Henry Jenkins et al on participatory culture and media literacy
October 30th, 2006

Henry Jenkins has posted on his blog about the paper he and his colleagues have written for the MacArthur Foundation, about participatory culture and media literacy. I have followed Jenkins’ lead in my attempts to learn how to link DIY media skills with civic engagement, and agree that this is about more than just entertainment — it’s about an entire approach to culture, which Jenkins calls “participatory culture.”

We have also identified a set of core social skills and cultural competencies that young people should acquire if they are to be full, active, creative, and ethical participants in this emerging participatory culture:

Play — the capacity to experiment with your 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.

Some children are acquiring some of these skills through their participation in the informal learning communities that surround popular culture. Some teachers are incorporating some of these skills into their classroom instruction. Some afterschool programs are incorporating some of these skills into their activities. Yet, as the above qualifications suggest, the integration of these important social skills and cultural competencies remains haphazard at best. Media education is taking place for some youth across a variety of contexts, but it is not a central part of the educational experience of all students. Our goal for this report is to encourage greater reflection and public discussion on how we might incorporate these core principles systematically across curricula and across the divide between in-school and out-of-school activities. Such a systemic approach is needed if we are to close the participation gap, confront the transparency problem, and help young people work through the ethical dilemmas they face in their everyday lives. Such a systemic approach is needed if children are to acquire the core social skills and cultural competencies needed in a modern era.

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