Documenting the Digital Generation

The George Lucas Educational Foundation recently launched an exciting new website -- Digital Generation -- which offers a wealth of videos which will be relevant to anyone who wants to better understand the new media literacies, participatory culture, and young people's online lives, themes which recur here with great frequency. I have been looking the site over closely as I am getting ready to teach a graduate seminar on new media literacy at USC this fall. I certainly will be using the materials on this site as a resource for sparking classroom discussions and giving my students a more immediate experience of some of the writers we will be reading. First, the site brings together substantive conversations with what they are calling "Big Thinkers." These include some key participants from the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning initiatives, including Katie Salen talking about learning with and through games, Howard Gardner talking about ethics and education, Sasha Barab talking about virtual worlds and participatory culture, John Palfrey talking about "Born Digital" youth, James Paul Gee on assessment and games, and yours truly speaking to parents and educators about our changing media landscape. Here's Mimi Ito from the Digital Youth Project talking about what her ethnographic research has shown about the ecology of informal learning.

Second, the website offers some vivid and engaging portraits of typical American teens and their relationship to new media technologies and practices. There's so much that I find commendable about these videos -- starting from the fact that they define new media in terms of its opportunities rather than starting from the conflict and controversy approach which defined for example PBS's Growing Up Online documentary last year. Key to this is the centrality of the young participant's own voice in describing what these new tools and communities mean to them, coupled with supportive comments from teachers, parents, and other adults who remain part of their lives. The picture that emerges acknowledges that there are sometimes generational conflicts around the deployment of these media but also models strategies for working through those disagreements in ways that allow everyone to tap into the opportunities and route around the risks posed by the online world. Young people's lives are shown to be conducted across and through a range of different media platforms, rather than, say, identifying one kid as a gamer or another as a social networker. The technologies are shown as supporting a range of different social roles and relationships rather than necessarily directing young people to develop in predetermined directions. There are great examples here of gifted teachers who embrace the informal learning which is taking place in and around participatory culture and linking it in meaningful ways to the school curriculum. These stories allow us to see new media practices as an expansion of rather than distraction from traditional forms of learning. These are the kinds of stories I wish we could see more of in mainstream media rather than sensationalized newsreports which are designed to provoke moral panic over the topic of the week. Right now, that topic seems to be sexting.

This video about Sam is one of my personal favorites. Sam is a young drama queen -- in all of the best senses of the word -- and it's clear that she is deploying a range of new media tools to produce, critique, edit, and restage her own persona (as well as to direct her friends in their own identity play activities).

And this portrait of Luis shows a young man as he uses new media tools to juggle a range of social responsabilities. Part of what I love here is the ways that his mastery over these technologies allows him to be a dutiful son, a caring brother, an active citizen, and a mentor to other youth.

And surrounding each of the youth portraits are samples of their own media productions and links to sites which are meaningfully part of their own lives. These young people are allowed to share their own insights and experiences through the site, alongside the credentialized experts (and "Big Thinkers") and this is clearly as it should be, given how much each of them has to say about digital culture.

Finally, the site offers videos which provide portraits of significant youth-focused organizations and the work they are doing to promote the new media literacies. These groups include several with whom Project NML has been collaborating, including New York City's Global Kids and Chicago's Digital Youth Network. This video, for example, shows a workshop on digital storytelling and talks about the Remix World project. I've had the chance to get to know Nichole Pinkard and Akili Lee, visit their school, and see their students in action. What they are doing is, in the words of one of the young people featured here, "totally sick."

These samples only scratch the surface. You should allow yourself the time to explore this rich new resource for media literacy education.