At the Digital Youth Network (DYN), I investigated how the different spaces in the program supported students’ emerging creator identities and positioned youth as critical consumers, producers and social advocates in their community. Through a three-year ethnography, my colleagues and I found that three spaces supported youths’ identities: forums, an online social networking space, and a junior mentoring program.
My research at DYN specifically focused on the online social networking space, Remix World, which was conceived and developed as an extension of DYN’s in-school and afterschool programming. We refer to the site as a “scaffolded social learning network” (Zywica, Richards, & Gomez, 2011). On the site, DYN mentors scaffolded students by guiding them informally and through intentionally structured interactions to develop their skills as critical consumers. Mentors posted their own original creations, critiqued each other’s work, and contributed discussions, all in order to model how to use Remix World and to scaffold participation on the site. We found that mentors used the site to enhance lessons, address the challenges of limited face-to-face time with students, archive and track students’ progress, and negotiate levels of student engagement in activities. Remix World also became a personal space for students to express themselves and develop identities as socially aware media consumers and producers. Spaces like Remix World are essential for providing multiple learning pathways for students.
While conducting research with the Digital Youth Network, I also investigated how robotics could be used to engage students in STEM learning activities, including technical design and engineering. In a book chapter, Building Technical Knowledge and Engagement in Robotics: An Examination of Two Out-of-School Programs (Gomez, Berstein, Zywica, & Hammer, 2012), the authors and I compare the Digital Youth Network’s robotics program to another informal robotics program, Robot Diaries, and describe how the programmatic structure of a robotics program influences student experiences. Our analysis suggests that participants’ experiences were affected in at least three ways: programmatic goals, (1) impact program structure and the role of the instructor, (2) shape participants’ opportunities for collaboration, leadership, and design, and (3) influence materials and resource availability, which has implications for creativity and self-expression.
Interested in what our research team learned from a 3 year ethnographic study at the Digital Youth Network? You’re in luck – there’s a whole book about it.