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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Thanks for Watching: A Study of Video Sharing Practices on YouTube and Personal Video Blogs


1. Video Production, Sharing, and Reception on the Internet

Children and youth are increasingly learning how to record, edit, and circulate their own video productions on the Internet. Many children and youth also post their videos on sharing sites such as YouTube or on their own personal video web logs (called video blogs or vlogs). Today, many youth routinely carry around recording devices such as hand-held digital video cameras so that they can spontaneously capture images, events, and experiences from their everyday lives and social encounters. Special events such as going to a technical art exhibit as well as routine aspects of life such as visiting a neighborhood coffee shop with friends may all form the basis of young people’s mediated experiences.

Footage of the everyday, the extraordinary, and the remixed may appear as stand alone videos or may form part of a chronological series of videos known as blogs. Personal video blogs are similar to web logs or online diaries in that they reflect a blogger’s thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Video blogs use video as a primary communication method, although they are usually accompanied by many other forms of communication and discourse including text, images, and other information. Children and youth may video blog for a variety of reasons, including sharing personal thoughts, putting on a comedy or other show for entertainment, circulating educational information, creating grass roots political activism, serving as a filter of specialized information in a particular topic, sharing travel and other social experiences, and encouraging collaboration among other video bloggers to create new forms of media not possible by single video makers alone.

Video sharing sites and video blogs enable hundreds of thousands of people around the world to see and share videos. Personal documentaries through video are being generated at a phenomenal rate. This project explores the reasons behind such an explosion of online video. It also challenges previous notions of literacy by examining how children learn to make and share videos and participate in video-sharing cultures.

Video-mediated sites also facilitate interactions through teenager's social networks in ways that enable video makers to contact and interact with others who in turn produce and view the videos of others around the world. Typically, video sharing sites and video blogs allow viewers to post comments about the videos directly on the site, thus encouraging a broad discourse about video form and content that is not possible by solely viewing video images. In some cases, sites like YouTube and personal video blogs become online communities for many people who view themselves as part of a group that shares values and concerns about how to create and circulate appropriate and useful video-based personal expressions.

2. Research Goals

The research seeks to investigate how and what video makers learn by creating and sharing videos. The project is interested not only in examining what particular technical tools children and youth learn to manipulate, but more importantly, how they learn to participate and find social acceptance in particular technical communities by creating videos. The study investigates how video production helps shape young people’s values, beliefs, and goals with respect to learning about technology and learning how to behave in techno-social environments.

In addition, the research offers a window into themes that may help shape our understanding of how we should reconsider traditional theoretical binaries that look more fluid amid intensive mediation of young people’s experience. These binaries include:

• Public versus private—As more personal video finds its way onto global video sharing and blogging sites, our ideas about what is observed and experienced in private versus what is understood to be public are rapidly changing. How do private experiences become public? What are the ramifications of this transformation on the creation and social negotiation of identity? What does the term privacy mean among social groups in which it is not assumed to be a social priority?

• Producer versus consumer/viewer—For many years it has become clear that the binary between producers of content and consumers or viewers of content has been breaking down. More and more individuals are creating and circulating their own content worldwide. In addition, collaborative projects and video communities encourage people to view and change what they produce on the basis of ongoing interactions with others. How do such collaborations affect the ability of children and youth to make individual, creative statements? What values and beliefs do children learn to espouse as a result of these collaborations?

The project contributes to a growing body of literature that challenges notions of literacy based on specific forms of knowledge obtained in institutionalized settings. Rather, the project recognizes that learning is socially contextualized and cannot be separated from the social and cultural contexts in which information is circulated and exchanged. The project found that what is considered an important form of knowledge varies in different social contexts. Understanding norms and negotiated parameters of participation are crucial for understanding what kids learn, and how they come to accept particular forms of knowledge as important.

The project also examined how youth and kids use video to negotiate technologically-related aspects of the self and how such videos transmit messages that intentionally and unintentionally encourage normative interpretation and use of specific technologies and online interaction styles. Children's identities are not simply projected through a particular object, such as video, but are rather negotiated in an interactive way.

