Digital culture has become a fundamental part of young people’s lives, but for many of us it continues to be a mysterious and murky area.

That's something Professor Julian Sefton-Green from Deakin University wants to change.

Sefton-Green is the lead researcher behind a new project within the Deakin School of Education’s Everyday Digital Project, designed “to support teachers to learn about their students’ every day digital experiences” and develop “appropriate curriculum and school-based policy responses”.

He believes that the apprehension around students’ technology is often a function of what we don’t understand.

“We think that the consequences of digital technology are one of the most important things schools have to deal with...”

“[But] sometimes we focus on anxieties because we, as a society, don’t know enough about the ways in which a positive or educational or just different uses of technology might be changing the learning landscape for young people.”

Everyday Digital has developed an online collection of resources to help teachers challenge some of their assumptions about students’ technology use, and to start thinking about the implications of digital practices in the classroom.

The group enlisted the help of 16 teachers from primary and secondary sectors across Victoria to research students’ online lives inside and outside the school gates.

They then worked together to develop practical activities to encourage parents and teachers to interrogate the ways in which the digital is woven in and around the lives of schoolchildren.

“We were genuinely finding things out about the way generations of kids, who in some cases were one generation removed from the teacher themselves, were living very different sorts of lives and having very different sorts of experiences online and with technology,” Sefton-Green says.

“And the teachers were really finding it interesting to think, ‘well, what does that mean for how we communicate? What does that mean for how we define education? And what does that mean for the kinds of continuum of activities between school and at home?”

The resources include a series of videos of the teachers talking about their experiences, as well as discussion points and advice for others looking to develop their own activities and professional development initiatives.

The collaborative nature of the project is a reflection of Sefton-Green’s desire to get away from a traditional educational research model. 

“What we wanted to do with this project was to get the teachers to be the researchers, to get the teachers to learn about their school communities.”

There’s a limit ... to the [model] where academics find out about the world and then tell teachers what they’re supposed to know; it’s an unhealthy and unbalanced and, actually, ineffective way of using research to make a difference...”

“We wanted to treat teachers as equals in the conversation, and we wanted them to want to engage in that discussion.”

Discussion is crucial going forward, says Sefton-Green, and he hopes his “humble” resource can inspire a broader conversation. 

“I think that getting teachers, parents and then policymakers engaged in a more progressive, less anxious conversation about young people’s use of media technologies ... and the consequences of that digital technology for what it means to grow up in Australia today is absolutely central...”

Go to researching-the-everyday-digital.com for more information on Everyday Digital.