TCC09: Digital User-Generated Content and Our Emerging Digital Literacy


Liveblogged from the TCC online conference

Presenter: Elizabeth Fanning, University of Virginia

“Video mashing, game modding, Youtube, wikis, blogs, and the communities that rise up around them are becoming yet another facet of our communication landscape. But how effective are these expressions in communicating meaning? What is their potential role in learning? This preliminary study uses examples of digital user-generated content, specifically digital stories and movies, to examine the types of information that appear to convey effectively. Participants were asked to either create or review user-generated content. Both groups were asked to respond to questions about facts, feelings, and projections conveyed through the content. Questions pertained to facts, feelings, and projections conveyed in the content. Content creator responses were compared with participant responses. Data analysis indicates that while digital user-generated content may be an effective form of articulation and communication, the identity of the creator is indeterminable.”

User-Generated Content: Something online that people have shared, reviewed, modified, created something new. Amazon reviews are user-generated content.

Computer game mods were a big early source. Initially game companies resisted, but figured out they could have a bigger market if they sold editors.

Content can be repurposed to something completely different from the original intention. Not about making money.

We all have different identities–can explore different identities different places

What kind of information can we create, how does meaning making happen?

Research in Sims 2

This research used Sims 2–provides a framework for storylines

  • You can customize physical aspects of characters but also personalities
  • Create families
  • Used Story Exchange–upload stories with your characters, they can be rated like on YouTube
  • Trained 6 people how to use Sims & how to use Story Exchange
  • Facts, feelings, projections
  • Story about home life–gave a list of questions about facts, feelings, & projections to answer
  • Could be about their own home life, but could be fictional too
  • Sequential narrative
  • Had male and female content reviewer for all stories
  • Digital movies–didn’t train their students due to complexity, but also had male and female reviewer

Data Analysis

  • Compared content creators and content reviewers plus gender differences
  • Found no gender differences Kind of surprising, actually
  • Generally everyone got facts, feelings, and projects right
  • Regardless of gender of reviewer & creator, reviewers couldn’t figure out the gender of the creator–their guesses were way off. Shows you can be anonymous in creating content–can have different identities in different spaces.
  • Reviewers could tell if creators were not native English speakers


  • They were working with adults; need a wider range of people
  • Need a wider range of user-generated content–Second Life has a wider range of possibilities
  • Would like to do a similar study in Second Life–more global audience

Application for Learning

  • Meaning making
  • Supports collaborative knowledge building
  • Digital literacy–being able to write using 21st century tools

Second Life: Rather than just building a space and waiting for people to come as advertising, find the people who are already in SL and ask them what they want. Get the users to help build the environment.

Users want to be co-creators of the story, not just led by the nose.

What motivates people to create content? What inspires people?

Another study:

They created Monticello in Sims. Students got excited–wanted to put Sally Hemmings and Jefferson’s wife in the same room to see what happened.

Another idea: Art therapy with Sims. Could do other therapy things with virtual worlds–recreating relationships

Image: ‘Kaylynn tells the birdie joke

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