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Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education of the 21st Century

By: Henry Jenkins
Date: 2006

Summary: Educators today confront an ever-shifting landscape when it comes to Internet technologies and their potential for expanding participatory cultures. Henry Jenkins, director of the Comparative Media Studies department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explores new frameworks for literacy through the lens of participatory culture.


Members of Project New Media Literacies, directed by author Henry Jenkins, share their thoughts on participatory culture and education.

How can educators best understand the impact that Internet technologies are having on today's youth and use that understanding to inform their teaching practices?

In his report Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (PDF), funded by the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation's digital media and learning initiative, author Henry Jenkins identifies an Internet culture of participation that defines the lives of youth today.

Jenkins identifies the following skills as critical for literacy in a new media culture:

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


Schools as institutions have been slow to react to the emergence of this new participatory culture; the greatest opportunity for change is currently found in afterschool programs and informal learning communities. Schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering what we call the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.

Copyright © 2006 The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Reprinted with permission.
Jenkins, Henry, Katie Clinton, Ravi Purushotma, Alice J. Robison, and Margaret Weigel. 2006. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education of the 21st Century. Chicago: The MacArthur Foundation.

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