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.