Monday, September 22, 2008

Teen Media Use: A Little Data is Helpful

How young people are using the web has important implications for how educators think about the use of the web in education. Siva Vaidhyanathan and Mark Bauerlein are engaged in a thoughtful discussion on this topic at the Chronicle for Higher Education, but their commentaries have not included much of the data about actual use of the web and other media by young people. These data exist. There are a number of good surveys.

This chart provides a summary of some of the findings from the Kaiser Family Foundation. In this chart you can see how young people were using various media in 1999 and 2004. Importantly, TV continues to be the most dominant form of media use. In 2004 there was 3 times as much television watching as computer watching/interacting.

Bauerlein makes the important observation in his discussion that it is important to know more about the actual behavior and activities of young people. For example, if teens are spending more time on the Internet than before, is this time away from books or is this time away from television. At least in 2004 computers had not taken over time children spent with books. There were no changes in children's time using print media between 1999 and 2004. The increased time spent using video games and the computer was coming from somewhere else. (Other children's time use studies suggest that this time has been coming from activity outdoor play activities. )

For the extended report on this survey see:

The Foundations more recent work on teen multi-tasking is also relevant to the discussion of the impact of computers on reading behavior and education. (See

This work gets at some of the same issues that Bauerlein discusses regarding online reading habits. How much can you pay attention when you are doing too many things simultaneously. In order to think carefully about policy and practice it is important to understand the total media environment for young people. It is not “computers vs. books.” It is more complicated.

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