Developmental Technologies: Designing Computational Environments to Promote Positive Youth Development

Speaker: Marina Bers , Tufts Univeristy

Date: Friday, September 30, 2005

Time: 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM

Refreshments: 3:15 PM

Public: Yes

Location: Patil Seminar Room (32-G449)

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Host: Jaime Teevan, CSAIL

Contact: Jaime Teevan, 617/253-1611,

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Applied developmental science (ADS) provides a framework to design and evaluate programs and policies that promote positive development by emphasizing the strengths and assets of young people. However, most of the psychoeducational programs conceived within the ADS model have not attended to the role of new technologies in young people's lives or have limited their use for information delivery or retrieval. This is particularly striking given that, in today's world, new technologies play an important role in different domains of youngsters' lives such as education, entertainment, socialization and communication. This paper presents an interdisciplinary theoretical model to design and study new technologies to promote positive youth development.

The research explores how new technologies, coined Identity Construction Environments (ICE), specifically designed to foster new kinds of virtual communities of learning and care can lead to positive youth development by complementing and/or augmenting face to face psychoeducational interventions. I developed the notion of ICE after a ten-year research trajectory that started at the MIT Media Lab and involved several design experiments and prototype testing with varied communities of young people in schools, after-school settings, community-based organizations, and hospitals.

In this talk I will present the interdisciplinary theoretical framework that supports the design and evaluation of ICE which is informed by three main bodies of work: the constructionist theory of learning, which has specifically focused on the role of technology in education, the current research on virtual communities, and the work on narrative theory and its impact on identity construction.

I will also present a case study of a virtual environment explicitly designed to foster positive youth development: the Zora three-dimensional multi-user environment that provides tools for young people to build and inhabit a virtual city. During the presentation, I will focus on the specific design features of Zora, as they foster the development of the six components of PYD, competence, confidence, caring, character, connection, contribution (6 Cs), and the methods for evaluating their success or failure. I will illustrate the presentation with examples of different studies conducted with youth using ora in varied complex settings, such as a dialysis unit in a pediatric hospital, an after-school learning environment for multi-cultural children, and a freshman college setting.


Marina U. Bers is an assistant professor at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development and an adjunct professor in the Computer Science Department at Tufts University. She is also a scientific research associate at Boston Children's Hospital. At Tufts, Prof. Bers heads the interdisciplinary Developmental Technologies research group composed by students of disciplines such as Computer Sciences, Engineering, Education and Child Development. She completed her Ph.D. in 2001 under guidance of Seymour Papert, Mitchel Resnick and Sherry Turkle at the MIT Media Laboratory. She did her undergraduate studies at Buenos Aires University, Argentina, and she received a Master's degree in Educational Media and Technology from Boston University. Her research involves the design and study of innovative educational technologies and, with funding from NSF's Career program, Marina is studying virtual communities to foster positive youth development in real-world settings such as children's hospitals, after-school programs and museums. In April 2005, Prof. Bers was awarded the American Educational Research Association (AERA)'s Jan Hawkins Award which is given for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies. Over the past ten years, Prof. Bers conceived, designed and used diverse technological tools ranging from robotics to distributed collaborative learning environments, from storytelling programming languages to tangible human-computer interfaces. She conducted studies with each of these tools in elementary and high schools in the US, Argentina, Colombia and Spain, rural after-school settings in Costa Rica and Thailand, museums in Boston and New York, and young patients and psychiatrists in Boston Children's Hospital. Marina has written numerous book chapters and academic papers on her research and has presented her work in national and international conferences. She has also consulted in educational technology projects for the governments of Denmark, Thailand and Costa Rica.

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Created by Linda L. Julien Email at Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 6:21 AM.