23 November 2008

Berkeley/USC Digital Youth study

A three-year ethnographic study of how young people use digital media (two page summary here) has reported that most use messaging, social networking etc. to extend existing, off-line friendships. The study describes a social, digital world in which (as with the off-line, social world) adults have little place. In addition to social media use, the study also reports a smaller group of young people using the on-line world to develop interests, connecting to peers beyond their local friendships.

The researchers point out that valuable media and communication skills are learned, informally, in both friendship- and interest-driven activities and challenge schools to play a role in both: first by facilitating access to social exploration tools, even though they are not currently part of the education curriculum (indeed often banned in UK schools); secondly by stimulating learning in interest-driven access.

There's a tension here for the ICT curriculum, at least as it plays out in the UK. Currently it prepares students for the world of work (at its most limited, a Microsoft curriculum, struggling at the moment to catch up with Vista). Often it appears academic and irrelevant to students, especially when compared to the visceral experience they have with their personal computing. But if people are making such a good job of learning social tools anyway, do they have to feature in the school curriculum? To me there still seems to be some point in trying to increase appeal and relevance in teaching more formal computing tools.

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