Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Digital Youth Research: Living and Learning with New Media

A couple weeks ago the latest study from Digital Youth Research titled Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project was released. The study is the result of a three-year year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. As part of the study, research on how kids use digital media in their everyday lives was done at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley. Over a three-year period, researchers interviewed more than 800 youth and young adults and conducted over 5000 hours of online observation.

If you’ve been around young people recently the results should be no big surprise to you - here’s a quote from the study:

They found that social network and video-sharing sites, online games, and gadgets such as iPods and mobile phones are now fixtures of youth culture. The research shows that today’s youth may be coming of age and struggling for autonomy and identity amid new worlds for communication, friendship, play, and self-expression.

There are a couple of major study findings:

Youth use online media to extend friendships and interests.

Kids are using online networks to extend the friendships that they navigate in the familiar contexts of school, religious organizations, sports, and other local activities. They can be “always on,” in constant contact with their friends through private communications like instant messaging or mobile phones, as well as in public ways through social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook.

Youth engage in peer-based, self-directed learning online.

In both friendship-driven and interest-driven online activity, youth create and navigate new forms of expression and rules for social behavior. By exploring new interests, tinkering, and “messing around” with new forms of media, they acquire various forms of technical and media literacy.

The report implications, along with how we can take advantage of them in our classrooms, are very interesting. They include:

Adults should facilitate young people’s engagement with digital media.

Contrary to adult perceptions, while hanging out online, youth are picking up basic social and technical skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society. Erecting barriers to participation deprives teens of access to these forms of learning.

Given the diversity of digital media, it is problematic to develop a standardized set of benchmarks against which to measure young people’s technical and new media literacy.

Friendship-driven and interest-driven online participation have very different kinds of social connotations. For example, whereas friendship-driven activities center upon peer culture, adult participation is more welcomed in the latter more “geeky” forms of learning. In addition, the content, behavior, and skills that youth value are highly variable depending on with which social groups they associate.

In interest-driven participation, adults have an important role to play.

Youth using new media often learn from their peers, not teachers or adults. Yet adults can still have tremendous influence in setting learning goals, particularly on the interest-driven side where adult hobbyists function as role models and more experienced peers.

To stay relevant in the 21st century, education institutions need to keep pace with the rapid changes introduced by digital media.

Youths’ participation in this networked world suggests new ways of thinking about the role of education.

The authors ask the following questions:

What would it mean to really exploit the potential of the learning opportunities available through online resources and networks?

What would it mean to reach beyond traditional education and civic institutions and enlist the help of others in young people’s learning?

And finally:

Rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, they question what it would mean to think of it as a process guiding youths’ participation in public life more generally.

Let’s say you are a novice and want to give this stuff a try. People often ask me where to start. Here’s my short answer:
  1. Sign up for Facebook at - it’s free.
  2. Once you sign up search for people you know – it’s easy and you will find some. Old college roommates, professors, childhood friends, etc. You will likely also find most of your students.
  3. Select some of the people you find and request their friendship in Facebook. Be sure to selec some experience users. Request my friendship if you want - just search my email address:
  4. Watch what your Facebook friends do. Facebook is a great content aggregator . You’ll see things like embedded YouTube videos, Twitter posts, blog entries, pictures, etc. Be sure to check your page at least once a day to start with.
  5. Build your Facebook page and start aggregating your own content – watch and learn from your Facebook friends.
If you are an educator, the study results are a must read. Powerful stuff that we can all take advantage of – inside and outside the classroom. Here’s how you can access the study results:

Two page summary linked

Study white paper linked

In addition a book based on the study is forthcoming from MIT Press titled Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. You can get more information on the book

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