S. Craig Watkins


Craig studies young people’s social and digital media behaviors. He teaches at the University of Texas, Austin, in the departments of Radio-Television-Film, Sociology, and the Center for African and African American Studies.  Craig is also a Faculty Fellow for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.

His book, The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future (Beacon, 2009), is based on survey research, in-depth interviews, and fieldwork with teens, young twenty-somethings, teachers, parents, and technology advocates.  The Young and the Digital explores young people’s dynamic engagement with social media, games, mobile phones, and communities like Facebook.

His other books include Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement (Beacon Press, 2005), and Representing: Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema (The University of Chicago Press, 1998).

Addressing issues that range from the social impacts of young people’s participation in digital media culture to the educational implications, Craig has engaged a dynamic mix of communities.  Among them: the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Drug Addiction, IBM Center for Social Software, SXSW Interactive, the National School Boards Association, Smart Mixed-Signal Connectivity, the Austin Forum on Science and Technology for Society, Facebook, iCivics, and the MacArthur Foundation,

Craig served on the conference committee for the 2011 “Designing Learning Futures” conference and was chair of the conference’s Youth, Digital Media, and Empowerment track.

He is a member of the MacArthur Foundation’s research network on  Connected Learning.  Among other things his work in the network will include leading a team of researchers in an ethnographic study of diverse teens, participatory practices, and social ecologies.  Craig is also developing a project that looks at the connection between mobile technologies, youth, and civic engagement.  Finally, he is conducting a series of case studies that look at how educators are using social and digital media to redesign learning in schools.

For updates on these and other projects visit his website, theyoungandthedigital.com.

Blogs (20)

Doing Innovation: How Millennials Are Navigating Today’s Economy

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Millennials live in a world of contradictions. They are the most educated generation in U.S. history and yet they earn less than the previous generation of young workers. They live in the richest economy the world has ever seen and yet stable and meaningful employment remains elusive. This year, the U.S. Census announced that millennials now make up a greater share of the workforce than any other population segment. Millennials are coming of age at a time when many of our notions about work, identity, opportunity, and mobility are undergoing profound change. How are young 20 and 30-somethings navigating these

Parenting in a World of Social and Technological Transformation

Monday, May 25, 2015

As educators, policy makers and community activists look to build more equitable futures, a considerable amount of attention remains focused on families, especially parents. Families represent an important node in the learning ecologies of children and teens. When parents are able to connect their children to resources, material and immaterial, they provide substantive support in the pursuit of academic (i.e., higher grades) and non-academic (i.e., character building) outcomes. Moreover, when the home can serve as a rich and vibrant space for learning through inquiry, curiosity and play, the social and educational payoffs can be immeasurable. But,

The Spread of Innovation

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tens of thousands from across the U.S. and around the world will settle in Austin this week to join in the big festival known as South by Southwest (SXSW). For two weeks, it’s a chance to see what is happening in the worlds of interactive, film, and music. By the time SXSW is over, 1,800 bands will have performed, 250 films will have screened, more than 4,000 talks will have taken place, and hundreds of events will have happened.  SXSW Interactive is a big playground and a place where new ideas are tested with one of the world’s

Mobile Learning Futures

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The United States Census Bureau has been tracking computer use since 1984 and the use of the Internet since 1997. Not surprisingly, much has changed over that span of time. Even though use of computers and the Internet has spread, gaps still remain. In its most recent study the U.S. Census (November 2014) reports that household computer ownership and Internet use were most common in Asian and white households, in high-income households, and in households that report high levels of educational attainment. When the study turns to handheld computer devices these patterns are turned upside down. For example,

Addressing Race, Inequity Issues Through Social Media Power

Monday, September 22, 2014

The fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. began dominating the national headlines instantly. One of the biggest factors, as Newsweek’s Elijah Wolfson points out, was the use of social media by the residents of Ferguson as well as those sympathetic to the concerns about hyper-aggressive police tactics. Speaking about Ferguson, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes told a New York Times reporter, “this story was put on the map, driven, and followed on social media more so than any story I can remember since the Arab spring.” Amidst the surge of social media, a number of journalists reported on what they perceived

