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Digital media: New literacy finds a place in out-of-school time

small-jwalker.jpgI met Nichole Pinkard in October and she inspired me! She genuinely got me excited about podcasts, video production, computer graphic design and digital sound production. And hey, I'm a former high school English teacher. How did she do it? She grabbed my attention when she shifted the emphasis off learning technical skills and put the emphasis on mastering creative and innovative digital literacies for the 21st century. How does it relate to our work with youth?

It was the attention to literacy -- the ability to understand and communicate effectively in multiple ways -- that made me say "Yes, I get it!" It's about being able to take in, produce and transmit written, verbal, visual, auditory and digital knowledge. Today literacy requires more than a pen, paper and print text. Truly an educated person today must be able to critically embrace both the traditional and the explosion of new digital forms of literacy.

Nichole works with Digital Youth Network, a program that engages older young people in digital media learning in community youth programs with the support of families, schools and libraries. Nicole's model begins with young people as passionate learners and parents as active supporters. Youth programs provide the opportunities for exploration, learning and practice while schools make space for digital media literacy in the classroom.

Nichole's model is based on playing to system strengths. She assigns the right role to the right systems for the right reasons. It's not about youth programs providing homework help or math worksheets so young people can pass school tests. Community youth programs are the sites for learning digital media because youth can engage voluntarily, in their own time and in their own way.
In a youth program, youth have space to observe, to try it out, to become capable and then to "level up" and get really good at critiquing, creating and producing digital products. Young people can work in mixed age groups and learn from each other. Youth workers can encourage experimentation without the threat of failing or not making the grade. Young people can assess and compare their products and projects to those of other adults and young people with a simple scan of YouTube or other web sites where blogs, podcasts, music and artistic projects can readily be found.

PinkardSymposium2.jpgSchools are excellent sites for putting the new literacies to use in demonstrations of learning. School provides both an incentive and a real world challenge. When they are ready, young people can submit assignments in written, visual, graphic, spoken word, musical and other creative applications in a variety of courses. I love the DYN example where young people read Toni Morrison's book Mercy and then used graphic design software to create book covers that powerfully conveyed the key messages in Morrison's book.

Take some time to view the presentation that inspired me. Or watch the New Learning Institute videos on Digital Media and Learning to hear experts discuss the growing importance of digital media literacy in the world today. You'll be impressed to see how young people really lead in this learning approach. It's not about producing for the teacher. They teach and learn across age groups and establish partnerships the feed their potential. They inspire and motivate each other and the adults in their lives. Creativity and innovation are front and center. The possibilities are endless.

Embracing digital media literacy requires a willingness on the part of teachers to accept demonstrations of learning in different, often unfamiliar formats. It requires youth workers to take a leap and work co-creatively to explore new applications and try new things. It requires all of us to expand our understanding of digital media literacy and its evolving place in education.

Where do you find your energy around this digital media literacy? Do you find it to be rich ground for community-based youth programs? Are you already into creative digital media applications? Please jump into this conversation and make it richer for your ideas.

Joyce Walker, professor and youth development educator

Co-director, Next Generation Youth Work Coalition

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  1. I really appreciate this post. Thank you very much.

  2. A student of mine, who is much more accomplished than me ' in all things Digital' recommended this site.

  3. Hear hear! I love reading from people who embrace the digital change of today rather than oppose it. There is so much digital media in today’s day and age, we need to teach children how to use it for good use, instead of trying to bash it. Thank you for sharing your insight on the topic!