Last week I had the opportunity of presenting at the DML2015 conference (Equity by Design) a paper on Latino/Hispanic families that emerged from a chapter of my dissertation and draw on data from the Digital Edge project. This presentation was part of a diverse panel that some of my colleagues from the Connected Learning Research Network (Alicia Blum-Ross, Melissa Brough, Daniela DiGiacomo, and Lisa Schwartz) and I organized. Very often, when talking about issues of digital media, learning, and youth, the role of parents and the context of the family/home has been overlooked. In our panel we addressed that research void and discussed how parents/guardians try to support the development of their children and bridge opportunity gaps while coping with the challenges and opportunities of the digital age. Through a series of ethnographic case studies from the U.S. and U.K., we tried to set up a conversation around parenting that focused on three dimensions: discourses, practices, and imaginaries about digital media. Each of these dimensions, and their interplay, shape the way in which parents and guardians make investments in technology and develop particular parenting approaches to child-rearing in a world of rapid technological change and a vibrant hypermediated culture.
Imaginaries about the future, as Alicia told us, seem to be some of the most influential and intriguing ones. They vary according to socioeconomic status and ethnicity, and are related to the fears and hopes parents have for their children. Notions of the future are shaped by the discourses about digital technology circulating at the level of policy, through popular media, and in their local community. The research she is conducting in London with Sonia Livingstone and the LSE team is looking at this problem through in-depth interviews with parents at home and it is also trying to experiment with other creative methods for capturing what the future means and how it shapes actions in the present.
In my research with Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth that draws on data from a longitudinal ethnography at a public high school and includes home visits and interviews with parents, I found evidence that revealed how imaginaries of the future were shaped by social class. Families with fewer socioeconomic resources and working class status, developed an imaginary of digital media that emphasized the the present over a long term future. This parents made efforts to provide access to computer and the internet because their children neeeded them for school and doing homework. In contrast, families with more resources and middle class occupations, had parents that imagined new media technology in relation to a long term future. More especifically, they thougth access to digital media at home could help prepare their children for having better jobs and be part of a high skilled labor force. Such differences in the imaginaries of the present and future were correlated to different kinds of parenting styles that vary according to class. Following Anette Lareau’s argument in Unequal Childhoods (2003), I pointed out that middle-class parents developing the “concerted cultivation” were able to see more clearly the link between digital technology and the future of work, than the working class parents that had an “accomplishment of natural growth” parenting style. Such difference, provided a sort of “digital home advantage” for the middle class children because parents invested more time and resources providing not only access to technology but also participating in joint media activities with their children.
Some low-income families, however, as Melissa explained in her presentation, develop strategies for supporting connecting learning and develop parenting styles that do not follow the pattern described by Lareau. In these families there are individuals that are “positive exceptions” and that develop practices and strategies that allow them to find better solutions to their problems and more opportunities. This kind of families are the ones that Melissa and Mimi Ito’s team at UC-Irvine have started to interview. According to their early findings, they have started to identify low-income parents that are themselves connected learners and “positive deviants.” These parents seem to be providing more social support to their children’s interest in technology and link them to an imaginary of both present and future well-being.
Likewise, Daniela, Jose, and Lisa presented the preliminary results from the work they have been doing with Kris Gutierrez in Boulder, Colorado, highlighting the richness and inventiveness of the practices developed by Latino families. Using rich data from their multimodal ethnography, they shared case studies that revealed the everyday ingenuity that exist in the everyday uses of technology at Latino homes. Daniela and Jose explained that joint media activities and parental discourses around media resourcefulness foster the development of ingenous practices in the everyday family life and the performance of a family identity associated with technology. Lisa presented findings related to the development of connected learning pedagogies at home. According to her, parents, and especially mothers, assume roles as managing/directors of the organization of the household, and the well-being and education of children. Latino mothers played a central role managing all the media interactions at home and taking care of the health and well-being of their children. According to their findings, negotiation around technology tends to happen around joint game play and in some cases also around searching practices online (particularly the ones related to health and well-being).
During our Q&A and discussion, we talked about some of the challenges of researching media at home and the need for better understanding the joint/communal practices that involve both parents and children. As some members of the audience pointed out, there is great potential for designing games and other learning activities for the whole family. We also agreed that there is an urgent need for providing more information and resources for parents,from dominant and non-dominant families, so they could provide more support for their children engagement with new media and foster connected learning at home.