Dr. Kristiina Kumpulainen on Children’s Digital Literacies, Agency and Creativity, and Learning Practices for Equitable, Inclusive, and Culturally-responsive Educational Advancement

December 10, 2020

Dr. Kristiina Kumpulainen is an Associate Professor in the Educational Technology and Learning Design program at the Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on children’s digital literacies, agency and creativity, and learning and teaching practices with evolving technologies in formal education and informal learning environments, including early childhood education centers, schools, homes, museums, science centers, libraries, outdoors, and in digital and immersive worlds. She has researched and developed pedagogies, learning environments and tools for children’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) learning, multiliteracies, and for children’s environmental and climate change education. Her portfolio witnesses an extensive record of publications and externally funded research projects from highly competitive and distinguished programs in Finland, Europe and Australia. In 2019, she was nominated to become the Fellow of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. In addition to her role in several editorial boards, she serves as the co-editor of the international journal of Learning, Culture and Social Interaction published by Elsevier. 

Welcome to SFU Dr. Kumpulainen. Please tell us a little bit about yourself including your academic and professional backgrounds.

My interest and expertise involve the current and historical scholarship in research on interaction. My research focuses on learning and education and theory informed investigations of technological designs to support teaching and learning in early childhood, K-12, postsecondary education and in informal learning environments. I completed my PhD in 1994 at the School of Education, University of Exeter, UK on “The nature of children’s oral language interactions during collaborative writing experience at the computer.” Since then, my research has focused on various technologies and novel designs for learning and education.

I have been involved in different levels of service to faculty, university, and community in Finland and internationally. I worked as a Junior Fellow and an Academy Fellow of the Academy of Finland during the years of 1997-2005. In the years 2006-9, I directed the national interdisciplinary research network on learning, CICERO Learning at the University of Helsinki. I also served the Information and Evaluation Services Unit at the Finnish National Agency as Director from 2009-11. I have worked as a Professor of Education at the University of Helsinki from the year 2012 onwards. I have also been a visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB); Gevirtz Graduate School of Education; University of Warwick, Institute of Education, UK and the University of British Columbia (UBC). I have served as an advisory board member for the Finnish National Agency for Education and contributed to educational policy developments of the Finnish education system. I currently serve in the advisory board of IKEA children. I have also established a nationally and internationally recognised Playful Learning Center at the University of Helsinki. The Playful Learning Center offers a purpose-built facility that operates as an international hub for multidisciplinary research, tackling issues around children’s learning and development and social inclusion in the digital age. It conducts multi-disciplinary research on play and learning, develops and shares pedagogical models, learning environments and materials which can accelerate children’s learning processes. The center runs educational courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels as well as professional development of educators. I look forward to building connections between the Playful Learning Center at the University of Helsinki and the Faculty of Education at SFU in my research and educational practice.

Please share the type of research that you will be conducting as our new faculty member at the faculty of Education.

My research embodies a strong motivation for international research excellence, improvement of practice and community engagement. My research draws on the fields of educational and learning sciences, literacy, and media studies, with a specific interest on sociocultural and posthuman theorizing. Methodologically, my research is informed by video research, interaction analysis, multimodal analysis, studies of discourse, visual studies, interactional ethnography, as well as social design experiments and co-participatory research. A number of my research projects have developed new methods of analyzing interaction and learning processes in technology-rich learning environments and researching with children, increasing knowledge of collaborative research and democratic forms of inquiry.

Can you please share your current research with us?

My ongoing research focuses on children’s digital literacies, agency and creativity, and learning practices with evolving technologies in formal education, informal learning environments, and in digital and immersive worlds. I have engaged in the design and investigation of technological innovations, novel instructional methods, pedagogies and curricula for learning and educational change. I engage in interdisciplinary research and development projects with academic, industry and community partners. My recent design is an open source augmented reality application MyArJulle designed to support children’s mobile and multimodal storytelling. At present, I am involved in a number of internationally funded research projects. These also reflect the focus areas of my future research. I would like to share three of my current projects.

Digital mediation of children’s interactions with the more than human world (2019-2022)
This project investigates how children (K-6) deploy digital devices to interact with the "natural" world and how this influences their literate practices, emotional engagement and identities. These issues are investigated longitudinally across countries, Australia and Finland, and in relation to key contextual issues of social class, material conditions, and pedagogical approach. Through children's learning commission on how to use digital devices sustainably, children become researchers of how to mitigate the effects of human activity on the "natural" world. This project is realized through research collaboration with Professor Peter Renshaw and Dr. Ron Tooth from the University of Queensland and is funded by the Australian Research Council.

Learning by making: The educational potential of school-based makerspaces for young learners’ digital competencies (2017-2022)
This project, funded by the Academy of Finland, focuses on students’ (aged 7 to 12 years old) digital literacy practices and digital competence development in so called makerspaces in two Finnish elementary schools. Makerspaces facilitate hands-on creative activities that enable students to engage in personally meaningful creative projects using various digital tools, such as electronics, laser cutters and 3D printers. The outcomes of the project offer significant insights into understanding the nature of students’ digital literacy practices in school-based makerspaces and the learning opportunities these create for their digital competencies across operational, cultural and critical dimensions. The results also point out possibilities and challenges in the implementation of makerspaces in school settings. These findings are valuable in the future development of makerspaces and other similar learning environments in and out of schools.

The Nordic Research Network on Digitalising Childhoods (DigiChild (2019-2020)
The Digitalising Childhoods network program involves a network of five universities - the University of Helsinki, Finland; the University of Oslo, Norway; the University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Southern University, Denmark; and the University of Iceland. The program aims to increase cutting-edge research knowledge of the potentials and pressing issues of digitalisation on children’s (aged 0-18 years) participation, learning, and wellbeing in Nordic societies and beyond. The project received funding from the joint committee for Nordic research councils in the humanities and social sciences, NOS-HS program (2019-2020). Please visit the following site for more information: http://www.digichild.net

What impact would you like to see your research have on communities and society at large?

I hope that through my research I am able to contribute to equitable, inclusive, and culturally responsive educational advancement locally and globally. I am passionate about creating educational opportunities that matter and that can lead to both individual and societal transformation. To me, education has an important role to play in creating sustainable and just futures for both humans and the planet. Understanding and designing technologies that can contribute to these goals and that expand our possibilities for communication, collaboration, learning and wellbeing lie at the heart of my research.

What suggestion would you like to give to prospective graduate students interested in your field of research?

My teaching is influenced by my academic research background and education as an elementary school teacher in Finland with an emphasis on theory-practice interaction, co-design, experiential learning, inquiry and project-based learning, and knowledge co-creation. I have experience and passion in working in international settings with students, scholars, education practitioners and policymakers of diverse backgrounds. For me, a collaborative working culture is a necessity and a core principle of my scholarly work for advancing research and practice. In academia, I enjoy and value working with both junior and senior scholars to enhance research excellence and societal impact in education. Supporting the education of the next generation scholars is a priority in my work. I also strive to build positive partnerships across the University, as well as locally, provincially, nationally and internationally.