New Futures Summer Youth Group @I Workshop Week 0 Introductions

This is the story of a semi-structured process, facilitating an introduction to digital information resources to Latino youth in Burien, WA, over the course of five weeks in the Summer of 2012. A set of topics has been selected for each week; yet, discussions and hands-on information seeking and media sharing sessions are allowed to flow as the participants learn about information structures and their own unrealized information needs.

Before the workshop is kicked off, we held an introductory session to meet informally and talk about the program we had structured for this youth community. After an initial set of discussions about my background, their current interests, and the importance of information tools in every day life, we closed the session with an exercise in relational semantics.

The session proceeded with a semi-structured interview of each in attendance, intended to discover their names, age, school, personal interests and general use of digital resources. The reactions from the group were varied. I realized early on that the younger participants (12-14 years of age) had a harder time understanding where I was going with the project. The older group, about 70 percent of the audience of eight in the initial session, seemed to respond more favorably to the discussion on how leveraging and sharing information can change your situation in life–which is how I had structured the intro session.

We discussed boundaries for our conversations, and established that I would soon enough serve mostly as a guide. The intent throughout was in letting them reveal their individual interests to eventually put them to task in creating portfolios of their findings about topic they were clearly passionate about. What was critical was to understand the many unrealized needs they harbored.

For the most part, they subscribe to YouTube, Facebook and at least one mentioned Google and Tumblr. After an initial lecture on how gold and information contrast as limitless resources, we dove into media topics: music videos, vehicles, clothing, gossip, movies… one had recently seen Titanic, but while she didn’t like the movie much, she was a big fan of Twilight. The oldest, a 16 year old boy, wanted to learn how to edit videos. I later was told by the youth Program Manager that he often hung out breakdancing with friends in the community center courtyard, and would often film their sessions. So, part of the discussion was centered on narrative control, and context, and the message that was built into movies. I told them about the work that goes into making a blockbuster. The girl who didn’t like the Titanic movie did know that it wasn’t supposed to sink. I explained the design on the triple hull. We wrapped discussing the importance of storyboarding and setting up a message to be told through media; and, when I brought up James Cameron’s work, they were much surprised to learn that Avatar took 12 years to be finished because of shortcomings in the existing technology when the idea for the movie came to him. Throughout, my emphasis was on establishing for the group a connection between goals and the underlying information that had to be structured to carry out the movies, recordings, etc.

We had a restrospection of the session before dismissal, and they reported that their favorite part of the session had been the semantic relationship exercise we spent the last 15 minutes on, where we started talking about the triangle as a symbol for change in mathematics and built a relational diagram to include delta as a hydrography term or the name of an airline, among others.

What did NOT work was too much lecturing on the importance of information. What DID work well was to teach them to appreciate information and the value of planning using information resources by engaging them in a discussion of their own interests. The topical information gathered will be helpful in re-structuring the agile approach of future sessions. I intend to reduce or even eliminate some of the information value college-level concepts that I dared to raise during the session. They about fell asleep on me!

Being able to develop a narrative that is compelling to the younger ones in the group, and creating a set of rules for discussion, will be key to future sessions. This is a group that is not used to structure and disciplined consideration of the information at hand, and not expected to. Some of  the discussions had several of them talking at once, or wanting to change the subject through distraction and off-handed commentary. There are considerations to be had for the differences in age, maturity, and, dare I say, audacity (from the older members).

They are young! These are perceptions and attitudes to be expected. In the introductory session to #nfSYG-@I next Monday, we’ll start discussing what is the web, how we access it, safety on the web and your rights and responsibilities under the 1st amendment. They might be young, but they showed exceptional potential today and were very forthcoming. I think they will be able to handle the content, if simplified into a participatory approach.

This workshops is already showing signs that it is going to be so much more than a research project!

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