Commentary by Paula Bleckmann, Professor of Media Education, Alanus Hochschule Alfter, Co-Founder of UNBLACK THE BOX.
The report on the Germanwide MünDig Study is now available in German, with a brief English abstract. While the existing press coverage focuses mainly on the RESULTS of the study within the Waldorf kindergarten and school sample, this comment will explore why the METHODS of investigation used in the study, more specifically the Media Maturity Matrix (MMM, described in detail in chapter 3 of the report) are at least equally – if not more – compelling.
A recap: Jesper Balslev concluded in his guest commentary on lessons learned during the pandemic in autumn 2021: We need analogue control groups. He has expanded on this previously in his PhD thesis (p. 154): “[…] compare analogue and digital interventions more systematically […] Can we train programmers without the use, or with very limited use, of technology? How would students perform in settings that focused on attaining the grammatical, mathematical, logical and social skills that often constitute the background support factors of much digital professionalism? […] there is a technological bias at play, witnessed by the absence of analogue control groups”.
A second recap: The introductory question in UNBLACK THE BOX´s alternative checklist reads as follows: “Are we aware that digital education can also be ‘analogue’ (without the use of digital technologies)?”
No, ‘we’ are not aware of that, it seems. Or, more precisely: The answer depends on whom the word ‘we’ refers to.
- Educators. The results of the MünDig Study show that teachers, parents – and students – in progressive-education (= reformpädagogisch) settings are aware of the option of fostering digital skills via analogue means, and put this awareness into practice. Many other teachers, especially at kindergarden and primary education level, may be aware of it, and may have been practicing such activities for years. But there is a lack of studies that would confirm or disprove it.
- Reasearchers. Judging by the questions asked and the survey instruments used, most researchers investigating attitudes towards and practice of digital education are not aware of analogue options in digital education. They do not ask about drawing pictures by hand for creativity and innovation, nor about writing letters to communicate and cooperate, nor about asking other people for information to conduct research and use information, nor about drawing a giant sorting network on the schoolyard with chalk to foster problem solving as part of basic programming skills. (The phrases highlighted in bold letters are directly copied from a K-12 ICT skills framework, the italicized phrases are part of the Media Maturity Matrix) What they do ask about – often in great detail – is the availabilty of digital devices and activities where teachers and students make use of these devices (for a more nuanced reporting and critique of existing research approaches see p. 22 and chapter 6.7 in the MünDig report). I was witness to a presentation of results from a study as part of a Bachelor Thesis on digital education in nature/forest/outdoor kindergardens at the conference of the German Nature and Outdoor Kindergarten Association. The young presenter saw great cause for concern and a pressing need for change, because outdoor educators in one German Nation-State had answered most of his questions with a NO: No, digital devices are not available to the children in Outdoor Kindergardens. No, the children did not use laptops, Tablet PCs, Smartphones, very few used digital cameras. Even more alarming to him: most educators did not even see any need for change. They did not want to be trained for increased future use of tablets in their kindergartens. The audience – consiting mainly of outdoor kindergarden educators – intervened: They critized the METHOD of his survey. Bluntly, they said he had asked the wrong questions, he had asked only about all the screen-based digital activities they DID NOT do, and omitted all questions about the many analogue activities in media education they DID do. They said they understood the limitations of his data: The survey results could only show digital deficits instead of analogue resources. They concluded he should have used the Media Maturity Matrix instead. This was on day two of the conference. On day one, I had presented a lot of preliminary results for the Nature/Outdoor sample from the MünDig Study – which used MMM (Media Maturity Matrix). MMM is a new online tool we developed which allowed us to record self-reported attitudes and practice of educators in media education (“Medienbildung”) in three dimensions: a) which medium (analogue or digital) b) for which purpose c) at what age? The Matrix encompassed 60 different exemplary activities – both analogue and digital – which are not specific for Waldorf or Montessori or Outdoor education, so the survey tool could be used in regular kindergardens and schools. The 60 items are shown in an illustration as well as in text format. I am told that apart from the original research purpose, the 60 activities in ten areas have also been used by educational institutions as a blueprint to structure their media curricula and/or to inspire and enrich their practice. Back to the outdoor kindergarten conference: The audience was pleased to receive from me an account of the variety of – analogue – activities in digital education they were already implementing, and eager to hear about suggestions for expanding and improving it. Nevertheless, I could not help but wonder how the audience would have reacted if they had only heard one of the two perspectives: What if I had not been there – or not been there first? Would the audience have accepted the narrative of their deficient digital education and backwardness?
- Policy makers. Most politicians and stakeholders shaping digital educational policy are not aware of analogue alternatives either. Take a look at the current priorities in the EU Digital Education Action Plan. I cannot find any mention of analogue activities that could foster digital skills, not even for the youngest age groups. That is the bad news. The good news is that this is not in line with other EU and international publications. The importance of hands-on experience and direct interaction with caretakers for young children is stressed in the General comment 25 on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment, and the revision of the European DigComp (Digital Competences Framework) underlines the “importance of healthy personal digital balance regarding the use of digital technologies, including non-use as an option”. (DigComp, slide 8)
To sum up: The newly published results for the Waldorf sample and the upcoming results for Montessori and Nature/Outdoor samples of the MünDig Study are interesting. For future research, practice and policy in the field of education in the digital age it would be very promising to compare these findings with equally rich data for other, ‘regular’ kindergardens and schools, as hardly any reliable data on the question of ‘analogue means for digital ends’ is available for these settings. Not only do we need analogue control groups for sound technology assessments, but also adapted survey tools that allow for reliably recording what is gained AND what is lost when increasing the time children spend with digital screen-media in educational institutions.
P.S.: You are welcome to send an email to my team at firstname.lastname@example.org – we can send you an English conference poster on the Media Maturity Matrix and will inform you when the English version of the MünDig Study report is available.
P.P.S.: Paula wants to thank two fellow UNBLACK THE BOXers: Sigrid (Hartong) for contributing to the development of the Media Maturity Matrix as part of the scientific advisory board in the MünDig Study project, and Sieglinde (Jornitz) for valuable contributions to chapter 6.7 in the report.