Meryl Alper is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and the author of Digital Youth with Disabilities. Alper has amassed over a decade of experience as a researcher, strategist, and consultant for children’s media companies, including Sesame Workshop, Nickelodeon, and Disney. Her work focuses on the social and cultural implications of networked communication technologies on children, disability and digital media, and mobile communication.
Can you elaborate on your main research interest of “networked im/mobility” and how you plan on bringing this topic to your teaching at Northeastern?
While today’s mobile technologies potentially allow us to seamlessly communicate anywhere and at any time, I am interested in where seams do exist and where those seams start to come apart. I see networked im/mobility as a way to frame how new media technologies, infrastructures, and policies simultaneously mobilize and immobilize individuals, groups, and institutions across public, private, and hybrid spaces. I leverage traditional and new tools within the classroom to inspire students to think critically about the impact of their actions on their own mobility and on the mobility of others.
As Northeastern students work and learn on global and local scales, inside and outside the classroom, my teaching will provide them with conceptual tools and opportunities to develop critical thinking skills needed to contend with the increasingly complex movement of people, objects, information, and ideas in the twenty-first century.
“… find fellow students at Northeastern who are what I call ‘humbly awesome’—people who are talented, curious, and passionate, but who don’t take themselves too seriously.”
In relation to this, what was your most intriguing finding while conducting research for your dissertation, Home Screen Home: How Parents of Children with Disabilities Navigate Family Media Use?
Young people and individuals with disabilities are two overlapping groups who are all too often spoken for in society, so I am particularly invested in their communicative agency. For my dissertation, I observed and interviewed parents of twenty non-speaking children ages 3-13 over the course of 16 months from 2012-2014 in the Los Angeles area who have developmental disabilities such as autism and who communicate using an iPad and an assistive speech app.
One of my most intriguing findings was that although the families were evenly split in terms of being either more or less socioeconomically privileged, the majority of children in the study (75%) had regular access to two or more iPads outside of school. Ownership of an additional iPad at home was usually found in the highest earning families with prior access to the technology, while less privileged parents saved up the money because the local school district was unresponsive to their child’s needs. Looking beyond the sheer numbers allowed a deeper understanding of what first appeared to be widespread access.
What courses will you be teaching at Northeastern and what advice do you have for your future students?
This fall and again next spring, I will be teaching an upper-level course on youth and communication technology, and am in the process of developing undergraduate courses on communication and technology and mobile communication.
Having worked in some capacity with companies such as Sesame Workshop, Nickelodeon, and Disney, I’m also interested in assisting students in their co-op search. I would urge students to find fellow students at Northeastern who are what I call “humbly awesome”—people who are talented, curious, and passionate, but who don’t take themselves too seriously. Take the time to find the people who really bring out the best in you, and cultivate professional relationships.