3. Methodology

The project used an ethnographic, multi-method approach to understand the meanings and material practices behind video production and reception and how those meanings encourage different levels of participation in technical and social communities. These methods include:

Observation—I observed the creation of videos and important source material that is used in video blogs partly by attending events that are sponsored by video makers and vloggers in local communities. Events included tutorials, conferences, video blogging parties, public screenings of new video blogs, and informal social events attended by YouTubers and video bloggers. I attended over 25 media-themed events that included:

777 YouTube meet up in New York City
SouthTube meet up in Marietta, Georgia
As One YouTube Gathering in Hollywood
As One YouTube Gathering in San Francisco
Best Tube YouTube meet up in San Diego
Midwest YouTube Gathering in Minneapolis
Ask A Ninja DVD Release Party
Pixelodeon 2007 (I served as an invited curator for the first independent, video blogging festival, held at the American Film Institute)
888 YouTube meet up in Toronto, Canada

Interviewing—I interviewed children, youth, and media professionals, as well as a few parents and teachers to talk about children's learning experiences in making and sharing videos. People discussed how they are trained to interpret online videos and their meanings and messages in different social contexts. The interviews also revealed important information about the material practices involved in making and sharing videos. These practices are crucial for understanding the context in which media is shared, and may not be gleaned from interpreting videos alone. Interviews were conducted on the phone, via computer-based chat, and at YouTube meet-ups in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the technologies and material processes involved in video production and reception. Over 100 YouTube participants were interviewed for the project.

Semiotic analysis of video—I applied theories from semiotics (which is the study of signs and meaning systems) and linguistic anthropology to understand how videos transmit and serve as sites of social meaning for participants. Of particular interest was examining not just the meanings of specific video content, but also, investigating the form of videos including their structure and how they are situated within larger symbolic systems in social and cultural contexts. Over 150 videos were analyzed in terms of their form and content, and how they were materially situated on a particular site and within the video maker's body of work.

Discourse analysis of text about video—Videos tend to spawn a host of synergistic discussions in a range of textual forums such as posted comments that critique videos, descriptions and advertisements of videos, and related email-based discussion groups that try to share information about how to make and understand the importance of video in small groups and in society as a whole. I studied the discourse surrounding the cultural expectations of video makers and viewers. Analyzing public discourse about video reveals how participants in video-based interest groups and communities try to establish, negotiate, or change particular cultural values and beliefs such as what constitutes desirable and pleasurable participation in video-mediated experiences and technical milieu.

Participation—I established an experimental video blog on YouTube (called AnthroVlog) and maintained my own personal video blogging page ( The sites' primary goals were: 1) To enable me to learn how to video blog; 2) To collect data in the form of text and video responses to my work; and 3) To circulate information about video cultures. I posted one video per week on my video blogs for over 1 year. One of my videos, "What Defines a Community?" which contained documentary footage from the "SouthTube" YouTube meet up in Marietta, Georgia, was featured on the main YouTube page in October 2007. It garnered over 1 million views and more than 1900 comments.

Papers Generated from the Study
(For additional publications see:

Lange, Patricia G. 2009. Videos of Affinity on YouTube. The YouTube Reader, Patrick Vonderau and Pelle Snickars, Eds., pp. 228-247. Swedish National Library Press, Distributed by Wallflower Press.

Lange, Patricia G. 2009. Living in YouTubia: Bordering on Civility. Proceedings of the Southwestern Anthropological Association Conference 2008, April 10-12, 2008, Volume 2, pp. 98-106.

Lange, Patricia G. 2008. (Mis)Conceptions about YouTube. Videovortex Reader: Responses to YouTube, edited by G. Lovink and S. Niederer. Amsterdam, pp. 87-100. The Netherlands: Institute of Network Cultures.

Lange, Patricia G. 2007. The Vulnerable Video Blogger: Promoting Social Change Through Intimacy. The Scholar and Feminist Online, 5(2), Spring 2007.

Lange, Patricia G. 2007. Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 13, 2007.

Lange, Patricia G. 2007. Searching for the ‘You’ in ‘YouTube’: An Analysis of Online Response Ability. Proceedings of the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference 2007, pp. 31-45, Berkeley CA: University of California Press.

Lange, Patricia G. 2007. Fostering Friendship through Video Production: How Youth Use Youtube to Enrich Local Interaction. Paper presented at the International Communication Association Conference, May 27, 2007, in San Francisco, California.

Lange, Patricia G. 2007. Commenting on Comments: Investigating Responses to Antagonism on YouTube. Paper presented at the Society for Applied Anthropology Conference, Tampa, Florida, March 31, 2007.