Digital Learning

Announcing SCE’s 2017 Digital Learning Challenge Grantees!

Throughout the course of this 18-month initiative, the Challenge learning community – a primary team consisting of afterschool program partners, a research team from NYU, and SCE, and a secondary team of human resource professionals and system intermediaries – will explore what it means to be a prepared and skilled 21st century citizen. To do this, we have partnered with eight programs that use digital tools for learning. We will study how the work is done, in differing contexts, with different sets of challenges, and how success is achieved navigating all of these factors.

Each program partner has similar qualities: exemplar programs using digital tools for learning, and serving youth ages 13-18 in afterschool settings. Each focuses on skill growth by working with youth to create and connect hands-on learning experiences to life, work and play beyond the program. Each program partner serves an urban population (a challenge we hope to address in future grantmaking). However, each program partner differs in how it defines 21st century skills, the tools used, and program model, all of which are based on the unique community context.

Uniquely positioned, each partner has identified a set of skills – digital, social and emotional, and civic that are most valuable for the youth based on the demands of each community. Prescient in the program design, organizational leadership also understands that in a world where technology is changing how we work, digital media skills are a critical vehicle for teens to develop in-demand workforce skills. Many, if not all, have partnered with local employers and other organizations to create economic pathways through project-based training, networking opportunities, and paid apprenticeships.  Due to this, the Challenge will also explore the changing nature of work and the role of digital media and informal learning environments in equipping youth with skills needed to thrive as professionals in the workforce.

And that, we believe is our sweet spot. Our goal is to honor the important contextual differences while identifying and understanding common processes. And then together, we will analyze and articulate best practices and share what we’ve learned with educators, informal learning practitioners, and others with a vested interest in ensuring more youth have access to more meaningful learning experiences using digital tools, while preparing them for success in work, life, and play.


Learning Community Participants

Program Partners

 AS220: Founded in 1985, AS220 is a non-profit community arts organization located in downtown Providence, Rhode Island and is the parent organization to AS220 Youth. AS220 Youth serves 450 students four days a week, year round, in partnership with an alternative middle school and the state juvenile detention center. AS220 Youth’s core project focus is ZuKrewe:  a youth-led artist collective that uses music, art, social justice, and popular culture to promote and create social change. ZuKrewe represents a diverse group of young people who are using their talents to positively affect their friends, families, and neighborhoods while encouraging their peers to become involved in the issues that matter most to them. The program combines in-depth arts, entrepreneurial, and technical education with service to communities in Providence and greater Rhode Island and helps prepare our youth postsecondary education and/or the workforce. Zukrewe is divided into 5 teams, with each team responsible for elements that contribute to a final performance on social-justice topics at the end of the year.

The Beam Center: Founded in 2005 in Brooklyn, NY, Beam Center connects youth to learning with creative projects that combine STEM with art and design while fostering collaboration and authentic relationships with adults. The Beam Center’s Apprentice Program recruits high school juniors and seniors from Title-I public school partners and provides an intensive internship-like, afterschool experience for cohorts of 25-30 students. Apprenticeships take place twice-a-week over a 16-week period with Beam faculty engineers, artists, and scientists to create a large-scale collaborative project each session. Students learn the basics of digital and manual tool use, as well as how to collaboratively plan and execute a large project. Projects vary per session but all employ design-thinking, hands-on creation, multidisciplinary academic content, digital and manual fabrication skills, and digital media creation. The experience forms the basis for future interest-driven learning as well as skills that can be used in a variety of settings. Apprentices who complete the program are eligible for paid summer jobs at a community day camp and afterschool programs through a partnership with ExpandEd NYC.

YOUmedia, Chicago Public Library: Since 1873, Chicago Public Library (CPL) has encouraged lifelong learning by offering equal access to information and knowledge. Created in 2009, CPL’s YOUmedia is a 21st century teen learning lab in 12 branches. It serves as a national model that has informed the work of nearly 30 libraries and other public spaces throughout the country. This Library program) offers teens numerous entry-points for self-expression, project-based learning, and collaboration. At YOUmedia, high-school students from across Chicago can access—free of charge—a range of technologies that would be difficult to find elsewhere, such as DSLR cameras, maker bots, and graphic design software. Whether building basic skills, learning advanced production techniques, or pursuing more individualized projects, specially-trained mentors support teens in using these technologies as tools for creating, learning, and communicating. YOUmedia’s digital learning opportunities are also designed with low barriers to participation: teens can join a project at lower engagement levels and “level up” as their skills and interest develops.

Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF): In 2013, DHF transformed a closed-down inner-city Baltimore rec center into the DHF Tech Center, a 5,000-ft2 makerspace to deliver youth-focused technology education programs in high-growth pathways ranging from digital fabrication to web development, design, and electronics. Based in maker philosophy and practice, DHF programs provide support for informal learning, and create a continuous, progressive pathway into technology education, innovation, and career options for youth ages 13-18. All incoming DHF youth enroll in Maker Foundations, a 14-week exploratory course designed to give youth hands-on experience with the various meanings of ‘technology,’ help them identify their own interests, and develop career-ready skills and self-efficacy as creative technologists. When youth complete Maker Foundations, they progress to the MegaLab programs, an array of seven-week project-based courses that build access, interest, and competence in technology innovation and creativity, especially for minority and underserved youth. These intermediate and advanced courses offer deeper experience in high-growth, interconnected areas such as Interactive Design, JavaScript, Game Design, CAD software, and Electronics.

DreamYard: Established in 1994, DreamYard is the largest arts provider in the Bronx. The organization’s approach is rooted in art and social justice pedagogy and supports students in developing a lifelong learning pathway. DreamYard’s Digital Learning Portfolio initiative captures the process of student learning, encouraging students to manage and direct their own learning narrative to better present themselves to colleges, employers, and peer interest groups. DreamYard is building out their digital portfolio work with the DreamYard Bronx Art Collective (BAC), a year-round visual art program to activate STEM learning and interest in design, coding, digital art, and more.  DreamYard is supporting youth as they experiment with ideas in hands-on, real-world situations. The skills and knowledge that youth acquire at DreamYard are wide-ranging, from learning to use technology, to developing original pieces of art, to creating community place-based design initiatives, to developing communication and leadership skills.

Free Spirit Media: Founded in 2001, Free Spirit Media (FSM) provides youth on Chicago’s South and West sides with a comprehensive foundation in media literacy and hands-on digital media production experience. FSM News is an afterschool and summer program where student reporters produce news packages, issue specific mini-documentaries, socially conscious narrative pieces, and public service announcements for broadcast on local Chicago TV stations. Curriculum focuses on news literacy, solutions-oriented reporting, journalism ethics, and digital media production as a form of civic engagement. At the apprentice level, the curriculum is focused on building the literacy and technical skills needed for journalism and video production. By the program’s completion, apprentices produce and distribute a newscast using the digital media skills gained throughout the year. Advanced crews are responsible for completing 5-6 themed newscasts throughout the year to showcase their skills in broadcast journalism and digital media production.

The Knowledge House (TKH): Located in the Bronx, TKH provides technology and digital media instruction to young adults to prepare them for the 21st century workforce. The Intro to Tech Entrepreneurship course provides low-income students in NYC with an introduction to the various technology occupations and skillsets (AutoCAD, Virtual Reality, Data Visualization, UX/UI, Graphic Design, Digital Marketing, and more), coding, and workplace skills to prepare them to thrive in the technology ecosystem. Students engage in project-based learning through daily digital and coding exercises, individual and group projects, and final presentations. To complete these core programs, students ideate, design, develop, and demonstrate a technology product produced within a team that addresses a community or user need. Students present their digital project at a demonstration event (Demo Day) open to the community. The program also exposes students to professionals in the technology sector through networking events, site visits and Hackathons.

West Michigan Center for Arts + Tech (WMCAT): Founded in 2005, WMCAT after school Teen Arts and Tech Program provides hands-on studio experiences to high school students in Grand Rapids, Michigan. WMCAT engages nearly 150 students twice a week throughout the school year in student-centered, project-based learning experiences melding the arts and technology. This non-drop in program is comprised of both introductory and advanced level courses, guided by professional teaching artists to expand teens’ technical skills, build their creative confidence, and promote engagement with their community. WMCAT provides studios in video production, audio production, digital photography, and video game and app design and engages teens in creating original films, podcasts, video games, and photo essays to elevate their voices and affect community conversations. The tuition-free after school program eliminates financial barriers, offers transportation to and from the WMCAT facility, and provides all students with access to professional equipment, intentionally outfitted studio spaces, and mentoring from teaching artists.

Research Partner

The Innovatory Learning Group, based in New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, is an interdisciplinary research group that designs and studies novel ways to interact with technology and information in the service of improving educational opportunities for all learners. The team – Dr. June Ahn, Dr. Dixie Ching and Dr. Rafi Santo – brings expertise in out-of-school and community-based programs, digital media and learning, design of learning technologies, digital initiatives in informal learning organizations, and the role of networks in informal organizational development that will inform the research and learning community aspects of SCE Digital Learning Challenge.

Funding Partner

Susan Crown Exchange (SCE) is a Chicago-based foundation invested in shaping an ecosystem of anytime, anywhere learning to prepare youth to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing and highly-connected world. Through three primary programs—digital learning, social and emotional learning, and catalyst grants—SCE connects talent and innovation with forces for positive change. SCE’s exchange model leverages up-to-date research, best practices, grantmaking, and innovative programming to design, evaluate, and promote high-quality learning experiences for young people beyond the classroom, particularly youth from underserved communities.