Rapid Tech Change Requires Rebranding to Recruit Talent

Monday, July 07, 2014

A few months ago, I met the city of Austin’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) and we soon discovered that we had several mutual interests, especially related to young people, technology, and a rapidly evolving economy. Intrigued by our conversations, we recently convened a meeting with several leaders from the city’s Information Technology team (CITT) that included the Austin Independent School District, Austin Fire Department, Austin Public Library, financial services, and public utilities. We also invited education officers from the University of Texas, Austin Community College, as well as education policy analysts. The purpose of the meeting was to

P-Tech Schools: The Remaking of Career, Technical Education

Monday, May 19, 2014

For nearly four decades, economists have been discussing what is generally referred to as skill-biased technical change. That is, the degree to which technological transformations — computerization and automation — privileges high-skill workers over low-skill workers. Schools are under increasing pressure to design classrooms, curricula, and learning experiences that help students develop the kinds of design, engineering, and creative skills that are a better fit for innovation economies. One model of schooling that is gaining increasing attention for developing and spreading these skills is the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH for short.

Rethinking the ‘Race Between Education and Technology’ Thesis

Monday, December 02, 2013

This year my research team has been pouring over qualitative data that we collected over a year-and-half period from Freeway High School (previously referred to as Texas City High School in earlier posts), the site of our fieldwork in the study of ‘connected learning.’  Several themes related to young people’s adoption of digital media, the role of technology in schools, social inequality, and the future of learning have emerged from our fieldwork.  For instance, we have thought a lot about the social distribution of new forms of learning in the digital age, especially the skills and

Poorly Educated and Poorly Connected: The Hidden Realities of Innovation Hubs

Thursday, May 30, 2013

When President Barack Obama decided to kick off his “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tours” in Austin it highlighted once again the city’s reputation as a growth sector in the nation’s creative and high tech economy. Over the last few years the arrival of Apple, Google, Facebook and others has diversified Austin’s creative economy which has long provided a home for Dell, IBM, and Applied Materials Inc. According to the White House, the President’s visit was to observe, listen, and explore how the innovation and industry in Austin might serve as a model for other cities

DML Conference 2013: Democratic Futures

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

President Barack Obama recently ended his post-State of the Union tour in his adopted hometown of Chicago. Roughly two weeks earlier a group of young Chicago residents started an online petition at Change.org urging the president to visit and directly address the city’s gun violence crisis. While a strikingly high number of gun related deaths were the catalyst for the petition, the architects of the campaign made a plea to the president to address the larger social, educational, and economic hardships facing the city’s Black and Latino youth population. Specifically, the petition encouraged the president to

Connected Learning: Unlocking Potential

Monday, February 11, 2013

One of the more interesting assertions of connected learning is the need to create new approaches to education that recognize the vitality of learning and the fact that it happens in many different ways.  There is widespread agreement among researchers from sociology, economics, and education that the academic achievement gaps in the U.S. are attributable to both in–school and out-of-school experiences.  While there is widespread recognition of the former, there is a tendency to gloss over the importance of the latter, out-of-school learning. What young people from upper income households do with their time out-of-school varies

From Theory to Design: Exploring the Power & Potential of ‘Connected Learning,’ Part Two

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One of the more compelling aspects of connected learning is the opportunity for students to create personalized learning pathways that establish important links across the different nodes in their learning ecology. I had a chance to witness the power and potential of connected learning during a three-week summer digital media and design camp that we conducted with students at Texas City High School (TCHS). Like so many schools populated by students from low-income households, TCHS struggles with the stigma that its students are low-performing and “at-risk.” And yet, outsiders might be surprised to see the range

From Theory to Design: Exploring the Power & Potential of ‘Connected Learning’, Part One

Thursday, August 02, 2012

This summer I attended summer school…well kind of.  For three weeks in June I worked with a great team to implement a digital media and design project with high school students.  We followed that project with a two-week game design camp in July at the University of Texas with middle school students.  Both projects are what you might call ‘connected learning’ design pilots.  What exactly is that?  The goal of each project was to put into action some of the ideas that we have been theorizing about in our work with the Connected Learning Research Network. 

