Programs that focus with all good intentions on remediation and tutoring, but that extend traditional school structures into after school time, may experience weak attendance and missed opportunities because these efforts are too often disconnected from the rich learning lives of today’s youth.
Over the years, there have been an explosion of interest in digital technologies that allow youth not only to “media multitask,” but also to explore, create, and share knowledge around their personal interests and across many knowledge domains. With all these experiences, digital technologies can be significantly strengthened and boosted in an expanded learning time environments. We advocate another vision for out-of-school-time organizations—one that positions young people as creators, makers, and innovators. Our vision will allow youth to go deep into 21st century learning by focusing on knowledge production with the technologies pervasive in our world.
Youths are increasingly doing incredible things through their engagement with digital media. For example, in online multiplayer games, they are collaborating with sometimes hundreds of people around the world to tackle complex challenges in the form of dragons to be slain. In fan communities, they write and rewrite favorite books like Harry Potter, extending plotlines and creating alternate endings, all the while engaging in rigorous feedback and revision processes that English teachers would admire.
There are several outstanding models of innovation in the expanded learning-time domain that suggest a set of key principles to guide afterschool and summer learning leaders in designing new, digitally savvy, and integrated learning environments.
Some of the most important learning outcomes associated with digital media are tied to creating, sharing, and getting feedback from peers on projects that youth care about. This can happen through gallery showings, performances, screenings, “critique” sessions, and the creation of localized online spaces in which youth can review and comment on each others’ work.
Providing access to technology is essential, of course, but this should be seen only as a first step. Programs should ensure that access to the Internet is relatively unrestricted, that files and programs can be downloaded, and that youth have ways to save personal work and access it using any computer. These elements are all essential to creating a space in which design and production activities with media can promote robust learning. Additionally, program developers should ensure that production-and design-oriented software and hardware are available.
Design spaces to build relationships! Peer relationships matter most in effective expanded learning communities. Youth will rarely persist in an activity or remain a member of an organization if they do not form strong relationships to peers or mentors.
Create professional learning communities. Youth-serving professionals are too often behind the curve when it comes to understanding the capacities of new media for learning. They should look to models of new online professional communities that are forming across key professional associations and networks.
Modernize places in every community. With the goal of creating a new expanded digital learning road map in every community, each of the nation’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers should undertake its own “digital learning inventory” to determine what is currently being done to advance digital learning in local afterschool and summer programs.
In a digital age in which technology is a central part of kids’ lives, leaders in the expanded learning-time movement need to embrace a “mind shift” so that there can make dramatic progress by building a system of expanded digital learning, one based on pragmatic changes that acknowledge the ways learning is happening in the 21st century.