A paper co-authored by Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, titled Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, considers the proliferation of online content creation and networking activities by teens in the USA.
Jenkins’ paper explains that most of these teens are involved in participatory cultures:
A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. A participatory culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).”
A growing body of scholarship suggests potential benefits of these forms of participatory culture, including opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, a changed attitude toward intellectual property, the diversification of cultural expression, the development of skills valued in the modern workplace, and a more empowered conception of citizenship. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.
The new skills include:
- Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving.
- Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery.
- Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes.
- Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.
- Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
- Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.
- Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal.
- Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.
- Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.
- Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information.
- Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.
A central goal of this report is to shift the focus of the conversation about the digital divide from questions of technological access to those of opportunities to participate and to develop the cultural competencies and social skills needed for full involvement. Schools as institutions have been slow to react to the emergence of this new participatory culture; the greatest opportunity for change is currently found in afterschool programs and informal learning communities. Fostering such social skills and cultural competencies requires a more systemic approach to media education in the United States.
Question: is this relevant to youth and educators in developing countries? Can the same appropriation of technology be expected of youth in South Africa? Is there an equal need for cultural competencies and social skills needed there? And can these activities, which are clearly engaging for young people, be used as a vehicle for other forms of learning?
I believe the answers to be yes more than no. At the Shuttleworth Foundation, the focus area Education in an emerging participatory culture will frame all projects and research of the C&A theme.