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Feb 06 2017

Effective youth engagement in digital media learning

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Over the past couple of months, members of Hive NYC’s Youth Digital Media Learning Evaluation cohort have been exploring the unique role of digital media learning (DML) programs in improving social emotional learning (SEL) outcomes for youth.  This work of lifting up the impact that digital media and the web have in shaping and strengthening our learning, connections to others, and communities has been a consistent thread in Hive NYC’s meetup discussions, the Building Youth Pathways in Computer Science and Digital Making (CS-Paths) initiative led by Hive Research Lab, and Mozilla Foundation’s own organizational focus on digital equity.  For Hive NYC members, who provide innovative digital learning experiences for young people, focusing on creating conditions for positive youth development are as important as ensuring that participants acquire the technical skills needed to complete their projects.

Revisiting our cohort goals

As a recap, our guiding questions in the Youth Digital Media Evaluation Cohort, which Hive NYC is facilitating in partnership with Algorhythm, have been:

  • How and to what extent do digital media programs drive SEL outcome gains?
  • How and to what extent are digital media programs using positive youth development practices?  Which of these practices support the greatest gains within DML contexts?
  • How do digital media programs compare to other youth development programs in their ability to drive SEL outcomes?

Identifying effective youth program practices

In our most recent meeting this January, the cohort focused on diving deep into the most effective practices for promoting positive youth development in educational programs overall.  Algorhythm shared their finding that, across their sample of over 3000 young people, the programs that have achieved the highest SEL outcomes all had the following practices in common, regardless of their focus or content area:

  • Prioritizing youth: Building relationships through supporting youth interests, providing space for shared decision-making and power, and setting high expectations.
  • Facilitating peer-to-peer engagement: Creating safe spaces for youth to take risks, reflect, and share personal experiences.
  • Coaching through goal management: Helping youth clarify and set goals, and encouraging a growth mindset.
  • Encouraging ongoing staff development and engagement: Providing environment for staff to exercise positive youth development practices by creating space where they can also take risks, reflect, and share personal experiences.


While none of these practices were particularly new or surprising for cohort members, many of them have found that it is often difficult to fully implement these practices given the competing needs–such as reporting, limited program time, and funder requirements–that their programs are obligated to meet.  In discussing how they balance the importance of teaching youth to create quality media and technology projects with the need for fostering a healthy youth learning environment, members shared some of their own techniques for implementing best youth practices that they’ve learned through their personal experiences as educators.  These included:

  • Making sure to ask youth what is truly important to them–this may seem obvious, but so frequently, youth are never asked.
  • In goal-setting, asking youth what their vision of their best self is.
  • Knowing that what “sparks” a young person’s interests is not necessarily an ability or a skill–it’s what drives them and gives them a positive feeling about their work.
  • Setting aside program time for individual and group reflections.
  • Being radically accepting–what is important or drives a young person’s interests won’t always align with your own as an educator.

For further reading on this discussion, check out Algorhythm’s The Art and Science of Creating Youth Programs report and the full notes from our January meeting.


Moving forward

Throughout the next month, cohort members will be designing and launching evaluations at their organizations to measure the SEL outcomes that emerge from their own programs.  Building on the wealth of research and knowledge already gathered about effective youth programming more broadly, the next chapter of our cohort will be identifying what works specifically for youth digital media programs, and whether these practices are aligned–or not–with those identified as “best” in other youth fields.

Please stay tuned for more!  In the meantime, here are some resources that came up during our discussion:

And if you have any questions, reflections, or tips–such as techniques on you’ve learned through your own youth program development experiences–please share as a comment below.


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