Determining Participation

Hargittai, E. & G. Walejko. (2008). The Participation Divide: Content Creation and Sharing in the Digital Age. Information, Communication and Society, 11(2), 239-256. Retrieved September 23, 2009 from

If Web 2.0 signals a move to a participatory Web, determining why some individuals participate and others do not is critical. Hargittai cites previous research that indicates teens from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to experience educational gains from home computer and Internet use, and that teens with more access points are more engaged in more online activities. However, she goes on to argue that unequal access to technology is not the only answer, but rather that, “exposure to experiences that increase participatory culture and digital literacy are unequally available.”

Her claim that teens from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to engage in online participatory and creative activities is not reflected in danah boyd’s analysis of social network sites. However, this apparent discrepancy is resolved when Hargittai lists the creative activities she examined: music, poetry/fiction, photography, and video (to the exclusion of the Facebook/MySpace profiles and comments boyd studied).

The data set (more than 1,000 first year students at a diverse urban university) seems to provide a valid microcosm of the (older) teenage college-bound population. Within that data set, the higher male participation in music confirmed the Pew data previously reviewed. However, the higher participation of white teens in photography was surprising given the proliferation of cell phone cameras; similarly, the higher participation of female and African-American teens in poetry and fiction was unexpected.

The data showed a correlation between participation and parental college attendance (although teens whose parents completed college was actually lower than teens whose parents had completed only a portion of college). The dominant creation format for teens was video; Hargittai attributes this to YouTube, but the now common ability of cell phones to create videos, as well as the concept of “first takes” in online videos (which are characterized by and promoted for low production values) may also be factors. Video and music are less likely to be remixed, although this is likely due to the expense of and skill required for multimedia editing software.

The article’s contribution to the participation debate comes in the final section: the primary correlation to participation is Web skills. In fact, controlling for users with Web skills, there are no gender differences. The conclusion is obvious: digital fluency determines Web participation levels, and thus the development of Web skills is a critical subject for our schools.


Creating Content

Lenhart, Mary Madden. (2005.) Teen Content Creators and Consumers. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved September 23, 2009 from

The PEW report is filled with statistics, many of which are obvious (broadband users are more likely to create and share content; daily users more likely to share, remix, blog, and create sites for others). Here are some of the more interesting numbers for online teens:

  • 57% create content, and 33% share that content
  • 40% are urban, 28% are suburban, and 34% are rural
  • 19% keep a blog (vs. 7% of online adults); 38% read blogs (vs. 27% of online adults)
  • 57% of bloggers update their blogs once a week or more; 29% update at least 3 times a week

These numbers suggest a high level of creative contribution/activity with a surprising lower-level of participation among suburban teens (particularly given the correlation between usage and households with higher incomes and parents with higher levels of education).

Bloggers and blog readers reveal greater levels of participation (in all Internet activities except gaming) and device variety. However, dispelling the general concerns of parents, 62% of blog readers read only people they know. As expected, blog creators are more likely to share content (69% versus 24%) and remix (35% versus 16%); interestingly, blog readers showed similar levels (50% versus 23% for sharing; 26% versus 16% for remixing). Girls, especially older girls, are most likely to blog.

The study also looked at music consumption which showed almost equal percentages of teens obtaining music from P2P (file sharing), paid services (increasing from the 9% reported in the last report), and email/IM (surprisingly high). 52% say that violating copyrighted is wrong, but 47% disagreed (especially older teens); before we accuse teens of not respecting intellectual property, the report notes these figures parallel reports from adults. And while adults downloaded music in almost equal numbers, teens (especially older boys) downloaded more videos.

An interesting cross-comparison shows that bloggers are more likely to download music and videos but also express greater concerns (52% versus 37%) over copyright. At the same time, 75% of online teens say it’s so easy to download content that it’s unrealistic to expect people not to do it.

Creating Culture (Clash)

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Retrieved September 16, 2009 from

Henry Jenkins, Director of MIT’s Comparative Studies Program, defines a participatory culture by low barriers to entry, social support for participation among peers, informal mentoring, a culture in which contributions matter, and a social connection through participation. Noting the PEW research that showed 50% of teenagers created media, he sees several forms of participatory culture:

  • Affiliations (such as social networks)
  • Expressions (such as SN profiles and blogs)
  • Collaborative problem-solving (such as gaming)

He also enumerated circulations (creating blogs and podcasts) as a form although that form seems indistinguishable from expressions.

Jenkins posits three problems in media literacy:

  1. Participation – this problem is less concerned with the “last mile” issue and more with access and skills
  2. Transparency – this problem is teaching students how to determine the validity of messages
  3. Ethics – this problem deals not only with issues such as intellectual property, but also with the tendency of teenagers to view the online world as one without rules; however, his example–the number of teenagers who lie about their age in order to gain online access to sites–may not indicate a problem with ethics in today’s teenagers nor a problem with ethics in online space, but instead be indicative of typical self-centered teenage desires.

He defines new media literacy skills as traditional textual literacy overlaid with social skills, and he notes, “Social production of meaning is more important than individual interpretation multiplied.” New media literacy involves working within networks; pooling knowledge; negotiating; and resolving conflicting data.

