My name is Matt Rafalow and I am a Sociologist (PhD, University of California-Irvine) and a social scientist at Google (YouTube). I currently lead YouTube’s research program on all things gaming and live experience. Before working at Google I was an ethnographer for many years with the Connected Learning Research Network. I have also been a researcher at Yahoo! Labs and GovLab. I strive to conduct research that blends academic inquiry with applied solutions that have a meaningful impact on users’ lives.
In my academic work, I primarily study how youth/young adults adopt digital technologies, though I also examine particular uses of tech with colleagues in other research areas (education, dating, organizations, and innovation).
My largest project to date explores how digital technologies are taken up and evaluated in different educational contexts. For this study, I compared how members of three technology-rich middle schools perceived the value of innovative new technologies and use them to teach so-called 21st century skills. I found that teachers drew on organization-level understandings of student race and class to construct students as either risky hackers or Steve Jobs potentials. Contrary to popular belief, digital technologies were not magic bullets to address educational inequities — rather, teachers adopted very similar technologies quite differently depending on the race and class of their student body. As a consequence, the playful experiences young people pursued online among their peers were differently welcomed by schools in ways that informed their affinity as creative producers within institutions. A paper based on this work is forthcoming in American Journal of Sociology, and a book is currently under review.
I was very fortunate during graduate school to be supported by such a great PhD committee: Cynthia Feliciano, Francesca Polletta, Ann Hironaka, and Mimi Ito. My research in education also benefits from my collaborative work with other scholars on youth peer practices with digital media. With other graduate students and faculty from research teams around the country, I have studied youth interaction across networked environments as part of the Connected Learning Research Network. From this work I have written on games, gamification, and reputation online; gender differences in online participation; and design supports for parent engagement with their children. I recently released a report with Katie Tekinbaş on game-based learning online, and another with Kylie Larson on DIY fashion camps. We currently have a book under review on learning in the networked era that I’m really excited about.
When I’m not doing research, I’m quite active with LGBTQ outreach both locally through mentorship and more broadly via the internets. I’m also really into cooking, and I am most certainly a dog person (especially when it comes to my own).