For those of you who could not make it to Boston this weekend, we had a great DML (Digital Media and Learning) meeting. One of the things I enjoyed the most was meeting new colleagues who work to connect youth globally, and the conversation around the synergies between Connected Learning and Virtual Exchange. I tried my first Ignite talk, and while I did not exactly rock the stage like some of the folks, I really enjoyed the constraints of the genre. Next time, I am going to try out some jokes and step away from the podium. Still, at least I can cross one of the things off my bucket list. For those of you who missed it, I’ve included the link to the talk and the script below.
In our profoundly interdependent world, it is more important than ever for young people to engage in deep, connected learning with others around the world. So the key question is, how can we create opportunities for more young people to be connected globally? One of the ways this has been accomplished in the past has been through organized person-to-person or pen pal exchanges, which have connected relatively few youth along well known pathways. With the explosion of digital, social media, young people now have more opportunities than ever before to connect to their global peers around shared interests in an emergent fashion. However, the question about how we might facilitate this multidimensional, process is an open one. We cannot map older, individually oriented forms of connection onto these new spaces, nor can we assume that connecting people globally is a neutral activity. Instead, we need a new model for thinking about how to facilitate global connection for youth that takes into account people’s histories and cultures and the emergent relationships that are always rooted in particular ideological systems. To that end, I think we must begin with a focus on the local. I would argue that this work of global connectivity is radically and quintessentially local, rooted in communities, lived experiences, and cultural and individual histories. Connecting across these local meanings, ideas, people, and contexts in essence requires scaling up though various interconnections and relationships, facilitated of course by new mediating technologies. This ‘scaling’ process, as Blommaert and Canagarajah would remind us, helps us understand how people negotiate their positions in the world in interaction across space and time, not across neutral spaces but in the context of hierarchy and power. It is important to emphasize the active, agentive nature of this scaling process. People participate in this activity of forging global connections across local experiences, meanings, languages, and contexts. So if we begin with the premise that this is fundamentally local work scaled up through the active process of making connections, then we are seeking a model of global connectivity that puts dialogue, collaboration, and local knowledge at the center.
So we can return to the question we began with—how do we create opportunities for young people to connect globally with others?—and slightly reframe it now: How do we create opportunities for young people to participate in the act of connecting globally? To describe one way of thinking about this question, I will turn to a project I am involved with, the Global Youth Media Collaborative, which is a partnership that brings together young people around the world via a kind of online makerspace we are building. Beginning from a local, community oriented framework, our goals are oriented to social justice, youth voice and production, and inclusion/access. This work grows from previous projects connecting youth globally, and I want to turn now to one example from that work. This example is from our international social network Space2Cre8, illustrating this active, participatory process of connecting and scaling. It is about one young woman’s local story and how it ‘scaled up’ as others connected to it and to her. Bahkti’s digital story that she created and shared on the youth network is one of great hope and optimism. In it, she reveals that her father was an alcoholic, and this revelation, coupled with intimate pictures and details of her life, resonated powerfully with others in the network. People in other parts of the world began sharing their own stories of hardship and fortitude, such as this one by a young man. Over time these connections across the stories began to scale up, as youth collaborated and turned toward taking social action. Youth formed groups to address issues of import to them in their local communities and across them. This kind of scaling up began through forging connections rooted in local, cultural histories and experiences. Connected learning, in its emphasis on production, shared purpose, and networked practices offers a powerful framework for thinking about this question of how to create opportunities for young people to participate in making global connections. At GYMC we are trying to imagine how to use a connected learning framework for global connectivity, scaling across local communities of practice. From this model, we can think about innovation as making social changeand expanding opportunities and access. Youth can become global innovators by creating relationships and connections, expanding their networks, communities, and collaborations as they work toward taking action in their worlds.
We imagine that some readers are wondering: Why form the Global Youth Media Collaborative? Why build a global, online makerspace? We see a need for a partnership that focuses on a socially and culturally oriented view of literacy–one that sees writing as a kind of making and as firmly situated within community contexts. We argue that young people need opportunities to learn how to write for and with diverse others who initially may seem different from themselves, to negotiate meaning with people online across different languages and modalities, and to accommodate multiple viewpoints sensitively and thoughtfully. And they need those opportunities within a supportive environment, one that positions users from around the globe as makers, doers, composers and collaborators of writing and emphasizes the digital and media literacies young people need in the 21st century. The recognition that commerce, social life, and popular culture now routinely stretch across cultures, languages, and geographies makes a sensitivity to the global a centerpiece for how we conceive literacy and education now. That global awareness assumes heightened importance as people regularly share their writing with unknown and distant audiences who are oftentimes separated not just geographically but also ideologically, even within communities and neighborhoods.
In building an online makerspace, we want to create a space for youth to make and share their work simultaneously, not separating out their finished products from the creative making process. This configuration of learning technologies—especially combining tools for composing, visualizing, and sharing—supports increased reflection and revision as well as sustained dialogue across synchronous and asynchronous interactions. It draws upon a full spectrum of modes available for communication and encourages the purposeful blending of perspectives, epistemologies, and technologies in a way that privileges meaning making across users. The question of how to position young people as producers and not just consumers—participants who can leverage the potentials of writing now to effect change, create and share knowledge with others, and make their voices heard—is of central importance in addressing global inequality and preparing all youth to participate in a world characterized by transglobal communication and commerce.