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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Photo Credits: Ritchie Ly and Geert Allegaert.

Informal learning and social development of American youth on YouTube

Informed by multiple theoretical approaches (sociocultural theory, media studies, feminist social theory, studies of childhood and youth cultures), this project focuses on the ways YouTube mediates youth’s construction of identity and their formation of beliefs and attitudes about a wide range of social issues that are relevant to identity construction, including sexuality, morality, legality and political engagement. I explore how production, viewing and discussion of YouTube videos promote youth’s understanding of who they are and what it is that they want to become or believe in.
YouTube serves as both a tool for social networking (e.g., making friends, creating affiliations, assessing how interesting, attractive, popular or smart somebody is), as well as a user-generated database that contains information about almost anything (e.g., historical clips of Hitler’s speeches, rare music performances, tutorials of how to play piano, etc). Multiple individuals create self- and world-related pieces (videos, video responses, comments) that reflect different perspectives, varying motivations and backgrounds (different age, culture, education, ethnicity, nationality, religion, etc.). Information on YouTube is presented in multiple modalities (images, music, speech, written text, gestures, dance, etc, reflecting the convergence and intertextuality of media, implying that meanings of produced texts (both videos and comments on videos) are constructed by relating them to other texts. Therefore, YouTube is not only an extremely large user generated database, but also a very complex, multi-voiced and multifarious tool for informal learning.

At present the project focuses on two specific topics:

1) Construction of sexual identity and negotiation of sexuality:

I am collecting and analyzing data related to youth’s representations of the body, performance of sexuality, sexual orientation and sexual experiences. I am also examining how youth see the boundaries between public and private spheres on YouTube, with regards to the reception of their videos and their impact on YouTube audience(s). My goal is to provide empirical evidence that could potentially inform the design of safer social media. I would also like to constructively contribute to the highly charged public debates over on-line displays of children’s and youth’s sexuality and move it beyond moral panics and paternalism.

2) Political beliefs and political reasoning of US youth:

I am following videos and video blogs of American youth that deal with current political issues (e.g., the war in Iraq, debates over “net neutrality”, legislation over torture practices, etc.). YouTube opens up possibilities for American youth to directly participate and contribute to public political discourses and express their views creatively, using tools from their peer culture, such as remixing rap music and video games. It also gives youth access to sources of information that are alternative to main-stream media and educational resources as well as perspectives and political opinions of youth from all over the world. Avoiding “utopianism” about new media and acknowledging that YouTube political debates still very much mirror the existing geopolitics, there are clear suggestions that there are possibilities for a movement forward towards an emergent notion of civil society and political pluralism that that a media like YouTube can engender.