Professor of Communication
(with a special focus on children and adolescents)
University of Erfurt, Germany
What are you currently working on?
I have been doing a lot of privacy research in the last couple of years, and currently we are preparing a new study. I am really excited about it because it investigates privacy attitudes during the COVID pandemic. Because we have not started with this research yet, I don’t want to spoil anything. Currently, I am also co-chairing a project that I have wanted to do since almost ten years–and we finally got funding! We are developing a media education program for future teachers. Here in Germany, the pandemic showed us that teachers are not well prepared to use digital tools for teaching and this is (surprisingly) the case for students who want to become teachers as well. So, now we are developing a curriculum to make them aware of the potential for digital media literacy training in schools, and we want to empower future teachers to embrace the potentials of digital learning.
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
Starting in 2009, we carried out a series of experiments on the relationship between media and morality. This project introduced me with Moral Foundations Theory (MFT), an approach I still regularly employ in my research today, and I am still fascinated in understanding the moral underpinnings of our behavior. Nicholas Bowman introduced me to MFT. He and the research team around Ron Tamborini at Michigan State had employed this concept to better understand entertaining media. We thought it would be worthwhile to look at video games (where users actually make decisions) to see if these decisions are defined by people’s real-life morality.
This was my first international project, but what made it particularly memorable was that I learned a lot about conducting research with participants that normally are not the focus of my studies (i.e., adolescents in rural communities or senior citizens). So, when we discussed our ideas, Leyla Dogruel–who had just finished her thesis on elderly peoples’ media use–made us aware that it would be very interesting to compare adolescents with older persons, given that stable moral orientations develop over time. So, we carried out a study with both school kids and elderly citizens. Specifically, we made 84 year-olds play a computer game – and this was more than ten years ago! And I can tell you, the twelve-year-old boy from rural Georgia tried as hard to find a way to hit somebody in our non-violent video game as the 76-year old grandfather from Germany.
As we did not have many resources, we had to do everything on our own: We programmed the game, we made the contact with schools, recruited senior citizens, hosted the experimental sessions. We went to community meetings and had (lots of) coffee and cake with locals to recruit participants. What was so memorable of the project was not only that we are still working on the same theoretical concepts and replicating our findings, but also that we had such a close contact with a very diverse audience. I recommend doing research with people outside your comfort zone, with school kids at rural schools, with elderly people, with liberal and conservative participants, with people that are not used to doing research. And finally, we published three papers and had several ICA presentations based on the project. However, I still remember the talk we gave as a “thank you” to the senior participants at Berlin Gedächtniskirche. Talking about morality to a group of well-read engaged senior citizens in a church was most likely the toughest talk I ever had to give – but also one of the most rewarding ones.
Joeckel, S., Bowman, N. D., & Dogruel, L. (2012). Gut or Game? The Influence of Moral Intuitions on Decisions in Video Games. Media Psychology, 15(4), 460–485. https://doi.org/10.1080/15213269.2012.727218
Dogruel, L., Joeckel, S., & Bowman, N. D. (2013). Elderly people and morality in virtual worlds: A cross-cultural analysis of elderly people’s morality in interactive media. New Media & Society, 15(2), 276–293. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444812451571
Joeckel, S., Bowman, N. D., & Dogruel, L. (2013). The Influence of Adolescents’ Moral Salience on Actions and Entertainment Experience in Interactive Media. Journal of Children and Media, 7(4), 480–506. https://doi.org/10.1080/17482798.2013.781513
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
Asking (liberally-minded) Germans what they are proud of is a tricky affair! I am completely on German comedian Jan Böhmermann’s side: Back in 2016, he made a brilliant song about German national attitudes in his song Be Deutsch [Achtung – Germans on the Rise] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMQkV5cTuoY) , and the chorus reads: “We are proud of not being proud” (I really recommend listening to the song). But to be honest, quite recently at a local media education fair, I realized I am really proud of the way our MA in Children, Adolescents and the Media has evolved in the last ten years. In 2009, I was hired to get our then program off the ground. We were, at that time, two assistant professors and two grad students with very little experience to run such a program. Our University was very supportive, but funds were limited and nobody knew if this project would work out as it was. When we started, we had two weeks to promote the program. After interviewing 50 applicants, we started with 14 students. Ten years later at a media education fair event, I saw a workshop on teaching kids to use Calliope mini for programming, and it was hosted by two of my former students. I was really excited to see how well they worked with the kids (I did not teach them how to do this!). During the day, I ran into half my current MA students and dozens of my former ones, all there as experts doing workshops with kids or teachers. It was great to see that so many of our students now work in the field and had all these brilliant projects to present. Each year, around 25 students take our course –about the same number also finish it, which is a great success as well. Our students work all over Germany – at TV stations, for radios, for publishers, at and for schools, in research both commercial and academic settings – and they begin to send their interns back to us as students. We somehow managed to establish CAM in Germany, in a way.
