Digital Media in Education

research in new media learning environments

Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture

In this white paper, Henry Jenkins discusses the importance of promoting learning activities that support the development of skills needed for students to engage in a participatory culture.
The author main point in this paper is to reinforce the importance of embracing an emerging participatory culture in schools as a way to better prepare students as learners and as citizens. He also presents a practical approach to why we should teach media literacy and how.

Henry Jenkins starts by presenting his arguments to justify the importance of having this skills learned in school against the idea “that children and youth acquire these key skills and competencies on their own by interacting with popular culture”. He present 3 major concerns, suggesting the need for a policy of pedagogical interventions:

  1. The Participation Gap — “the unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge” (p.3)
  2. The Transparency Problem — “The challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways that media shape perceptions of the world.” (p.3)
  3. The Ethics Challenge — “The breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants” (p.3).

To promote participatory culture in school Jenkins believes “[s]chools as institutions have been slow to react to the emergence of this new participatory culture” (p.4) and presents several examples of how to promote the most necessary skills for a new literacy that is now required.
Creative work and sharing one’s creations with others is key factor for a participatory culture where people develop a sense of self and learn to respect other’s forms of expression.
Jenkins presents some thriving informal online learning environments that he believes have great potential for developing several skills in a peer-to-peer participatory and playful approach.These quite informal environments, he believes, should be promoted in school instead of being expelled. He thinks that activities should promote the use of new technologies allowing all students to have some kind of access to these forms of participatory cultures. He supports that promoting activities using these new technologies will help to bridge the digital divide allowing some students to have their first contact with these new kinds of participatory cultures while allowing others to take advantage of their own devices and develop their own skills.
While redefining literacy, Jenkins present research skills as one of the most important skills people should have.
Jenkins also makes reference to the importance of technical skills and critical thinking skills, and he finds that students should acquire basic understanding of:

  • The ways media representations structure our perceptions of the world;
  • The ways economic and cultural contexts within which mass media is produced and circulated;
  • The motives and goals that shape the media they consume;
  • Alternative practices that operate outside the commercial mainstream.

Jenkins then presents a list of 11 skills that he considers of most importance for preparing students to this new social mediated context:

  1. Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
  2. Simulation – the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
  3. Performance – the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
  4. Appropriation – the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
  5. Multitasking – the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details
  6. Distributed Cognition – the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
  7. Collective intelligence – the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
  8. Judgment – the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
  9. Transmedia Navigation – the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
  10. Networking – the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
  11. Negotiation – the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms. (p.4)

The last two chapters of this book Jenkins focus the opportunity to reverse the tendency of a growing digital divide. Jenkins highlights that the challenge is to have a systemic approach to ensure the incorporation of these core principles across the curricula in-school and out of school activities. For Jenkins, schools, museums, libraries churches, social organizations and parents, all share the responsibility to promote these skills in young people. He concludes expressing his growing concerns related to the increasing unbalance between “haves” and “have-nots” that for him is very likely to generate unwanted “consequences for democracy, civility, community, and quality of life”.

Henry Jenkins

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Retrieved 07/05/2012, from

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