PBS’s Digital Nation: Another Great Resource For Teaching the New Media Literacies

Early last summer, I sat down with a production crew from PBS’s Frontline at the Games for Change conference in New York City. They were producing web-based content for a new documentary, Digital Nation, which was intended to be a follow up to their Growing Up Digital documentary. To be honest, I had some concerns about the depiction of young people’s online experiences in the earlier production. It seemed to me to be sensationalistic in its choice of topics, mostly depicting generational conflicts around the use of the web. In most cases, there was a bias towards the adult perspectives offered by parents and teachers over those advanced by young people, who often lacked a language through which to defend experiences which were clearly meaningful to them. In this case, the decision not to include academic experts worked against having a fair hearing for young people, since the adults were advancing arguments which were oft staged through other news outlets while the young people were trying to get grown-ups to reconsider entrenched biases.

In many ways, the Digital Nations site is correcting this over-sight, providing a rich array of indepth interviews with some of the top thinkers about young people’s online lives. I was very pleased to see extensive use made of my interview, talking about the value of multitasking in an era of information overflow, how collective intelligence may displace the ideal of the Renaissance Man, participatory culture, parents and video games, the myth of game addiction, the nature of virtual reality, what schools are misunderstanding about the new media literacies and why so many teachers are ding book culture at the expense of embracing new skills and experiences. (Unfortunately, the site’s producers have made it extremely difficult if not impossible to embed clips from this site onto blogs, showing how much they still have to learn about how to communicate ideas through digital media. So I am not able to offer you clips directly here on the blog but have to rely on links to direct you back to the PBS site. Trust me, if the content wasn’t so good, I wouldn’t bother!)

I’ve already found the site a useful resource for teaching my graduate seminar on New Media Literacies, finding the short segments an ideal length to spark discussions and provide students access to key thinkers, sharing their ideas in their own words. I haven’t watched every segment yet but here are some of the ones I would highlight:

Marc Prensky, who is widely credited with coining the terms, “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” sums up his perspective about how young people learn and process knowledge differently than previous generations, thanks to their time spent engaged with new media.

Second Life‘s Philip Rosedale on the ways that we are using virtual reality’s contributions to human evolution.

danah boyd on our shifting understanding of privacy and young people’s desires to control disclosure in the world of Facebook and other social networks and her critiques of the anxieties about internet safety being fostered by sensationalized news reports on “stranger danger.”

Net Family New’s Anne Collier talks about the challenges of parenting for the digital age.

James Paul Gee on the kinds of learning that take place through computer and video games and on the ways that schools are regulating youth’s access to participatory culture.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the responsibility schools carry to help close the “opportunity gap” surrounding digital literacy.

The Dumbest Generation‘s Mark Bauerlein on why digital media threatens traditional literacy skills and may leave us knowing less rather than more.

“Old School, New School,” a documentary segment showing the very different ways teachers understanding what it means to read in an age of digital media.

These short segments are provocative; they ask hard questions and offer contradictory advice, and that’s why they represent such a valuable resource for the classroom. I am using them to start discussion; you may use them as probes for writing; but the topics they raise are ones we need to be discussing with our students.

You might want to bring one of these segments into your class as the world pays its respect this week to “One Web Day” and calls attention to the need to diversify and expand opportunities for participation in the new media landscape.

Comments

  1. Ramin "Sarcerok" Shokrizade says:

    I noticed that danah boyd (not sure why her name is not capitolized) states in “Predator Panic” that anyone can pretend to be a 14 year old and lure in a sexually desperate adult. Anne Collier adds that only 5% of teens are at risk of contacting an adult for sex and that in most of those cases it is the child initiating the relationship. Both seem to feel this makes it ok. As a teacher I am not trained to perceive a legal difference depending on who “initiated” the sexual liason. To my knowledge that doesn’t matter, at least in California. From what kids tell me in my area the 5% is probably pretty accurate but to me this seems like an epidemic of pedophilia, at least in my community. It’s ok though because the kids are initiating it….

    The site as a whole is amazing and I am really enjoying all of the resources available on it.

  2. Appreciate your comment, Mr. Shokrizade. The Crimes Against Children Research Center last spring (about a year after I did that interview with Frontline) updated their 2000 findings on Net-related sexual exploitation of children (I blogged about it here (http://tinyurl.com/d4qv8c), reporting that Internet-initiated child sexual exploitation constituted only 1% of overall child sexual exploitation. But much more to your point, it certainly does matter – even one such crime is a tragedy. What I try to get across to fellow parents is that we need to be informed, work with our kids – based on communication with them about their own online experiences and understanding of the facts – and get past irrational fears sown by media characterizations such as “To Catch a Predator.” Because young people find social media and technologies so compelling, our fear – which tends to cause overreaction on parents’ part (e.g., banning Facebook) and to send kids “underground,” leaving parents out of the picture, which can actually have the effect of increasing risk. Not good.

    I just heard from a teacher in New York who has a class for which student use of social media is part of the syllabus. He asking me what to say to a mom who wouldn’t let her child put anything online at all. She’ll probably just have to pull her child out the class, which I feel is a real missed opportunity for the student (and the class, probably!). But this is an example of where the predator panic has gotten us. James Paul Gee, as well as Educ. Sec. Arne Duncan, who Henry also links to above, explain the “opportunity gap” very well.

    Online-safety advocates like me really only reach engaged parents, very, very few of whom need to fear online predators. They need to know they’re out there and be sure their kids aren’t reaching out to them, but the research shows that the average kid just isn’t. The youth who are victimized by these crimes are described in this profile (http://www.netfamilynews.org/nl070518.html#1), shared on Capitol Hill a couple of years ago by Dr. Finkelhor, dir. of UNH’s Crimes Against Children Research Center.

