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.

Final report on our project findings

We are happy to announce the online release of the findings from our three-year project. All of the researchers who have worked on this project will be writing up individual publications, but this report represents a synthesis of the findings across the 22 different case studies. It has been over three years in the making, and is the result of a truly collaborative joint effort with 28 researchers and research collaborators. I am super proud of my team for doing such a phenomenal job with their individual projects, and for their generosity in sharing their work with this collective effort. It's very rare for ethnographers to collaborate at this scale, and we see this project as testament to the fact that large scale collaboration and joint analysis is possible with qualitative work.

Special thanks goes to the MacArthur Foundation who funded this work, and in particular to our program officer, Connie Yowell, who has been together with us in this journey every step of the way. It has been such a pleasure working with a foundation that has been so forward looking in engaging with an emerging media landscape, and willing to take the time and invest resources in understanding things from the point of view of a rising generation. Since we started this project, the Digital Media and Learning initiative at the foundation has expanded from an experimental foray to a $50 million effort encompassing dozens of projects. It is exciting to see that our work is not just an isolated project, but part of a much larger initiative that is linked to some of the most interest scholarship and educational efforts in this new field.

You can find all the details in the documents linked below, and a summary of our report. The book is due out from MIT Press next fall, but in the meantime you can read a draft of it online.

We will be celebrating the release of our report at a reception at the American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco. Please join us on Saturday November 22, at 6:30-8:00pm, San Francisco Hilton & Towers, Golden Gate Ballroom.

Click here to download a two-page summary of the report.

Click here to download the summary white paper.

Click here to go to the MIT Press site to order the book or download it fir free in pdf format.

Click here for the press release and video being hosted by the MacArthur Foundation.

Click "Read more..." for highlights.


Today we are commemorating a bittersweet day. A year ago today we lost our dear leader, Peter Lyman, to a heroic battle with cancer. It is hard to be believe that the time has passed so quickly, as he feels very much present to us all here in the digital youth team. It feels fitting to acknowledge this passing of time and the memory of Peter on a day that marks the ending of our shared project together, and the completion of our final report.

We have spent the past year working on a massive collaborative writing and analysis effort that has resulted in a book manuscript, dedicated to Peter, that we are tentatively entitling, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. We have just finished the full draft, in tandem with our official project end on June 30. We plan to do a pre-release on the Internet here on this web site in early fall.

Amateur Cultural Production and Peer-to-Peer Learning

A paper for the 2008 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association

For the past few years I have been looking for learning in somewhat unexpected places—in young people’s social and recreational practices surrounding new media. I have been guided by the belief that interactive, digital, and networked forms of media are supporting new forms of engagement with knowledge and culture with unique learning dynamics. My fieldwork is indicating that a key trigger for these learning dynamics is the peer-to-peer traffic in media and knowledge that accompanies young people’s engagement with culture and knowledge that they are passionate about. As they become more pervasive in our everyday lives, networked and digital media become a vehicle and an infrastructure for this peer based learning and sharing.

My work has looked primarily at the kid-driven learning that accompanies engagement with Japanese popular culture that is social, challenging and entertaining, for example, Yugioh, Pokemon, fan fiction, video remix, and fan comics. These forms of media all support practices with learning dynamics that differ in some important ways from the learning that kids encounter in more formal and adult-driven settings. A more complete analysis and description of these dynamics requires lengthier treatment (Ito 2008). Here I present a few general principles and some illustrative examples from my most recent fieldwork.

Living Out Their Social Lives Online

By Sarita Yardi, PhD Candidate, Georgia Tech University. Sarita was a researcher with the Digital Youth Project while completing her Master’s degree in Information Management and Systems at the University of California, Berkeley in 2005 and 2006.

As has been well-established throughout the research on digital media and technology, kids move between online and offline worlds with ease. Even kids who have limited access to the Internet, thus lying on the fringe of youth participatory culture, perceive their online environments to have real consequences and meaning for their everyday lives, Throughout my research on the digital youth project, I wanted to understand how we could harness kids understanding and enthusiasm for digital media. As a computer programmer myself, I hoped that encouraging kids to open the black box and explore the environments they participated in might help them become more sophisticated producers and consumers of their everyday media engagements. In 2005- 2006 I carried out a semester-long study of an after-school media literacy program with Sarai Mitnick [1]. We partnered with the YWCA in Berkeley, California, a program designed to empower middle-school aged girls by teaching them to program, design websites and discuss the role of technology in their lives. The program catered primarily to young African-American girls who lived in an economically disenfranchised area of Oakland, California [2].

The Cacophony: Evidence of Unexpected Collaborations in Sound and Space

By Judd Antin, PhD Student, School of Information, UC Berkeley

Along with several other DigitalYouth-ers, I spent almost a year, off and on, observing and participating with a group of kids in an arts and technology afterschool program (hereafter ‘the Center’). During my time with the group, kids sat down together many times to work on collaborative projects. Sometimes they did so at the behest of their instructors and other times on their own. This story, however, is about a different kind of collaboration, one which sprung up spontaneously and serendipitously around creative practice. It represents, I think, an enlightening case study in the synergy of digital technologies and co-located collaboration.

