Participatory Culture – Learnings and Applications

With the advent of new technology comes new ways we interact with society and each other. While, in the classroom, social media can be the thing that, as teachers, we’re trying to keep our students off, there are strong arguments for the use of media and internet content as a way to engage teens. Participatory culture is a label used to signify a joint creation of culture or content by community or group involvement, such as collaborative editing for an article on Wikipedia. This model of group work is often used to juxtapose the mass media or broadcasting model of newspapers, radio, and television, with only one sender and multiple recipients. Further more participatory cultures are often linked or created through social media, examples of this can be seen in internet fandoms and their subsequent works (e.g. Harry Potter fan fiction) (Fuchs, 2014). These pockets of communities have naturally occurred due to the accessibility and far reach of social medias, but there are principles and lessons that can be taken away and applied to educational avenues. 

Lessons from Participatory Cultures
Participatory culture can come in many forms. Jenkins (2009) categorizes them as; affiliations – groups such based around memberships, both formal and informal. These online communities are usually entered around various forms of media e.g. Facebook, Instagram, message boards, meta gaming, or gaming clans. Expressions – productions of new forms of creativeness, including game mods, fan videos, fan fiction, or mash-ups.Collaborative problem solving – team-based work to develop new knowledge or complete tasks e.g. Wikipedia. Circulations – media production based around information spreading e.g. podcasting or blogs.In the idealistic environment, participatory culture should be able to lend itself to the idea of connected learning. That is an openly networked environment, production-entered and built around a shared purpose. A connected learning framework allows for the participant to engage and have their learning driven by their interests, supported by peers who are engaging at a similar level, to experience results that are academically or career relevant. An ideal connected learning environment allows for meaningful learning and future opportunities based on participation, with all interested parties having the opportunity to participate (Ito, 2013). However this is not always the case.There are challenges with participatory cultures and their applications to education. Fuchs (2014) argues that digital spaces and the internet, while hosting opportunities for cultural freedom, expression, and democratised collaboration, can be influenced by the corporations hosting them – and therefore are not truly democratic or free. Furthermore, Fuchs is critical of the uniform and single-purposed definition of participatory culture which seems to ignore the potential for politically motivated, or malicious activities to arise. But what does this mean for the classroom?

What we can learn
If you start an online forum for your students will you be enabling the next Anonymous or QAnon to meet? Probably not. Will the education of students be censored by corporations? Again, probably not, but maybe avoid starting a ‘Fahrenheit 451’ online fan club. The reality of these critiques is that like any learning environment, a digital participatory culture involving students should be guided and/or monitored by a teacher. Within a school environment, and under supervision, participatory culture can thrive through the proper use of material, technology, and participation of students. One such example of this is the integration of these cultures into the library.The library is traditionally a place for research, study, reading, and if the school’s IT staff allow it, the occasional computer game. However there are numerous options for libraries to embrace participatory cultures and become a centre for creation. Molaro & White (2015) go into detail about possible innovations such as introducing participatory spaces, running mini conventions, or expanding on the concept of the library with digital media spaces, for further reading check out The Library Innovation Toolkit: Ideas, strategies, and programs. While an investigation from Ito & Martin (2013) into how the library can be a hub for connected learning through digital and social media, and studied examples of libraries trying to implement these strategies. Librarians would take feedback from students about what types of programs they’d like to see, or work with students to develop ideas. Some of the results include a student driven podcast on gaming which turned into an ongoing video game journalism program. However, it is noted that this requires students to have access to social media sites, and possible changes to school or library policies. Though this blog may lean towards to implementation of digital and social media, the lessons from participatory cultures to be put into practice in the classroom, I have to end with a footnote – consideration must be taken. There are a lot of factors which aren’t addressed in this blog such as student privacy, monetisation of work, and social and political ramifications. Overall there are a large amount of benefits to be gained from participatory culture but to say that this blog covered all aspects to the argument, both for the positive and the negative, wouldn’t be true. However within a library, or teacher supervised environment, a large amount of these concerns are negated but here’s some links to some suggested further reading into participatory cultures:


Fuchs, C. (2014). Social media as participatory culture. In Social media: A critical introduction (pp. 52-68). London: SAGE Publications Ltd doi: 10.4135/9781446270066.n3.

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture. The MIT Press Open. Retrieved October 25, 2020, from

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … Watkins, S. C. (2013). Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

Molaro, A., White, L. L., & White, L. L. (Eds.). (2015). The library innovation toolkit : Ideas, strategies, and programs. ProQuest Ebook Central

Ito, M., & Martin, C. (2013). Connected learning and the future of libraries. Young Adult Library Services, 12(1), 29-32. Retrieved from

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