It Depends on Where You Look: Understanding the Role of Digital Media in Learning Civic Learning and Engagement
The emergence of new media ecologies associated with networked digital technology has created new contexts, tools and demands for civic learning. For example, technological changes have provided some youth with greater access to communities of practice where adults and peers work together towards a common goal (as described in Ito et al, 2008; and Jenkins et al, 2009), and in the process, may learn civic skills (Jenkins et al, 2009). Furthermore, scholars have called attention to the ways in which the increasing ubiquity of digital media as a conduit for public life might present new challenges and require new skills for civic and political participation (Jenkins et al, 2009; Rheingold, 2009). The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) is examining how the emergence of digital media may be changing the face of youth civic and political engagement, and in turn, the implications for supporting youth civic learning.
This session asks the question, “What is the role of digital media in civic learning?” We draw on three empirical studies of the YPP network, which examine this question in very different ways and provide different insights. The first study draws on case studies of exemplary youth organizations and networks where new media tools and practices are woven throughout the fabric of the community. This study illustrates, through examination of online and offline youth civic practices, the role that digital media can play in both supporting and transforming the learning of civic skills in a highly digitally networked context. The second study draws on interviews with civically and politically engaged youth about their civic identities. This study explores the role of digital media in civic learning when youth are involved in more “traditional” civic or political contexts. The final study draws on a national survey of youth and examines their values and behaviors related to civic skills that are increasingly important as civic and political life is digitally mediated. This study draws attention to the ways in which youth are adapting to, and may need additional support for, engagement in civic and political life where the norms of information production and consumption and communication may be changing.