Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Youth Design Jams 101: Building Your Toolkit

I’m very excited to announce a new series of posts that I will be writing:Youth Design Jams 101: Building Your Toolbox . For the past 5 months, the New Youth City Learning Network in conjunction with Mozilla, have been hosting design jams focusing on developing a youth maker/ hacker culture. In our jams, we have been focusing on user-testing the Hackasaurus tools, learning about our core audiences relationship with computing and developing fun, casual ways for teens to connect while getting messy with code. As a result, we have had many requests from Learning Network partners and generally awesome community members who want to host a similar jam in their local communities.

I will be creating a collection of tutorials and reference guides that will make the process of hosting a jam fairly simple. My hope is that as you read this, and embark on your own youth design jam adventure, that you will contribute tips and ideas that helped you to craft creative opportunities for youth engagement with technology in open design.

Today's Guide is a 10 Step Plan for Hosting a Youth Jam.

A successful jam takes some time to plan, but with a little elbow grease, your event could rock. At least a month prior to the jam you should have the venue identified, the date confirmed and the core planning team more or less in the works. At least two weeks prior to the jam you should have permission slips disseminated. This is particularly important if you plan on having teens engage in open design, where they are sharing their work on the web and documenting their process.

Invite youth and facilitators who have experience in the field and/or with kids and work with them in advance to develop a game plan or curriculum for the day of the jam. It's good to have some people with technical skills on hand to troubleshoot as well as act as a creative support system. Consider approaching local universities or tech organizations to act as on-site mentors. After the team is formed, assign tasks to all of the facilitators in the room. Documentation, Tech support, etc. Don't have anyone lingering- this needs to be established as an interactive/ collaborative YOUTH space.

Hacking for the sake of hacking, can be fun for some- but not everyone. This is an opportunity to think creatively about incorporating technology into the work that you already do. Is there a project already underway in your organization or neighborhood that you want to build enthusiasm or crowd-source data or content for? Remember, the technology or media should not be the theme of the jam, just a strategy for implementation. Some past jams have included: Hacking Citizen Science, Social Hacktivism and Entrepreneurship 101

The goal of every jam is to make something. Set expectations for outcomes so that both the youth and facilitators know the expectations coming into the jam. Reinforce this with publicity efforts and messaging happening around the event.

Working with your team of Superheros and H.I.T's (Hacker's in Training) - plan out the lesson or event plan. A jam is not a class, it is SUPPOSED to informal and playful. However, this kind of environment still needs to be structured- particularly when you are a) working with new technologies and b) planning for youth under the age of 18. Many of the event plans allow for some dedicated instruction combined with experimentation time. Check out and build off some existing curriculum or upload your own and get feedback from the Hackasaurus community of educators, techies and geeks.
Define space in the venue that you will be hosting the jam. Break up the space as much as possible. We don't want this to look like a classroom. Move chairs into a circle. Set up a projector connected to a laptop that everyone can have easy access to share their work. Make sure that laptops have Firefox 4, Safari, Chrome or IE9 installed. And if they are using Hackasaurus tools, have those tools up and running in advance.
Make every attempt humanly possible to define the jam space as interactive. Start out with some thematic ice-breakers to get people talking and defining their identities within the crowd. Go around have people say names and a noise explaining how they feel- something silly. Make a Human Hack Spectrogram: put stickies with positive and negative signs at either side of the room and then a neutral sticky in middle. Tell participants they should move about freely and feel that they can change their mind as people give responses. Some intentionally controversial statements could include:

  • I think i understand how the internet works
  • I think of hacking as a positive word
  • I think of hacking as something I want to do

Explain ground rules for the space: 1. Respect- we define respect in this space- dont talk when other people are talking and honor the fact that people have different opinions 2.Inclusion- collaborating can be fun and creative, let's figure out how. Finally, throw in a curveball-if they have a question or there is a word that they don't know - tell them that they should interrupt that person.

Don't hold back! As soon as possible, start hacking away. Bust a hack- on the big projector with participants. Let participants start hacking away. Participants don't want to hear what cool things they can do, they want to get dirty and figure it out themselves- let them.

Let teens work together in teams, and throughout the jam encourage them to take on specific roles on their project (i.e., visual designer, coder, project manager, documentarian).Have the youth present what they did, encouraging conversation about process and techniques! Everyone should share something useful that they learned- only one sentence to answer and if there is someone who said something interesting, shout it out and let them know that you agree. Embed a light weight de-brief into the sharing out of useful things.

As soon as your jam is over, upload your pictures to a public repository like Flickr. Direct participants to resources so that they can continue making, hacking, building and connecting to peers who they met at the jam. Leverage social media whenever possible. Encourage teens to post their work to virtual spaces that they already populate, whether that be deviantart or facebook!

That's it! Now, with just a bit of elbow grease, you have the tools you need to getting started preparing for your jam. Please post your ideas, tips and suggestions in the comments field!