New Learning OpenTogether The Deep WIth

Transitioning to Teaching Online – Contemporary Issues in Youth Development, OER Project

This is another post in my series on developing my Adolescent and Youth Development for Youthworkers class as an online course for this fall. The series begins with Part 1.

The last 6 posts about this teaching transition have been about course content. They are:

So, finally, the first 5 chapters of my OER textbook are complete! Or… at least, drafted! I still have quite a bit of work to do adding references and maybe a bit more content in places, but so far, I’ve got a solid outline. I will keep making modifications as I go to start getting things set up in Canvas. So now, the rest of the OER textbook – the project!

Assignment Description

This summer some incredible students in our Masters Social Work program created a police abolition teach-in in response to the murder of George Floyd. Their use of technology to teach us about this subject was inspiring to me. I learned a lot about police abolition, was deeply engaged for 90 minutes, and left feeling like I had some action steps. The more I thought about it, the more this struck me as a model for organizing our class together.

There are an infinite number of issues we could consider in youth development, especially when we start combining topics together. For instance, an issue that’s come up for me this summer is doing participatory, democratic youth work in an online-only context. Another person might be interested in police abolition organizing in black communities because they’ve been involved in organizing work this summer. Yet another person may, because of their own background or that of a friend, be interested in the ways queer youth on the autism spectrum participate in and experience youth programs.

I’m moving forward on the theory that the stuff that YOU are most interested in is also the stuff the rest of us are likely to find most interesting! In the first 5 weeks of class, I will work hard to demonstrate a diverse set of approaches to online learning that create engaging, thought-provoking workshops around a topic in youth development. While your topics may range far and wide and will likely be more specific, in the first 5 weeks I hope to give you an overview of some of the frameworks and models we (Youth Studies) use to understand the idea of “youth development.” My hope is that we’ll apply these to your own issues in youth development.

During the first few weeks of class, while we work through the content I’ve created, you’ll start exploring issues in youth development that are most interesting to you and start doing some research on those issues. Your goal is to become something of an expert – able to guide us through a workshop that teaches us all about the issue you chose! Your workshop should be well-designed, engaging, clear, and based in good research on the issue. We’ll spend the rest of class (until close to the end) running teach-ins for each other about the issues you chose! Along the way, we’ll have a few related assignments to help you prepare (and I hope you’ll work closely with me too).

Here’s where things get exciting though (at least for me). Rather than make this just a school exercise – you know, the ones where you write a paper for me, I grade it, and then you throw it away? – I want us to create something that’s potentially useful for other people. Because here’s the deal: the field of youth work is small! There aren’t very many researchers out there writing about it, and there are very, very few practitioners who write about it! That means that, when I’m working with the queer and autistic young person, even if I’m an experienced professional, I won’t have much specific knowledge. That means that, by the time you run your workshop in our class, you may be the world’s foremost expert on this topic! Which also means that we should share this knowledge with the world. So our class this semester is a shot at creating the world’s first, and maybe some day most comprehensive, digital guidebook on Contemporary Issues in Youth Development. I expect future semesters will continue to contribute new topics to the book – but you all will be the first!

In case that all just made you anxious – here’s the deal. My commitment is to work with you this semester until your workshop is brilliant. We can talk on Zoom, the phone, text, or email. We can do a test run together. And so on. This is all to say: I’m here to help you when you get stuck (and I do expect you might get stuck).

Step 1: Weeks 1 & 2

Start to explore issues you care about in youth development. Chances are good you’ve probably already got a few in mind. Perhaps they are related to an organization you work with. Maybe they come out of your personal experience. They might have come from a recent class. You might start broadly – choose something like “hunger” or “racism” or “disability” or “genius” or … you name it.

Issue Exploration Journal: Start a Google Drive Document that you can share with me. It should be informal. Copy and paste things into it, write little notes or comments. Keep track of the searching that you do. The purpose of this is to help you explore this issue. And if you are wanting help, it will aid me in knowing where we should start!

Jamboard: After a few days of thinking, we’ll collectively post issues in a Jamboard so we can see them. What issues do you care about? List them, 1 per sticky note, on the Jamboard. Are there some that are related to each other (or the same)? Start overlapping them or connecting them. Do you see new or related issues that you want to incorporate into your project? Great -that was the point!

Searching: Once you’ve got a general category or two, you can start to narrow it down. Let’s say you chose “hunger” as a topic. Maybe do some Google searches around the term:

Start to read a few things that come up. Use them to add a few links and thoughts to your Issue Exploration Journal. What articles caught your eye? Why? What did they teach you? Did they help narrow your topic?

Week 3: Getting specific about an issue

Give your Issue Exploration Journal a quick read. Our task now is to narrow ourselves down to a much more specific topic. To draw from our examples above, great topics might sound something like:

  • Addressing racism with young people of color through community organizing.
  • Supporting queer youth on the spectrum in after school programs: Common challenges and opportunities.
  • Conducting participatory, democratic youth work online.

Got an issue – great! Before you move on, check in with me and make sure we both feel you’ve got the issue you want to work on.

Week 3: Digging into the research

Now that you’ve got an issue, it’s time to start learning more! Pick up that Issue Exploration Journal again and start keeping track of what you read. Here’s some tips:

  • Don’t read everything about any 1 thing. I know this probably goes against what most other teachers have taught you, but at this stage it is better to cover a lot of ground than to get too absorbed in one particular article.
  • Do follow your interest. If something doesn’t speak to you, don’t read it. Your interest is a good guide.
  • Do keep track of what you read, whether or not you liked it.
  • Do start sorting what you read – make a table, give your reading some headings. You might resort it later. That’s okay – sorting is a way of starting to think through the ideas.

