Strategically link programs as well as your organization more broadly to place and local need through participation in networks and partnerships.See community resources
The approach to digital learning highlighted in this toolkit is one that is deeply situated, place-based, and most importantly, rooted in community.
Rather than something abstract or technical, community-based digital learning relies on organizations developing rich relationships across their communities to support powerful learning outcomes.
The resources in this section highlight how community connections can amplify and enhance activities in specific programs. Community might be thought of as the people who live in the neighborhoods where programs are based, as well as local businesses, institutions such as local schools and churches, grassroots civic groups and more. Additionally, community speaks to the professional networks of collaborators and colleagues in which an organization participates.
Being ‘place and community-based’ means that organizations are attentive to the needs of those they serve, aware of ongoing community challenges, connected to potential partners and able to connect youth to new opportunities beyond their own programs.
Effective strategies include leveraging local relationships in order to reach and serve disconnected youth, provide inspiration and audience for media and technology projects, build internal capacity for new digital learning programs, support youth to pursue interests across organizations and connect youth to professional and higher education opportunities.
- Reach and serve disconnected youth. Partnerships with institutions such as transfer schools or juvenile justice systems can allow youth-serving organizations with digital learning programs to reach youth that often have the least opportunity. Additionally, relationships with local social service agencies can allow organizations to connect at-risk-youth to critical resources around social welfare issues such as healthcare and housing.
- Provide inspiration and audience for youth. Digital learning programs can have youth reach out to community members to identify local concerns that they can then use to form the basis for service learning projects. Through capstone events that bring in parents, partners and other local groups, community connection can mean that youth have real audiences to present their projects to for both feedback and celebration.
- Build internal capacity to develop new digital learning programs. Deeper partnerships with organizations that have specialized expertise can be an important aspect of capacity building that allows innovative programming using digital media and technology. Additionally, connection to broader community institutions can allow organizations to bring in or hire talent supporting media, technology and the arts to advance programming in these areas.
- Support youth to pursue interests across organizations. Connections with other local programs and organizations better equip educators to help youth find next steps beyond what is offered by their own organization and promotes continuous learning pathways for youth across multiple settings.
- Connect youth to professional and higher education opportunities around digital media. Formal and informal community partnerships with aligned institutions can support youth pathways into work and post-secondary learning. Examples of this include formal mechanisms, such as a community college providing academic credit to youth that have finished certain advanced programs offered by an organization, or more informally, such as program staff being able to recommend their youth to a local business for summer internships. Additionally, for organizations interested in directly supporting economic mobility by preparing youth for jobs in technology, media and creative sectors, partnerships with industry groups can help them to align their curricula to the kinds of technical and SEL skills employers are actively seeking.
As with all strategies, the kinds of relationships organizations develop with local communities should follow from the broader goals they’re aiming to achieve.
But these must indeed be active strategies—just because an organization is based in a given neighborhood doesn’t mean that it’s intentionally building the sorts of place-based connections outlined here.Figuring out what these strategies should look like, ways to pursue them, and who should lead them are key questions to answer in efforts to create an effective community-based digital learning program.