This lesson provides insight into Digital Harbor Foundation’s philosophy behind designing this course and how it informs the delivery and learning methods involved in the course. One core goal is to recognize the importance and emphasis of active discovery and experimentation plays in building confidence.
In Spring 2019, DHF published a report about our approach to learning and program design. Mary Reisenwitz, DHF’s Special Projects Manager, wrote a thorough report about our organization’s core values and how they inform what we do.
Mary is the author of much of the content in this lesson. If you’re interested in reading the full brief that she wrote, head to this link: Building Staff Capacity through Peer Learning and Passion at the Digital Harbor Foundation
Officially, DHF’s mission is to foster learning, creativity, productivity, and community through education. Unofficially, our vision is to promote productive and sustainable adults in our community.
By being so broad in our goals, we have made it much more challenging to establish practices that universally foster this growth. Now we need to prepare youth for nearly any path they may be interested in rather than focusing on a single, predetermined, future.
As an organization, one of our core objectives is to help others learn how to learn. This is an important skill to develop, especially in the realm of technology. We looked to each other and members of our community to determine what this success looks like. We found that a passion for learning unites us and has extended into our adult lives. For many of us, we have switched careers or are doing something seemingly unrelated to our formal education. Our passion for learning helped us bridge those transitions.
At DHF, nobody presents themselves as a knowledge expert. Of course, we’ve all learned a lot about tools or processes through experience, but there’s always room to grow. This informs our course design.
Our courses, this one included, won’t necessarily include step-by-step directions for the activities or projects. This is intentional — we believe that it’s crucial to be able to use what we provide as a starting point for your own exploration. Especially when working with technology, learning how to use documentation or articles and video walkthroughs is a crucial skill.
Our content is designed to provide enough context for learning and to act as a resource guiding self-learning. For this reason, you may feel uncomfortable at first since the steps aren’t all included for many lessons. Think of this as an opportunity to practice problem-solving and as an opportunity to level-up your self-learning and research skills.
There will be times when you may want more steps or instructions for our activities and lessons. Our goal is neither to directly provide all of the answers nor turn you away. Instead, it’s our responsibility to make sure you’re on the right path toward a solution. We ensure that young people stay on track by pointing them toward potential resources. Naturally, this is a skill that relies on accumulated experience.
More often than not, answering a question means looking in one of three places: peers, educational resources, and the internet. Look around you and you’ll find that someone else has probably asked the same question. Maybe they’ve even answered it! This philosophy has taken form in our “Three Before Me” policy. When youth have a question about how to do something, staff inquire about the steps youth have taken to find an answer. If this measures less than three separate sources, staff direct youth towards another option.
We believe experience is the best teacher and that this is true for all learners at all levels. When our content developers start with a course as an idea, they begin by scouring the internet for resources relating to that subject. These research skills are key to getting started, but the real learning happens when anyone puts those ideas into practice. Whether it’s programming, electronics, or fabrication, our staff test concepts and techniques constantly. Before youth start projects that we’ve planned, course facilitators work through creating these projects themselves. Not only does this allow for the creation of sample projects for youth to see and work from, but it also ensures that our staff understand how our youth will develop skills and provide an opportunity for feedback.
We can’t count on everything to work the first time we teach it, so we’re constantly poised to pivot. Again, this is where we rely on experience, rather than expertise. This allows our program staff and content developers to come together, and quickly brainstorm ways to navigate challenges with content or facilitation.
You may experience this need to pivot while working through our content. We encourage you to feel free to do this and to adapt the content to your individual needs. With that said, we do recommend that you keep an eye on both the course’s core objectives as well as the lesson objectives. Several of the lessons are marked as Bonus Content. These often include additional resources where you should feel free to explore, discover, and try new things.
We believe strongly in youth and facilitators working side-by-side as learners engaged in pursuing new skills. In the same way that we speak and work with our youth as equals, we hold our staff to similar standards. While we are a highly collaborative and energetic group, we expect our staff to take charge of their learning too. This looks similar to how our youth develop: put all you’ve got into learning and practicing something on your own, knowing that there’s support if/when you need it.
Collaboration and co-learning is a core aspect of our courses and programs. One of the most effective ways to solidify new technology skills is to teach someone else. Often someone who has only recently learned a new skill is able to explain a concept in a more accessible way since the feelings of not understanding the skill are much more recent. We strongly encourage this atmosphere and love to see youth explaining concepts, especially to facilitators.
We’re often asked if an individual needs to be an expert to learn and teach our content. Do we potentially have more experience and information than the average person with tools and technology? Most likely. Does this make us experts? We don’t think so.
To say we’re experts feels more terminal than any of us are comfortable with. Deeply rooted in our organizational culture is the mantra always be learning. This means that at no point do any of us arrive at the destination of figuring anything out completely. Particularly when it comes to technology as the ground is constantly shifting underneath us.
Any success we’ve had has come because we are comfortable with this fluidity. We firmly believe that adopting this mindset may allow others to build staff capacity and community.
We hope you enjoy this course and that you use it as a chance to build your skills and explore some technology that may be completely new to you!