September 21, 2016

Watchworthy Wednesday: Brokering Learning Opportunities

Category: Educational Practice
Teens working on Arduino micro controller to create technology enhanced skateboard

A new initiative — Building Youth Pathways in Computer Science and Digital Making (CS-Paths) — has been launched in an effort to support teens in computing and digital making programs.

CS-Paths, a partnership between the Hive Research Lab (HRL) and the Hive NYC Network, asks: “How might we support young people to pursue computing and digital media pathways that go beyond a single program experience?”

The answer: through brokering learning opportunities.

brokering-2This kind of brokering is the practice of a caring adult such as a teacher, counselor, peer, librarian or volunteer helping a young person connect to events, internships, programs, institutions and other activities and places related to their interests, according to Dixie Ching, HRL project leader and a post-doctoral researcher in the Educational Communication and Technology program at New York University.

CS-Paths, which is supported by the Spencer Foundation, Capital One Investing for Good and the Hive Digital Media and Learning Fund, aims to: “engage in processes of co-design, iterative testing and theory building that produce insights and solutions around supporting youth pathways in computer science and digital making.”

The initiative grew from research that the HRL has been conducting on the topic. In their recently released On the Horizon Journal article, “Not just a blip in someone’s life: integrating brokering practices into out-of-school programming as a means of supporting and expanding youth futures,” Ching, Rafi Santo, Christopher Hoadley and Kylie Peppler write:

This paper sheds light on a concern that may feel familiar to many out-of-school educators: how do we ensure that once a program is over, youth will be able to continue building their skills and identities in meaningful ways? This is an especially important concern for youth who are new to an interest and do not have much insight into the practice or relationships with individuals who can help them further their learning. To address this challenge, we discuss how a programmatic focus on brokering future learning opportunities might serve as an effective strategy to make a more long-term impact on youth futures.… We argue that brokering is an essential way to help young people develop, over time, a supportive network of adults and peers that are connected to and have knowledge of future learning opportunities.

They argue that youth learn in a variety of settings that include school, home, libraries, religious institutions and various other community settings. The article continues:

It is clear that informal learning settings such as after-school programs are critical places within a young person’s learning ecology. In after-school programs, youth have the opportunity to delve deeply into an interest in a way that they are not usually able to at school. Furthermore, program staff members often have strong knowledge in the interest area, as well as connections to individuals and institutions that they can leverage on the young person’s behalf.

As an example drawn from Hive NYC programs, we observed in the ways in which youth engaged with “teaching artists” — digital media professionals hired on a freelance basis to provide specialized instruction. Youth talked with teaching artists about their occupations and asked for advice and recommendations. They valued teaching artists and other staff members for their specialized skill-building knowledge, which helped them transform their ideas into working artifacts and clarified or broadened their understanding of the professional field connected to their interests. Teaching artists were part of the community of practice that youth wanted to join and provided youth with a sense that they, too, belonged to that community. For example, one 16-year-old we talked to indicated that he found teaching artists’ emotional support especially heartening, because they were working game designers themselves:

[. . .] they both make a living off of making games. So, they know, and they told me that I can do it. People do it. It’s possible. They’re not the only people in the world doing it. That’s the only thing that they do to make money. And that’s always what I’ve wanted to do, for a long, long time now.

Ching, Santo, Hoadley and Peppler make recommendations that illustrate some ways that individual organizations and networks can promote brokering and youth social capital building and conclude, in part:

To have a long-term and life-changing impact on youth, it is not enough to focus just on optimizing the learning that happens within particular programs and supportive spaces; we must also build bridges between these programs and spaces. Critical economic and social theorist Sen’s (1992) concept of “freedom to pursue” highlights the crucial difference between an individual’s achievement — what she accomplishes — and her freedom to achieve — what her capabilities and resources enable her to accomplish. To create a more equitable society, we need to focus on this idea of “freedom to achieve” and expand the freedoms of individuals who are currently disenfranchised. The practice of brokering represents a crucial opportunity to support youth in attaining long-term success by having the freedom to pursue and achieve personally-meaningful goals.

The full journal article is downloadable.

Images: Teens program an Arduino microcontroller to create a technology-enhanced skateboard as part of Hive NYC program Kickflip. Photos by Dixie Ching

Editor’s note: Watchworthy Wednesday posts highlight interesting DML resources and appear in DML Central every Wednesday. Any tips for future posts are welcome. Please comment below or send email to