In the major section of the paper, Jenkins lists eleven skills (although some seem duplicative and several overlap) and proposes possible means to teach the skills:

  1. Play as experimentation to solve problems. Play is characterized by focused engagement and should not be confused with fun; although play isfun, it can also be hard work, and thus play does not necessarily equal relaxation. Play lowers the emotional stakes of failing and encourages trial and error.
  2. Simulation as interpreting and constructing dynamic models of real world. The key word is models which means that simulations offer simplified views of the real world. Jenkins notes that understanding the assumptions behind the models (interpretation) is critical.
  3. Performance as adopting alternative identities to improvise and discover.Alternative identities allow multiple perspectives and simulate group heterogeneity. However, performance can also be viewed as the ability to perform which is similarly prized (being able to “walk the walk”).
  4. Appropriate as sampling and remixing media content.Jenkins reminds us that, “Students learn by taking culture apart and putting it back together.” While digital content makes this process easier, appropriation has been a valued and valuable human activity for thousands of years.
  5. Multi-tasking as scanning and shifting focus.information overload impinges on working memory limits, and multi-tasking addresses this issue. Multi-tasking is notworking on tasks simultaneously by facilely switching among tasks.
  6. Distributed cognition as interacting with tools.While describing distributed cognition as tool interaction, Jenkins also acknowledges the description I’ve heard more often: interacting with social institutions and remote experts (which in some sense, could be viewed as tools)
  7. Collective intelligence as knowledge pooling toward a common goal. This focus on teamwork and collaboration parallels modern work, but students are taught to be generalists instead of being taught how to assume different roles.
  8. Judgment as evaluating reliability and credibility. Involves both accuracy and interpreting the producer’s perspective (and possible bias). Jenkins reminds us that the “wisdom of crowds” works best when large numbers participate.
  9. Transmedia navigation as flow across multiple modes. This skill is not only the ability to work on cell phones and computers, but also is the ability to navigate the intersection of real life and virtual life (in social networks like Facebook).
  10. Networks as searching, synthesizing, and disseminating. The role of gatekeepers of information is diminishing as search becomes more powerful; however, students are weak in synthesis skills. Dissemination, typically via social networks, may not require technical skill but certainly requires the exercise of judgment.
  11. Negotiation as traversing diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives. Multiple perspectives, just like alternative identities, enables the constructive debate necessary for deep learning.

Jenkins proposes that these skills can be developed in three venues:

  • by schools (not as a course but integrated into every course)
  • by after-school programs (not as school reinforcement but as complement and extension)
  • by parents (although parents themselves need help learning with these skills)

Social Networks and Teens

Pew Internet and American Life Project (2007, January). Social Networking Websites and Teens: An Overview. [Pew Internet Project Data Memo] pp. 1-10. retrieved 09/15/2009 from Lenhart, A. and Madden, M.

This overview from Pew’s ongoing project to examine the intersection of the Internet and American culture confirms the explosive growth of social networking sites among teens (55% of teens who are online use social networks, and 44% of teens visit SN websites at least daily). These social networks provide two primary affordances:

  • a public and often dynamic representation (teens reported that a “profile page is more engaging if it changes frequently”)
  • public and private communications tools (84% of social networking teens post “public” messages to a friend’s page or wall; 82% of social networking teens send private messages to friends using the social networking system)

At the same time, the memo debunks several myths about teen use of social networks like MySpace and Facebook:

  • 91% of social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently (they are not meeting strangers)
  • 66% of teens who have created profiles limit access to that profile (they are not letting it all hang out–except to people they know)

Gender-Based Behavior in WoW


Kavetsky, Jennifer. Men Behaving (Not So) Badly: Interplayer Communication in World of Warcraft. Thesis submitted to the Graduate College of Bowling Green State University. 2008. 1-76.


Based on theories from Butler and Tannen that gender effects language use, this thesis examines a successful guild in WoW to determine:

  1. how men use language to construct social networks in WoW
  2. if men in WoW follow male linguistic patterns
  3. if those linguistic patterns intersect with gender performance
  4. how WoW affects behavior patterns

Based on Putnam’s argument that a decline in community interaction causes a subsequent decline in general reciprocity, the author predicts a lack of interaction will produce a lack of reciprocity in the game. In fact, after recording and transcribing three raids, and then measuring the utterances against non-game male behavior, Kavetsky  found increased interaction and reciprocal assistance. She also refutes Duchenaut’s research that players are playing alone together (interestingly, Duchenaut was a co-author on the article that found signicant social interaction in WoW) and concludes that American men define masculinity in opposition to other men in RL but not in WoW.


The central question–why does WoW favor a style of communication that is so different from RL–is not answered. However, Kavetsky did uncover possible direct ties between game goal success and gender-typical linguistic behavior: a raid with increased requests for help and admissions of weakness (or lack of knowledge) was able to defeat the game in half the time; a raid that had a player who used traditional male linguistic patterns (making statements rather than suggestions) was the least successful raid. The author, after starting from an admittedly feminist perspective, determines that male behavior in WoW is different from (and better than) RL, with the game environment affording a greater emphasis on connections, thereby creating more fulfilling game experiences and relationships for male gamers.