Blog Post

Digital Media and Learning: The State of the Field

I'm so close to the participants for this plenary panel (final session of the day for the DML: Diversifying Participation Conference), I could probably lean forward and brush crumbs from their cheeks. You go where the plug outlets are, people. This panel will discuss Digital Media & Learning: The State of the Field. Participants include Mimi Ito (moderator), Brigid Barron, Lynn Schofield Clark, Eszter Hargittai, Joe Kahne, Keven Leander, Amanda Lenhart and Heather Horst (chair).

I'll be live-blogging until my fingers cramp!

Heather Horst: each panelist has five minutes to summarize their entire research (laughter!).

Amanda Lenhart: Teens and Social Media. Pew Internet's Latest Data on Access to Technology and Opportunities for Creative Expression and Public Participation. 76 percent of families have broadband at home. Dig deeper into numbers and low-income famlies lag behind. Keep in mind that there are still inequalities to pure access to Internet. Frequency of teen interest use by race/ethnicity (2009 data) shows graph data showing breakdown by enthnicity and amount of connection per day. Follows similar sociodemographic fault lines of race, income. Other than family income, there is no difference in who owns a cellphone. Teens from lowest income less likely to have cell phones. Favorite slide: percentage of teen device owners who use that device to go online (ages 12-17): 93 percent use desktop or laptop. Significant percentages of teens are using gaming devices to go online. Content creation activities: share content, remix, blog. No increase in sharing content over time, it's been flat. Social network use has seen significant increase in use. In all categories, teens doing more than ages 18 and older. Teens who comment and blog has decreased from 2006 to 2009 (28 percent to 14 percent). Are they moving to other activities that we aren't seeing?

Brigid Baron: School of Ed at Stanford University. Wh, what, where, why, how questions about digital media activities that involve creative production. Making a stop animation film, sharing a newly authored and printed story at drop-in community center, developing media assets for workong on a behind the scenes project, or soldering parts for an interactive 3D laser cut workshop, designing a game using agent sheets in a summer school workshop. When are youth having time to do these things and learn these things?

Where is learning happening? If we care about finding participation, this is a key question. (Chart showing learning in formal and informal environments) See Learning Ecology Framework, distributed possibilities for participation. Most learning is happening at home, not school (!). Who is getting access? And what are they doing? Some activities are quite rare: robotics is not common, writing code is rare. Creating multimedia is common, as is making a publication -- although these differ by levels of experience.

What social practices support the development of sustained engagement in production activities? We know that tools and production spaces are incredibly important, and so are social practices that maintain engagement within affinity groups.

How does engagement evolve across time and across settings? Why does this matter? Why does depth of engagement matter? Technobiography exemplars: what goals for creation do we see. How are these intentions supported or taken up?

Eszter Hargittai: Head of WebUse Project and in Communications Dept at Northwestern University: Youth and Digital Literacy. ( Works mainly on issue of skills and literacy. Graph of overall framework: Interested in issues of social inequality. Interested in general users out there, and how widespread the activities are, and how can we make them more widespread. How does the average user participate? What aspects of their background influence their uses, and how do their contexts influence their use/non-use? Look at people's variations in skills in digital media. How does skill influence use?

Question is: do differentiated skills, then influence their life opportunities and well-being? Scope of online activities: (Venn diagram of communication, information seeking, participation.) Dimensions of skill: understanding what's possible, being able to perform functions, engaging effectively and efficiently, recognizing privacy, security and legal matters, getting assistance...

What explains variation in digital media skills (or "digital Literacy")? What explains differentiated digital media uses?

Is there a participation gap out there? People engage at very different levels that tend to be related to socio-economic status. Why is it helpful to focus on skill? It is open potentially to intervention, whether in informal or formal settings.

Joseph Kahne: State of the Field: Civic Engagement Research Group at Mills College. Big questions: why focus on civic and political outcomes for young people? Are young people fully tapping the potential of our democratic institutions to improve the world? Answer in a 5-minute presentation is: No. Second question: is new media changing in significant ways how people participate in civic and political life. Answer is: Yes. So what do we do about that? We have to learn more. We have to drill down to understand better, why, and under what circumstances?

Can youth interest in new media be mobilized to support civic and political life in the public sphere? How does voluntary online participation relate to civic and politcal participation?

Does the form of online participation matter? Friendship-driven participation, nonpolitical interest-driven participation, politically-driven participation.

How different forms of online participation impacts civic and political participation. Surveyed 430 youth. Measured their level of civics and political participation in HS and just after the 2008 election. Measured their level of friendship...

Why look at these different forms of acitivity? Are these distinct forms of particiaption? Will particiaption distract from activity? (Time displacement).

What we learned: politically driven participation promoted Political but not civic participation. Interest driven participation promoted civic and some forms of political participation. Some friendship driven may have promoted voting, but no relation to other activites.

Can youth interest in online participation be mobilezed to support civic and political life in the public sphere?

Kevin Leander: Vanderbilt University. Problem one: "situated learning" is situated in 1991. Ethnography is still going through a change. Such as "wayfinding" or understanding maps in 2D to spatial analysis and modeling, with 3D across locations (comparison). It's understudied, and we don't look at the time over "daily round" of a person. Hypertextual selves: multiplicity, how online selves are connected to networks of incongruous (seeming) selves.

Problem two: bodies aren't stable, and they aren't moved by...(missed it). How might theory move beyond sign-body and mind-body dichotomies.

Problem three: spatial thinking is ubiquitous, complex, embodies and changing with new media.

Studies of learning to see in spatial analysis (public media). New forms of spatial thinking are being enacted, like the slide that shows CNN when looking at how we understand electoral maps.