    If we as a society continue down this road of one-size-fits-all, fear-based messaging, we will accomplish little. We will be able to help neither the offline high-risk youth who are at risk of Net-initiated sexual exploitation nor the average kid who could be better protected from the most salient online risk – bullying and harassment – by learning how to be critically thinking, good digital citizens (because CACRC research ALSO shows that aggressive behavior online more than doubles a child’s risk of online victimization). You can tell I feel a sense of urgency about this. Tx again.

  3. Ramin "Sarcerok" Shokrizade says:

    Thank you for the additional information, I can see you are passionate about this subject, as I am, and we are both definitely on the same team. What I am observing in my community (and this might be a unique/statistically insignificant situation) is young adult males trolling for children in public places near schools (not internet initiated) and approaching them with “hey you are cute”… “hey you are cute” over and over playing the numbers game. If a child is receptive, they give out their email address or myspace info and an internet-based dialogue begins.

    This has many benefits for the adult. First of all it allows a high degree of localization. Secondly, it allows for a period of authentication to make sure Dateline isn’t hiding in the bushes. The dialogue that follows can be password protected both both parties (as parents are rarely invited into childrens’ Myspace space).

    From there the adult can condition the child to perceive them as representing freedom and empowerment vs. the control and establishment of parents and school staff. In some cases over a period of months the two of them can gauge wether the parents will oppose this relationship. In some cases they don’t. Other times the child can convince the parent to allow the situation by threatening to run away or with other hardball tactics.

    While much of this is not new, the social networking aspect is. It allows almost unrestricted communication with the child any time of day. Thirty conversations can be exchanged even during school time with no responsible adult being any the wiser.

    In parallel I see something going on with girls in the local schools I call “Myspace Leveling” for lack of a better term and given my gaming background. This is where girls attempt to advance in rank in their schools by dating highly ranked males. This is nothing new but now with social networking it looks very different than it did even 10 years ago.

    Coolness, appearance, wealth, age and other traditional factors still determine the rank of your mate. What is very different is that now the internet can expand the geographical and age range of the potential mate pool tremendously. All other things held constant, a 14 year old mate far outranks a 13 year old mate, and the pattern holds up the age scale. For a girl, dating someone below their age/grade is something embarrassing that they don’t often admit unless there are other remediating coolness factors.

    While between mates the girl protagonist will sex up their Myspace with sexually suggestive pictures, often involving heavy make-up, semi-nudity, and black and white photos (apparently this helps disguise age somehow). I have had my kids show me pictures of 12 year olds that rival the ones of the 14 year old on the Digital Nation website. Once an appropriate (preferably much older) mate has been aquired the ritual requires that you post what I will call “proof of romance”. Generally this is some intimate display like French kissing or such.

    The older your mate, the more you advance in rank among your peers. In a female myspace group this demonstrates “maturity” and “desirability” and perhaps “coolness” though that can backfire in some cases and just appear “slutty”. Kissing a 40 year old guy will probably backfire.

    If a girl “falls in love” with a young adult male via the above mechanisms, the relationship can be very advanced before any other adults become aware. By then there is a lot of incentive for both parents and police to just look the other way. In my role as a teacher, I am not allowed to look the other way. What do I do when I see something clearly inappropriate but I get no backup from the involved parents or the local police?

    Since these situations are so new I do not think parents, teachers, administrators, police, or district attorneys really know how to react and so would rather just feign ignorance. Requiring the teacher to contact CPS (the nuclear option) in such a case can cause the “cone of silence” to drop and leave the teacher subject to possibly ruinous social backlash from all those aforementioned parties that definitely do not want to interact with CPS.

    I can’t blame them since really what harm comes from the union (I play Devil’s advocate here), especially if it is consentual. As a teacher I am trained that prior to the age of concent there can be no consent and as such what the others see as consentual is illusory (at least legally). Social networking gives children unprecedented levels of power and privacy that I feel our society is not adapting fast enough to. In the end I feel this is a good thing but in the short run I see a tremendous amount of social upheaval.

  4. Generation gap is a great problem at present, especially, when the Information Technology is growing so fast that a 20th century mind setup is quite unable to cope up with the super speed of IT growth. Not only taking the help of their tactical treasure but also giving the youths proper credit for their creativity.

  5. I quite agree with assertion that the digital media and especially digital services are making us in some ways not only know less but also making us think less. If you wanted to know something 20 years ago, you borrowed and in searching for information you discovered new information and knowledge. Now, the answer is just a few clicks away. And knowledge one gets in this way is heavily fragmented.

  6. PeterRossy says:

    Digital median and teleservices(Internet) are very useful, but there are some negative results of information easy sharing:

    • people are becoming more and more lazy
    • intelectual property can be easily stolen – just copy-pasted
    • people do not appreciate books and studying
    • studying is now less seperated from entertainment
    • To draw a conclusion I want to say that it’s just a tool and everyone considers on his own how to use it.

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  9. I know every day we know aboutlatest technology news and now media is going so fast to teach us but also i really love PBS. Its really awesome portal. Thanks for the article too.

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  12. I am not allowed to look the other way. What do I do when I see something clearly inappropriate but I get no backup from the involved parents or the local police?Beds

  13. dallas roofing says:

    Great heads up on the resources for digital media literacy. Even though sometimes it feels like the students in my class know more about this stuff than I do, it will still be nice to offer different perspectives. Kids these days know how to use it very well, but often don’t think critically about any of it’s implications or uses. Bravo Henry.

  14. News and now media is going so fast to teach us but also i really love PBS. Its really awesome portal. Thanks for the article too.

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