Transitioning to Online Teaching (Part 2) – Content Updates

This is the second in a series of think-aloud posts on Transitioning to Online Teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Part 1 is here. The course I teach is called Adolescent and Youth Development for Youthworkers.

Overview of Content

I am planning to write an interactive, experiential book with my students this Fall 2020 semester. I will “lead author” the first 5 weeks of the semester, with a focus on “ways of seeing/understanding” adolescent and youth development. My hope is then that my students will “lead author” the remaining 10 weeks of the semester, much like writing chapters of an edited volume, on “Contemporary Issues in Youth Development.” This might be the “COVID-19 Edition” (we’ll see).

I will post the “chapters” as they come. Here I’ll just give a little overview of what I’m thinking.

The first 5 “chapters” will be experiential, online lesson plans focusing on ways of seeing and understanding the topic of adolescent and youth development. Rather than an academic “chapter”, I’ll seek to make these more interactive and involve some activities for storytelling, sharing group experiences/knowledge, and so forth. Here are the 5 opening “chapters”:

  • Ourselves as Youth – We either are or once were categorized as “youth” or “adolescent.” This is typically an experience of being manipulated or controlled by others because of our involvement in this category (a category we are entered into by others, usually because of our age). Occasionally, it can be an empowering experience. What is this category “youth”? What have been our experiences of being categorized in this way? What social effects does this category have on us? What political effects? What cultural effects?
  • “Adolescence” – Adolescence is a psychological framing given to young people (typically in their teenage years) that is age-based and understands them as “developing” along a psychological trajectory. Importantly, this framing typically differentiates between what a person is and is not capable of doing/thinking. What are psychological models of understanding youth? What do they offer us? How do they impact our ways of understanding youth or ourselves?
  • Politicized Youthood – The category of youth is regularly deployed by political actors to accomplish certain ends. The concept of the “moral panic” describes how young people are often blamed for perceived social ills, with government policies that follow to control them. The concept of “damage” – as in, this young person is a failure in X or Y way – is used by both well- and ill-intentioned folks to try to limit young people’s self-conception and the conception of adults about who youth are and what they can do. BIPOC and other minority youth are often seen as lacking in certain forms of “wealth” – whether financial, cultural, political, or social – but is that true? This “chapter” tries to understand the ways young people are seen politically – and the impacts of those ways of seeing them!
  • Youth and Identity – For some, youth is an identity! It is one way of defining who they are (in contrast to “kid” or “adult”). Youth is also intersectional with all sorts of other identities – race, sexuality, gender, ability, and… How do young people develop and think about their identities? How do these multiple, sometimes even competing, identities work in their everyday lives? How has exploring “identity” become such a integral part of the way we think about the adolescence and youth development?
  • Youth Development’s Relationship to Youth Work – Youth development is not youth work. Youth development is not youth work. Youth development is not youth work. No matter how many times we say it, chances are high we get the two confused. The two have been so intimately interwoven that they are often seen as synonymous! In this module we start to pull them apart. What are the most common kinds of relationships between youth development and youth work? How have those shown up for you as a young person (or as a youth worker)? How, given what we now know, should they be connected?

Alongside these first five “chapters”, there will also be content that isn’t part of the OER “book”, but is part of the class. This is mostly providing some infrastructure for the class and work. This will include:

  • Community building activities
  • Co-developing a rubric for giving peer and teacher feedback on “chapters” for the OER
  • Supporting students through an “issue convention” – deciding which issues they want to focus on and honing those issues into very specific ones.
  • Supporting students through researching their chosen issue.
  • Demonstrating a chapter of the OER
  • A how-to on a “Needs Statement” and other support to help students write a Needs Statement about their issue of choice
  • Some sort of yet-to-be-determined ongoing conversation to develop / share ideas about the issues being created/presented by the other groups.

There may also be a “conclusion” chapter the last week of class to draw everything together.

Student Issues

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of asking students to intersect their issues with racial justice or COVID-19. I think that’ll open the opportunity to continue this project into the future around other timely topics. I also think it’d be remiss of me as an instructor to pretend like there weren’t major things happening on both of these issues right now that affect youth development! I will likely use a modified version of a process I used with a youth-led group called YouthBank this summer to determine issues:

  • Have students bring an issue to synchronous class to share
  • Have students post over the first couple weeks some reading / watching they’ve been doing about that issue
  • Offer students the opportunity to start creating small groups around issues they are excited about (2-3 max, just so we can spread out over the semester)
  • Ask students to draft a brief description of the issue.
  • Workshop these brief descriptions with students to help them get really specific.
  • Students will develop these into a longer “Needs Statement” (that could be used to apply for grant funding) that states the issue specifically, who the issue affects and to what extent, the consequences of that issue, and a couple of promising strategies that are being used to address said issue in ways they are excited about.

Co-Creating the Content with Students

I had several experiences of co-creating rubrics with students this summer (again in YouthBank and another group) that worked super well! We asked students to brainstorm criteria they’d use, then created a template for them that they filled in with the details and their criteria. We used a shared Google Doc to do this and they created a really rich, robust, and thoughtful rubric. My hope is that we can collaboratively create an evaluation tool for our OERs that let us know when our OER is “publication ready”. So rather than assign them a number of points, it’ll either be a “not yet there” or “there!” kind of thing. More to come on this later…