HWL Description

HOW WE LEARN (Media & TechnologY Across the Lifespan)

Stephen Petrina, Principal Investigator

SSHRC Fund (2014-Present): How we Learn Media & Technologies (Across the Lifespan): Design & Engineering Cognition ($371,406)
Over the past decade, our research program has empirically explored problems of how we learn media and technology across the lifespan (HWL) (Petrina, Feng & Kim, 2008; SSHRC SRG #410-2006-1679; SSHRC SRG #410-2009-2856). Our field and lab investigations focus on the problem of how (not whether) new media and technologies affect learning across the lifespan. With its core of graduate students, our research team has been immensely productive and original in studying and reconceptualizing cognition, learning, media, technology, and their interdependencies. The proposed research extends our established program with a primary objective of investigating design and engineering cognition (Petrina, 2010). Specifically, this extension of our research program aims to document design and engineering cognition of “novices” as a phenomenon with its own integrity. The objective of the research is to understand design and engineering cognition of “novices” as a phenomenon with its own integrity. How do novices go about designing and making material and virtual objects, whether in failing or succeeding? This has direct implications for educating novice designers for STEM.

SSHRC Fund (2009-2012): Learning Technologies and Media Across the Lifespan ($139,900)
Phase I involved an exhaustive review of research on how we learn technology across the lifespan. We reviewed 237 reports, following researchers into arcades, homes, museums, schools and workplaces and across disciplines such as early childhood, design, engineering, educational technology, media studies, online learning, workplace education, and gerontechnology. For Phase II (SSHRC SRG #410-2006-1679), we set out to investigate this problem of learning technology across the lifespan by establishing various age cohorts to explore how individuals articulate, describe, interpret or narrate how they learn technology. Working from fairly concrete, tangible encounters with technology we proceeded through interviews, partly ethnographic, partly phenomenological, to draw participants into conversations and stories about learning technology (Petrina, Hall, Kojima, Rusnak & Trey, 2008). A secondary objective of Phase II became exploring meta-learning through conversations people have with themselves as they learn. Phase III continues this very productive fieldwork and extends our research program into the laboratory to explore how attributes of new technologies and new modes of engagement interact to affect learning.

Canada Foundation for Innovation (2008): Learning Sciences and Technologies Research Lab ($199,957)
This project aims to establish a facility for studying how qualities of new technologies and new modes of engagementaffect learning. The interaction of these two variables is fundamentally changing the process of learning in formal and informal environments. Whereas in the not too distant past Canadians could draw lines between how, when and where they were learning and not learning, nowadays flexible or mobile devices offer the potential for learning virtually anything, anywhere at any time. One implication is that the “basic” skill set of competencies and literacies required by a capable student or citizen is evolving. Another implication is that emphases are shifting in business and education to the process of learning, or meta-learning. Commentators increasingly identify various activities outside classrooms (e.g., gaming, mobile device texting and recording) as indicative that the qualities of new technologies and new modes of engagement are changing the process of learning (Jenkins et al., 2007), but there is little empirical evidence. The interaction of these two primary variables is fundamental to the learning sciences but is poorly understood, and experimental research is urgently needed to help educators and managers take advantage of the technologies.

SSHRC Fund (2006-2009): How We Learn (Technology Across the Lifespan) ($181,052)
The purpose of this research is to follow, describe and explain how children, adolescents, teens, adults and older adults learn to use new technologies for everyday activities. Researchers continue to document what, which or why technologies are assimilated into everyday routines of children, adolescents, teens, adults and families. Our research problem is to investigate how this is happening; the emphasis is on how we learn. How are cognitive processes distributed across new technology environments? How do pre-school (3-6 yrs) and adolescent (7-12 yrs) children learn to use or play with robotic and other electronic pets and toys? How do teens (13-18 yrs) learn to accommodate new digital devices or play new videogames? How do young adults (19-40 yrs) and middle years adults (41-65) learn to accommodate new technologies in work routines? How do older adults (66-85) learn to adopt new technologies into their health and entertainment regimens? We draw from Hutchins’ (1995, 2000) theory of distributed cognition and method of cognitive ethnography to study how people differentially assimilate new technologies into everyday routines (a steady pool of 6-10 participants per each of 6 age cohorts over a 3 year period).

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