About the DevTech Research Group

The primary goal of the DevTech research group at Tufts University, directed by Prof. Marina Umaschi Bers, is to understand how to design and evaluate technologically-rich psycho-educational programs aimed at helping children develop in positive ways through the use of technology. In this context, we understand learning as an important aspect of development.

Some researchers take a descriptive approach for understanding children and technology. They recognize the importance of technology in children’s lives and observe and analyze how young people use, appropriate and assign meaning to the technologies around them. They choose a descriptive approach to understand what young people are doing with technologies. A different line of research focuses on what young people could be doing with technology and therefore takes an interventionist or design approach. The goal is to develop psychoeducational programs, technology-rich curriculum, professional development programs, software and hardware to have an impact on youth’s learning and development. Both lines of research inform and nurture each other. The DevTech research group focuses on the second kind of research. We develop new and better approaches for young people to use technology in positive ways.

Our research is strongly inspired by two theoretical bodies of research: the constructionist theory of learning developed by pioneer in the field of educational technology, Seymour Papert, who was the doctoral advisor of Prof. Marina Umaschi Bers at the MIT Media Lab. The second, positive youth development, as conceptualized by applied developmental sciences. These two bodies of research inform our positive technological development framework. A description of the PTD framework can be found in Marina Bers' book Designing Digital Experiences for Positive Youth Development: From Playpen to Playground.

In today’s world, in which technology is playing an increasingly growing role in the lives of children, computer literacy and technological fluency is not enough. Developing competence and confidence regarding the use of computers is a necessary step. However, developing character traits that serve children to use technology in a safe way to communicate and connect with others, and providing opportunities for children to envision a better world through the use of computers is as important. Positive technological development is concerned with all of these aspects. This framework is a natural extension of computer literacy and technological fluency, but adds a psychosocial component to the study of the possibilities of technology-rich interventions to promote learning and development.

Our research pursue questions such as: How can children use technology in positive ways to lead more fulfilling lives and to make the world a better place? How can we develop programs to help children use technology in effective ways to learn new things, to express themselves creatively, to communicate in better ways, to take care of themselves and each other, and to contribute in positive ways to the self and the world? Based on an understanding of the positive impact of new technologies in the lives of children, how do we develop computer-based interventions that, leveraging what children are already doing with technology in positive ways, build on their strengths and assets? How do we evaluate these complex interventions? How do we design software and hardware; interventions that, from conceptualization to evaluation, are aligned with positive technological development?