Innovation in Education - Learning by Stealth  #47 #cong17

By Pam O’Brien.

For the past four and a half years, I have been a mentor with the Youth Media Team.  The Youth Media Team (YMT) is a group of teenagers who attend and report on various events and conferences. They first came together in May 2013 to add a young student voice to the annual ICT in Education conference. Since then, collectively and individually, the ‘red shirts’ have brought their unique blend of interviewing, blogging and tweeting to a number of events up and down the country. It always strikes me after I spend time with the team at these events at how engaged, enthusiastic and professional these teenagers are.  For the most part the events we cover are weekend events and, as most of the team are Tipperary based, we invariably spend our early Saturday mornings in the car on the N7 getting to the events and our Saturday evenings making the return journey (often with a pit stop at Junction 14 to refuel ).  I often wonder what convinces these teens to give up their Saturday (and most importantly their Saturday morning lie in ) to come to an educational event and work hard to report on the event.

At a workshop at the end of the summer my co-mentor, Bernie Goldbach, and I tried to tease out with them what brings them back time and again, and some of the things they mentioned were that it was fun, interesting, educational, hard work and enjoyable among other things.  It was when we got to the ‘other things’, that we began to get to the heart of the matter.  They talked about how:

  • they were learning life skills
  • it was ‘not like school’
  • there was no homework
  • they were using technology rather than just hearing about it

One of the things that didn’t come out of our chat, but which I feel is important, is how important it is that our young people feel that they have a voice and that we are listening.

There is an implicit trust in what we do with the team.  It is what I refer to as ‘light touch’ mentoring.  We would typically have 2 mentors for a team of 6-8 teenagers.  The job of the mentors is to guide rather than dictate and to ensure that the team are comfortable to undertake the research, interviews and write up that is the expectation when they cover an event.

We publish our interviews without post processing.  When the lads finish their interviews they are published and online within seconds. When we go to an event we typically rock up at 8.30ish and leave at 5ish and whatever we get done in between is what we get done. So in our case the ‘assessment’ is you like is what they publish for others to see.  These teens are adaptable, creative, innovative, enthusiastic and so much more!

Watching the team as they work together and train newcomers is a joy.  Seeing the newbies, as they timidly undertake research, interviews and the writing of blog posts under the tutelage of their fellow team members at their first event, grow in confidence as they come back for future events is a joy to behold.  The learning is by stealth – they don’t see it as learning, possibly because it is informal, but there is very real learning happening.

As a lecturer at 3rd level I completely accept that the YMT model is completely different from the formal education structures and more importantly is not subject to the same assessment pressures … but maybe there’s something to learn from the YMT learning model.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie