The Digital Youth Research (digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu) group, a group of USC and Cal-Berkeley reseachers working with a MacArthur Foundation Grant, released their Living and Learning with New Media report. Included with in the release was a two page summary of their findings, a white paper report prepared for the MacArthur Foundation, and an online book (chapter by chapter links).
The introduction to the white paper states:
Digital media and online communication have become pervasive in the lives of youth in the United States. Social network sites, online games, video-sharing sites, and gadgets such as iPods and mobile phones are now fixtures of youth culture. They have so permeated young lives that it is hard to believe that less than a decade ago these technologies had barely registered in the lives of U.S. children and teens. Today’s youth may be coming of age and struggling for autonomy and identity as did their predecessors, but they are doing so amid reconfigured contexts for communication, friendship, play, and self-expression.
Our values and norms in education, literacy, and public participation are being challenged by a shifting landscape of media and communications in which youth are central actors. Although complaints about “kids these days” have a familiar ring to them, the contemporary version is somewhat unusual in how strongly it equates generational identity with technology identity, an equation that is reinforced by telecommunications and digital media corporations that hope to capitalize on this close identification.
My highlights from the white paper report:
Once teens find a way to be together—online, offline, or both—they integrate new media within the informal hanging-out practices that have characterized their social worlds. This ready availability of multiple forms of media, in diverse contexts of everyday life, means that media content is increasingly central to everyday communication and identity construction
Through participation in social network sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo (among others) as well as instant and text messaging, young people are constructing new social norms and forms of media literacy in networked public culture that reflect the enhanced role of media in their lives. The networked and public nature of these practices makes the “lessons” about social life (both the failures and successes) more consequential and persistent.
Young people use new media to build friendships and romantic relationships as well as to hang out with each other as much and as often as possible. This sense of being always on and engaged with one’s peers involves a variety of practices. This keeps friends up-to-date with the happenings in different people’s lives.
In addition to changes in how romantic relationships develop, the integration of Friends into the infrastructure of social network sites has transformed the meaning of “friend” and “friendship”.
Although young people tend to avoid their parents and other adults while using social network sites and IM programs, much of their new media engagement occurs in the context of home and family life.
Unlike hanging out, in which the desire is to maintain social connections to friends, messing around represents the beginning of a more intense, media-centric form of engagement. When messing around, young people begin to take an interest in and focus on the workings and content of the technology and media themselves, tinkering, exploring, and extending their understanding. Some activities that we identify as messing around include looking around, searching for information online, and experimentation and play with gaming and digital media production. Messing around is often a transitional stage between hanging out and more interest-driven participation.
Messing around with digital media is driven by personal interest, but it is supported by a broader social and technical ecology, where the creation and sharing of media is a friendship-driven set of practices. Online sites for storing and circulating personal media are facilitating a growing set of options for sharing. Youth no longer must carry around photo albums to share photos with their friends and families; a MySpace profile or a camera phone will do the trick.
This then leads to the following conclusions and implications:
Participation in the digital age means more than being able to access “serious” online information and culture; it also means the ability to participate in social and recreational activities online. Although public institutions do not necessarily need to play a role in instructing or monitoring kids’ use of social media, they can be important sites for enabling participation in these activities and enhancing their scope. Rather than seeing socializing and play as hostile to learning, educational programs could be positioned to step in and support moments when youth are motivated to move from friendship-driven to more interest-driven forms of new media use.
In addition to economic barriers, youth encounter institutional, social, and cultural constraints
to online participation. Fluent and expert use of new media requires more than simple, task-specific access to technology. Sporadic, monitored access at schools and libraries may provide sufficient access for basic information seeking, but is insufficient for the immersed kind of social engagements with networked publics that are becoming a baseline for participation on both the interest-driven and the friendship-driven sides.
Networked publics provide a context for youth to develop social norms in negotiation with their peers.
Young people are turning to online networks to participate in a wide range of public activities and developing social norms that their elders may not recognize. Given constraints on time and mobility, online sites offer young people the opportunity to casually connect with their friends and engage in private communication that is not monitored by parents and teachers. On the interest-driven side, youth turn to networked publics to connect with like-minded peers who share knowledge and expertise that may not be available to them locally.
The problem lies not in the volume of access but the quality of participation and learning, and kids and adults should first be on the same page on the normative questions of learning and literacy.
Youth are developing new forms of media literacy that are keyed to new media and youth-centered social and cultural worlds. It is important to understand the diverse genre conventions of youth new media literacy before developing educational programs in this space. Particularly when addressing learning and literacy that grows out of informal, peer-driven practices, we must realize that norms and standards are deeply situated in investments and identities of kids’ own cultural and social worlds.
Peer-based learning has unique properties that suggest alternatives to formal instruction. Peer-based learning is characterized by a context of reciprocity, where participants feel they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture. When these peer negotiations occur in a context of public scrutiny, youth are motivated to develop their identities and reputations through these peer-based networks, exchanging comments and links and jockeying for visibility. These efforts at gaining recognition are directed at a network of respected peers rather than formal evaluations of teachers or tests. In contrast to what they experience under the guidance of parents and teachers, with peer-based learning we see youth taking on more “grown-up” roles and ownership of their own self-presentation, learning, and evaluation of others.
In contexts of peer-based learning, adults can still have an important role to play, though it is not a conventionally authoritative one. A “pedagogy of collegiality” that defines adult-youth collaboration in what youth see as successful youth media programs.
Rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement? And finally, what would it mean to enlist help in this endeavor from an engaged and diverse set of publics that are broader than what we traditionally think of as educational and civic institutions?
There are many points to ponder and ideas to develop around these ideas. The researchers have done a great job communicating this new culture. It is now up to us adults to determine how we can partner and shape this new landscape to best prepare today’s youth.