Es Tiempo de Cambiar: Redesigning Research Design with Hispanic-Latino Families and Media

by Gabrielle Santa-Donato
July 12, 2012

As I have described in my previous two posts, the Hispanic-Latino Families and Digital Technologies Forum, held June 8th in Washington DC, yielded rich discussion among the researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and media producers convened by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), Joan Ganz Cooney Center (JGCC), and National Council of La Raza (NCLR). One recurring call from forum participants was for more, and more appropriately designed research to surface greater understanding of the role of digital technologies in the lives of Hispanic-Latino families. Researchers called for more savvy, original, and speedy ways to conduct studies on new media use among Hispanic families and the educational potential of their media engagement in light of the speed at which new digital technologies hit the scene, their varied affordances, and diverse participation styles among the families with access to them.

Disrupting Research in New Media

Panelists throughout the day addressed the rich potential of rapidly evolving digital technologies for the future agenda of practitioners, policymakers, and researchers alike. They addressed not only how technology has transformed and will continue to transform family and cultural learning and access to information, but also how it changes the way we have to study family and cultural learning and access – at a rapid and ever-increasing pace. Many nodded to methods of user-centered, design research and the robustness of big data inherent in technology use as appropriate launch points. Design-thinking is a method and process of problem investigation that posits design-driven solutions, especially known for situating the user within his or her unique circumstance of needs, abilities, and socio-cultural context.

Having studied multiple theories of innovation and creative-driven idea-generation processes this year in graduate school, I was particularly fascinated by this undercurrent of commentary at the forum. This line of discussion heightened my awareness and knowledge of disruptive innovation, defined classically by Clay Christensen at Harvard Business School as “an innovation that transforms an existing market or creates a new market, typically by trading off raw performance in the name of simplicity, convenience, accessibility, or affordability.” Simply put, user experience research and the use of design-thinking as an inquiry-based model of student learning could slowly but surely outpace the use of academic research in the field of new media and learning.

With the surge in design-thinking firms, disruptive innovation methodologies, and constantly iterating technological solutions, the academic research world—known for intricately calculated studies and years of careful investigation—will never keep up with the curve. Although academic research remains the “gold standard” for rigorous and thorough methods of investigation, finished studies often do not reach the journals, the public, and those who can make use of the information before the next hot technology hits the market. In short, the speedy changes in technology and learning call for equally speedy modes of investigation. Essentially, the research process itself could be disrupted by user-centered research and the access to larger data sets that new technologies make readily available. What remains to be seen is what will happen to the refined process of academic research especially in fields of communication, psychology, and education if these new research processes take hold.

Incorporating (Many) Authentic Voices

Conversation at the forum also focused on the need to incorporate diverse perspectives—particularly from youth themselves—into our research, using varying techniques. Craig Watkins of the University of Texas at Austin, representing MacArthur’s Connected Learning Network, suggested we teach kids to be both designers and design-thinkers at an early age so they can conduct their own media investigation. If kids can simultaneously wear both a problem-solving and a design cap, then they can contribute to the research that professionals are conducting by their innovative use of new media. Watkins brought our attention to the capacity and desire of youth to create content and direct their own learning and discovery. Our research should incorporate their authentic voices and practices because youth tell vibrant and compelling stories through media. For example, “Quest to Learn,” a public school in New York City, teaches their students to be systems designers and investigators, utilizing game-based learning.

Dr. S. Craig Watkins (University of Texas at Austin) discusses his research regarding the media practices of youth on the “digital edge.”

 

Similarly, Guadalupe Valdes (Stanford University) and Jeanette Betancourt (Sesame Workshop) urged fellow forum participants to conduct more in-depth qualitative studies, in addition to the large-scale survey research which can obscure diverse contexts and viewpoints in pursuit of the “normative” response. Others called for more survey research, but with greater representation. For example, Lisa Tripp (Florida State University) and others emphasized the need to include children, parents, and other family members in survey research to understand perceptions and media use among the whole family unit. Lisa Guernsey (New America Foundation) and Vikki Katz (Rutgers University) voiced the need for sufficient sampling of diverse Hispanic-Latino cultural groups in survey research (despite the higher costs), in order to boost our understanding of the media use, perceptions, and general life contexts of families from diverse cultural backgrounds (Mexican, Dominican, Salvadoran, Puerto Rican origins, etc.) and circumstances (such as documentation status; generational status in the US; dominant language). Appreciating their varied socio-cultural contexts and perspectives should in-turn help researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and producers to understand families on their own terms and design appropriate media and outreach programs.

These and other points of discussion were invigorating and provided much food for thought for me and other forum participants regarding appropriate next steps for progress in our research, media and outreach design and implementation, and policy mandates pertaining to our nation’s Hispanic-Latino families. With many a call to action from myriad forum members, we are ready to dive into the next phases of investigation and implementation in the world of new media and cultural understanding. Additionally, the convening partners will be releasing a more in-depth, multi-media synthesis of the Hispanic-Latino Families and Digital Technologies Forum this Fall – so stay tuned for more news from this fantastic event!