Exploring youth engagement in a digital age
Three conversations and meetings with Youth Work Online members this week have raised some really interesting issues for me in advance of Monday’s ‘Skills for Youth Work in a Digital Age’ workshop. First up was a skype call with Merlyn Hortyn of SOLOs in Canada, exploring some of the work Merlyn has done building on the Youth Work and Social Networking Report to generate training and guidance for different youth-serving professionals. Second up was a meeting organised by Stephen Carrick-Davies to look at support for excluded young people in Pupil Referral Units, and which focussed a lot on what teachers need to know to respond to pupil’s digital experiences. And third was a meeting in Helsinki with Suvi Kuikka of the Helsinki City Youth Department, to hear about how Helsinki has been developing digital youth work practice, recently completing a book and appointing a staff member to develop digital youth work curricula. I’m still trying to write up all my notes from these different conversations, but to draw out a few themes:
Digital literacy: focus on understanding
In the Youth Work and Social Networking report we set out three levels of practitioner engagement with social media: understanding; use and outreach. There’s been a tendency for a lot of the action learning and workshops around digital youth work to focus on the upper two levels - using social media as a youth work tool, and developing new forms of digital practice. However, the more important and universal need is that of identifying the knowledge and skills practitioners need to understanding the digital world and to support young people to understand, talk about and explore it.
Changing the agenda: research responses not risks
There’s still a lot of research funding out there about the ‘risks’ of digital technology to young people. Yet very little work goes into researching practitioner responses - and developing the understanding needs to transform workforces for a digital age.
Overcoming fear: approaches to equip practitioners
The digital can alter the balance of power between practitioners and young people, and can often be something that practitioners fear because of it’s unknown nature. Finding ways to help practitioners overcome fear of technology and to understand it simply as part of the everyday is important.
Identifying new activities; digital play & informal learning
Helsinki are building their digital youth work strategy around the idea of games and gaming: emphasising learning through fun. There’s a lot in this. What sorts of digital play and informal learning opportunities could become part of the staple of youth work activities?
Building the literature: theory and practice
I’m not aware of any English texts that bring together theories of digital work with young people, with practical examples of informal educators exploring understanding, use and outreach with digital media. Filling that gap may turn out to be important in supporting youth workers education.
Linking across divides: multi-agency practice
The most important learning of all for me this week though has been to think broader than youth work and informal educators - and to try and think about the broader context of multi-agency work with young people. Identifying the interface between different practitioners - and exploring how professional boundaries may be radically reshaped by the changes in communication technologies and digitally enabled youth cultures and practices - is an overarching task. How to engage in this big task, alongside a more proximate and practical focus on skills for youth work in a digital age is a challenging space to explore.
I realize these reflections are fairly broad and sketchy right now. I’m looking forward to the chance to develop some of them in more concrete directions, and to hear explore many more themes in Monday’s SWAP workshop. If you’ve got ideas or thoughts to feed into that workshop and you can’t make it along, please do share them in a comment or blog post here before Monday and I’ll include them on the slides.
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