Mapping Learner Progression into Digital Creativity – research report out

The report I have co-written with Lucy Brown, Mapping learner progression into digital creativity – catalysts and disconnects for Nominet Trust is now available. The report describes our research which led to over 40 biographical maps. These offer a diagrammatic  representation of young people’s reflections about their progression into the field of digital creativity. The maps drew on a series of interviews we conducted with a range of young people at different stages in their academic careers. Key questions we asked focused on how young people made decisions about their careers; the sorts of support mechanisms they could access (whether family support, teacher or mentoring advice etc.); and they identity work they put into crafting an idea of themself as a digital creative.

We carried out this work because whilst we know that young people engage in a wide range of forms of digital creativity – defined broadly as working creatively within a digital medium –  we know that such engagement is frequently episodic and intense. Research indicates that young people often engage in digital creativity in haphazard ways, and expertise in these fields often bears little relationship to the academic stage the young person has reached within the education system. Irrespective of age, the manner and extent to which young people participate in digital activities varies greatly – from informal out of school play to serious hobbies, or from GCSE and A Level through to vocational, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications.

However, we have very little knowledge how capabilities, skills, interest and knowledge of possible vocational goals might intersect to determine pathways for further study. We do not know why decisions to progress in certain directions are made or rejected, nor do we know whether external circumstances or key demographics have any particular influence on pathway decisions in the digital creativity field.

Our conclusions suggest that:

  1. School is not enough. Mechanisms to create stronger and more integrated links between school and non-school digital making activities need to be devised, trailed and made available. School alone will not prepare young people to be successful digital makers, and we need to privilege and support non-formal and informal digital making experiences if we are to ensure young people benefit from the social, personal and economic values of digital making.
  2. The link between learning to code and employability is unproven and unclear. We need to create stronger examples (for young people and policy makers) that demonstrate the links between digital making and employability.  These case studies should offer clarity about the types of jobs expected to be available and the sorts of skills required.  This shifts from an unhelpful and complacent equation between coding and jobs (which is not supported by evidence) and helps to highlight:

(a) The variety of skills (both technical and ‘soft’) that are required for future employability

(b) The variety of jobs available including those that are more mundane to those that are highly autonomous and ‘creative’.

  1. We need to avoid a narrow view of ‘skill progression’. We need a language of learning that moves beyond a narrow view of skill progression and demands that we create a diverse range of learning experiences, which encompass skill progression, social networks, access to informed teachers and mentors, and purposeful engaged learning activities.
  2. Digital making needs to take place across the curriculum. It should not be confined to a single subject.  This means helping specialist teachers explore the role of digital making within their domain; facilitating in-school collaboration between teachers; and a shared understanding of ‘digital’ pursuits as valid creative and economic acts which should be encouraged. A wider theorisation and understanding of digital creativity would help enable this process.
  3. Understanding learning lives. Educators, parents and young people themselves would benefit from understanding the range of factors that can come into play in facilitating progressions in the digital creative field. Having access to diagnostic and comparative ways of ‘mapping’ learning progressions and experiences would be useful and practical way to be able to work out possible futures and contextualise individual learning against common patterns and norms.



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