Capstone Blog – Creating a Playlist for Youth

In this final constructionism class blog post (although surely not the final of blog posts on the topic), I will discuss my final make, a playlist for project LRNG. A playlist is a collection of experiences for youth to engage in that (ideally) connects their interests to college and career goals. The theory behind the playlist is largely drawn from the connected learning report discussed in an earlier blog post.

Why College Tours?

The playlist is called “Taking Back the College Tour” and it focuses on empowering youth to ask questions about their own future. It is an attempt to re-orient youth as the centers of the college search and in particular to prepare them to tour a college for the first time. It is surely a first draft and meant to be part of a larger series of playlists.

Why this topic? I was torn between the topic of college hunting and other ideas (in particular, something about food and Indian culture). For many families – especially for those who have assumed college in their future – parents can hijack the college-hunting endeavor. For other families, the whole process is very foreign. For still other youth, tours can be awkward interactions and it’s simply hard to know how to behave. On top of all this, few know the difference between, say, a liberal arts college and a research university. Not all of these concerns are addressed by this playlist, and perhaps one focused on food would be more fun and draw in more youth. Still, my playlist feels like a first step at filling a need that many youth will have.

I decided to focus this playlist on Rochester, NY area colleges for a number of reasons. First, Rochester is a new City of LRNG (where project LRNG is expanding). Secondly, I harbor a secret love for Rochester and would love to move there post-Ph.D (as I went to a Rochester-area college). Thirdly, narrowing the scope made the playlist more manageable, at least for the purposes of this project. In truth it would not be that hard to generalize or replace one or two specific XPs so as to make the playlist more universal. Finally, sticking with local colleges allows us to avoid the messy (and costly) work of designing and planning a college road trip – in many ways it is low-stakes. That said, there is a risk that sticking with local schools will carry negative stigma for some youth, may not attract youth who know they want to move far away from home, or will not be concrete enough for youth to imagine themselves living independently. Nonetheless, I feel a locally-oriented choice is most appropriate for this project.

What’s in it?

The playlist consists of 7 XPs, 1 optional XP, and 1 capstone XP (XP here means “experience”). I outline them here, and you can view the playlist here.  

 

  • What do people study in college?  – This XP was designed to give an overview of majors. I initially conceptualized it as a “what should I major in?” sort of question, but that felt both overbroad and premature. Instead, this is just to show learners the wide variety of what majors might be, if only to introduce the concept of a major.
  • Declaring independence. – This XP focuses on what happens when one moves away from home. Again, this could be a whole playlist in and of itself. But the proof takes the form of a tiny daily diary that will hopefully focus on the spirit of this XP.
  • Learning in Rochester – This XP helps youth see the larger landscape of colleges – many that they probably never knew about – close to their homes. Using Google Maps, it focuses on the physical location of schools relative to home.
  • (Optional) Role Models – This XP leverages youth’s friends and mentors to concretize the college-going process. In it, they interview such mentors about their college experiences.
  • Website Insights – This XP has youth navigate college websites. Navigating the web is probably not a foreign notion for most youth, but college websites are particular demons. Mixing the two should make for a productive experiences.
  • Questions for the Tour – This XP is super concrete. Youth are not guided to plan particular questions. Rather, they are guided to think through some topics about which they may not have thought to ask. This leaves the actual question writing to them, open to people’s various learning approaches and not complicated by an artificial task.
  • Connecting with Campuses – This XP uses many youths’ natural comfort with social media to help them think through how they might use that comfort to their advantage in chatting with campuses.
  • Taking the Tour! – This XP, which was originally the capstone, is of course the crux of this playlist. Part of what makes it so appropriate is that, being Rochester-themed, it should not be too difficult for every learner to find and arrange a tour. If playtesting reveals this to be too problematic – it will be easy to tweak or add the other XPs to better scaffold this one.
  • Capstone XP – The Tourists Becomes the Tour Guide – This XP was not in my first draft of the playlists, but it seemed vital to have learners reflect on their experience and prepare for the next one. In it, learners put themselves in the position of a tour guide to make sense of their experiences. If through playtesting this starts to feel excessive, the activity may be folded into the proof of actually taking the tour (I confess even as I write this that such a change feels more natural).

 

The Design Process

In some ways, the bulk of the design work was done in the process of choosing a playlist topic. After brainstorming a lot of topics I narrowed it down to a few ones, To make the final decision, I had to, essentially, map out a handful of XPs and a trajectory for each potential playlist. The one I ultimately chose came together most naturally.

There was difficult work to be done in deciding the scope of the playlist. I immediately felt that the restrictions outlined above, and conceptualizing it as the first of many playlists in sequence, would help make the whole thing more manageable.

Then, it was a matter of choosing XPs. I began by thinking about “what should I study?” and “how should I live?” – but these are so broad as to be whole playlists by themselves. I recast them as the more exploratory XPs seen above.

Providing “proofs” for each XP was also challenging. The natural thing to do is to ask for a few sentences of reflection. But we also want to connect to natural practices while modeling how one might document experiences. To this end, I tried to make more interesting variants of the proof that are seen in the final project. For some, though, the proof still remains a relatively bizarre piece that might not be the most natural consequences of the XP. For others, the proof *is* the XP – I let the proof do the work of clarifying how the experience was meant to unfold and what constituted a productive XP. This is true, for example, in the diary entry.

Getting a little bit of feedback from peers was useful for clarifying the scope and getting a few new ideas. For example, it was largely from this discussion that the reflection component (the new capstone XP) was added.

Just adding some quick pictures and a little rewording hopefully made things a little more friendly. But I am the first to admit that I have not worked much with youth in this age range and so am not perhaps the best choice for the branding component. I do think the underlying accessibility is there, though.

Underlying Theories of Constructionism

Throughout this semester, I have explored a wide variety of theoretical orientations that are affiliated with constructionism, including tinkering, making, connected learning, syntonic learning, and passion/interest-driven learning. Rather than re-hash the theoretical subtleties, I zoom out to re-orient to a core constructionist principle of concretizing learner.

One of my biggest take-aways this semester is that learning unfolds most fortuitously when learners can concretize their process and knowledge. Many designers have taken this to mean that things must be “dumbed down” or that all useful learning activties must involve the physical movement of the hands. To the first point I say that powerful ideas lose their utility as flexible and fruitful when they are stripped of their richness, and to the second I recall Wilensky’s claim that concreteness is not a property of an object but rather a property of one’s relationship with an object/idea/etc.

With these theories of concreteness in mind, the playlist feels somewhat – but not entirely – concrete. Learners may begin with their personal daily routines (Independence XP), interests (Majors XP), and local environments (Rochester XP). And, as I said, a certain amount of “lift” is done by the proof, which affords connections to existing social media accounts (e.g., campus connection XP, in which learners are asked to connect with a campus on some social media account) or existing practices (e.g., photographs and selfies, in the Take a Tour XP). But I feel there remains the crucial piece of connecting more explicitly to youth’s interests. Is this really the second playlist of many, with the first being an even broader understanding of how one even conceptualizes colleges and the general format for evaluating them (i.e., look things up, go on tour, etc.)? And how many youth are intrinsically interested in this notion of college, especially when put side-by-side with some of my classmates’ playlists which deal with more immediately interesting topics. These will have to be challenges for future iterations of this work.

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