Edge Project Report: An Overview

In a recent post (re: Edge Project Report: Bringing Disruptive Innovation Into Museums) I introduced the concept of Edge Projects (“expanding the capacity of civic and cultural institutions to use digital media as innovative educational platforms that engage youth in learning and promote youth civic participation”) and provided a link to the new report (re: Global Kids’ Edge Projects Report). Below I will summarized from the report an overview of the work and, in an upcoming post, will feature a museum-based Edge Project.

Global Kids’ Edge Project ran over two years (2009-2011) through a series of seven short-term educational projects developed and implemented in partnership with a variety of national civic and cultural institutions that are exemplars within their communities of practice.

These demonstration projects were designed for these institutions to challenge themselves to incorporate one specific form of digital media into their ongoing youth programs and to do so in a way that built upon the organization’s existing strengths and interests. In addition, the program designs were geared towards addressing the specific needs of the organization and its constituencies while highlighting how the organization can serve as a leader offering a model from which others within their professional networks might learn.

While there is a wide range of new media practice within civic and cultural institutions, the Edge Project deliberately selected a common set of criteria for its programs which could distinguish it from other initiatives and contextualize findings. The primary site of learning were not online but in person, facilitated by an adult within the institution. The programs were informed by youth development and youth media pedagogies. Finally, the program designs focused less on scale and breadth and more on innovation and depth with the understanding that developing good theory through iterative practice is just the first step towards scalable designs.

The following is a brief summary of the projects:

  • Two libraries partnered with each other and two local youth jails to support collaboration amongst incarcerated youth using social media tools (The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library & Jail North in North Carolina and the Madison Public Library & Dane County Jail in Madison, Wisconsin).
  • The New York Public Library offered a program at three sites that supported youth to address critical public issues through personal and collaborative social media projects while earning digital badges throughout the process.
  • The Field Museum in Chicago challenged the structure of their existing virtual world-based, paleontological-themed youth program.
  • The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ran a youth program in which youth combined video production and virtual world engagement to address a recent hate crime at the museum.
  • MOUSE in New York City prototyped a new blended learning environment to support youth to develop social-impact game design skills.
  • The Noguchi Museum in New York City explored for the first time how they could support their teen advisory board to use digital media to promote the museum.
  • The Museum For African Art, while awaiting the opening of their new space, used online tools to support youth to learn the history, culture and art of Nigeria.

Some of the projects hit their marks (“It was incredibly successful”) while others, frankly, failed to live up to initial hopes (“I’d say we barely met our original expectations”). All, however, offered valuable learning to the participating institutions regarding working on their edge points of digital media and learning.For example, The United States Holocaust Museum experienced “scope creep” within their project, in which the goals shifted over time and increased the workload for both youth and staff in ways previously unanticipated. “It quickly became apparent that the staff running the project, as well as the youth participating in it, were overwhelmed by their additional responsibilities.” This led to program design lessons that could be implemented in the future.

However, regarding their “edge point,” they also learned valuable lessons:

What really jumped out for me was that it was the first time we had encouraged youth to expand their role as ambassadors from face-to-face interactions into a more global interaction via social media. This really challenged us to think about the implications inherent in youth acting as ambassadors on a global stage mediated by technology that adds a touch of permanence to their voice. We were challenged to negotiate authenticity of student voice with the official voice and interests of the institution in a way that is not as prominent with onsite, live programs.

The staff at Museum for African Art learned lessons as well, about themselves. “Through this process I realized that I knew more about digital technologies that I thought and our learning curve was not as steep as anticipated.” Their edge was rather unique from the others within the project: as their new museum space was still in development, they had no space. They could not use their main assets to educate youth, their collections, but could instead learn how to use digital media to incorporate resources from the Internet and support youth to contribute their own:

The program was a pilot to develop and deliver a program to engage youth in the arts of Africa incorporating the use of digital media…. The program couldn’t have come at a better time for the Museum for African Art. Through the Edge Project, we were able to work with youth directly which is shaping both the design of [future] programs and the planning for the [new] space and [its] technical needs. Being able to work with the Global Kids staff with more familiarity with digital program and having access to the technology has helped us become familiar with how to utilize technology in our afterschool programs. We now have video pieces that we can adapt and share with the general public and funders.

At the end of the day, perhaps more than anything else, the participating institutions were most concerned about the educational impact of the youth in their programs. When we asked the New York Public Library what it meant for their youth to participate in an Edge Project, they responded with the following, referring to a Google Map project in which the youth documented global human rights abuses: “When the teens investigated genocide, one of them remarked “‘You hear about this, but now that I’m thinking about it and working on it, my mind is blown.”

Rather than explore all seven of the projects, or attempt to offer universal best practices, the report focused on three of the collaborations and investigate them using something called Worked Examples. In an upcoming post I will feature the following Worked Example:

Digital Media and Learning at The Noguchi Museum: Introducing 21st Century Technology into a 20th Century Space
This worked example asks an intriguing question about teen expectations for digital experiences within museum galleries, and in museum youth programs: can a museum designed for “unmediated” experiences with non-digital art such as sculpture and design support youth to produce digital media projects that embrace and further the museum’s values?

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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