Research Projects

Digital Wellbeing in Youth & Families

Most wellbeing tools—including research on them—focus on reducing the amount of time people spend using technology. In our prior work, we have found that although users do often express the wish to reduce their tech-related activities, they also seek to enhance the quality and meaningfulness of their experiences with technology. This area of my research encompasses several projects that seek to identify and organize the challenges that youth and their families experience as they engage with their smartphones, social media, and other networked technologies, and then use these empirical insights to design interventions that support media wellbeing in youth and families.

Faculty collaborators: Petr Slovak (King’s College London), Carrie James & Emily Weinstein (Harvard Graduate School of Education)

UW Students: Rotem Landesman, Caroline Pitt, Beck Tench

Funders: Committee for Children; Susan Crown Exchange

Technology’s Role in Teen Wellbeing during COVID-19

We have been tracking teens’ experiences during the pandemic in the United States and Germany. Through in-depth interviews and ecological momentary assessments (EMAs), we gathered data on daily changes in individual teens’ wellbeing, technology’s relationship to these changes, and other key factors that contribute to teen wellbeing. This work is generating insight into the role of networked technologies in teens’ academic, social, and personal experiences during a prolonged period of life disruption.

Students: Caroline Pitt, Ari Hock, Leyla Dewitz


NatureCollections app screenshots

NatureCollections: Can a Mobile App Connect Kids with Nature?

A mobile app may seem an unlikely candidate for getting kids outside and changing their relationships with nature. That is, however, exactly what we are doing with this project. NatureCollections harnesses kids’ enthusiasm for technology to re-connect them to the outdoors and spark their feelings of connection to nature. The NatureCollections app engages elementary school children in an exploration of the natural world. Leveraging children’s love for collecting things (stickers, baseball cards, shells, etc.), NatureCollections lets them take pictures of nature, identify what they find, and share and curate their photos in categories such as plants, birds, and landscapes. We are currently evaluating the effectiveness of the app at getting kids outside, and the role of nature exploration in affecting connectedness to and fascination with nature. Read more about our work on our project website.

Faculty collaborators: Joshua Lawler (UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences)

Students: Sarah Chase, Saba Kawas, Nicole Kuhn, Jordan Sherry-Wagner, Mina Tari (and many others!)

Funder: University of Washington Innovation Award; CoMotion/Population Health Innovation Award


The ConnectedLib Project

The Con­nect­edLib Toolkit was created to help librar­i­ans incor­po­rate dig­i­tal media into their work with youth to pro­mote con­nec­tions across learn­ing con­texts. Fac­ulty mem­bers from the library and infor­ma­tion sci­ence (LIS) schools at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton and Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land teamed with pub­lic libraries to cre­ate this pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment resource that sup­ports librar­i­ans in their efforts to lever­age new media tech­nolo­gies and pro­mote youth’s con­nected learn­ing expe­ri­ences in libraries. Read more about our work on our project website and visit the ConnectedLib Toolkit.

In our current work, we are updating the Toolkit to meet the needs of rural and small library staff to serve their community’s teens successfully, as well as launching a community of practice (CoP) and learning circles that will empower these staff to support each other in building capacity and skills to implement CL activities. In addition, we are working with participating library staff to develop a new module for the Toolkit that focuses on youth civic engagement.

Faculty collaborators: Mega Subramaniam (University of Maryland)

Project collaborators: Chris Coward & Stacey Wedlake (UW TASCHA), Linda Braun, Kelly Hoffman (University of Maryland)

Students: Rotem Landesman

Student alums: Saba Kawas, Caroline Pitt, Milly Romeijn-Stout, Ligaya Scaff

Funder: Institute of Museum and Library Services

Completed Projects

Fanfiction, Youth & New Forms of Mentoring

Over the past twenty years, amateur fanfiction writers have published an astonishing amount of fiction in online repositories. More than 1.5 million enthusiastic fanfiction writers—primarily young people in their teens and twenties—have contributed nearly seven million stories and more than 176 million reviews to a single online site, This project—whose findings to date have been published in a book (Aragon & Davis, 2019, MIT Press)—investigates fanfiction writers and fanfiction repositories, finding that these sites are not shallow agglomerations and regurgitations of pop culture but rather online spaces for sophisticated and informal learning. Through their participation in online fanfiction communities, young people find ways to support and learn from one another.