Lynn Schofield Clark: University of Denver: looking at families differently defined: single, same-sex, blended, not married, etc. Multi-generational group with economically depended young people in it. Preteens, teens and parents, 600 + interviews and observations, over 12 years. Have seen emergence of families that can create young people with responsiblity and new media. Put young person's expertise at the center, so we can follow their interests. Sociology of the Family research and books: Latinos in the US, Unequal Childhoods, Huck's Raft, Black Families, The Second Shift. Parenting has changed a lot over past 100 years. Child-centered, flexible and empowering. Move to a more transformative position: what is, as well as what could be.

What does our research into digital and mobile media do to help all kinds of parents in their parenting work? Big concern about risk. How to balance their concerns with risk and potential. Child-centered parenting/learning has potential to have great impact on our society.

Mimi Ito (moderating): we are all working across boundaries, across qualitative and quantitative. What are the key problems that we should be focusing on for this emergent field?

Lynn: In the lives of parents, there are a lot of economic stresses. Parents work a lot more or not at all because of disability or unemployment. Demands of emotional labor: helping young people by thinking about how we discuss issues with youth. Educators can feed into parental anxieties so that we can collaborate with them, help find out what educators can do to help.

Kevin: Particularly interested in immigration. What patterns of socialization do we see immigrants experiencing? Do more comparative work between other countries. Nationalisms, socialization, learning, all connected. What methods to study something distributed across spaces, times, and how we can use new technologies and different methods, sampling, ethnographic methods in order to get at experiences of new digital media.

Eszter: Assume that we agree it would be preferable achieve higher-level skills, not too controversial. How do we achieve higher-level skills per se. Informal learning envirnoment, but how to get word out about them, how to scale up? In more formal learning environment, that poses huge challenges itself. Who does the teaching? We also lack adequate measures to study skill levels. Dimensions keep increasing, so we have a serious methodological challenge there as well.

Amanda: How do we keep up with technological developments? How to ask questions early enough. Five years ago we talk about Instant Messaging generation, but we don't anymore, it's changed. What do the declines in activities mean? What does it mean when the data flattens? Do we see this as a symptom of the technology itself?

Joseph: We have a good sense that the quanity of media use is fine, but the quality of that use is not always what we want. It isn't what we want for all young people. Big problem or question is how do we promote more of what we want to see? Access to information and media is enormous, but it isn't clear that young people are better informed (or adults for that matter). How do we help young people engage critically? And to avoid some of the risks.

Brigid: We need to expand the unit of analysis and expand the way we define participation and use. Even talking about categories, whether gender or race. We need to get more complicated in how we talk about. So much variety in activities with new media. Figure out how to pay as much attention to the environments as to the levels of participation and characteristics of individuals. Level of engagement is so linked to social network you are involved in. We need more environments that engage and have important outcomes for knowledge, civic engagement, well-being. We need to be careful about the way we talk, and expand our theoretical language. Second: study those practices that we see are working. Capture those practices in their full interactional complexity and be able to say what is happening. Need to understand the process, the guiding, the collaboration and how inspiration gets developed. What do we care about assessing? Do students in participatory activities get better at collaboration? Very difficult to measure.

Mimi: diversity of sites at research and intervention layer is vast. Networks between the research and practice requires us to come at it from multiple different sites and perspectives.

Audience participation: from your perspective, if you changed the scope of the problem from being domestic to global, what do you think the interesting questions would become? Would they change for you?

Eszter: I think the questions is quite similar. Won't find a country where skill differences don't matter. Might be layers of complexity, such as starting with less, so more variance in skill.

Amanda: Pew Internet surveys probably cannot be translated to other countries very well. Expectations are so different, so many different layers.

Kevin: How to translate survey design to Moroccan youth in Holland, but very difficult to do translation issues.

Joe: Stakes are much different in other countries than here.

Brigid: How might children's ideas of global society change if they are interacting with people from around the world? Cultural exchange and empathy? Or would it reduce information about the other because of similarities?

Lynn: Parenting is very cultural, cross-cultural comparisons are important. Our discourse about digital media is linked to our discourse about fear. This is different in other contexts. More comparative would be very helpful.

Audience question: Lynn, Kevin or Joe, how do you focus on historical analysis in your research? Is there a future for history in this field?

Lynn: Teaching innovations in media, which is essentially history. How is this like or not like during printing press, so very interesting to do historical comparisons. What is new, and what is a continuation? It is not about technology, it is social practice, so learn from history and take it forward in our practices.

Joe: Lots of history on games, looking at role-play, simulations that have been done in the past that are similar to what is going on now.

Audience question: as this field becomes a field, is there potential conflict between these methods? How you produce knowledge and how you know something? Is there a problem bringing these methods together?

Kevin: Yes, Yes, No. (laughter) Yes, I think there is conflict, but that conflict is very productive. Not just research methodology, but people doing design, pedagogy, that contact is especially productive. Create a bigger perspective. For scholars trained in the humanities to bring theoretical perspectives that are so rich, and that need data too.

Audience question: widening gap has widened between richest of the rich and poorest of the poor. Do you see digital media and the way it is being used for learning as something that is going to exacerbate this gap, minimize it, or do nothing at all?

Eszter: don't really know the answer. Not enough empirical work on this to know what is happening. But, there are three possibilties: those who are less privileged improve their situation at a higher slope or deeper slope than those who are more privileged, so start converging. One positive outcome. Or slopes go other way, or stay the same. Discourage by the little data that we do have, there is very much the potential that those who are less privileged will truly fall behind. Need more data.

Amanda: have seen workarounds when lower-income lack access, using things in different ways. Think broadly about this, standard ways are important, but also see how workarounds of getting access may also be in play.



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