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education's digital future

Jun 4: Public forum — new media literacies and participatory cultures

Brigid Barron (Stanford Graduate School of Education)
Brigid Barron
(Stanford Graduate School of Education)
Nichole Pinkard (DePaul University)
Nichole Pinkard
(DePaul University)
Elisabeth Soep
Elisabeth Soep MA '95, PhD '00
(Oakland’s Youth Radio)

Panelists: Brigid Barron (Stanford Graduate School of Education), Nichole Pinkard (DePaul University), Elisabeth Soep MA '95, PhD '00 (Oakland’s Youth Radio)

What it means to be "literate" continues to expand as new media and new expressive forms co-evolve in the digital era. This forum features cutting-edge inquiries in under-resourced public schools and neighborhoods -- in which students work with mentors in creating video, radio, animations, spoken word poetry, and other media that advance 21st-century communication and interpretation skills. The panel will be co-hosted by Stanford Graduate School of Education Professor Paulo Blikstein.


Brigid Barron is an Associate Professor at the School of Education at Stanford, is a faculty co-lead of the LIFE center, and directs the YouthLab research group. A developmental and clinical psychologist by training, she studies social processes of learning in and out of school. In a five year NSF supported CAREER award she documented adolescents’ learning ecologies (e.g. learning opportunities across home, school, libraries, virtual communities, clubs, camps) for technological fluency development across diverse communities in the Silicon Valley region. This work used longitudinal methods to document the evolution of interest-based activities, mapping children’s learning to reveal the networks of partners and resources that have supported learning in and out of school. These methods were further developed in a three year grant funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that followed students longitudinally as they participate in programs designed to develop their technological fluency through activities such as game design, robotics, and digital movie making. A special focus of this work is articulating what develops as children engage in formal and informal collaborative learning to make and create with new technologies. Most recently, with funding from the National Science Foundation’s Cyberlearning program, she is investigating how networked technologies can generate excitement and expertise development among middle school students learning to become citizen scientists in the state of Maine.

Nichole Pinkard  believes that digitally literate kids — those who can critically consume and produce alternative media — grow up to be better citizens. With a B.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University, and an M.S. in Computer Science and a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University, she is an Associate Professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University, and is the founder of Digital Youth Network and RemixLearning. Both organizations focus on developing digital literacies as tools for extending traditional literacies. Dr. Pinkard is also a co-founder of YOUmedia, a public learning space that immerses high school students in a context of traditional media — books — where they make and produce new media artifacts such as music, games, videos, and virtual worlds.

Elisabeth Soep MA '95, PhD '00 is Senior Producer and Research Director at Youth Radio, the Oakland-based, youth-driven production company that serves as NPR’s official youth desk. The Youth Radio stories Lissa has produced with teen reporters for public media outlets have been recognized with honors including two Peabody Awards, three Murrow Awards, an Investigative Reporters and Editors Award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. With a PhD from Stanford University’s School of Education, Lissa has written about digital media and learning for academic journals (Harvard Educational Review, National Civic Review, Comunicar ); popular outlets (Boing Boing, NPR, Edutopia); and books including Drop that Knowledge (Soep & Chávez, UC Press) and Youthscapes (Maira & Soep, UPenn Press). With Asha Richardson, she co-founded Youth Radio’s Mobile Action Lab, which was among the first projects world-wide in which youth partner with professional designers and developers to create mobile apps that engage their communities. She lectures around the country and has taught graduate classes on ethnography and urban education, most recently at UC Berkeley. In 2011, Lissa became one of six members of the MacArthur Foundation’s Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network, which explores how young people are using digital and social media to express voice and exert influence in public spheres. For more than ten years, Lissa served on the Board of Directors of the United States’ premier youth poetry organization, Youth Speaks (HBO series, 2009 & 2010), where she now serves as an advisor.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 5:00pm to 7:30pm
101 CERAS Learning Hall
What happened in class: 

Mitchell introduced this final class by explaining the structure of next year's EDF enterprise. Instead of a single one-unit course, multiple courses across the School of Ed throughout the year will be marked as EDF-relevant, including Mitchell's own open-attendance fall course on the ecology of higher education. Each of these courses will offer at least one public forum, advertised through the EDF site. Mitchell also shared the exciting news that Carnegie Mellon's Candace Thille would be joining the EDF team next year.

The GSE's Paulo Blikstein (a frequent EDF contributor) took the stage to introduce this week's panelists around the theme of "new media literacy and participatory culture." Blikstein noted that literacy is not just a workplace skill, but a tool for political empowerment - a concept first made famous by Paulo Freire in the 1960s, but gaining new relevance with the advent of "tech literacy" and "computer literacy." What does it mean to be technologically literate? Not just to be a consumer of technology, but a producer. Modern technology can, in principle, allow for a new multiplicity of voices to make themselves heard.

Brigid Barron, also a professor at the Graduate School of Education, began her remarks by debunking the "digital native" myth. While children today do use an astonishing amount of digital media, they are typically consuming and not producing it, and the idea that they have some innate digital fluency downplays the importance of properly scaffolded learning environments. Barron and her colleagues run YouthLab, which studies youth technology engagement in and out of school. They rely heavily on deep fieldwork, ethnographic methods, and "technobiographies" that collect and visualize information about student engagement with peers and resources over time and across environments. After conducting a 3-year ethnographic study of Chicago middle-schoolers with the University of Chicago's Nichole Pinkard, Barron found a remarkable range of distributed learning pathways that rely heavily on social networks. Her resulting model resembles an ecology of learners and resources more than a linear algorithm of step-by-step apprenticeship.

Continuing Barron's description of the study, Nichole Pinkard herself introduced two more case studies of students from lower-income backgrounds. "Maurice" developed his own media platform for sharing media, and in Pinkard's view, stayed engaged because his work had social value for his friends. "Calvin" viewed himself as a gamer, but over the course of three years began to funnel that identity into an interest in engineering. Overall, Pinkard found that students in their after-school program showed large gains in the depth and breadth of their engagement with digital media over time - beyond that of same-aged Silicon Valley children who had engineers as parents. What in the after-school program made this happen? Pinkard highlighted two main factors - the presence of peers and mentors in the after-school program who could serve as brokers to new experiences, and the existence of a larger audience for student productions. In the same way that a basketball court offers a space to practice, show off, teach, and socialize, the after-school program and online network gave students a public space to watch, share, and practice their work with digital media.

The final guest speaker of the evening was Lissa Soep, a Stanford graduate and director of Oakland's Youth Radio. Youth Radio episodes are created by high-schoolers and broadcast nationally by NPR. However, Soep emphasized that Youth Radio is in fact about more than radio - students frequently engage in "transmedia" storytelling projects across platforms, inviting multiple means of student participation. Soep also maintains an identity as a researcher through the Macarthur Foundations Digital Media and Learning initiative studying youth and participatory politics. She described five key "tactics" for youth participation that arose from her work:

- "Creating content worlds" that maintain a life beyond a one-shot project
- "Pivoting your public" by engaging with your shared-interest networks, as with the Harry Potter Alliance
- "Foraging for information" by using big data to conduct citizen science
- "Coding up" by developing programming skills for the public good
- Playing "hide and seek" with your digital identity - strategically erasing your digital traces to influence social perception of your work

Soep closed by offering a note of caution about youth media campaigns, pointing to the backlash against the "Kony 2012" campaign as an example. Successful youth media campaigns need to avoid oversimplifying their message, losing control of their public image, and creating unsustainable flash events.