Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media

About Digital Youth

"Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures" is a three-year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explores how kids use digital media in their everyday lives. Read more

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The work on this site is licensed under a CC-BY-NC. If you share or re-use any work found on the site, please credit the original author and the Digital Youth Project and link back to the Digital Youth Project.

Photo Credits: Ritchie Ly and Geert Allegaert.

Research Sites: Delimiting Sites and Subject Populations

The research literature has given us a rich menu of questions and theories, the key question now is how to select research sites that will enable us to observe how kids actually use and adapt new digital environments for their own purposes. We will rely on our literature review and existing quantitative and experimental studies to contextualize our ethnographic research. Our principles of site selection will be based not on an effort to gain a "representative" or a "neutral" sample, but rather to examine a diverse sample of different emergent practices to understand underlying social and cultural properties. Our effort is to sample across a range of contexts to get at the foundational and emergent shifts in culture and society surrounding new digital practices. This is a complex process, but here we can map some of the key components.

Places and Institutions. In physical sites, or places, we will often be able to focus in upon specific demographics to see how kids use digital media - whether girls or African-Americans or early teens. However, we will not be able to isolate our specific research questions for study, because while in theory these questions can be analytically separated, in practice kids combine play, communication and knowledge production in their own ways. In physical sites we will also be able to investigate what happens at different kinds of institutions within which informal learning takes place, such as after school centers, schools, museums or libraries, or community centers.

Virtual sites. Virtual sites, or online communities of various kinds, allow us to focus in depth upon our research questions. For example, to study social networking we can focus upon blogs; to study knowledge production we can research fan fiction web sites; to observe gaming we can study an online game.

In reality, kids engaged in virtual sites are always located at a specific place, so we may find subcultures at physical sites where kids are deep into the use of instant messaging, or some other activity that we want to understand.

Our focus in both of these sites will be on the late childhood years of 10-18, when kids are experiencing the transition from childhood to adolescence and adulthood. We will conduct our research at institutions that cater to middle and high school aged kids. For the virtual sites, it is harder to create an age-based boundary since participation is not generally limited by age. We will be selecting sites that have robust child and youth participation, but we expect that we will also be including online research subjects who are above and below our targeted age range. The lack of clear age boundaries is one of the properties of these informal learning environments that we are seeking to understand, so it is key to our research that the online sites are mixed-age.