Expanding Horizons Through Technology

Students sharing a computer. (iStockPhoto)
Most American youth are online. Are we making the most of this learning time? Photo: iStockPhoto

Digital media and technology are such a large part of a student’s life – a Pew Research Center study found that 92% of American teens are online daily – that educators must learn to engage young people through this medium. Afterschool and other out-of-school time programs provide young people with opportunities to connect to new content, peers, and experiences. And increasingly, these programs are creating meaningful connections for youth through technology, engaging young people in learning, sharing, and collaborating with the world.

From digital media arts projects to virtual field trips, afterschool programs are taking advantage of the flexible time in afterschool for inquiry-based projects that extend global learning into cyberspace. While many programs have embraced technology, some face a lack of access to technology which can be a serious barrier--yet it is critical that all young people have opportunity to connect. Take advantage of high-speed connections in public libraries and community centers, inexpensive digital cameras and audio recorders, and the ubiquity of mobile music players and phones among young people. Create team projects to enhance collaboration and maximize the use of limited equipment.

Here are some examples of how other programs are using technology--let these serve as inspiration for your program:

Learning from the World

Educators can build young people’s knowledge of the world by looking online for international content. The websites of international news organizations, cultural institutions, and universities, to name a few, provide broad and deep resources on other countries and global issues. Some pioneering afterschool programs have begun to go beyond web research projects to connect young people to rich online global experiences. For example, many international organizations are starting to provide educational events for older youth in Teen Second Life, a virtual reality platform online. Global Kids, an afterschool program in New York City, implemented the “I Dig Tanzania” summer camp. In this program, high school youth in Chicago and New York followed a paleontology excavation in Tanzania led by a team from the Field Museum of Chicago, learning about Swahili language and culture along the way. Participants followed what the real researchers were doing through streaming video, asked questions over satellite phones, and then dug virtual fossils and assembled them together into an exhibit in Teen Second Life.

Sharing with the World

These days, young people increasingly communicate through technology. Creating for an audience is incredibly motivating, and many afterschool programs are extending their asset-based approach to help youth use technology to create words, images, podcasts, and videos that communicate their ideas and perspectives on global issues. In World Savvy’s Global Youth Media and Arts Program in San Francisco and New York, middle and high school youth use their experiences in their own communities to examine global themes such as peace and conflict, and immigration and identity. Through participating in workshops and field trips and viewing media and contemporary art, young people explore these topics in depth and create works of visual and performance art and media in response – cartoons, collages, T-shirt designs, videos, and songs documenting real and imagined global journeys that they share with the public in multimedia exhibitions and online.

Collaborating with the World

Children identify with other children. Seeing, hearing, and communicating with others of the same age from other places is a powerful way to understand both commonality and difference, and promote empathy and understanding. The Intel Computer Clubhouse Network is an international network of over 100 community technology centers in underserved neighborhoods where young people, most between the ages of 10 and 18, use technology to write, converse, perform, and create art, animation, music, and web designs that they share with their peers in a global online village. In one example, young people from Atlanta and Amman quickly found common interests, co-writing a hip-hop anthem in Arabic. Organizations such as iEARN, ePALS, and TakingITGlobal offer free tools and networks for global youth collaborative projects.

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