National Writing Project

Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project

Date: November 2008

Summary: This white paper summarizes the results of a three-year ethnographic study, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, examining young people's participation in the new media ecology.


A new report funded by the MacArthur Foundation's digital media and learning initiative explores the ways that use of and interaction with new media impacts the lives and learning of youth today.

Researchers Mizuko Ito et al. explored this impact by inquiring into the use of new media through the lens of youth experiences. They investigated how new media is being integrated into youth practices and agendas and questioned how these practices change the dynamics of youth-adult negotiations over literacy, learning, and authoritative knowledge.

"Today's youth may be coming of age and struggling for autonomy and identity as did their predecessors, but they are doing so amid reconfigured contexts for communication, friendship, play, and self-expression," says the report.

The authors identify three keys genres of youth participation with new media: "Hanging Out," "Messing Around," and "Geeking Out." The genres of participation are related to ways youth interacted before the introduction of new technologies, but are now extended in new and significant ways through networked digital media, requiring new ways of connecting friendships and interests as well as negotiations of social norms and practices.

The new media and uses of those media have also led to youth having new avenues for self-directed work and increased opportunities for peer-based learning.

What are the implications for educators?

Looking closely at youth media and interactions with and among youth, the authors call for the reorganizing of important distinctions within youth culture and literacy, noting that because of the diverse forms of literacy involved, standard benchmarks to measure literacy learning might not be sufficient. They also recommend that part of understanding these distinctions and literacy practices requires that social and recreational new media be used as a site of learning.

They also encourage educators, parents, and policymakers to capitalize on the power of peer-based learning that they documented and suggest that their observations might prompt new ways of thinking about education and the roles that educational and civic institutions play in youth learning.

Copyright © 2008 by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Posted with permission.
Ito, Mizuko, Heather Horst, Matteo Bittanti, danah boyd, Becky Herr-Stephenson, Patricia G. Lange, C.J. Pascoe, et al. 2008, November. Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. Chicago: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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