Digital Edge

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The Digital Edge project was developed between 2011 and 2013, it included a period of fieldwork immersion of approximately one year and a half, and two years of analysis, follow-up interviews, and writing. I was part of this process and actively participated in the analysis, fieldwork, and writing. A forthcoming book from the project is expected to be published in 2015.

Topics of analysis

  • social capital and social resources
  • technology-rich and technology poor
  • the lack of economic opportunity
  • tenuous access to social, mobile, and digital media
  • technical education, vocational education, and academic education
  • blocked access to networked media in schools
  • the role of after school and informal settings in the expansion of social capital and social resources

Findings

  • Majority of digital edge youth and their families belong to precarious communities with poor social, cultural, economic and human capital. Despite these limitations, unprivileged youth are able to mobilize resources they find in their school, in particular, in the after school world (not-school).
  • Disconnection between school and home: most of the parents from digital edge youth develop poor or none relationships with school teachers, counselors, and other parents.
  • Although many of the participants of our study are engaged in using digital media for expressing and cultivating their creativity, their new media literacies are poorly developed. Skills such as negotiation, collective intelligence, and distributed cognition are particularly low among the majority of participants in our study.
  • Education (vocational/academic/technical) quality is low, especially for digital edge youth in the general track. There is no clear definition of the boundaries between the different approaches to education. In the case of digital media classes, the emphasis is in an education that helps to develop technical skills through hands on projects and messing around with media authoring software.
  • After school emerges as one of the most important settings for connected learning for digital edge youth. In this setting, we found evidence of the existence of communities of practice where low income youth are developing interest driven learning, engaging in hands-on projects, and participating in peer learning. Social, cultural, and technology resources are mobilized by participating in this communities (afters school clubs and programs).
  • There is a need for creating an infrastructure (badges?) that helps to validate and assess the learning that is taking place in after-school and not-learning settings, as well to facilitate the transition to the labor market. Although, digital edge youth participating in after school digital media programs are having the opportunity of developing technical skills, they struggle with finding jobs where they can apply these skills in the real world.
  • Students are going out of their way to learn informally via social/digital media, but schools are not effectively utilizing this new cultural competency, and in fact are often directly opposed to this sort of learning.
  • Students on the "digital edge" cope with inconstant and tenuous access to digital tech. Fluctuations in level of access over time is a hallmark of the "digital edge."
  • It is minimally beneficial to deploy technology in the classroom without a well-developed curriculum that focuses on design-based thinking. In fact, the state standards clearly outline this need but there is a big gap in execution in school, especially under-resourced schools.
  • Teachers in charge of technology-rich classes in this under-resourced environment feel intense pressure to justify their existence and sometimes resort to rhetoric of vocation to do so.
  • Although many of the participants in our study engage digital media to express and cultivate their creativity, their new media literacies tend to be consumer rather than maker oriented. Skills such as collective intelligence and distributed cognition are particularly low among the majority of participants in our study. Specifically, while many of the students in our study use social media platforms most were unlikely to participate in the sharing and distribution of knowledge that make social media tools and ties a powerful resource. [A1] This can be attributed to, among other things, the lack of diversity in their social networks (online and offline), and the class-tinted dispositions that render low-income youth less efficacious about their social and networking skills and participation in online communities.