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.

Field Stories

Field Stories are short, descriptive summaries of interesting case studies and events that emerged over the three years of research. Different researchers on the project created these stories to communicate aspects our research to a broad audience.

  • Mimi Ito | Wednesday, July 2, 2008 - 04:16

    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.

  • Dan Perkel | Thursday, June 12, 2008 - 23:41

    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].

  • Dan Perkel | Monday, June 2, 2008 - 17:47

    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.

  • Dan Perkel | Thursday, April 24, 2008 - 17:56

    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.

  • Dan Perkel | Wednesday, February 6, 2008 - 17:38

    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!

  • CJ Pascoe | Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - 02:08

    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.

  • Matteo Bittanti | Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - 04:30

    Previously, on the Digital Youth Project website… [Read the first part of this story]

    On February 15 2006, Dennis McCauley published a short entry on his website, “”, eloquently titled “Rockstar’s Legal Gangs Beats Down Online Art Installation”. McCauley linked the aforementioned article written by Knutsen (2006a) describing Dave Beck’s case (here erroneously referred to as “Dave Berg”), and added a few personal comments. In order to foster the readers’ contributions, McCauley did not explicitly stated his position on the matter. His strategy proved successful. It did not take long for the first comment to materialize.

  • Matteo Bittanti | Friday, January 18, 2008 - 07:10

    “In the absence of aesthetic value, the history of art is just an enormous storehouse of works whose chronologic sequence carries no meaning.
    And conversely: it is only within the context of an art’s historical evolution that aesthetic value can be seen” (Milan Kundera, 2005: 5)

    Level 1: Haynes and Barbie dolls
    In 1987, American film director Todd Haynes ignited a controversy when he released Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. Using Barbie dolls instead of real actors, Haynes reconstructed the life of Karen Carpenter, the pop vocalist of the band The Carpenters. To detail the girl’s physical deterioration caused by anorexia (note 1), the director finely whittled away at the face and arms of the “Karen” Barbie doll. The movie takes places in various locales, such as recording studios, restaurants, the Carpenter’s residence in Downey, California and Karen’s apartment in Century City: all the sets were designed properly scaled to the dolls. Shortly after its release, Superstar became a minor art–house hit. However, the film was hastily withdrawn from circulation because Haynes lost a lawsuit filed by Karen’s brother and musical collaborator, Richard Carpenter.

  • danah boyd | Thursday, January 10, 2008 - 22:55

    I had just finished giving a talk about youth culture to a room full of professionals who worked in the retail industry when a woman raised her hand to tell me a story. It was homecoming season and her daughter Mary was going to go to homecoming for the first time. What fascinated this mother was that her daughter's approach to shopping was completely different than her own.

  • Patricia G. Lange | Friday, December 7, 2007 - 05:59

    What kind of environment is YouTube for children? The answers to that question are often complex and contradictory. They vary across the children, parents, and teachers we have interviewed as part of our study on Digital Youth. Although some children have reported harassment problems and distress due to harsh criticism and mean comments, others have reported making important connections to other people for help with making videos, and forming social and emotional ties with mentors, peers, and YouTube stars.