Peer into the networked world of teenagers and young adults and you’ll see intense, creative communities of young people who want to learn. That’s the conclusion of Living and Learning with New Media, a report on a three-year study called the Digital Youth Project at the University of California at Berkeley. The study was financed by the MacArthur Foundation.
The report, released yesterday, focuses on teenagers, although it includes a few examples of young adults in their 20s. It combines results from interviews, observations, and ethnographic studies conducted by 28 researchers. The researchers explored subjects’ interactions with personal technology, like video cameras and cellphones, and with new media spaces like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, the virtual world of Neopets and others. One of the studies included students at Berkeley.
Peppered with fascinating examples of how young people communicate and create, the report also works as an informal glossary to new words in the tech-based youth culture. Ever heard of “tele-cocooning”? It’s the practice of intimate, full-time communication via phone and instant messaging. Know what “vidding” means? It’s remixing movie and TV clips against a soundtrack of your own choosing.
If you work with college students, the report may sound reassuring. Don’t worry, it says: Those coming to campuses in the next few years will not be as devoid of social and literacy skills as one might think, given worries about how much today’s young people are fixated on their phones and screens.
Those results dovetail with a September report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which said teens’ electronic gaming experiences were “rich and varied, with a significant amount of social interaction and potential for civic engagement.”
But debate promises to be fierce on how exactly educational institutions should recognize this youth culture. Some secondary schools and libraries, for example, limit access to social-networking sites and ban cellphones. The report argues implicitly that bans aren’t the answer, and that young people are learning despite — not because of — the environments that parents and educators want them to operate within.
“Youth could benefit from educators being more open to forms of experimentation and social exploration that are generally not characteristic of educational institutions,” the authors write. The lead author is Mizuko Ito, a researcher at the University of California at Irvine.
Do college-level educators agree? If teachers in middle and high schools took a different approach, could the impact eventually trickle up to college classrooms? Would students come more or less prepared for college-level work? —Lisa Guernsey