During the first CDEI pilots (age group 8-14) it was found that the Augmented Reality game that was developed for that project had a profound effect on students playing the game, that is, under the precondition that it was played while employing a form of interactive didactics. When the game was once, by coincidence because a teacher had an off-day, played while employing the traditional top-down transmission type of didactics, the game did not render any specific effect. This coincidental observation led to the hypothesis that new technologies without a change of didactics have no relevant impact on youngsters present in a class room. New technologies seem to lack the power to overturn the effect of the transmission model, which means that, in the words of research education researchers and innovators Paul Black & Dylan Wiliam (Inside the black box, 1998) “little, or no, worthwhile learning” takes places. After having analyzed the outcomes of a vast body of researches Black & Wiliam conclude that there is a “wealth of evidence that this transmission model does not work, even by its own criteria”. Wiliam restates this claim in his later work (Assessment for learning: why, what and how, 2009; Embedded formative assessment, 2011). Unplanned traditional teacher implementations that took place during the Identifeye project (age group 8-14) confirmed the hypothesis.
When the Augmented Reality game was played during the CDEI pilots while implementing an interactive type of didactics, be it project learning-based (PBL) or otherwise, a large majority of the youngsters present opened up profoundly. During one pilot lesson in the Netherlands for instance students (aged 12) started talking about their sexual fantasies and sexually oriented online activities. In another lesson a Dutch girl (aged 11) stated that she does not meet up with strangers any more whom she had gotten to know online. These are anything but standard topics in the class room, to put it mildly.
In subsequent pilots in Poland and Greece the pattern was repeated. The use of new technology was followed by youngsters opening up profoundly and for instance being able to endure otherwise unpleasant situations such as confrontations with themselves in front of the whole class– see outcome 2.
This effect of technology on youngsters is extensively discussed by Sherry Turkle (Alone together, 2011). As early as the mid-1970s the effect was noted and dubbed “the ELIZA effect”. The effect was named after Joseph Weizenbaum’s program ELIZA “that engaged in dialogue in the style of a psychoterapist.” The program did not understand anything it was told, it just would “take strings of words and turn them into questions or restate them as interpretations”. Turkle continues: “Weizenbaum’s students knew that the program did not know or understand; nevertheless they wanted to chat with it. More than this, they wanted to be alone with it. They wanted to tell it their secrets.”
Turkle describes how children “describe robots as alive enough to love and mourn”. She worries about the affection that children – and older individuals – display towards artificial intelligence entities: “Dependence on a robot presents itself as risk free. But when one becomes accustomed to “companionship” without demands, life with people may seem overwhelming. Dependence on a person is risky – it makes us subject to rejection – but it also opens us up to deeply knowing another. Robotic companionship may seem a sweet deal, but it consigns us to a closed world – the lovable as safe and made to measure.”
Turkle’s line of thinking has led analysts and researchers assume that this is why youngsters prefer asychronous, online communication to real life communication (see outcome 1). Technology, in this line of thinking, provides youngsters with a shield to lead a risk-free life. The price they seem to pay is that of not being able to know another person “deeply” – something that seems to be confirmed by the falling levels of nonverbal communication skills by youngsters (see outcome 3). This situation would be deeply tragic since youngsters do want to talk – see outcome 3 – probably do look for trust and affirmation – see outcome 4 – and do think that contact in real life is more important than contact online – see outcome 1.
In the projects Talking about Taboos (all age groups), and Dynamiczna Tozsamosc 2014-2016 (all ages) pilots took place in which interactive didactics was implemented, and that concerned the subject of new technologies but did not always involve the actual use of new technologies. During these pilots the results were very similar to those in which interactive didactics were employed and new technologies were actually introduced to the participants.
When in Identifeye (age group 8-14), on the other hand, teachers implemented interactive didactics and employed a new technology, students did open up, but not to the degree of the earlier pilots. A vast majority of students was very enthusiastic about the lessons and stated that they would strongly encourage these types of lessons to be repeated, but they did not seem to show the same trust levels as during the pilots.
If we’d accept the premise that youngsters think they show more or less of themselves according to the circumstances – see outcome 4 – and that this decision involves trust then technology in itself seems to be a factor to help them decide to open up more (the ELIZA effect) but only under the right trust circumstances (interactive didactics). Similar circumstances were described by youngsters in a questionnaires when asked what was needed to open up to an adult – see outcome 3. But even more so, youngsters open up online.
But youngsters did not open up as much to their regular teachers as to the instructors. This could have to do with the fact that teachers are present all the time, not just during the workshop. But this argument is at odds with the setting of the class under patronage within the framework of the project Dynamiczna Tozsamosc 2014-2016. In this setting the instructors have committed themselves to be regularly present in the class room for a period over three years. And in this setting students open up ever more, rather than closing up. According to this logic, students should rather not open up to strangers but rather to their own teachers.
Another explanation for the observation that youngsters open up less to their own teachers is that their teachers are part of a hierarchical power structure while the instructors are far less so. This might a factor. But a far more powerful explanation seems to be that the instructors are fluent in online communication, at least on a par with the students, while their teachers were only taking their first steps in this field.
Could it indeed be that being in the know about online communication is like a code that one belongs to the club of online natives? Is it possible that understanding and accepting new technologies – in combination with interactive didactics – erases (nearly) all trust barriers between instructors and youngsters? Is it not just new technologies that open up youngsters but also adults who feel at ease with new technologies? This would explain the success of representatives of the police and other law enforcement organizations in their contact with youngsters (see for instance this story of a policeman pioneering with this in Canada, 2012). And, it would help to explain why youngsters at the project pilots would at first give the answers that they thought that were expected from them, or just remained silent to the instructors, and would only open up after a while. Several students told at a later stage that initially they felt the pilots would be more of the same and that the instructors would prove to be the next adults who pose as being different but would turn out to be exactly the same as always. But students said that after a while they changed their mind and opened up and gave their trust.
This hypothesis would also help to understand why some youngsters turn to their parents in case of problems online and other youngsters do not – see outcome 2. It would also bring more meaning to the answer of participants that what they needed to open up is an Internet connection and a relevant app only. Because in the question in the questionnaire there was no mention that it concerned having online communication with peers only. This might have been assumed by the participants, because of their assumption that the Internet is for young people only, but the question in the questionnaire followed the question on what was needed to open up to adults, thus a priming effect that this question as well concerned adults could also be expected.
The thought that adults who have knowledge of online communication and of new technologies have something similar to a password to enter the world of youngsters, seems to make sense. If new technologies are part of the communication grammar of youngsters then anyone knowing that grammar can speak their language, at least up to a certain degree. A shared communication grammar then probably leads to the assumption among youngsters that a shared frame to interpret situations also exists and, therefore, a safe situation exists that is defined by trust. Adults understanding online communication would thus be perceived as not focusing on bad language or rough jokes and would be seen as interested in that what happens online. Thus, whereas some researchers see new technologies as the great divide between generations because youngsters can hide behind it, knowledge of new technologies could very well also be the bridge that enables a trusting communication between generations.
This hypothesis would be in line with the experience of the instructors in all of the projects. The hypothesis is also in line with the assessment of Dutch youngsters (2015 CBS research) of social media. Whereas nearly 40% sees social media negatively impacting their ability to concentrate, 25% percent experiences a negative impact on their night’s rest and 20% on their achievement at school, only 4% evaluates social media as negatively impacting their contact with family and friends while a majority (52%) sees social media, on the other hand, positively impacting their contact with family and friends. If the line of thinking that was sketched above applies, then this positive impact can be directly related to the effect of social media and adults being in the know about them.