Why Critical Design Literacy is Needed Now More Than Ever

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

One thing is clear in our work at Texas City High School (TCHS) this year: students like to create their own media.  Students at TCHS create their own YouTube channels, compose original music, comics, games, Tumblr pages, art work, and fashion designs.  As young people’s use of social and digital media applications continues to evolve they are developing what I call a “design disposition.”  This is a reference to a distinct generational view that they expect to not only consume media content but create content, too.  Throughout the year we have sought out ways to both

What Schools are Really Blocking When They Block Social Media

Monday, January 30, 2012

The debates about schools and social media are a subject of great public and policy interests.  In reality, the debate has been shaped by one key fact: the almost universal decision by school administrators to block social media.  Because social media is such a big part of many students social lives, cultural identities, and informal learning networks schools actually find themselves grappling with social media everyday but often from a defensive posture—reacting to student disputes that play out over social media or policing rather than engaging student’s social media behaviors. Education administrators block social media because

‘Connected Learning’ in Edge Communities

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

For more than nine weeks now I have been working with a high school in the Central Texas area, getting to know students, teachers, and administrators.  Along with a fantastic team of graduate students, we are spending time with an after school digital media club that offers students a range of opportunities to hang out, mess around and geek out.  I have also been working directly with two video game development classes on a project we think will offer some insights into creating new kinds of learning environments, learner identities, and youth civic engagement. Part of

Conectar Igualdad: Argentina’s Bold Move to Build an Equitable Digital Future

Friday, September 16, 2011

I recently had a chance to participate in a wonderful conference in Buenos Aires.  El Congreso Internacional de Inclusión Digital Educativa (The International Conference on Digital Inclusion Education) was an event that celebrated and illuminated a new national initiative in Argentina to equip students in secondary schools (grades 10, 11, and 12) with netbooks.  The program is sponsored by Conectar Igualdad, an organization supported by Argentina’s President and Ministry of Education.  The opening panel for the conference included Argentina’s Minister of Education, Director of Culture and Education, as well as officials from Conectar Igualdad.  The panelists

Gamechanger: Digital Media plus Student-centered, Immersive, Peer-led Learning

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

In the middle of one of the hottest and driest summers on record, twenty Austin, TX, area high school students showed up for school everyday for four weeks. While the four-week project took place inside a school, how the students worked, the roles they assumed, and what they produced was a total redesign of school and what it means to be a learner. Their mission: create a casual video game for AMD that highlights the green architecture that earned the company’s Lone Star Campus (based in Austin) a gold certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

Mobile Phones, Digital Media, and America’s Learning Divide

Monday, May 30, 2011

During a recent research related visit to New York City I decided to take a stroll down 125th Street in Harlem.  Among the assortment of shops and vendors on the famous stretch that is home to the legendary Apollo Theater were an abundance of mobile phone providers.  Even a few of the street vendors offered mobile phone accessories such as cases, covers, and car adaptors.  It struck me that while you could easily purchase a mobile phone on 125th Street you could not purchase a desktop or laptop computer.  Not that long ago the assumption that

What Should Civic Learning Look Like in an Age of Social and Technological Change?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and her iCivics team recently convened a thought provoking conference, Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age. In partnership with the Aspen Institute, Georgetown Law, and the MacArthur Foundation the conference raised a number of questions regarding the state of civic education. Concerned about the declining state of civic education in American schools, Justice O’Connor assembled a team to create a digital platform, iCivics, for use in formal and informal learning environments. iCivics is a games-based platform and civic curriculum designed to meet students where they are—in the gaming