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How do Youth Experience Digital Technologies

Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University

Gwénaëlle André

In Progress

Topic areas

Youth

Brief summary/Aims

Most youth in Canada live everyday lives immersed in a digital media. This study explores the role of digital policy in shaping views about youth social media practices and contrasting this with how youth from different social positions actually use social media technologies. The study objectives are 1) to analyse digital policies and frameworks in BC and Canada designed for youth, including ideologies guiding technology design 2) to understand youths’ social media practices according to different social classes and positionalities 3) to suggest policies and pedagogies that engage with the complexities of actual technology use and the uncertain effects of technology design and use. This is a qualitative research relying on data from observation of 2 programs in community settings and from interviews of more than 20 youths and educators. This is a qualitative study relying initially on ethnographic methods such as in person observation and interviews. However, due to COVID-19, interactions have moved online.

This study aims to understand how digital technologies and literacy practices in these environments experienced by young people. How young people and community service providers cope with the pandemic is diverse. Early impressions of data suggest that while some young people experience isolation and anxiety, others use this time to learn and discover new activities. The subsequent shift from in-person to online programs oblige community service providers to redefine their understanding of how we build a community together.

Background

Well-being, participation in society and prospects for study and work among youth depend increasingly on their capacity to master this digital environment. A study from Pew research (2018) states that YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular online platforms among teens in Canada and the United States. Fully 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online 'almost constantly'. In the meantime, recent scandals like Cambridge Analytica and the Snowden revelations suggest these tools are not neutral and have unknown effects on societal relations, politics, neurology and learning (eg. Mireku et al., 2018 on health issues).

Educational policies and curricula respond to the power and prevalence of technologies in the lives of youth by creating digital literacy frameworks that specify the skills that youth require to navigate this new ecosystem. For example, British Columbia’s Digital Framework defines digital literacy as “the interest, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital technology and communication tools to access, manage, integrate, analyze and evaluate information, construct new knowledge, create and communicate with others” (BC’s Digital Literacy Framework, 2018). The Vancouver Public Library, an institution deeply engaged in technology education for youth, defines digital literacy as “the ability to use technology to access, evaluate, create and communicate information.” (VPL 2020, Strategic Plan 2017-2020)

But apprehending digital literacy as a uniform set of skills with clear stages of development that apply to all youth does not capture the diversity of practices in which youth engage across class lines, and the unpredictable nature of digital technologies. Digital skill frameworks and policies emphasize individual responsibility and skills, while neglecting the uncertain impacts of technology in society and the very design of devices to spur use (Acosta-Silva, D. & Munoz, G., 2018). Also neglected in digital skill frameworks are the ways in which large technology companies profit ideologically and monetarily from social media use (Lynch, 2015). Moreover, recent digital literacies scholarship questions the literacy practices that are privileged in skills-based digital literacy frameworks, arguing that these tend to focus on the digital practices of middle-class youth (Mills, 2010). More complex theories and empirical data are required to fully understand how adolescent use and experience technologies across socio-economic groupings and in relation to undesired and often unknown effects of technologies.

Objectives

Most youth in Canada live everyday lives immersed in a digital media. This study explores the role of digital policy in shaping views about youth social media practices and contrasting this with how youth from different social positions actually use social media technologies. The study objectives are 1) to analyse digital policies and frameworks in BC and Canada designed for youth, including ideologies guiding technology design 2) to understand youths’ social media practices according to different social classes and positionalities 3) to suggest policies and pedagogies that engage with the complexities of actual technology use and the uncertain effects of technology design and use. This is a qualitative research relying on data from observation of 2 programs in community settings and from interviews of more than 20 youths and educators.

Study Design and Sample

This is a qualitative study relying initially on ethnographic methods such as in person observation and interviews. However, due to COVID-19, interactions have moved online.

The study used included young adults ages 14-30 years old from British Columbia. A total of 22 interviews were conducted, and over 50 hours of observation from January 2020 to present.

Preliminary Findings

Some young people have been experiencing isolation and anxiety. Some participants have also reported using their time during the pandemic to learn and discover new activities. The subsequent shift from in-person to online programs have led community service providers to re-define their understanding of how we build community.

Contact information for updates:

For more information, please contact Gwénaëlle André: gandre@sfu.ca

BC Alliance for Monitoring Mental Health Equity respectfully acknowledges that the land on which we work is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations.

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