This week was a big one for the study of young people and the Internet: Mimi Ito and her team released the results of their long-anticipated, 3-year study on Digital Youth. The study was funded by the MacArthur Foundation as a centerpiece of its Digital Media and Learning initiative. It is required reading for anyone interested in this field, and no surprise that covered ranged from the New York Times to all these blogs that cover issues related to digital youth. It’s called “Living and Learning with New Media.” You can enjoy it in many different formats, including a 58-page white paper.
– One key theme comes out of the authors’ orientation toward the study. “We are wary of claims that a digital generation is overthrowing culture and knowledge as we know it and that its members are engaging in new media in ways radically different from those of older generations. At the same time, we also believe that this generation is at a unique historical moment tied to longer-term and systemic changes in sociability and culture. While the pace of technological change may seem dizzying, the underlying practices of sociability, learning, play, and self-expression are undergoing a slower evolution, growing out of resilient social and cultural structures that youth inhabit in diverse ways in their everyday lives. We sought to place both the commonalities and diversity of youth new media practice in the context of this broader social and cultural ecology.” This orientation strikes me as just the right one: to be wary of claims that suggest that everything is different, but to be open to the “unique historical moment” in which we — and young people in our culture — find ourselves. (p. 4, White Paper)
– The researchers provide terrific context for when and how youth are in fact learning. There’s a gap between the perceptions of many adults about how young people are “wasting time” and what is in fact going on with much of the time spent connected to one another through digital media. This report — more than any other I’ve seen — helps to provide real clarity into the meaningful socializing and other kinds of learning that are going on.
– As I’ve been going around talking about the book that Urs Gasser and I wrote on a similar subject, Born Digital, I’ve been asked many times about what is going on with the changing nature of the word “friend” and “friendship”. This report has the answer, in ways that I’ve not been able to articulate myself. (p. 18 ff.) For the longer — and wholly worthwhile — version, see the relevant book chapter, of which danah boyd was the lead author.
– The report makes clear something that we found in our own, much smaller-scale research: that there’s a trajectory of learning that is going on as young people first come online and then, over time, become more sophisticated with the medium and how they relate to one another, to information, and to institutions through it. The report does an elegant job of showing why this is important — and reminding us that not everyone is proceeding along that same trajectory. (p. 27 ff., through the section on “Geeking Out”, at least)
– The Conclusions and Implications section is easy to read and points are made forcefully. (pp. 35 – 39) Teachers and parents, in particular, will find some of these conclusions to be constructive guides. After spending lunchtime yesterday with 22 students from the Boston Latin Academy, I was reminded of the importance of the learning that happens peer-to-peer, for instance, which is one of the key conclusions of this paper. There are concrete things that every educator, and every parent or mentor, of young people in any culture can and should glean from this important work.
The White Paper is just one of the outputs of the research. There’s a 2-page executive summary, the full research report (in fact, a book; the optimal way to get the full picture of the work), and a press release plus videos on the MacArthur Foundation’s web site.
Bravo to the many collaborators for this very important work. As with much of the rest of the DML research, it’s a real gift to those of us trying to work out this puzzle.