In my Delicious network bookmarks I found this pretty interesting study (pdf) titled “The Participation Divide: Content Creation and Sharing in the Digital Age” which concludes:
…Despite new opportunities to engage in such distribution of content, relatively few people are taking advantage of these recent developments. Moreover, neither creation nor sharing is randomly distributed among a diverse group of young adults. Consistent with existing literature, creative activity is related to a person’s socioeconomic status as measured by parental schooling. The novel act of sharing online, however, is considerably different with men much more likely to engage in it. However, once we control for Internet user skill, men and women are equally likely to post their materials on the Web.
The study states that as far as kids are concerned, those with at least one parent with a graduate degree are much more likely to publish, and that “while it may be that digital media are levelingÂ the playing field in terms of exposure to content, engaging in creative pursuits remains unequally distributed by social background.”
Obviously, this is not especially good news, but it’s not at all surprising. The significance of it is clear, however, from one other line in the study:
If we find unequal uptake of these activities then such discrepancies imply the emergence of a two-tiered system where some people contribute to online content while others remain mere consumers of material. Those who share their content publicly have the ability to set the agenda of public discussions and debates. (Emphasis mine.)
I think that’s another bullet point to add to the compelling case for teaching these technologies in classrooms, and especially in those classrooms in lower socio-economic areas.Â It reminds me of the quote from the Horizon Report a few weeks ago that said:
Increasingly, those who use technology in ways that expand their global connections are more likely to advance, while those who do not will find themselves on the sidelines.
I’ll admit I still marvel at how long it’s taken the system to even show signs of understanding what’s happening and taking steps to deal with it. For any of this to happen, we need teachers in the room who can expand their global connections as well. But the more we can begin to distribute this type of research to the educational leaders in our schools, the more opening we have to starting the conversations.
Hi Will! This is right in the middle of what we’ve been working towards on our campus — trying to help faculty understand the value in easy publishing. What I marvel at is how so many people seem to push it aside as being less than important. I wonder when the moment will occur where we all begin to see the power in digital media creation and sharing. Thanks for the pointer, I’ll be sure to read the whole piece.
David Warlick says
Will, I would suggest that children/adolescents/adults, whose participation in the information environment continues to be limited to info-consumer and who continue to identify themselves as consumers, will be less likely to question or otherwise critically evaluate the information that they encounter.
— dave —
James Rigney says
I think David is on to something. If anything we (as teachers) should help students see themselves as something more than consumers.
I encounter this consumption attitude in my class everyday with students who just want to be fed the information and who despise critical thought.
By the way, Will, I finished your book and it was excellent.
Been pondering this question, re: my own children, who are much more interested in passive consumption of Internet information (games, YouTube, various websites) than they are in creation. Neither of my kids is especially verbally adept, either spoken or written, and I wonder if that is a big part of it, in addition to their ages (11 & 12). What happens to those for whom written expression is difficult? Are they shut out? Or is the non-verbal (powerpoint, movies) enough for agenda setting?
Very interesting information. It reminds me of a dusty old memory I have of a similar situation when it comes to student video production. Students with educated parents tended to get more into writing and directing, children of less educated parents tend more toward the acting. I learned that somewhere, can’t remember the context but it seemed true at the time.
I question how accurate it is to say that ‘those who publish set the agenda’ – is it really that easy? Or is what they are publishing enactments of an agenda that was already set before they started publishing?
If you publish ideas that are way off from norm then you are crazy so no one listens. Publish ideas that are a little way off norm and then you are eccentric, weird, or otherwise classified as noise that can be disregarded.
Yes, this post is saying something important, and yes I agree that we need to educate all our students to join the conversation. But I think it is going too far to say ‘those that publish control the agenda’. I suggest that whatever controls the agenda also controls the publishers. Big rewards go to those that prove the dominant agenda true.
How else do you explain Fox news? I don’t think the producers are setting the agenda, i think there is an agenda that they are trying their best to come up with content to fit.
Don’t promise me that I will ‘control the agenda’ if only i know how to podcast or what have you.
It’s the critical thinking that will set you free. Come up with your own agenda, then excavate it to see if it is really your own agenda. Then you are in control of your own agenda.
Elizabeth Crispino says
Matt, you make a good point. I’m not sure that “set the agenda” is the right phrase. Yes, the creators do have the ability to choose their agenda, and yes, they may shape it, but “the agenda” is still going to fall within the framework of what the audience will listen to.
Stephen Downes says
The authors take pains to represent their sample as diverse and non-biased. However, “We look at the content creation and sharing practices of 1,060 first-year students … at the University of Illinois, Chicago.” Well that’s not a random sample at all! How would sharing practices compare for people not attending college? How do they compare in more egalitarian nations such as Canada or Sweden? We cannot draw inferences about the nature of people when the people represented are in a very special circumstance in a very singular culture.
James Rigney says
I think it depends on the agenda and on the group you’re trying to sway. If you’re trying to reach tweens/teens then video/movies would be excellent in my opinion (PowerPoint, not so much.)
To go back to Will’s original post, I work in a lower-socioeconomic achievement area and the article seems dead on: the kids from richer background seem to have a much better understanding of web/communication tools. (This is VERY anecdotal and generalized) I’ve noticed that in my conversations about implementing blog/RSS/Moodle into my lessons I’ve heard multiple, almost excessive warnings about guarding my children against what’s “out there.” Coul fear of the dangers of web communication be a big deterrent for many schools/communities/families, especially lower-income and rural?
I’ve been considering this article since I was alerted to it. I do agree with your point; I think that schools and public libraries should embrace the creative point of the web. It shouldn’t just focus on facebook/myspace[there is so much more]. I think that children should be taught how to use the web not as a source to access information, but a place to express and discuss issues, thoughts, events, and/or feelings important to them. I feel that at least with my children the school employs technology mostly to feed consumers of web content. It is extremely useful [grade/attendance tracking/school events] but schools should invest some time in allowing kids to explore the blogosphere (among many other similar things) in a constructive/educational manner [though i feel if this happens I might want to chew my own mouth on that]. The website IPL: Internet Public Library has an HTML how-to for kids 😉
Yet, seriously, if students of any age would have more interactive experience in education-instead of consuming information, they could create a dialogue to react and express ideas/emotions then would could have a society that doesn’t merely consume ads, or “approved” content, but one that has a diverse dialogue stimulating thought rather than stagnation-or the mob movement [hey mabye more people would know who and why they’re voting for in their local elections?]