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Digital Futures

Spotlight on Developing in Digital Worlds

Dive into the first study in the world to develop the link between teaching, family engagement and game-based learning

”How does participation in the digital world influence children’s cognitive and social development?”

“What skills, knowledge and capabilities do children need to manage, engage and benefit from participating in the digital world?”

“How can family, educators and society effectively support children’s involvement in the digital world?”

These are the three initial questions posed by the Woolf Fisher Research Centre at the University of Auckland. This study, Developing in Digital Worlds, began in July 2015 in order that parents, teachers and children would be offered the opportunity to understand developing engagement in the digital world. The concept was bolstered by the fact that “despite the promise of digital technologies, little research and development has occurred to determine the cognitive skills and the social skills children need.” This work looked into subject areas across English, maths, science and Māori contexts, informed by ‘new knowledge’ obtained from children aged 4-18. This study was the first of its kind. Focusing entirely on developing the link between teaching, engagement and game-based learning to promote educational outcomes, the research team began with three main objectives, detailed below: 

One, to understand the development and learning of ‘21st Century’ skills in children and adolescents;

Two, to understand how we can prevent new digital environments opening up a second ‘digital divide’ between low socio-economic status or diverse cultural and linguistic communities, from more affluent ‘mainstream’ communities;

And three, to understand how development of these skills differs between educational environments. The study surveys ‘early adopting’ clusters of schools, in which students are exposed to high-usage digital environments in and out-of-school, as well as ‘later adopting’ clusters whose students are at the initial stages of digital interaction. The Developing in Digital Worlds study also includes Māori medium Kura, in line with the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation’s Vision Mātauranga policy.

Looking at accessibility

“Educational professionals, networks, and parents/whānau'' will be offered long-term access to all of the digital resources and knowledge found throughout the study. This aims to create a digital knowledge exchange unbounded by socioeconomic borders and status. The study is focused on low socioeconomic communities, and intends to prevent a “digital divide”. Education trusts at partnering schools have contributed to the study through feedback sessions, partnerships and additional projects. This means that the scope of the study includes a true reflection of the diversity present in New Zealand with both Māori and Pasifika communities represented. 

But, what is the Digital Divide?

The digital divide refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology and those that don’t.*

Creating the game

Following their research, the team responsible used their findings to design and develop the educational game Astria: Countdown to Impact. The game “provides a collaborative game experience” to encourage players to expand their critical thinking and critical literacy, discovering important links to inclusive texts from the New Zealand Curriculum Te Marautanga O Aotearoa. The main focus of the game is to demonstrate the importance of ‘source, fact, bias’ framing, and offers teachers agency to create their own analysis of students’ critical reasoning and knowledge expansion. It also features automated assessment tools as well as real-time feedback reporting and critical literacy discourse options. Schools around the world are offered the option to login online and play the game, with widespread access creating borderless communication and a wider reach for digital knowledge exchange.

What we can learn from this work

We can explore this study as a blueprint for understanding the important educational links between community and digital engagement. The focus on 21st-century skills with an added layer of respect to traditional texts and social involvement is particularly pertinent to our work at World of Us. We have also learned from how social and digital development can grow parallel, and that parents, teachers and families must be involved in every stage of the process to ensure a complete picture of the needs of children in this evolving landscape. 

*To learn more about the digital divide this resource from Investopedia breaks it down nicely here.


The World of Us editorial team comprises a global network of creative minds, makers, writers and industry experts. The team strives to research with enquiry and openness at its core, while constantly searching for opportunities to exchange knowledge and expand as a community.

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