Ball State examines daily media consumption by teens

Topics: Emerging Media, College of Communication Information and Media

September 20, 2007

Intriguing insights have been found by Ball State as a result of a pilot methodological study that examined the media consumption behaviors of a group of teenagers, paving the way for future research into teen media-use patterns. 

"High School Media Too: A School Day in the Lives of Fifteen Teenagers," recently conducted by Ball State's Center for Media Design (CMD), provides an in-depth picture of how these teens spend their time and how media fits into their daily routines.

Trained observers followed the teens across five locations, recording 15 types of media and 17 different life activities, logging data into "smart keyboards," in 10-second increments. 

The observational method used in this study was adapted from the CMD's cutting-edge Middletown Media Studies, which tracked media consumption and concurrent media exposure among adults.

The pilot project tested the viability of tailoring the observational method to a demographically targeted population, said Michael Holmes, CMD associate director of Insight and Research.

With the small sample size in the pilot, results cannot be generalized to the overall population, but several intriguing insights from the study indicate what patterns may emerge from a study on a larger scale, he said.

"We see this as an important extension of our observational method," Holmes said. "We've demonstrated it can be used to explore the media habits of an important and difficult-to-study audience."

The results and future areas of study include: 

  • Classroom has an impact – Type and amount of media use is influenced by classroom environment and workload more significantly than for adults in the workplace. Consequently, future studies should include weekends and vacation time as well as school days.
  • Concurrent Media Exposure (CME) a factor? – In their free time, teens were frequently found to be using more than one medium. However, constraints in the classroom lowered the overall incidence of concurrent media exposure to levels below those recorded for adults in previous studies.
  • Less media time than adults? – Due to lower levels of media consumption in school compared to adults' media use in the workplace, overall time spent with media for teens in the study was less than previously recorded for adults.
  • However, when time out of school is looked at in isolation, teen media consumption achieved and may have exceeded total time spent with media for adults in previous studies.
  • It's all about screens – The dominance of screen-based media, as compared to types among this group when out of school, stands in stark contrast to both overall levels of media use and the presence of print during the school day. Screen-based prime time starts immediately after school and carries on until bedtime. The study also found that levels of activity were observed before the start of the typical school day. 
     

The importance of the teenage audience to the media industries makes the success of this pilot study particularly compelling, opening the door for studying teen media behaviors on a larger scale, said Mike Bloxham, director of CMD's Insight and Research.

"The response to our observational research among adults has been extremely positive, but one of the most commonly asked question is 'can you do this with teenagers,'" Bloxham said. "We designed the pilot to answer that question. Hence, the small sample size. 

"Having learned that we can apply the methodology to that challenging audience, we are now planning to design a much larger observational study of teen media use, encompassing school days, weekends and vacation time, to provide the same kind of insights that our previous studies have for adult media consumption," he said.

The report is available in PDF at www.bsu.edu/cmd/insightandresearch/hsmtoo

Center for Media Design

Ball State's Center for Media Design (CMD) is part of the $20 million Digital Exchange initiative funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. to enhance the university's innovative, immersive, educational experiences for students in digital technology.

CMD administers four institutes: the News Research Institute (NRI), the Institute for Digital Entertainment and Education (IDEE), the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and Animation (IDIAA) and the Institute for Digital Fabrication (IDF).

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