News / Insights

Engaging Youth in a Digital World: A Pioneering Report on the Status of Digital Media Tools and Technologies Used in Chicago

  • Kaitlyn A. Ferris & Jeanne Century | Outlier Research & Evaluation, University of Chicago

Many in the out-of-school time (OST) community have worked to ensure that all youth have equitable access to OST programming; and in particular, programming that includes peer-to-peer learning, adult mentorship, and opportunities for youth to direct their own learning. Now, with the presence and growth of digital media tools and technologies (DMTT), OST programs are even better equipped to do so. DMTT helps OST programs not only foster a range of outcomes from creativity to technology skills, but they also enable youth to have their voices heard unlike ever before.

To better understand what DMTT use in OST programs looks like in Chicago, and whether there are equitable opportunities to access them, CLX engaged Outlier Research & Evaluation at UChicago STEM Education at the University of Chicago to conduct a DMTT “landscape study.” Because such a study had never been done before, Outlier designed the study to ensure it: 1) used clear language so others could understand the findings; 2) could be replicable so others wishing to take a “snapshot” of their DMTT landscape could do so; and 3) was representative of the wide range of OST programs and their participating populations across Chicago. This approach set the stage for future studies of DMTT in OST programs in Chicago, and in other cities in the US and beyond.

Using questionnaires, interviews, and site visits, Outlier documented the types of DMTT OST programs were using, the goals program leaders held for their participating youth and the strategies they used to accomplish those goals. For example, the most common goal identified was “youth development and leadership” followed closely by “21st-century skill learning” and “civic engagement,” whereas the most common strategies included “keeping the youth actively engaged,” “supporting youth collaboration,” and engaging youth in “creating and making.” Other findings included information about the race/ethnicity, gender, and neighborhoods of the youth attending each program as well as thoughtful advice from OST program practitioners to others wishing to bring DMTT to their OST programs.

While the report illustrates the promise of DMTT in OST programs, this work is far from done. We hope that this report will inspire others to explore what is happening in their own cities and identify ways to leverage the opportunities that DMTT provide. To see more findings, site stories, and practitioners’ advice, click here for the full report.