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Digital youth work: youth workers' balancing act between digital innovation and digital literacy insecurity

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Alicja Pawluczuk, Hazel Hall, Gemma Webster and Colin Smith
(Edinburgh Napier University)
Purpose: The aim of this paper is to present empirical research which examines the ways youth workers in the United Kingdom perceive their work in the context of digital literacy project facilitation. There is currently limited research focusing on digital youth workers’ perspectives on opportunities and challenges affecting their interactions with and perceptions of young people’s digital literacy. Thus, this study aims to: (1) contribute to the scholarly discussion on digital youth work and digital youth literacy (2) elicit and analyse youth workers’ perceptions of the opportunities and challenges of youth digital literacy project facilitation
Method: Twenty interviews with digital youth workers in the United Kingdom were conducted in 2017. The interviews were based on themes drawn from a literature review that explored the areas of digital literacy, youth information behaviours in the digital age, digital youth work, and digital youth participation.
Analysis: Research data analysis was guided by a grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006) methodological approach and conducted using NVivo 10 software. Results show a clear alignment with the existing literature in the areas of youth digital literacy and digital youth work. The analysis presented here focuses on two emerging themes: (1) Digital technologies in youth work: youth workers’ hopes and fears; (2) Digital literacy in youth work: youth worker’s perspectives on the digital skills gap between young people and adult youth work facilitators.
Conclusion: The results of this study reveal that youth workers are both excited and sceptical about the digital development in the field. There is an existing anxiety associated with the lack of digital literacy skills in the youth work sector. Thus, it is argued here that further research and practical digital training initiatives should be undertaken to examine youth worker’s digital literacy skills.

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Digital youth work: youth workers' balancing act between digital innovation and digital literacy insecurity

  1. 1. Digital youth work: youth worker’s balancing act between the digital innovation and digital literacy insecuritiesPawluczuk A., Webster, G., Smith., C & Hall, H. (2018)
  2. 2. viewed as a professional practice with young people based on certain core values and principles requiring the establishment of voluntary relationships with young people. (Sapin, 2013) Youth Work
  3. 3. Young people are increasingly engaging with new technologies and digital media. There is clearly a role for online youth work practice, in terms of exploiting a new space for youth work in a meaningful way, supporting digital literacy and enabling young people to deal with some of the associated risks. (Declaration of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention, Brussels, April 2015)
  4. 4. Digital youth work is an emerging term to describe the area of youth work that uses digital media and new technology to enhance outcome focused youth development. (Screenagers, 2017) @alicjapawluczuk
  5. 5. The Youth Work Outcomes Model (Youth Link Scotland, 2016) confident, resilient and optimistic for the future manage personal, social and formal relationships create, describe and apply their learning and skills participate safely and effectively in groups participate safely and effectively in groups express their voice and demonstrate social commitment consider risk, make reasoned decisions and take control broaden their perspectives through new experiences and thinking @alicjapawluczuk
  6. 6. • digital youth work outside school or traditional teaching environments are liberated from ‘the oppression of learning in the formal settings’ (Black et al., 2015, p. 4) • young people can influence “health and growth of civic collective, jointly produced stories, and real world social change” (Ito et al., 2013:48) • urge against ‘romanticizing’ the empowering potential of youth digital culture (Buckingham, 2008) • issues such as online privacy, peer- pressure, and self-representation have been examined (Aiken, 2016) • cyberbullying and sexting o (Bentley et al., 2016) VS. BRIDGES WALLS Youth work in the digital times? @alicjapawluczuk
  7. 7. There is limited research focusing on digital youth workers’ perspectives The aims of this paper: (1) contribute to the scholarly discussion on youth digital literacy and digital youth work (2) elicit and analyse youth workers’ perceptions of the opportunities and challenges of facilitating digital literacy and digital youth work projects @alicjapawluczuk
  8. 8. Grounded Theory (Charmez, 2006) Thematic Analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006)
  9. 9. Data Analysis: Themes Digital youth work practice: hopes and fears Digital literacy in youth work: learning
  10. 10. Digital technologies in youth work: youth workers’ hopes enable creation of innovative types of youth work practice provide more collaborative and inclusive alternatives to information exchange and information creation easier to ‘keep in touch’ challenge the traditional, top-down information sharing digital technologies instead provides more collaborative and inclusive alternatives enable youth information creation practice I just remember years back, and you just couldn’t do that stuff. I mean it’s hard work because you’d have to say as a team 'right, I’m going to spend the next three days phoning all of these people'. Sometimes knocking on doors. Jo @alicjapawluczuk
  11. 11. ‘we love the digital stuff, but….’
  12. 12. Digital technologies in youth work: youth workers’ fears online-offline balance face-to-face contact still crucial in youth work messages can be misconstrued or misread ‘And what happens is the technology takes over, it becomes an obsession and then you forget about the content, you forget about the subject matter (…).’ Alison @alicjapawluczuk lack of human contact ‘I modify what I say’
  13. 13. Digital literacy in youth work: learning Information exchange democratic process collaborative learning @alicjapawluczuk young people in charge knowledge co- creation an additional barrier lack of guidance and information Impossible to keep up to date digital literacy insecurity
  14. 14. Every time I go to a different conference, it seems to be that they’re using a different [digital] participatory engagement tool every time. (Jamie)
  15. 15. 1.Youth workers’ polarised views on the impact of digital technologies of youth work; 2. The digital divide in digital youth work: youth workers examining the invisible wall. Discussion  2 narratives: @alicjapawluczuk
  16. 16. There is an existing conflict in how youth workers discuss the notion of digital youth work, and how they really feel about it. @alicjapawluczuk
  17. 17. 1.Youth workers’ polarised view: ‘we love the digital stuff, but…’ @alicjapawluczuk
  18. 18. • miscommunication and technological addiction (Aikien, 2016) • question the empowering effect of digital media on young people (Buccieri and Molleson, 2015; Herring, 2008) • people's ‘illusionary freedom and autonomy’ online (Herring, 2008, p. 73) • The sense of ‘hyper-celebration of self’ (Aikien, 2016, p.176) • young project participants with opportunities to enhance their information creating and sharing processes (Black et al., 2015; Buckingham, 2008; Erstad, 2012; Livingstone et al., 2012), • creative expression and empowerment (Black et al., 2015) • collaborative experiential learning environment, and a ‘space for self-making’ for young people (Livingstone and Sefton- Green, 2016, p. 22) • to challenge the traditional social hierarchies, promote equality (Tuominen, 2016 @alicjapawluczuk
  19. 19. 2. Digital tech as the invisible wall – is youth culture now more mystified? @alicjapawluczuk
  20. 20. Youth work as a fast-changing practice of ‘continuous analysis, choice, judgment decision making’ (Batsleer and Davies, 2010) Limited information available to the youth workers in terms of digital youth policies and online safety (Wilson and Grant, 2017) Digital content can be misread or misconstrued, leading on to confusion and misunderstanding in the information exchange ( filter bubble (ISIC2018) and social media echo-chambers (Garret, 2009)
  21. 21. practical digital training and digital youth policies in the youth work sector in the United Kingdom (European Commission, 2018; Wilson and Grant, 2017). additional digital literacy support should be provided to youth organisations *if youth work fails to embrace the use of technology and social media there is a risk of becoming outdated and irrelevant to young people who use youth work services (Harvey, 2016, p. 13).
  22. 22. @alicjapawluczuk www.alicjapawluczuk.com

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