Show and Tell: Using Media to Co-Create with Young People

Art Bamford | Sep 17, 2014

Photo by leeclarion.

In FYI’s recent interview with digital media expert danah boyd, she advised church leaders to “focus on creating media that teens can appropriate, remix, or otherwise engage in and see what clicks…Work with youth to co-create this stuff. That is the core of authenticity for them.”

Boyd’s suggestion seems easy enough, but it raises two important questions:

  1. Why is co-creating media “the core of authenticity” for young people?
  2. What are some ways that leaders can use collaborative media projects?

Why Co-Create?

In his 2006 book Convergence Culture, media scholar Henry Jenkins coined the term prosumers, which combines “producers” with “consumers” to describe the interactive way that many young people now interact with media. Rather than simply watching a movie or reading a book, today’s fans go a step further and produce their own content.

Young people use things they enjoy as a jumping-off point from which they create and share media like fan-fiction, music videos, animated .gif memes, and so on. Jenkins was primarily looking at entertainment and recreational uses of media, but many educators have also picked up on this prosumer mindset in recent years and are now using interactive media projects for educational purposes.

Several years ago I was part of a research team at the University of Denver that explored how this kind prosumer use of media might inform the way we conduct research on the spiritual and religious lives of teens. It is notoriously difficult to conduct good research with young people on those topics for a variety of reasons, so our team did a pilot study that incorporated media and technology into our methods to see how the results would compare to an interview-based approach.[1]

We asked the groups to help us produce something like a commercial for them: a five- to ten-minute video that they could share online with their friends at school and the adults in their congregation. Our research goal was to get a glimpse into how young people think about both media and their youth group experiences through the collaborative process of creating the video.

What we found as the project unfolded was that the young people we worked with were more eager and willing to talk about their groups as a collective, in the royal “we,” than they had been speaking about their own personal beliefs in one-on-one interviews. They also seemed more comfortable showing us what their groups were like, rather than telling us.

But what you don’t see in the finished videos are all the group “creative” meetings that were part of the process. These were often fascinating conversations to observe. At first it was easier for young people to point to the important moments they shared together than to articulate their significance. Our group production meetings became a space where they talked through and identified what they had felt was meaningful, and why. Creative decisions, like whether to juxtapose an image from a service project at a homeless shelter with an image of the communion table in their church’s sanctuary, became important moments of reflection on how the two were connected.

In a previous post we discussed how young people are now doing a lot of the ‘work’ of identity formation through digital media. Our storytelling project showed us how media-making projects encourage young people to think about their relationship with the church, and experiences with youth group, as part of their own individual identities.

It was also a very valuable experience because it allowed both leaders and young people to think about how they shared an identity together as a group. It provided an opportunity to think about and discuss sharing a collective identity—which is an important part of what church is all about. They determined what set them apart from other groups and traditions, defined their relationship within the church or synagogue they were a part of, and reflected on how their faith was perceived more broadly by our culture.

After the videos were completed, congregations showed them at youth services, posted them on YouTube, shared them at larger denominational meetings and conferences, and gave DVD copies to their graduating seniors as a memento.

How to Co-Create with young people

Our digital storytelling project is just one possible project your group might try. Here are more ideas for more on using digital storytelling in ministry.

Here are a few more ideas for ways your church or ministry can collaborate with young people on media projects:

  1. Produce fun promo videos for upcoming events and projects (for the whole church, not just youth group).
  2. Teach classes for older members on how to stay connected using digital technology and social media—including things like sharing photos, video chats, a Facebook “How To,” and explaining some of the most popular apps.
  3. Co-create a series of audio or video podcasts in which pastors answer young peoples’ questions about Christianity.
  4. Collaborate on presentations for holidays and church anniversaries in which young people interview older members about their experiences, and assist with digitally preserving archival materials like old bulletins, photos, and so on.
  5. Curate multimedia content such as videos, graphics, and playlists to accompany other content like sermons, lessons, and devotionals.
  6. Generate ideas for new ways to share prayer requests digitally.
  7. Give young people a leadership role promoting church events on social media, including raising awareness (and funds) for service projects and missions.

What are some of the multimedia projects your group or congregations have collaborated on together?

Like reading about media and technology?

[1] Dierberg, J., Bamford, A., Clark, L.S., and Monserrate, R. (2009, October). ‘“We’re not just here to hang out’: Exploring collective identity in moderate and progressive youth groups.” Presented at Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Denver, CO. Two of the videos that were produced as part of the project may be viewed online here <> and here <>.

Art Bamford

Art Bamford is a Ph.D. student in Media Studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He completed an M.Div. at Fuller in 2015, and holds an M.A. in media and communication from the University of Denver where he worked as a research associate for the Estlow Center's Teens & New Media @ Home project.

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