Researchers investigated how an after-school programme in Quebec is revolutionising learning for at-risk youth by using social media as a teaching tool, rather than a classroom annoyance.
They engaged with students and educators at Maison Kekpart, a Montreal-area community centre for at-risk youth.
The centre offers a unique programme known as La Releve, which provides professional work experience for young people facing academic challenges.
Students ranging in age from 13 to 17 participated in an internship in multimedia production, led not by traditional teachers, but by artists who themselves are active in those areas.
The goal was to help kids become more engaged in their formal schooling by giving them the tools to use social media to build the professional, civic and social competencies that will guide them through their adult life, researchers said.
"Young people today use social media not only to stay connected with their real-world friends, but also to engage in self-expression and identity formation," said Martin Lalonde, who is currently pursuing his PhD in art education at Concordia University.
"La Releve taps into that natural, social impulse and uses it to show participants that they can use those outlets to build professional skills," said Lalonde.
Students work directly with artist-educators on projects related to sound design, digital imaging and video production, using tools like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube not only to express themselves, but also to develop professional multimedia skills.
They work on projects related to selfies, mashups and memes - social media phenomena that are already part of their day-to-day lives - to bolster their technical skills and learn how to make professional calibre productions.
"This is more than an internship; it's an opportunity for at-risk youth to see the inherent value of education," said Juan Carlos Castro, Lalonde's supervisor and an assistant professor of art education.
"Through La Releve, they learn skills that can help them express themselves more clearly, as well as land a job. At the same time, they start to actively understand that education can be useful to them, and that it can directly apply to their lives. That's an attitude that they then take back to their regular school settings," Castro said.