YDME: Participatory Culture Reconsidered: Moving Beyond Rainbows, Unicorns and Butterflies


Increased recent focus on learning through participatory cultures and digital tools has led to new frameworks for understanding how digital media can empower a new generation of learners. At the same time, new tensions complicate this process. How can we support learners to use new media while also empowering them to resist, revise and reconfigure problematic value systems embedded in those technologies? What dispositions do youth who are subject to the “participation gap” need in order to develop participatory literacies? How does the rhetoric of participatory cultures as bastions of democracy and transparency obscure equity issues that prevent full participation? In this panel conversation, emerging researchers will tackle questions that explore extensions to and limitations of the participatory culture paradigm.

On the question of developing a Literacy of Critical Participation: While educators have enthusiastically met the participatory culture paradigm as a means to empower youth, this embrace leaves behind an important critical lens found in more traditional media literacy approaches when encountering media. Rafi Santo, PhD student in Learning Sciences at Indiana University, will share his work on developing a Literacy of Critical Participation that allows for empowerment not only through new media, but also in relation to digital platforms and tools.

On the question of Defining and Measuring Differences in Digital Competency: Key to addressing disparity in technology use is defining and measuring digital competence and identifying how it is developed such that ‘tacit’ knowledge can be made transparent and accessible for all youth. Cassidy Puckett, PhD student in Sociology at Northwestern University, will share her work to define and measure one ‘disposition’ of competence called ‘digital adaptability’ or the ability to learn new technologies.

On the question of Power and ‘Democracy’: Though participatory cultures can feel empowering and liberating, they still carry with them the potential for silencing and marginalization. Jenna McWilliams, PhD student in Learning Sciences at Indiana University, will present research with high school English students highlighting ongoing challenges of supporting truly ‘democratic’ membership in online participatory cultures.

On the question of Designing for Participation: Technology activities can place students at a disadvantage, particularly if they dis-empower students or conflict with cultural dispositions. Ugochi Acholonu, PhD student in Learning Sciences and Technology Design at Stanford, will share findings on the relationship between dispositions, learning activities, and ways people seek opportunities with digital devices.