New Study Shows Time Spent Online Important for Teen Development

“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for
their teens to hang out online,” said Mizuko Ito, University of
California, Irvine researcher and the report’s lead author. “There are
myths about kids spending time online – that it is dangerous or making
them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for
young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be
competent citizens in the digital age.”  — MacArthur Foundation

Some details:

The researchers identified two distinctive categories of teen
engagement with digital media: friendship-driven and interest-driven.
While friendship-driven participation centered on “hanging out” with
existing friends, interest-driven participation involved accessing
online information and communities that may not be present in the local
peer group.

Significant findings include –

    • There is a generation gap in how youth and adults view the value of online activity.
      • Adults
        tend to be in the dark about what youth are doing online, and often
        view online activity as risky or an unproductive distraction.
      • Youth understand the social value of online activity and are generally highly motivated to participate.
    • Youth are navigating complex social and technical worlds by participating online.
      • Young people are learning basic social and technical skills that they need to fully participate in contemporary society.
      • The
        social worlds that youth are negotiating have new kinds of dynamics, as
        online socializing is permanent, public, involves managing elaborate
        networks of friends and acquaintances, and is always on.
    • Young people are motivated to learn from their peers online.
      • The Internet provides new kinds of public spaces for youth to interact and receive feedback from one another.
      • Young people respect each other’s authority online and are more motivated to learn from each other than from adults.
    • Most youth are not taking full advantage of the learning opportunities of the Internet.
      • Most youth use the Internet socially, but other learning opportunities exist.
      • Youth
        can connect with people in different locations and of different ages
        who share their interests, making it possible to pursue interests that
        might not be popular or valued with their local peer groups.
      • “Geeked-out” learning opportunities are abundant – subjects like astronomy, creative writing, and foreign languages.

I’m already aware of much of this. Knowing that students would rather learn from peers, I’ve added more group work, and I’ve added a requirement that students in my advance media classes publish a screencast about their final project to YouTube.  In future classes, I’ll have students review those videos as part of their research process. 

My younger students (in the entry-level class) are generally much more excited about new media than the upper-level students (some of whom either barely tolerate or openly loathe the “new media” component of the “new media journlaism” program).  I’ve got to watch my lower-level students closely, so that I can adapt the upper-level classes to their strengths, and keep that process going throughout the major. That means I’m probably going to have to introduce more experimentaton in the lower-level classes, since I’ve got to cast a wider net to find out which techniques are the most productive.