With all the marketing hype surrounding digital media, it's important to be realistic about what they can and can't do. This will vary depending on your research context, but speaking to people who have used digital media in research some common themes emerge.
DIGITAL MEDIA STRENGTHS
Digital media methods tend to be good for:
- Engaging with children and young people - making research more fun, interesting and relevant for them.
- Extending the geographical reach of a project.
- Cutting down on travel costs and travel time – you can reach people remotely.
- Creating learning opportunities, both for young people and for adult researchers. Digital media are constantly changing, so there is always more to learn.
- Widening your dissemination channels – going beyond written reports and publications.
DIGITAL MEDIA WEAKNESSES
Digital media methods also have some limitations:
- Digital media can be extremely time consuming. Posting content to social media sites, editing audio and video clips, learning how to use new software and hardware, staying up to date - all of these things take time. The constant learning curve also means that digital media projects have a tendency to take longer than expected.
- Digital media methods are not a 'quick fix'. It can take a lot of hard work to set up and maintain digital media, and to get young people engaged. Simply setting up a social media site or online survey, for example, doesn't mean that children will automatically start to communicate with you through these channels.
- Digital media methods can be problematic when dealing with sensitive topics where privacy and anonymity are important. This doesn't mean they can't be used for such studies - but they do require some extra care, thought and planning.
- Digital media can be very frustrating. Often technologies don't work as expected, and dealing with such problems can take time and persistence.
- Sometimes research requires sustained, focussed attention, and certain forms of digital media can work against this by creating distractions. Learning when to log out, shut down and turn off devices is an important skill.
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