The MacArthur Foundation just released a new report titled Living and Learning with New Media: Findings from the Digital Youth Project. Every librarian working with teens should download a copy of this report and read it. Why? Because the data presented provides librarians with much needed information to help them, and others, understand why teen use of social media is key to successful youth development.’ It’s clear from the findings and recommendations in the report that teen use of online social media has many benefits, and that as adults it is our responsibility to support teens in their use of this media.
The findings in the report are divided into three genres of participation that relate specifically to teen lives: Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out.
This section of the report highlights why teens circumvent systems put in place, by adults, in order to keep them from hanging out at times deemed inappropriate, by adults. For example, blocking access to Facebook in the library. Through the information presented in this section it’s clear that hanging out within social media sites gives teens an opportunity to gain knowledge and understanding about life and relationships. Teens on Facebook, MySpace, and other social media sites may be hanging out just for the sake of hanging out, but they also may be hanging out in order to have an important conversation with a friend about something key to their lives.’ Within the social media context of this report, hanging out isn’t antithetical to learning. It’s one way to have a social learning experience.
The term messing around is used in the report to describe teen use of technology to create content and learn about various technology related topics. Included in this section:
Youth invested in specific media practices often describe a period in which they first began looking around online for some area of interest and eventually discovered a broader palette of resources to experiment with, or an interest-driven online group. For example, Derrick, the 16-year-old teenager who lives in Brooklyn, New York, mentioned previously, also looked to online resources for initial information about how to take apart a computer. He explains to Christo Sims (Rural and Urban Youth) how he first looked around online and did a Google image search for â€œvideo cardâ€ so he could see what it looked like. After looking at photos of where a video card is situated in a computer, he was able to install his own. He did the same with his sound card. He explains, â€œI learned a lot on my own that’s for computers. . . . Just from searching up on Google and stuff.â€
Of course this kind of messing around is what a lot of librarians like to see. Teens using research tools to find information on a topic of interest.’ Sometimes the research tools might not be what the librarian would suggest, but yet as this report highlights, teens are searching and finding successfully.
Another aspect of messing around, is that teens look to friends within their social networks to locate information on a technology topic of interest. They ask each other on MySpace, Facebook, etc. how to get that graphic card installed, or what computer to buy. In this way these social networks become important parts of the research process.
The report defines geeking out this way, “Geeking out involves learning to navigate esoteric domains of knowledge and practice and participating in communities that traffic in these forms of expertise. It is a mode of learning that is peer-driven, but focused on gaining deep knowledge and expertise in specific areas of interest.”
Geeking out is the next level of research and learning after messing around. According to the study findings, geeking out is when teens get to delve deep into learning within a community of learners and experts.’ The study highlights gamers as one group of social media users that geek out in order to improve and enhance game play. Key within the findings related to geeking out is that geeking out requires being able to recognize and gain expertise within a socially networked environment and the ability to use the social environment to become an expert oneself.
The final section of the report focuses on conclusions and implications covering several areas that relate to teen library services. One that stands out specifically for schools and libraries is:
- “In addition to economic barriers, youth encounter institutional, social, and cultural constraints to online participation.” This conclusion directly talks about access in schools and libraries and how without high-quality always-on access in these institutions, teens are not able to gain the skills they need in order to succeed. The conclusions point to a lack of understanding of, and recognition by, adults of the importance of social technologies for teens. As a result, teens lose out because they do not get to immerse themselves in the learning and friendship communities in which they should, and can, be a part through the use of new media.
There is a lot to process within the findings and recommendations of this report. Consider reading it with your colleagues and then have a discussion on the implications of the findings for the teens in your community and on the library services you provide.’ For some this might be just the data you need to move your school or public library beyond blockage of social media tools and on to full-on access to the tools.