The setting for this vignette is a long narrow room, windowed on one side, packed full of Apple computers. The machines are arranged around the outside walls and in the center in clusters of 4 (Figure 1). At one end of the room sits a restless crowd of participants, aged 11-17, who have chosen to spend their afterschool time at the Center learning about digital audio and video. Today, the exercise is to experiment with a software called GarageBand. GarageBand is a simple but powerful graphical platform for creating music based on libraries of samples, sounds, and pre-recorded instruments. The kids have experimented with the software before – enough to eagerly anticipate one of their first full-scale music-making sessions.

Video of MacArthur Forum now online

The video of our forum at Stanford University, "From MySpace to Hip Hop: New Media In the Everyday Lives of Youth," is now online. We thank Global Kids for making the video of the event public on YouTube.

There are three videos in total. The first video features Julie Stasch, the Vice President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, who is introducing the forum.

The second video features researchers for the Digital Youth Project, including Mimi Ito who discussed Participatory Learning in a Networked Society: Lessons From the Digital Youth Project; danah boyd who focused upon Teen Socialization Practices in Networked Publics; Heather Horst who examined family dynamics in Understanding New Media in the Home; and Dilan Mahendran, who discussed Hip Hop Music and Meaning in the Digital Age.

The final video is a panel discussion featuring Dale Dougherty, General Manager, Maker Media Division, O'Reilly Media; Deborah Stipek, Dean, Stanford University School of Education; Kenny Miller, EVP & Creative Director, MTV Networks' Global Digital Media; Linda Burch, Chief Education & Strategy Officer, Common Sense Media and moderator Connie Yowell, Director of Education, The MacArthur Foundation.

The forum was presented by Common Sense Media, the MacArthur Foundation and the Stanford University School of Education.

The Techne-mentor

By Megan Finn, PhD Candidate, School of Information, UC Berkeley

In conceptualizing the media and information ecologies in the lives of University of California, Berkeley freshmen, classical adoption and diffusion models proved inadequate. Rather than being characterized by a few individuals who diffuse knowledge to others in a somewhat linear fashion, many students' pattern of technology adoption signaled situations where various people were at times influential in different ever-evolving social networks. I use the term techne-mentor to help to describe this pattern of information and knowledge diffusion. The term “technology” is generally thought to be partially derived from the Greek word, techne, which means craftsmanship. Mentor is a figure in the Odyssey who advised both Odysseus and Telemachus, and is the source of the modern use of the word, mentor. Techne-mentor refers to a role that someone plays in aiding an individual or group with adopting or supporting some aspect of technology use in a specific context, but being techne-mentor is not a permanent role. The idea of the techne-mentor is useful for expanding conversations about adoption patterns to one of informal learning in social networks.

Public Forum on April 23

On April 23, at Stanford, we will be giving our first major public presentation of the outcomes of our research. We are near the end of three years of ethnographic work on 22 different case studies of youth engagement with new media. The MacArthur Foundation and Common Sense Media are organizing the evening event (4:30-8:30pm).

It will include talks and poster presentations from four of our team members: Heather Horst, Dilan Mahendran, danah boyd, and Mimi Ito. There will also be a panel or respondents including Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media, Deborah Stipek, dean of the Stanford School of Education, Linda Burch of Common Sense Media, and Kenny Miller from MTV Networks. There will also be an opportunity to talk to all of the other researchers on the project and learn more about the various case studies. You can prepare for both small talk and big talk by reading some of our stories.

The event is public and you can see program details and register to attend this event (By April 18) at:

“No, I just don’t feel complimented”: A young artist's take on copyright

I spent some time at an afterschool media-technology program and one of the things I became curious about was how the kids there, all from lower income areas from San Francisco, learned to create their MySpace pages. Customizing a profile typically involves copying and pasting chunks of HTML and CSS code from other sites.[1]

Some of the code they are cutting/copying and pasting is code to make the profile look sleek or garish. Some of the code links to media, such as videos, of content found elsewhere, such as YouTube. At the program, I had a several chances to watch how kids quickly navigated web pages, found content they wanted, found the code, and stick it back on their own or their friends’ MySpace pages. one of the teenagers told me that getting videos on his MySpace page is easy: “It’s just cut and copy… cut and copy.” I guess the pasting wasn’t the important part here!

"You're Just Another Fatty:" Creating a Pro-Ana Subculture Online

For girls who are hardcore about being skinny.
But on the contrary,
We are not in anyway trying to encouraging ED!
But, we ARE Pro-Ana/Mia.
If you are trying to/are recover/recovered, don't join.