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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Youth and Digital Culture Research Released

I bumped into Jenny Levine yesterday and she pointed me to the MacArthur Foundation's newly released findings on youth and digital media. The year-long study led by Mimi Ito flanked by girl wonder danah boyd, is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the deep cultural change that's underway. The two-pager is a quick snapshot. But what struck me was the packaging of their findings. (This week the new President of the Carnegie Foundation announced he will be favoring applied rather than theoretical research.) It all made me wonder, is academic research getting practical?

It seems so. Especially with regard to education, foundations and thought leaders are getting real about speaking to people outside their inner circles. Their ideas and discourse are becoming more accessible. Are we entering a time of "open source" thinking? I hope so! It's a necessary evolution when we consider that re-inventing education is so crucial to sharpening our competitive edge in the world, that many minds, many voices and many perspectives will now rally. This excerpt from Mimi Ito's recent paper presented at AERA (Association of Education Researchers) gives you a taste of what I mean:

What characterizes learning in settings where kids are engaging in popular, networked, and viral new media cultures?

First, there is very little explicit instruction, and learning happens through process of peer-based knowledge sharing. People engaged in a practice seek out information or knowledgeable peers when it becomes relevant to their work, and in turn, they help others when asked. Although there are people acknowledged as experts, they are not framed as instructors.

Secondly, rather than working to master a standard body of material and skills, participants in these practices tend to specialize. Much like we see in academic life, there are opportunities to develop status and a role as an expert in a particular, often narrow specialty. Alternately, this can involve developing a particular style or signature in creative work. It is not about trying to acquire the same body of knowledge and skills as all one’s peers...

Finally, these environments are based on ongoing feedback and reviews of performance and work that are embedded in the practices of creation and play. These groups also have contexts for the public display and circulation of work that enables review and critique by their audiences. Competition and assessment happens within this ecology of media production and consumption, not by an external mechanism or set of standards. In other words, individual accomplishment is recognized and celebrated among peers in the production community and other interested fans, providing powerful motivation for ongoing learning and achievement.

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