With thanks to David Wilcox for prompting me to contribute some thoughts to the project he and colleagues Tim Davies and Alex Farrow have been undertaking for the Nominet Trust exploring how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities. (Twitter hashtag #DTYE).
From my experience over the years of working with young people and the adults who work with or care for them, to help them use the Internet more effectively, innovatively and safely, the following are some of the key issues I think those seeking to engage youth with digital technologies need to consider:
As has been mentioned before youth are not a homogenous group, and therefore, one of the first things I would say is we need to understand where young people are at – listening to them, understanding their motivations and behaviour, their particular ‘youth culture’. This varies according to many factors including age, regions, socio-economic status etc.
We also need to be able to assess their digital competency and knowledge, skills and confidence, and work with them to co-create programmes which help them develop their interests – and which also develop their digital literacy skills (as defined by the Knight Commission):
Digital literacy means learning how to work the information and communication technologies in a networked environment, as well as understanding the social, cultural and ethical issues that go along with the use of these technologies. Media literacy is the ability to access, analyse, evaluate, create, reflect upon, and act with the information products that media disseminate.
The Knight Commission have identified digital and media literacy as essential for democracy and civic engagement and believe that successful participation in the digital age entails two kinds of skills sets – digital literacy and media literacy.
Those seeking to engage youth with digital technologies would also do well to help young people develop a culture of digital citizenship as defined by the ISTE (and the social, emotional, leadership and digital competencies associated with these). From my own work in this area, I feel that digital literacy skills, which should focus on the creative and effective use of digital technologies, also need to explore the topics of ethics, responsible use, appropriate boundaries, privacy and legal issues. Whilst many people think that young people are fairly competent in their use of digital technologies, there are still gaps in this knowledge, which if addressed, could help them use them more effectively.
In the broader sense of digital literacy, we should also be helping young people explore the way changing digital and web technologies are affecting society, culture, politics and more, and mediating the development of skills and competencies to help them develop their own sense of this digital space, and their place in it.
This means that those who seek to engage youth with digital technologies need to develop their own digital literacy skills and develop a good understanding of how businesses and individuals are using digital and web technologies for benefit (or not). It would also be good if they could showcase examples of where youth are already using the web and digital technologies for advocacy, personal and community benefit and developing a positive online presence.