman’s paper, looking at ages and stages, examined how lifespan developmental theory, rather than Piagetian cognitive development theory, is best suited to understanding the social and emotional character of adolescence today. By critically discussing the major parameters of development, he emphasised how these interact with the opportunities provided by new technologies, and thereby making the use of the internet and of mobile phones especially attractive to young people. Neil Selwyn’s paper drew particular attention to the differing ways that technological determinism has been used in discourses on youth and new technologies, contrasting this with a social constructivist approach to technological affordances. Arguing that there is no one ‘correct’ theoretical stance when looking at young people and technology, he reminded the audience that a full analysis of the ways in which a technology is used by a young person requires a deep understanding of the social and interpersonal circumstances in which technologies exist, and through which they attain their meaning. In the third paper, Charles Crook examined theories of formal and informal learning, especially in relation to web 2.0, suggesting that it would be a mistake to believe that this new medium offers a replacement for interactions that characterise traditional educational practice. As he put it: ‘These new media merely change the nature of the arena into which those interactions socialise us’. Following his overview of four influential theories of learning – behaviourism, constructivism, cognitivism and the socio-cultural perspective – he concluded in favour the latter as the only approach that provides both a socio-cultural framework for learning and a recognition of the interpersonal relations that mediate learning
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