Web Literacy Lab meets Youth and Media Lab

Non-Berkman staff, please scroll down for additional background information.

The Institute for Journalism and Public Relations – my part-time workplace – is coordinating a research project called Web Literacy Lab [FB, Twitter]. Since it started in October last year I have been spending most of my working time on this project. Our main focus lies on researching and developing new media literacies in companies and organizations. The person in charge of this three-year project is Heinz Wittenbrink.

In the first phase (still ongoing) we are trying to find the answer to the following question: What constitutes new media literacies and what are conditions (and barriers) for people to adopt those literacies? To find a reliable and satisfying response in this explorative field we apply traditonal qualitative research methods, basing our research on the theoretical frameworks of ethnomethodology and actor network theory. By using the methods of participant observation, group discussion and conversational analysis we gain more insight into the web practices of people and the prerequisites necessary for successful online communication.

Once this first phase is completed and our question answered, we take a normative approach: Step two is the development of curricula and white papers, in which we explain how specific groups and branches can learn the previously defined new media literacies. Those concepts and publications will be open to the public under a liberal license and can then be taken and improved by everyone. The third and final step in our project is the implementation of these curricula in enterprises and educational institutions. By accomplishing those steps we hope to have contributed to the societal digital literacy in our region and to have helped closing the digital gap – at least a bit.

Why am I explaining this? On the one hand because it is an important part of my life and I want to share it. Empowering people to adopt technology for a greater good is an ideal that drives me. On the other hand– and this what makes it relevant for this text: I want to point out that from my point of view Berkman Center’s Youth and Media Lab and the Web Literacy Lab have much in common:

Firstly, structure: Our three main tracks are similarly shaped: Exploratory research (and literature review), development of study programs and the application of the latter.

Secondly, YaM and WLL have a similar approach when it comes to methods and the idea of new media literacies: YaM proactively engages different groups in discussions and involves young people from the beginning. This inclusive, equal leveled research completely matches our approach to  such a project. What we found in Graz out after the first months and what seems to be central for web literacy is the ability to evaluate the character of information as well to create and share content in a network. The YaM has also emphasized these fields of competence.

What is different (among many other things such as: project size, impact expectation and scale) is the target group: We focus on employees and adult people, some of whom can be regarded as digital illiterates. Although,  in a later project phase, we plan to develop curricula forthese people,  we do not intend to stop there.  Later-on we want to turn to the digital avant-garde and digital natives. I starting out with adult employees in general we hope to get a definition and a clear understanding of the set of skills which constitute web literacy.

By describing the similarities and differences of the Youth and Media Lab and the Web Literacy Lab I hope I could clarify and underline my reasons for applying to the Youth and Media Lab. In addition, my PhD thesis is also in the field of (data driven) literacy. But for the sake of brevity, I will not go into any details here. At Web Literacy Lab in Graz we are still at the beginning. I am sure, my summer internship at the Youth and Media Lab could lead to mutual benefit – I could extend my field of knowledge and methods, the YaM would certainly get an enthusiastic and hardworking intern.

Background information for Non-Berkman staff:

I am applying for Berkman Center’s Summer Internship Program. This is my contribution for the second and final application round. Please keep your fingers crossed. In the past days and weeks I have been intensively following the Youth and Media Project, which is hosted at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Harvard. I have been aware of the project for quite some time because I am subscribed to danah boyd’s blog and publications since the first steps in my diploma thesis. The project came back to my mind when I saw Urs Gasser, the project’s principal investigator (together with John Palfrey), at last year’s Forum Alpbach [PDF] where he presented the core findings of a book on digital natives, which he had co-authored. The Youth and Media Project consists of five divisions. They all deal with young people’s media use and content production each of them with a unique aspect and scale. The chief project among the subprojects is the Youth and Media Lab.