May 17, 2013

A Student-driven, Afterschool Technology Club: When Reality and Policy Collide

Categories: Educational Practice, Equity
male student sitting at classroom desk texting on phone under desk

Taking advantage of the online world’s ability to help youth develop knowledge, expertise, skills and important new literacies involves risks, but how much? Some researchers and authors such as Lenore Skenazy, Sonia Livingstone, and Lynn Schofield Clark have reasoned that a number of policies and strategies, which are intended to protect youth, are actually misguided and may be making youth’s learning experiences even more limiting.

Jacqueline Vickery, an assistant professor in the department of Radio-Television-Film University of North Texas, studies the discourse around risk and digital media and how it fuels moral panics and influences policy. By observing how students’ technology use is shaped by these policies, she aims to shift the dialogue away from discussions that perpetuate fear and anxiety to conversations focused more on the empowering ways teens are using technology in their everyday lives.

Vickery spent an entire school year working with 18 students from a low-income public school in Austin, collecting their opinions on school and technology in order to better understand how different learning environments impact their attitudes towards digital media use. Vickery, who earned a PhD in Media Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, presented her findings to a group of junior scholars at the DML Summer Research Associates Institute in Boston.

In the video below, Vickery describes how peer support played a major role in the functioning of the afterschool space. Often times, students who were not media production savvy joined the club at the suggestion of a friend, and in the process, they discovered that they had a budding interest in film, photography, or media. Below are some highlights, but the entire video unpacks Vickery’s argument that in order to enact appropriate school reform, policymakers need to fully comprehend the wants and needs of both students and educators.

It’s definitely a student-driven space. The teacher is there to help when he needs to help, but the kids have a lot of agency in deciding what they want to work on.

I think the formal classroom doesn’t always provide opportunities to teach each other. The stakes are high. The teacher is at the front. It’s just a different environment.

Policy would benefit a lot from listening to teachers in our school – listening to students and listening to researchers to understand what are the day-to-day experiences, what are the frustrations they are actually facing. Predators are not their number one problem at this school, but actually understanding how they are using technology in these incredibly beneficial ways and the ways in which policies are shutting down these opportunities.

We’re at this very interesting moment in which some of the ways teens are engaging with different technologies have such a learning potential and schools would really benefit from bringing it in to validate teens’ interests and figure out how we can actually use this to teach and for kids to learn.

Production credit: Marc Bacarro

Banner image credit: bionicteaching