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Published in June, 2007:
Learning, Media and Technology
Special Issue: Media Education Goes Digital
From SuperGoo to Scratch:
Exploring creative digital media production in
informal learning
Kylie A. Peppler and Yasmin B. Kafai
University of California, Los Angeles, USA
2128 Moore Hall - Box 951521
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1521, USA
[email protected], [email protected]
Abstract. Based on work in media studies, new literacy studies, applied
linguistics, the arts and empirical research on the experiences of urban youths’
informal media arts practices we articulate a new vision for media education in
the digital age that encompasses new genres, convergence, media mixes, and
participation. We first outline the history of how students’ creative production
has been used to meet the goals of media educators and highlight new trends in
media education that are instructive for creative production. Our goal is to
introduce and situate the new ways in which youth are participating in creative
production and the subsequent impact that this might have on teaching and
learning media education today. Findings from an ethnographic study are used
to demonstrate the potential of youth producing new media, such as videogames
and interactive art, on media education research and practice.
Media education in the digital age needs to take into account recent theoretical
developments of cultural convergences, media mixes, and new forms of
participation. New genres such as hypertext (Bolter & Grusin, 1999), which
break with the linearity of traditional media, are now used on the Internet, and
marginalized media such as videogames (Gee, 2003) have gone mainstream, all
contributing to the phenomenon of media mixes (Ito, 2006). These new media
mixes have been most prominently discussed within the context of convergence
(Jenkins, 2006a), suggesting that we need to examine how the participatory
culture has radically shifted how we conceptualize the field. As the lines between
consumers and producers become less distinct, the design of interactive content
has become part of the media landscape (Jenkins, 1992, 2006b; Gee et al., 2006).
Who has access and participates in digital media design and consumption also
determines who is included and excluded in this setting. These developments
need to be seen against the backdrop of larger economic and political changes
that present greater concentrations of media ownership while having
underground and urban cultures influence mainstream media.
Amidst all these new developments, one aspect of media literacy that has
received much less attention is the role of creative production (Greenaway,
2001). Creative production refers to youths’ designs and implementations of new
media artifacts such as web pages, videogames, and more. We would like to
suggest a new emphasis toward the production of materials as a way to broaden
the range of digital media genres and texts, cultural practices, and critical
reflection in media education. Youth are not only consuming new media at
accelerated rates (Rideout et al., 2005), they are also becoming producers of
these new genres in larger numbers, if participation in MySpace, YouTube, and
other spaces are indicators of current trends. Moreover, for media educators,
creative production may also hold additional affordances as a research
methodology and a tool for classroom inquiry.
Our paper examines creative production as a pathway for youth to
participate in today’s new media culture, question its conventions, and integrate
new media such as videogames into “media mixes” of images, video and texts.
We argue that youth require some basic understanding of how to construct and
design new media in order to become critical participants in today’s media
culture. As the title of our paper suggests, in doing so, youth need to go beyond
tools such as Kai’s SuperGoo™ (ScanSoft, Inc., 1999) that allow for basic image
manipulation but are limited to built-in features. Media education needs to go a
step further to provide youth with experiences creating and designing their own
interfaces and applications with tools such as Scratch, a media-rich software
design environment that was recently developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten
Group at the MIT Media Lab (Resnick, Kafai, & Maeda, 2003). Such new
directions in media education are particularly important for urban youth who are
often seen as pushing new adaptations and transformations of media but also as
standing on the sidelines of technology developments and productions. The work
reported in this paper draws on three years of ethnographic observations in a
Computer Clubhouse located in the midst of an immigrant and economically
depressed neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles, USA. Our goal is to
articulate what youth can learn about media education through creative
production within an informal setting. The examples from our case studies focus
on videogame design, music video productions, and interactive art and will
illustrate just the type of media mixing, convergence and participation typical for
new media literacy.
The role of creative production in media education
Media education has historically been dominated by the critical analysis of media
texts; rarely exploring the role that creative production plays in media literacy. In
the 1980’s, theorists in the field of media education either dismissed or
condemned students’ creative production (see for example Masterman, 1980,
1985; Ferguson, 1981; Alvarado et al., 1987). According to Buckingham, this
was due in part to the widespread belief that student work lacked intellectual
merit but also to the “…‘[t]echnicist’ emphasis on production skills that was
apparent in some of the new vocationally oriented media courses” emerging in
the mid-1980s (2003, p. 124). Work produced in these media courses were seen
by many as nothing more than reproductions of media ideologies, not as critical
end products of creative expression. A critical understanding of media, therefore,
became the key priority in this era, rigorously subordinating the ‘expressive,’
‘creative,’ or ‘participatory’ potential of production.
This perspective has been challenged and revised over the past two
decades. For the most part, today’s educators and researchers (see for example
Buckingham et al., 1995; Buckingham, 2003) now argue that production is a
central component of media education. In the classroom, however, there still
seems to be an emphasis on ‘critical analyses’ over production (i.e., reading over
writing practices). Initially this could be explained by hurdles, such as the lack
of portability and reliability of older analogue media. Current technological
developments have made more complex forms of practical production more
accessible and easy to manage in today’s classroom environment (Stafford, 1994)
— although impressive student work can happen with less sophisticated materials
(see for example Cunningham, 1998).