Thinking of the children: Why Trinity College and IBM are researching how kids use tech

Researchers in the Digymatex consortium are collaborating to ‘disentangle’ how children interact with smartphones.

By Jonathan Keane Reporter, Fora

RESEARCHERS IN TRINITY College Dublin are collaborating with IBM and several other organisations to devise better ways for assessing children’s “digital maturity”.

Digymatex is a consortium of universities and public organisations around Europe that will carry out the project over the next four and a half years with IBM Denmark contributing technical expertise in machine learning and algorithms.

The EU recently granted €3.45 million through the Horizon 2020 to the project, which will examine and establish clear evidence-based tools.

At the end of the project, the researchers hope to present a tool or product that will help parents and businesses better understand the long-term effects of technology, namely smartphones, on children.

The end solution, tentatively dubbed the Digital Youth Maturity Index (DYMI), aims to provide a more comprehensive way to measure a child’s maturity by minimising the risks and maximising the benefits of this technology.

Dr Pablo Gracia, assistant professor of sociology, is leading the Trinity contributions to the project.

The research is still at its early stages in devising its methods, he said, but the researchers, which are spread across ten countries, will be collaborating with schools to work with children.

“(We will) disentangle how they are using technologies like smartphones and so on and how these affect our well-being but also we will be collecting data.”

The research will focus on children between the ages of nine and 16. It will examine aspects like the age that a child gets their first phone and what effects that can have on development. Another issue it may examine is the effectiveness of parental restriction apps, of which there are many on the market.

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Source: Shutterstock/LesPalenik

“Previous studies are not really disentangling the effect of using phones in a very clear manner, (or looking at) children who use their phones in a particular way or get their phones quite early. Children who at the same time might have a specific personality trait,” Gracia said.

Researchers will study children from one year to another to garner a longer-term view of the effects of the usage of digital products.

“The final product will depend a lot on the results and how they will evolve over the next years.”

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Kids and technology

Kid-focused technology has become big business as firms attempt to make online products that are safer for younger consumers.

SuperAwesome, founded by Irish entrepreneur Dylan Collins, develops digital media solutions that are child-friendly and one of its most recent products is a YouTube alternative for kids.

The company, based in London, has raised $58 million from investors, with Microsoft recently putting money in.

Meanwhile Irish company SoapBox Labs, founded by Dr Patricia Scanlon, is building speech recognition software specifically for children’s learning in a world where children are increasingly using technology products in their education. 

Earlier this month the company launched a new product called Fluency that helps teachers assess reading fluency using voice recognition.

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