Aims of the project

Starting from the hypothesis that differences in children’s access to and use of the computer and Internet are contributing to a ‘digital divide’ in society, it is being investigated in this project whether – and in what ways – processes of social exclusion and inclusion that are potentially relevant to a child’s school career take place through the digital media during late childhood and early adolescence. The focus of research interest is therefore on obtaining fundamental insights into the development of information-technology behaviour among children and young people aged 10–14 when dealing with the digital media.

The aim of the project is on the one hand to identify signs that show that children are becoming one-sided or are developing negative attitudes when dealing with digital media, and on the other to identify the contexts in which a positive development of digital competence takes place. To do this, it is necessary to go beyond the issue of opportunities for access and to investigate the special characteristics and quality of the way in which children deal with digital media. Different styles of usage and the conditions in which each of these develops, media usage in the family, and the personal significance of the digital media for children and young people themselves are being analysed as prerequisites for the acquisition of competence.
Since schools, when teaching with digital media, mainly follow on from computer and Internet experience that children have already obtained outside of school, particular attention is being given to the intertwining of informal and formal education processes in explaining the development of digital competences. In particular, the question arises of the way in which schools may be able to ‘react’ to usage styles that are dependent on class and educational background, as well as gender, in order to compensate for the disadvantages for educational development that may result.

       
Based on the hypothesis that differences in access to and ways of dealing with the computer and the Internet are promoting a 'digital division' of society, the project is investigating whether and in what ways social and school career-relevant processes of exclusion and inclusion take place in late childhood and early adolescence through the digital media. The focus of interest in the research is therefore on obtaining basic information about the development of information technology behaviour among children and adolescents aged 10-14 when they are dealing with digital media. For this purpose, existing representative data from the DJI Children's Panel on life situations, biographies, and conducts of life are being supplemented by an independent inquiry into children's access to and ways of dealing with digital media. This will make it possible to investigate the significance of the interrelation between sociostructural factors and individual developmental progress for the acquisition of digital competence. Particular attention will be given to children and young people from low-income milieus and those with poor access to education, so as to be able to identify measures that would make it possible to counteract the further spread of the 'information gap'. The research project is being conducted as a special study on the use of digital media within the framework of the DJI Children's Panel: How do Children Grow Up? This longitudinal study is based on two representative cohorts of children aged 10-14 at the time of the data collection in 2007. Quantitative face-to-face interviews of the children within their families regarding media and Internet usage and gathering of information from one of the parents about the extent to which the household is equipped with media will be supplemented by a qualitative follow-up study. In-depth guided interviews with children are aimed at identifying different groups of digital users in order to develop approaches to measures capable of counteracting educational disadvantage.  
           



The problem

The 'digital divide' is nowadays no longer just a question of opportunities for access to the Internet, but above all a result of the development of different usage styles by individuals. For young people, for example, it has been shown that information-related usage patterns, on the one hand, and leisure-oriented usage patterns, on the other, have already developed and that these can result in differences that affect education. In primary-school children, systematically distinguishable usage patterns of this type have not yet become differentiated. In late childhood, the interaction between informal and formal educational processes appears to lead to a transition to specific media assimilation and habitual media usage, which is of fundamental importance for the development of the 'digital divide'.
In view of children's wide range of interests, which is an expression of their self-development and their search for an explanation for the world, the following aspects are relevant for educational policy:

  • What are the conditions that can lead to one-sided usage of the new media during adolescence, which may impair education and learning?
  • How can mechanisms that reproduce and exacerbate educational disadvantage be broken down by the new media during children’s socialization process?

Research emphases

To achieve these aims, existing representative data from the DJI Children’s Panel on life situations, biographies and lifestyles will be supplemented by an independent survey investigating children’s access to and ways of dealing with the digital media. This will make it possible to investigate the interrelationship between sociostructural factors and individual courses of development and its significance for the acquisition of digital competence. Particular attention will be given to children and young people from backgrounds with low income and poor access to education in order to identify approaches to measures that will make it possible to counteract the ‘information gap’.
The issues addressed by the project give rise to the following research questions:

  • What are the decisive reasons that lead children and young people to plunge into the ‘virtual world’, and what are their reasons for distancing themselves from it, avoiding it, or withdrawing from it?
  • What is the significance of media interests for the way in which digital usage styles become habitual?
  • Can different preferences in usage style be identified that are close to, or at a distance from, education?
  • What is the significance of the transition from orientation patterns typical of children to those typical of adolescents in the development of different usage styles, and what role do peers play in the process?
  • What personal and biographical factors can be identified as correlates of the different usage styles?
  • What role does the transference of informal and formal educational processes between the family and the school play in the development of digital usage styles among children and young people?

Methods

The study is being conducted as a special inquiry on the usage of digital media in the framework of the 'DJI Children's Panel: How do Children Grow Up?' This longitudinal study is based on two representative cohorts of children who were aged between 5 and 9 in 2002, at the time of the first of three questionnaires. In 2003, 8–9-year-old Turkish immigrant children were also studied using a questionnaire.
A total of around 1500 children aged between 10 and 14 will be eligible for inclusion in the inquiry on the ‘Digital Divide’ at the time of the survey in 2007.

Secondary analysis

Identifying issues and selecting biographical, sociocultural and socio-economic data on the lifestyle and life situation of the children from Children’s Panel who are relevant in the context of the hypothesis of the ‘Digital Divide’. Checking the explanatory relevance of existing indices of media-studies issues.

Quantitative survey

Standardized face-to-face interviews with 10–14-year-olds within their families on their media and Internet usage, and in particular on their content preferences, usage contexts and on the subjective significance of the digital media for them. In addition, to assess their own and their parents’ digital competence and on the experience of educational supervision and control.
Drop-out questionnaires for one parent to gather information about the extent to which the household is equipped with media.

Qualitative follow-up study

Guided interviews in greater detail with 150 children from different digital user groups, with the aim of identifying approaches to measures capable of counteracting educational disadvantage.

Contact

+49 89 62306-204
Deutsches Jugendinstitut
Nockherstr. 2
81541 Munich

Additional Information