“Check-in” Learning and Social Learning Networks

At the core of all of our work at the Digital Youth Network, whether it is understanding the affordances of social learning networks or creating new learner-centered models

We address this by not only providing a wide array of program options but also designing social learning networks to provide our youth a space outside of structured programming to explore their passions with the support of peers and mentors. Being able to engage our students beyond the limited time and space of workshops and classes not only allows us to continue that work with them throughout the week, but just as important, it gives them a chance to bring invaluable outside experiences into the space to share with the learning community. A great example of this was one of our middle school students, Jalen.

Jalen was already active in our weekly Digital Storytelling media arts course at his school. In this class they’d use digital media, most often video, to produce stories, often based on readings assigned in their literacy class. Jalen, on his own, had begun to go beyond the scope of the class projects to find new ways to apply his skill in video production. At home, he was spending hours exploring Anime Music Videos (AMVs) and learning to build on that core video skill set but on his terms and centered around his own unique passions. He discovered online communities that connected him with others with the same interests and gave him access to tutorials on how to edit this new style of video. He’d been familiar with the tools and the mechanics of editing from his DYN class, but now was being exposed to a new set of styles and techniques. Since Jalen was an active user of Remix World, one of DYN’s social learning networks, he’d often share his AMVs and look for feedback from his friends and mentors. Jalen ended up introducing this genre to his peers and we’d see many of them starting to create their own AMVs, often using the same resources Jalen had.

The important takeaway is to recognize that while the class may have been interesting to Jalen, it did not take him as far as he was willing to go and likely did not tap into the core skill he was most passionate about. Jalen and his peers have access to a wealth of resources to explore their interests through the Internet, family, out of school programs and friends. The challenge presented to us is to empower them to consistently share those interests and activities that happen elsewhere and that paint a fuller portrait of who they are as learners. If this is in place and we have a growing “profile” of learner interests and activities, it creates new opportunities for mentors and peers to support and learn from their efforts. In Jalen’s case, his DYN mentors could have explored ways to connect his AMV work to his digital storytelling course. Jalen himself could help his friends leverage the same resources he’d used to become an advanced producer of these videos. Our social learning network gave Jalen the space to let his mentors and peers know that he had continued down this path on his own, but how might we have provided some mechanism to know that many of the same skills he was developing in class were also now being honed online?

As kids have more connectivity and access to resources than ever, one challenge is to develop new practices and tools to support them in how they choose to manage learning opportunities. How can youth better keep track of their learning across place and space and how do peers, parents and mentors work with them to make effective connections among these experiences?