By: Liz Do
11 Nov, 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, school children have had to adapt to learning and socializing remotely. This enormous shift, from classroom blackboards to home screens, is underscoring the need to improve children’s learning and development in online spaces.
This fall, the Jacobs Foundation announced an $11 million grant to create the Connecting the EdTech Research Ecosystem (CERES). Co-leading this effort is Candice Odgers, CIFAR Fellow and program co-director of the Child & Brain Development (CBD) program.
“We really lack a robust evidence base of what actually works for young people as we rush to meet their needs through digital technologies,” explains Odgers. “The hope is that this network will move the needle on evidence-based work in this area.”
Moving the needle means moving the conversation away from parents and educators only “screaming about screens.” and from companies simply selling their products.
Odgers — whose work focuses on digital technology and its effects on mental health, child well being, sleep, and educational outcomes — says there has been a mismatch between the kind of concerns that parents and educators have and what is really happening with young people.
“We constantly hear negative stories about young people and digital technology that are not supported by science, including the most recent claim that social media is responsible for increasing rates of depression among teens ,” says Odgers. “I think everyone is tired of having this same conversation. And it’s probably the wrong conversation. CERES gives us an opportunity to start to have the right kinds of conversations that place children’s needs and data at the centre.”
The CERES ecosystem is composed of interdisciplinary researchers in psychology, education, computer science and medicine from around the world, working together to better tailor educational technologies for children. CERES members also include CBD program members Daniel Ansari (CIFAR Fellow) and Michael Meaney (Advisor).
As the CERES network plans a path forward, Odgers believes CIFAR’s CBD and Pan-Canadian AI Strategy — its members and expertise — will play an integral role in strengthening the CERES initiative.
“Having worked with both CIFAR and the Jacobs Foundation, I think they share a lot of the same values, of bringing the brightest minds together to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems,” says Odgers. “I’m excited about future connections between the two organizations through this new network.”
CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Quebec, as well as foundations, individuals, corporations and Canadian and international partner organizations.