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You’re young — you should know better!

October 6, 2010

I teach a seminar called Media, Culture and Society where we focus on issues of interactive digital media, or “new media.” In a discussion about Dhiraj Murthy’s article on new media and ethnographic research methods, my students raised concerns about how they, as young people, are expected to know how to use digital media tools to produce information in the workplace, but that they rarely receive any formal training. They described internships where they were expected to draft multimedia presentations in office settings where no one else knew how. At the same time, they recounted being admonished for stating their technical skills on their resumes because “everyone your age knows how to blog.”

According to my students not everyone knows these things. In other courses I’ve found that most students are familiar with how to absorb on-line entertainment (through facebook and youtube for example), but are nervous about moving from their role as consumers to producers of content. They are also unsure how to gather knowledge from on-line sources, because they are consistently told such sources are unacceptable in classroom assignments. For those students who do have expertise in final cut, photoshop, blogging, or even powerpoint and excel, they have learned these tools through trial and error in their leisure time or independently and haphazardly on the job.

Sociologist and communication studies scholar Eszter Hargittai has found that participation in the creation of new media content is unevenly distributed. It boils down to who feels comfortable messing around with technology and who does not. Women students and students whose parents have lower levels of education are less likely to develop these skills on their own.

This “participation divide” suggests that faculty need more information and more training about how to empower students to become media producers. But where do we begin? At UVa, SHANTI has developed a “knowledge base” though an open wiki that offers background information on emerging teaching and learning tools such as Zotero, Kaltura, and VisualEyes. I’m curious if readers know of other sources that are being developed to help faculty navigate emerging tools for teaching and learning. If you know of any, please offer suggestions in the comments.

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