“Soon the digital divide will not be between the haves and the have-nots. It will be between the know-hows and the non-know-hows.”
– Stanford lecturer Howard Rheingold
Where the Light Travels is an after-school enrichment class designed to integrate photography and digital media into core areas of learning such as English Language Arts and Social Science. This project supports refugee youth in San Diego, creating engagement and connection by bridging hands-on creativity with technology and art.
The need for technology and visual communication has never been more important. This was highlighted as the world was sent into isolation with the impacts of COVID-19. “We use digital photos and videos to share our understanding, to connect with our communities, and to express ourselves,” stated Jana McBeath, Media Educator and Youth Council Coordinator with Outside the Lens. Receiving a three-year grant from the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation is allowing McBeath’s project, Where the Light Travels, to transform an elementary after school digital media class into a safe space to build confidence while increasing digital and media literacies. She has seen firsthand how having media skills to use in life can change a student’s focus from self-identity, to family, community and eventually become a new language to use worldwide.
What were the goals of the project and how were they achieved?
Where the Light Travels was implemented virtually in partnership with the San Diego Refugee Tutoring Program as an after-school class with goals to:
- integrate ELA and core academic subjects using photography, videography, animation, and mixed media
- build confidence and engagement in students and their academic subjects
- create a safe space to encourage storytelling, identity and creativity
- showcase projects at a community exhibit honoring student work from throughout the year
Craft boxes with various art supplies and props were provided, as well as sealed envelopes with project materials. iPads loaded with apps for animation, photography, digital art, film editing, and other resources were also given to each student. To help combat screen fatigue, now that all of the students were learning online every day, the focus of the projects relied on the incorporation of tactile and hands-on activities, even though the project was designed to enhance digital literacy.
Consistent engagement became one of the major components of success. This was achieved in many ways. In addition to opening the sealed project envelopes online together each week, an emphasis was put on daily connection, using digital tools like Flipgrid and Google Chat for sharing jokes, art and ideas separate from the specific project.
Students were encouraged to experiment, explore and create in their free time in whatever interested them most and report back with self-directed projects. This was an opportunity to see what interested each student most, and reinforce the ELA and Skill standards in the discussion and evaluation of each student’s work. The consistent engagement, paired with the flexibility to adapt the curriculum to address varying curiosities, concerns and interests made the pivot to a virtual afterschool program arguably more successful than originally envisioned.
What progress did they make to their goals?
The projects created by the students really speak to the progress made in this program. The confidence of the students shines throughout and the results were far reaching. From comedic YouTube videos to dance performances and tactile science experiments, all of the projects incorporated some form of digital media problem solving, verbal and written communication, which addressed the crucial ELA, 21st Century Skills and digital media literacy needs.
What challenges were experienced along the way and what are the ideas for improving the project?
The onset of COVID-19 changed the goal for creative outlets to a necessity and was the biggest challenge for the project. What was meant to be an engaging in person experience now had to be redesigned to an accessible virtual setting that still allowed for meaningful connections for students who were already spending the day learning online. A lot of inventiveness went into pivoting this project to be something joyful for the students to look forward to during what ended up being a very difficult year for them in so many ways.
How has Where the Light Travels affected the learning of students and/or teachers?
Based on feedback from the students, parents, tutors and partners of the San Diego Refugee Tutoring Program, the effect on students was solidly positive. Engagement was achieved, as well as a returning student base. The students were truly able to nurture and develop their identity using their own passions and hobbies to explore interests and curiosities using the iPads and craft kits.
Exciting plans for the Future
As the project entered its second year, still virtual, the number of participating students doubled and included all previous students from the first year. Whether the program continues online, in person, or possibly even as a hybrid, the plans for the future include continuing with the student-led curriculum, utilizing techniques to stay highly adaptable, focus on mixed media projects, introducing advanced photographic processes, and keeping the asynchronous work and connections between classes.
Learn more about supporting digital literacy for learners who are refugees: