Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Can You DIG/IT? A Blended Learning, Competency-Based Class Introduces New Ways of Learning for Teens Deemed "At-Risk" in New York City

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Can You DIG/IT? A Blended Learning, Competency-Based Class Introduces New Ways of Learning for Teens Deemed "At-Risk" in New York City

Article excerpt

Youth who enroll in Digital Literacies, our blended learning technology course in New York City schools, are each emphatically unique, yet they are all students for whom traditional approaches to education have already failed. Because they're overage and undercredited, they arrive labeled as "at risk" students. They have largely been raised and schooled in disadvantaged pockets of this huge and varied city; statistics bear out that they have fewer academic vocabulary words at their command (Beitchman et al., 2008; Hoff, 2003) and fewer college graduate role models around them (Hardaway & Mcloyd, 2009; Bowen, Chingos, & McPherson, 2009) than do students in wealthier zip codes. Some are children of immigrants or are recent immigrants themselves and are learning English. Most bear a shell of wariness that speaks of their past educational struggles. These kids, perhaps more than most, see school requirements as arbitrary and possibly pointless hoops to jump through or walk away from, rather than as coherent steps along a path to a satisfying future as thinkers, citizens, and professionals. Their reservations may be warranted; only 9% of low-income students go on to earn college diplomas.

Our students walk in the door needing to be convinced that active engagement in learning will be worth their while, though previous disappointments have largely pushed them past articulating this important academic truth about themselves. Just as they need to make up credits, their schools and teachers need to make up a deficit created by previous educational circumstances that haven't served these students well.

Their learning must be highly relevant--both to help them cover ground already lost and because, if they don't see value in their classes, they tune out pretty quickly: How does this have anything to do with my "real life"? How will I ever use this? Engaging these students also means making evident the prospect of academic success--in order to address these unspoken questions: Do I fit in here? If I try at this, will I succeed? Or will I fail again?

Because of their complicated histories with schooling, these kids may present a larger-than-average challenge for educators, but, in their classes, observers will witness diligence, digital distraction, striving, potential, and full-on mastery. We believe our Digital Literacies course enables students to lay aside their past school experiences and focus on learning in ways that help them become successful.

About Connected Foundations

Through Connected Foundations, we offer Digital Literacies as a one-credit technology elective course to students in transfer schools--small, academically rigorous high schools in New York City that are designed to re-engage students who have dropped out of high school or have fallen behind. Better known as DIG/IT--pronounced "dig it"--Digital Literacies enable overage and undercredited high school students to develop key skills needed for life after high school, whether that means more education or employment or, more commonly, both. Connected Foundations is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and managed by the New York City Department of Education along with the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

DIG/IT debuted in a small pilot in summer 2011 in just four schools. During the 2011-12 school year, the program served 2,720 students in 36 schools. Seventy schools are offering the course this fall.

In addition to supporting the growth of skills that would propel students toward college and career, DIG/IT introduces teachers and students to blended learning, a combination of face-to-face and online learning that represents a promising application of technology for deep learning and engagement.

"It's a digital community that prepares you for life outside of high school, like career-wise, school-wise, if you're college-bound or career-bound," said Justin, a student at North Queens Community High School in Queens. …

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