UOW researchers to help tackle big questions about digital technology’s effects on health and education
University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers will contribute to world-first research to understand the impact of digital technology on Australian children.
Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan announced $34.9 million in funding to establish the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child on Sunday (22 September).
“Our children are growing up with unprecedented access to technology and we need to better understand the effect it is having on them,” Mr Tehan said.
“This new centre will undertake a family cohort study, run children’s technology laboratories and lead research programs to improve our knowledge of the effects of digital technology on children. The results of this research will benefit parents and inform improvements to children’s health and education policy.”
At the heart of the Centre is a longitudinal study of the digital lives of Australian children from birth to eight years of age. It brings together expertise from six Australian universities, including UOW, along with 33 academic and industry partner organisations from Australia, Europe, Asia and America. Together they will provide an additional $32.2 million in cash and in-kind support to the Centre.
The ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child will be based at Queensland University of Technology and led by QUT’s Professor Susan Danby.
Professor Sue Bennett, head of UOW’s School of Education, will be the new Centre’s Deputy Director.
“The aim of the Centre is to make a positive difference to the lives of our youngest Australians through research that tackles big questions about digital technology,” Professor Bennett said.
“These questions include: how can families best manage screen time; what can parents do to create a safer online environment for their children; how can digital technologies be used to enhance children’s education?
“We need to consider health, education and connectedness together. The scale of this national Centre will allow us to do new work that brings those different areas together in innovative ways. We will also do research that follows children and their families over time. That will give us a sense of how they are developing and how their lives are changing as technology is evolving.
“We need a national centre like this to be able to respond well to a rapidly changing world, one in which technology is increasingly shaping our lives. Parents, educators and community as a whole need advice based on the best evidence to make decisions, as do government and industry.”
Professor Sue Bennett, Deputy Director of the new ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child.
Professor Bennett will lead one of the major strands of research into connectedness through technology, which has social and technical links with education and health.
Another UOW researcher, Professor Lisa Kervin, will jointly lead the strand on education.
“A focus on the digital educated child enables us at UOW to make some really strong connections with Early Start – the Discovery Space, our engagement centres and of course the great innovative pedagogical advances that UOW researchers are known for,” Professor Kervin said.
Professor Bennett said UOW researchers would work across the three research strands.
“We bring our existing expertise in understanding the ways in which technology integrates with education and across our lives, the development of early literacy, digital play, physical activity in young children, children’s early self-regulation, early childhood education and professional learning,” she said.
“The Centre will build on and connect with Early Start, across the Discovery Space, engagement centres and partners; and with our undergraduate program in early years education. So there will be fantastic opportunities for our academics, partners and students to be involved.
“This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for UOW and our communities to work with an extraordinary group of world class researchers and partners on some of our most pressing issues.
“We know that making a difference in the early years of life has huge flow-on benefits for individuals and also across our society. There is no other centre like this in the world so this is a very significant investment in Australia’s future.”