Let’s say I pick up the issue “Conducting participatory, democratic youth work online”. My first step might be a Google Search for that issue:

Don’t forget to look at the related searches at the bottom – they are often an excellent next step!

You may notice there’s a problem with these searches! It looks like they’ve got some great stuff on “participatory democratic youth work,” but they have literally nothing about the hardest part – online! That’s because very few people have tried it before. I already know a decent amount about “participatory democratic youth work,” and what I need to learn more about is the “online” part… So even though I need some references for the “participatory democratic youth work” part, I’m already deciding to focus most of my energy on the “online” part. So – what have people written a lot about related to this? Teaching online! So my next search might try to find stuff about that…

These articles are an OK place to start, but I need to get more specific. So how about this:

Sweet. Now we are getting somewhere, and that took me less than 5 minutes! I have some ideas about teaching online, which is somewhat relevant, but that isn’t exactly youth work. So what if I try “youth work online”?

Now we’re getting somewhere! My next step is to do some reading and take some notes. Here’s a brief example:

    Notes: try social media (TikTok, Instagram, Twitch or Discord) chats? Instagram seems full of opportunities (Instagram Live, quiz, etc.). Use games to engage.
    pointed me toward this video:
    Notes: virtual learning is not equitably accessible to all youth. there are strategies that can make it more accessible and these need to be considered. Adultism shows up in online learning. which platforms are accessible?

And my notes should continue in this fashion until I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to do this youth work thing online.

Now my job is to start sorting through the information. For example, I learned that some technologies are more accessible than others, and some ways of using technologies are more accessible than others. So I’m going to make a list of which technologies are more accessible and just cut the rest out. When I get down to that new list of technologies, are there one or two I learned more about from other sources? Maybe I’ll focus on those. Sort through everything you’ve found. You should be able to start organizing some categories. To continue this example:

  • Combating adultism and inviting young people to make decisions (using online technology to do it!)
  • Creating an accessible online learning space that centers youth voices
  • Using social media to create ongoing engagement with participants

Note that some of these categories came directly from some of my research. Others, I made up based on a few of the overlapping points of research I found. For example, I found resources on creating accessible online learning spaces, but I needed to add other research (not shown in this example) that demonstrates how to center youth voices.

Please note: this is a very practical issue, focused on “how-to” do things. Not everything will be quite this practical! Let’s take up an earlier example: “Supporting queer youth on the spectrum in after school programs: Common challenges and opportunities.” Here we might spend more time teaching our participants what it’s like to be a queer youth on the spectrum and might only focus a little bit on the “action steps”. Either one is OK.

Finally, chances are good I could still learn a little more about this topic. The best teacher might be a conversation with someone knowledgable. In my searching, I found the writing of Maha Bali, who has a lot to say about this topic. I also found her on Twitter, so I’m going to reach out to her and ask for an interview. I’ll take notes in my Issue Exploration Journal and I’ll use them as I fill in the missing pieces from my research.

Week 4: Creating a Rubric

We’ve spent the last few weeks using the “chapters” I created to learn about youth development. Hopefully this has given you a few ideas about the chapter you’ll create. Perhaps you liked something I did (I hope)? Perhaps you didn’t like another. Either way – and given all your other online learning experience – with a little consideration, you’ve probably got some good ideas about what would constitute an excellent workshop on a subject. So let’s create the rubric for the assignment together.

Jamboard: Create a list of criteria you think make for a good online workshop on a topic. This is a brainstorm, so put down as many sticky notes as possible, each with one idea on them. Once we’ve had a bit of time to brainstorm (divergent thinking), lets do some sorting – what’s similar or even the same (convergent thinking)? What’s similar enough that we can connect them together?

Google Drive Document: Now let’s take the criteria from the Jamboard and move them into this example rubric. Once we’ve copied the criteria over, in small groups, claim one of the criteria. Give us the details on what makes for a “Needs Work” project, an “Acceptable” project, and an “Outstanding” project.

Finally, review what the other groups created. Any areas of disagreement we should work out? Put those in the comments and let’s figure them out.

The purpose of this rubric is to guide the process of creating your “chapter” in our book. In this process, I hope you’ll work with me as an editor. Bounce ideas off me, work with me to help find clarity, and use my help to make revisions. My goal is for everyone to get to “Outstanding” for each of the criteria we’ve created. And I’ll happily keep working with you until we get there.

Week 4 – 6: Creation Weeks

During this time, you should create a full draft of your workshop. We will take Week 6 off entirely from regularly scheduled class to give you time to do so. I will be available to schedule meetings during this time to help support you in creating a strong draft of your workshop.

During Week 5, we’ll sort out who will present their workshop in what order. By the end of Week 6, everyone should have a complete and strong draft of their workshop. However, you can continue to edit up to the time you present your workshop to us!

Weeks 7 – 14: Workshops

Presentation: If you are presenting your workshop, your job is to be ready, present the workshop, and then receive feedback (and make changes accordingly).

Participating and Feedback: If you are participating in the workshop, your job is to be a great participant! Your secondary job is to write up some quality feedback for the workshop host to help them complete a final draft.

Needs Statement: A need statement is a clear description of a problem and provides facts and evidence to support action on this issue. This is a brief sub-assignment meant to help you think about how you might write a grant that responds to this issue. A description of how to write a Needs Statement and some examples are in this document.

Week 15: Workshop Publication

By Week 15, you should have incorporated any feedback given by me and your peers into a final draft of your workshop. Before the semester ends, we’ll publish it to the book! Of course, if you want to come back later and make changes, that’s great.


It is my hope that everyone will receive an excellent grade on this assignment, based on the rubric ya’ll create. My goal is to work alongside you to help your work be strong. However, in order for that to work, you’ll need to engage me!

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