Can Learning How to Blog Change Makeal’s Life?

| July 28, 2011 | 5 Comments
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How can learning to blog make a lasting impact on a 12-year-old boy living in a rough, East Oakland neighborhood?

In the second installment of MindShift’s My Education series, which examines whether technology in learning can have a lasting impact on low-income kids through the perspective of one child, the question focuses on Makeal Surrell, a sweet-natured kid who lives with his two sisters and his aunt/guardian a few blocks from Elmhurst Community Prep (ECP) middle school.

Last year, Makeal missed more than 20 days of school, partly due to being sick from asthma. But since he started an after-school blogging apprenticeship with Google, through the Citizen Schools enrichment program, his absences have declined. During the spring semester, Makeal and his classmates were bussed once a week to the Google offices in San Francisco, where they were taught by Google employees all about blogging. By the end of the semester, Makeal had published his own blog about his favorite subject: skateboarding.

Or at least a little about skateboarding. During the spring semester, Makeal published eight posts consisting of mostly videos, photos, and a couple of short written entries. And though he started with three skateboarding-related posts, he moved onto other subjects that interested him: movie reviews and rap videos.

And that was the point — to get Makeal and his classmates a medium for their self-expression, as they learn technical skills like how to create a blog and upload content.

“The idea is to give them confidence as they move through school and potentially enter the workplace.”

“The educational environments … that have most impact will be the ones that create opportunities for kids to create digital media literacies that we all recognize as important and that have social implications, educational implications and civic implications, as well,” said S. Craig Watkins, author of The Young and the Digital in a recent interview. “So we have to equip kids with skills that help them not just to consume, but to become architects of their information environment.”

At ECP, Makeal and his classmates attend an after-school enrichment program.

And for low-income kids like Makeal, who are living under difficult circumstances by anyone’s standards, what might be considered a simple task like blogging can actually have an impact on what Watkins refers to as “their disposition towards learning and as learners.”

And the fact that Makeal was given free rein to choose the topic of his blog made the experience more meaningful. Digital media expert Mimi Ito puts it this way:

“[The freedom to choose] has the potential to ignite a transformative identity shift,” she said. “For kids who are alienated from mainstream structures of schooling, they don’t feel like they have choices in their own identity and trajectory, so for them to be trusted to choose and have an interest is important.”

Anna Wilson, a Google employee who was part of the after-school apprenticeship program and taught ECP kids how to blog, said she hopes the experience will help Makeal in the long run.

Makael, with his sister and his aunt, who's also his guardian.

“We wanted to show them that this was not just a viable revenue stream with a career — because what we do at Google is advertising, we monetize the Web — but also that it could be something very personal, that you only share with close friends and family, sort of like an online diary,” she said. “The idea is to give them confidence as they move through school and potentially enter the workplace.”

Makeal says he may not be returning to ECP next fall, depending on his family circumstances, and if so, may not enroll in another after-school enrichment program. But the hope is that his blogging experience will give him a sense of lasting confidence that will stay with him wherever he ends up.

[Video co-produced with Matthew Williams.]

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