Digital TechnologiesIdentityJugendliche Medienwelten

Scoping Empowerment and Identity as users of Digital Technologies

The use and consumption of Digital Technologies (DT) and Digital Media (DM) has considerably increased in the last quarter of the century. It comes as no surprise that for the younger generations DM and DT have become an intrinsic part of their ways to socialize, learn, work and partake in society. From my personal experience, I recall having my first mobile phone (a flip phone, what a time!) at the age of 13 because I started middle school, which meant more autonomy but also more responsibility. In a similar fashion, I had access to a laptop at the age of 15, which helped me do school work but also allowed me to chat with friends and play videogames in my leisure time. I must admit that back then, I was often interested in all the technologies around me, but I did not use them critically, mostly because I did not know all the ins and outs, neither the possibilities nor the risks.

In this vein, I firmly believe in the potentials of technologies and their benefits for the youth, but they, and especially those who are more vulnerable (i.e., children and adolescents), have to be given the opportunity to become critical and learn about their use of DM and DT. There is no doubt about the importance of acquiring digital competences and skills, but the reflexivity that promotes independent, decisive and empowered individuals should also be encouraged.

In this study I examined Austrian high school students’ use and perceptions of DM and DT, with special focus on their digital empowerment and identity. By engaging in specific practices, in this case using DT and DM, we develop self-held concepts, values and knowledge that also influence our identity: “I am capable of using DT and DM”; “I acknowledge I use DT and DM”; “I would like to learn more about DT and DM”; “I can solve real problems with DT and DM”. Moreover, empowerment with digital technologies refers to the capacity of an individual to not only be an agentic user but also a proactive member of our digitalized society. This also means that we see the potentials and limitations of DM and DT for ourselves and for society at large. Digital empowerment increases by engaging in real-world scenarios and in meaningful decision-making with DM and DT but at the same time by providing the opportunity to reflect about the role that DT and DM play in our lives.

In the end, seven participants completed a survey and questionnaire. The results from this study show that students can identify several positive and negative implications of DT and DM, like for example: “You can have all the information you need on demand” and “They can lead to addiction”. confirm that the participants use a wide range of DT (i.e., instant messaging applications, social media, productivity software) and also consume media in several forms (i.e., websites, digital music, video games) for both leisure and learning. Unfortunately, though, the data do not provide enough clarity on the reasons why students use and consume specific types of DT and DM. For that reason, future research could be guided by the following question: “For what purpose do you use [insert preferred DT/DM here]”. Lastly, in regards to their digital empowerment and identity, the results of the questionnaire suggest that students feel competent and engaged with DT and DM and that they have the desire to continue learning with and about them, as DM and DT will be an inherent part of their lives.

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Diego Guzmán Medrano is a project assistant and freelancer researcher at the Digital Education and Learning group at the Centre for Teacher Education. His research interests include emotion and motivation regulation in the context of digital education. Additionally, he focuses on both individual and collaborative scenarios within the field of technology enhanced learning.

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