Senior Researcher, Knowledge Media Research Center, Tübingen, Germany
(currently Deputy Professor of Communication at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Germany)
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on two major research lines. First, I’m expanding my previous research on media literacy by conducting a cross-country validation study of the newly developed social media literacy scale (Festl, 2021) together with Brigitte Naderer and Diana Rieger. I’m also working on different funding opportunities to further theoretically and empirically elaborate the proposed processual model of media literacy, also considering current challenges such as algorithm awareness. Second, I’m focusing on adolescents’ social online behavior, investigating the role of peer communication and normative influences on antisocial and prosocial forms on online behavior. Together with Vivian Chen from Nanyang Technological University, I conducted a first study that confirmed the importance of both, peer communication and peer norms, on youngsters’ online behavior. Research regarding social influence on prosocial behavior still is underrepresented (not only when dealing with digital media) and I think a more balanced perspective could help to better grasp the social benefits of online communication.
Festl, R, (2021). Social media literacy & adolescent social online behavior in Germany. Journal of Children and Media, 15(2), 249-271. https://doi.org/10.1080/17482798.2020.1770110
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
At the very beginning of my PhD, my supervisor Thorsten Quandt and I got funding for a longitudinal study on cyberbullying at schools. In 2012, when the project started, this was groundbreaking research since there were nearly no findings on this public heavily discussed phenomenon (at least in Germany). In this study, we conducted field research by going directly to many, many schools with classical paper-and-pencil questionnaires over the period of two years (3 panel waves). The questionnaires needed to be scanned by hand and covered a whole storage room of the university. I was greatly supported by several student assistants, but still this process of data collection took very much time. However, I’m glad that this was my first major research project, since this kind of getting data really helped to get a better perspective of our research subjects, the children and adolescents in their everyday school life. Although we did no qualitative research, we talked a lot with the students and got good feedback on our questionnaires and research project. Nowadays, also due to the Covid pandemic, many studies are conducted online, but I really think we need to keep up this direct contact with children and adolescents also in quantitative, standardized research. Overall, the project was successful, resulting in some interesting publications.
Festl, R. & Quandt, T. (2016). The role of online communication in long-term cyberbullying involvement among girls and boys. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45(9), 1931-1945. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-016-0552-9
Festl, R., Scharkow, M., & Quandt, T. (2015). The individual or the group: A multilevel analysis of cyberbullying in school classes. Human Communication Research, 41(4), 535-556. https://doi.org/10.1111/hcre.12056
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
In 2019, I was asked to write an expertise on “Digital media in the everyday life of families” for the 9th Family Report of the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. For me, this was a big honor to see how my research is not only recognized within our scientific community, but also might inform political stakeholders and the broader society. A practical transfer of research findings is not always easy since results are sometimes inconsistent or not representative for all subjects under consideration. However, especially in our field of research, we should risk this look beyond the horizon, also if someone is in an earlier stage of her or his academic career. The expertise now is finally published (unfortunately only in German language), two years after my submission. This is very slow (even compared to academic publishing) and does not pump my publication list. However, it was a good experience helping me to think of the research status, research gaps and practical relevant questions of this topic.
Wendt, R. (2021). Digitale Medien im Alltag von Familien. In Sachverständigenkommission des Neunten Familienberichts (Hrsg.), Eltern sein in Deutschland. Materialien zum Neunten Familienbericht (S. 537-566). München: DJI Verlag Deutsches Jugendinstitut. https://doi.org/10.36189/DJI232021
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
Parents and practitioners often get to hear that the children need to acquire media literacy to avoid or competently handle negative experiences online and to develop the necessary skills to deal with the (especially professional) challenges of a digital future. However, due to a lack of empirical research it is still not clear if and how media literacy can fulfill these high expectations. For example, there is the question what aspects of media literacy are most important to support children in their everyday handling of digital media. I think that aspects of social skills need to be put more in the focus, since digital media use often is social use. Rather than being able to perform in a digital working world, I also think that the everyday handling of challenges related to digital media in the family, among friends of in the school should be the focus for upcoming media literacy research.
What would be your work motto?
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
I would say that my favorite publication still is my paper together with Thorsten Quandt titled “Social relations and cyberbullying: The influence of individual and structural attributes on victimization and perpetration via the Internet”, published in Human Communication Research. Although this piece is already kind of old, the project – at that time – was so innovative combining cyberbullying research with social network analysis. We received a Top Paper Award from ICA in Boston, which was very exciting for me and a huge motivation for my further academic career. And the publication was the starting point for our large research project on cyberbullying at schools that I already mentioned before.
Festl, R. & Quandt, T. (2013). Social relations and cyberbullying: The influence of individual and structural attributes on victimization and perpetration via the Internet. Human Communication Resesarch, 39(1), 101-126. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2012.01442.x
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
If I would have the resources, I would definitely conduct a longitudinal study, but not only over two or three years (like most previous longitudinal studies), but over – let’s say – 10 years, following children from their early childhood to their adolescence. This study, of course, should refer to a representative sample of families in Germany and also would include the perspective of all family members (child, parents, siblings). The focus of the study would be on the dynamics between individual and joint digital media use and the various family relationships.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
Don’t get hung up on a perfect CV. That’s some advice a great mentor gave me in the last year. Even if the pressure seems to get higher in science, you can’t match every demand perfectly (most publications, best teaching evaluations, most renowned international collaborations, highest visibility in every scientific community) and there always will be some high-flyer that passes you on the way. So, the best might be to focus on your strengths and be guided by your own interests.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I would like to nominate Mariek Vanden Abeele who received an ERC starting grant and does so many great CAM studies. I would love to hear more from her.