So, even a liberal German may say, “yes, I am proud of this”.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
There are so many – and I think, one question has already been mentioned several times here. I would label it the “How much…or how long…” questions. I have done a lot of work on video games, so I always get the question, “How much time should my child play video games?” When doing privacy research, I get asked, “How am I to protect my privacy”?
What parents and practitioners often want are these clear-cut answers: a time limit, an age limit, a “how-to” recipe, As academics, we all know that we do not have these simple answers. It depends – on your child, on the circumstances, on you as a parent, on so many factors that we as researchers are struggling hard to find an answer. And then it becomes really hard to debate these issues when other researchers–mostly outside our field–pretend to have the answers: No electronic media for under 3-year-olds, no smartphones for minors, 20 Minutes of TV at most, and video games should rot in hell!
But, having recently become a parent, there is one question that I am happy nobody has asked me yet: How can we as media researchers become good role models for our kids on how to use media? This is probably the hardest question to answer!
What would be your work motto?
Be curious, never take things for granted!
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
I think your favorite publication is always the next one to be published. But, looking back, there is one special publication that I particularly like. Sadly, it is in German only, so few CAMers will likely be able to read it. But what I really like about this publication is not so much its content, but its style. It is a short (i.e., ~120 page) book that I wrote in 2018 simply titled “Computerspiele” [Computer Games]. For the first time, I was asked to write a book that was not for an academic audience, but that should be aimed at teachers, first year students, school kids, journalists, or people generally interested in what we as communication researchers do. I always dreamt of doing such a book, so I immediately said yes.
Little did I know how difficult writing such a book would be. The biggest challenge was writing in a way that you got your points across but that was (very) easy to understand. You simply could not load your arguments with citations, effect sizes, and things like that, and you had to explain what findings actually meant for real life. Basically, it was a very long version of the question above (i.e., what questions from parents and practitioners do we have answers for, and what answers are we still struggling to find). This book is probably my most cited publication, but it will never become apparent in any metrics, as it is mostly cited by students or school kids. And I think it was an important piece because it helped to better connect with what is going on outside academia. For instance, in the book I spent roughly twenty pages to explain how studies in social science come to their findings, what it means when a researcher says, “video games have this-and-that effect”. Explaining this to an audience that has never heard of research methods, statistics, or double-blind review was quite an endeavor. In the end, this book is probably the only piece of my work that my parents have read, which also makes it a remarkable publication.
Jöckel, S. (2018). Computerspiele: Nutzung, Wirkung und Bedeutung. Medienwissen kompakt. Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-16017-3 https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-16017-3
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
Oh, this is the tough question that you get at a job interview, and I’ll give you the answer that most likely kicks you out of the field of potential candidates. Somehow, I firmly believe that having unlimited resources does not help you with your projects. Of course, we need funding, of course we need time, of course we need a research team to do all the projects we want to achieve. But I have learned that sometimes it helps you tremendously to really think hard to find a way to do a project with less resources. We are social scientists, and the good thing about our research is that we do not need expensive machines to do our research. What we need are (1) good questions and (2) ideas to answer those questions. The one resource that nobody can give you is creativity and having the right idea to tackle a problem.
But, ok, there’s one project that I would still like to do with (let’s say) a considerable amount of resources (that I am currently lacking): A longitudinal study on the impact of moral/media panics on parents and children’s interaction with media.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
Be happy that you have chosen one of the most interesting fields in communication, where your research subjects never fail to surprise you, where there is constant change in the topics that you can study, and where some of the more senior researchers in the field have probably never heard of the things that you want to study.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I would like to stay in Germany but only because I know, she will recommend someone internationally. I would like to nominate Ruth Festl (now Wendt). She is co-chair of the German equivalent of CAM, and she has done some very interesting work on gaming addiction and social media use. Additionally, she is a researcher who has done much to better connect our small German community with the broader international context.