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Digital Youth Project

Digital Youth Project

Written by Henry Cohn-Geltner
May 27, 2010

The goal of our project has been to document the everyday lives of youth as they engage with new media and to put forth a paradigm for understanding learning and participation in contemporary networked publics. We have worked to understand youth culture, and to bring this youth-centered perspective into the debates about digital media and learning.

The Digital Youth Project brought together 28 researchers over the course of 22 research studies and three years, in an effort to better understand the ways in which youth integrate new media into contemporary youth culture.

A concerted effort was made to include the voices of the youth, in order to have their perspective inform education and learning, as well as understand contemporary youth culture.  It was important to investigate and understand the methods used in interpersonal communication between peers, activities for entertainment and engagement resulting, informal and formal spaces for learning, and how relationships between youth and adults are negotiated across all of these dimensions. 
The project led to the production of the white paper, “Living and Learning with New Media“, which consolidated all of the findings and conclusions discovered from the over 5000 hours of observation and interviews.  The researchers learned that youth are extending friendships developed in physical settings, since mobile and social networking technologies make immediate and asynchronous communication simultaneously possible.  Youth are also exploring a variety of interests, such as creative writing, gaming, and video editing, with peers and adults across distributed intelligence networks, where they can locate new information and distribute work for feedback.

Authoring technology has facilitated youth’s ability to learn on their own, through exploration instead of regimented instruction, because many play around in attempts to create, often times fail and begin again, and receive feedback from peers.  This peer-review process underscores the fact that youth value the information and opinions of one another, and respect the authority each possesses, but they also will look to adults in new networks for highly specific information.  

These findings resulted in four suggestions for thinking about moving education and learning forward:

  • Adults should be more open-minded to experimentation and exploration with new practices of using new media that are already engaging students

  • Given the fact that youth are using a variety of new media in many different ways, existing measures of evaluation for technical and media literacy skills are flawed

  • Youth need adults support and participation to facilitate new learning, especially in specific areas of expertise, and to support development of new learning goals and outcomes

  • The mindset of educational institutions as preparing students for careers and jobs needs to change to seeing themselves as preparing youth to become participants in public life.

The website has access to downloadable copies of the report and a summary of the report.  They also make available, the individual research projects undertaken by all of the researchers involved, as well as narratives of some case studies to get a more in-depth youth perspective.

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