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USU Assistant Professor Shares Her Vision at Toronto Film Festival

Thursday, May. 15, 2014

USU professor Deborah Fields and college Sarah Grimes

USU professor Deborah Fields (right) and her college Sarah Grimes of the University of Toronto attended the Toronto Film Festival for Kids. The pair was part of a panel discussion.

graphic illustration for Creative Play presentation

The Internet is like a big fridge, where children can create and post their work to a larger audience.

But it still has a way to go before it becomes an optimum play space, says Deborah Fields, an assistant professor from Utah State University’s Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences Department. Together with Sara Grimes (University of Toronto) she hopes to help children not only create, but also share their work — and own it — online.

Fields and Grimes presented at the Toronto International Film Festival for Kids this spring, rubbing shoulders with screen writers, game designers, app designers and other creative people. The researchers were there because one of their goals is to involve all stakeholders in an effort to help the children reach their full creative potential online.

“We want to see more, better designs out there,” Fields said. “We want to provide some best practices for navigating legal and policy issues.”

They were on a panel to discuss the initial findings from studying children’s online, do-it-yourself media production. Their research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The two collaborators also curated an exhibit where kids could engage with interactive, high-tech digital media.

The possibilities of do-it-yourself digital play are exciting, Fields said. Children are already creating and posting their work.

Sharing it is a little more problematic, though. While there are many, many websites that allow children to create something, fewer allow them to share it, and even fewer allow feedback. So far, sharing appears to have a secondary role in a child’s online space.

Development budgets often goes first to satisfying legal requirements and assuaging parents’ fears. Some websites choose to review every single post before letting it go live. Others rely on word filters, but they can only do so much.

The two researchers hope to share information that will aid developers in overcoming those hurdles. They want to provide best practices for navigating the legal and policy issues that come with developing entertainment and educational experiences for children under 13.

They also want to bring parents and children into the conversation, which will undoubtedly include some safety concerns.

“Online spaces, when you think about it, are another playground,” Fields said. “The biggest danger to kids is other kids.”

The flipside is that children can learn from posting their work online — about how to create and how to behave. While they can engage in bad behavior, they can also stick up for each other, offer helpful suggestions, discourage bullying and give encouragement.

“A lot of interesting things happen when we share our work with other people,” Fields said. “It builds excitement, it builds community. There’s also a big learning factor.”

The two researchers are beginning the second year of a three-year project.

Related links:

Contact: Deborah Fields,

Writer:  JoLynne Lyon, 435-797-1463

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