Faculty collaborators: Cecilia Aragon (UW Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering)

Students: Julie Ann Campbell, Ruby Davis, Abigail Evans, Sarah Evans, John Frens, David P. Randall, Kodlee Yin

Digital Badges for STEM Education

This National Science Foundation Early Career Development project investigates how networked technologies can be leveraged to develop learners’ STEM identities and connect their STEM learning across informal and formal contexts. We have developed and are currently implementing and evaluating a digital badge system that recognizes and rewards the skills and achievements of a diverse group of high school students participating in a science-based afterschool program at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. This work aims to develop strong STEM identities among students who are currently underrepresented in STEM subject areas and encourage these students to pursue future STEM learning and career opportunities. Read more about our work on our project website.

Students: Adam Bell, Caroline Pitt, Ari Hock (and many others!)

Funder: National Science Foundation Early Career Development Award

Investigating Digital Badges in After-School Settings

Digital badges are given as an award for an achievement or work accomplished. Common in video games and on social network sites, badges serve as a visible accomplishment and are shared with a larger online community that could include teachers and peer communities. But do they measurably increase learning outcomes and inspire students to strive for success?

The purpose of the study was to look at whether digital badges and badging systems successfully motivate learning in afterschool settings serving high school students. We explored how students and educators engage with and experience badges, looking in particular at motivation levels, learning pathways, the availability of novice to expert trajectories, and any implementation challenges faced. We also explored how badging systems fit into the broader public school framework, with specific attention given to how the Common Core standards were integrated and assessed.

Students: Sean Fullerton,  Simrat Singh

Impact of Gamification in a Classroom Setting

Gamification has quickly become a buzzword in education, engendering a range of hopes and fears around introducing gaming elements (e.g. leaderboards, badges, points) into formal learning environments. In fact, there’s even a school designed entirely around games and game culture. Despite the recent flurry of activity and speculation about gamification in education, we know little about whether introducing gamified activities promotes or undermines students’ learning and motivation.

This research project seeks to fill this gap in knowledge by investigating students’ experiences in a gamified informatics course taught at the University of Washington’s Information School. Our research team is exploring the extent to which gamification influences undergraduate students’ engagement in the course material and ideas, and whether it contributes to their learning and achievement. We seek to identify design opportunities for enhancing the learning experience in future iterations of the course, as well as in gamified courses more generally.

Students: Hayagriv Sridharan, Simrat Singh

Bullying in a Networked Era

The American Academy of Pediatrics has identified bullying as a serious health risk for adolescents. In today’s age of social media and smartphones, this health risk has taken on new forms and extended its reach. While traditional forms of bullying have been steadily decreasing over the course of the last two decades, cyberbullying has emerged as a major concern among parents, teachers, and other professionals working with young people. Because cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon, it is not yet clear what strategies educators should adopt to stem its rise.

Our research seeks to provide knowledge of youth’s lived experiences of cyberbullying, the coping strategies they employ, and the key risk and protective factors associated with both bullying perpetration and victimization. Recent and ongoing studies include content analyses of comments from a 2013 viral blog post about cyberbullying in which over 2,000 people shared their personal stories of bullying and coping, and analyses of survey data from 2,079 students in grades 8-12 investigating the risk and protective factors associated with cyberbullying victimization among adolescents. Through this research, we aim to inform efforts to reduce the prevalence of and negative consequences associated with cyberbullying among adolescents.

Project Team: David P. Randall, Anthony Ambrose, Mania Orand, Lucas Koepke

New Media in the Lives of Bermuda’s Youth

The purpose of the study was to investigate adolescents’ sense of identity and the role that parents, friends, and digital media technologies play in the construction of the self. A questionnaire was administered to a sample of 2,079 adolescents (57% female) between the ages of 11 and 19 years (M = 15.4 years) attending grades 8-12 in public and private schools in Bermuda. The qualitative portion of the study consisted of in-depth interviews with a purposefully selected sub-sample of 32 of these respondents.

The findings suggest that adolescents’ digital media use may either enhance or diminish their interpersonal and intrapersonal experiences depending on their use. For example, going online to express and explore different aspects of one’s identity had a negative impact on self-concept clarity, partly as a result of the negative impact of online identity exploration on friendship quality. In contrast, going online to communicate with one’s friends enhanced self-concept clarity through its positive effect on friendship quality.

Partnering Organizations: Bermuda Ministry of Education, The Berkeley Institute, CedarBridge Academy, Bermuda Institute, Warwick Academy, Mount Saint Agnes Academy, The Bermuda High School for Girls, and Saltus Grammar School

students sitting on stairs

Join me in 2023 at the UW iSchool! I’m looking for PhD students interested in research on youth, wellbeing, HCI, and the learning sciences. Learn More