Media Power Youth

Below are excerpts from this grantee’s quarterly reports.

Year 2, Quarter 3

Briefly restate the specific aims or objectives associated with this project

Media Power Youth’s objective in Year 2 is to increase student engagement and enhance dissemination of its Screenshots curriculum by developing a more flexible delivery mechanism – a project-based learning module. MPY will incorporate youth voices directly into the curriculum development process by creating a virtual design team of high school students. These youth leader swill explore how social media habits shape the cultural communication norms of their peer groups and internal thinking patterns in ways that impact well-being. They will also help develop learning activities for teaching other students about these topics. Together with our research partner, Center on Media and Child Health, we will evaluate the design process and an initial pilot of the resulting project-based learning module to assess the tool’s ability to shape student beliefs and the feasibility of its implementation across a diversity of middle school settings.

Summarize what was accomplished with regard to these aims in the present quarter.

Our Youth Design Team hosted a virtual community presentation on their project-based learning module titled Digital EQ and Mental Health. The team introduced a project task, lesson examples, and content recommendations.These elements were crafted around one challenge question: How can middle school students recognize and build empathy in digital spaces to better communicate with each other? Future middle school students will explore this question as well as how the quality of their social interactions contribute to mental health through a series of class discussions, written reflections, and the completion of a media creation project.

In order to gauge the experience of Youth Design Team participants and obtain their opinions on the program, all team members participated in a real-time online focus group following their presentation. Students reported appreciating how the program made them feel part of a team and that they enjoyed the challenge of designing educational tools for younger students. When asked about the advice that they would give to 7th graders regarding social media, these teen leaders stressed taking breaks from social media, being self-confident, and understanding that their self-worth was not linked to online metrics.

As participants reflected on how being a part of the Youth Design Team impacted their own media use, the themes of increased awareness, more mindful use, and a better understanding of how social media is designed emerged with one student exclaiming “Oh my goodness, I’m using [social media] so much more positively!” These conversations revealed deep engagement in the topic of social media and mental health and demonstrate how enlisting young people in the creation of a related curriculum is likely to have positive impacts on their own critical thinking and media-use behaviors.

Based on the core components and recommendations of the Youth Design Team, we built out a robust learning module including 7 lessons, teacher’s guide, and instructional supports (Google slides, trivia games, video clips, etc.). The curriculum has been designed for both in-person and digital environments and features an online collaboration tool, Book Creator. Beginning in the middle of March, the new program will be piloted in four middle schools in partnership with a leadership class for at-risk students. Participating schools are using a hybrid model due to the pandemic where some students are attending some classes in person and some remotely. A formative evaluation is being implemented alongside the program with students completing pre- and post-curriculum questionnaires where they report on their experience with the classes and we evaluate changes in their beliefs and knowledge regarding social media and mental health. Educators will also provide ongoing fidelity reports in order to document their experiences implementing the module.We anticipate completing the pilot by early May and look forward to reviewing the feedback from both students and educators.

Year 2, Quarter 2

Summarize what was accomplished with regard to these aims in the present quarter.

Media Power Youth in collaboration with the STEM Discovery Lab at UNH Manchester recruited and onboarded nine student leaders to form its virtual Youth Design Team. This team has been meeting online weekly since mid-October. We incorporated the model of “lightning talks” based on our experience at the TAM colloquiums and recruited experts to share their knowledge on one unique aspect of digital spaces each week from “connected fitness” to “social media as an ecosystem”.

Students are now leveraging these educational experiences and their own research to create a project-based learning module. They identified empathy skills and the ability to recognize the emotional track underlying online conversations as critical competences for middle school youth. A Slack channel was created to facilitate communication in between virtual work meetings. Students had the opportunity to take on a project management role (e.g. Creative Director or Human Resource Manager) in addition to making individual contributions toward curriculum content.

The most challenging part of this phase of the project has been creating the scaffolding for each session such that students had the knowledge foundation to actively participate in discussions of media and mental health and the skills to translate their ideas into a curriculum structure. We made the choice to invest early on in team building activities, leaving less time for building out curriculum components. Our next steps will be to optimize and further build out these lessons based on the guidance provided by our student team and assess these tools with middle school students.

Year 2, Quarter 1 Update

Summarize what was accomplished with regard to these aims in the present quarter.

Media Power Youth is collaborating with the STEM Discovery Lab at UNH Manchester on designing a framework to guide the youth design team in its exploration of the intersection of social media and mental health. We have researched best practices for implementing project-based learning projects and have engaged curriculum and instruction experts in understanding ISTE and health learning standards. These standards shape the decision-making process on what and how information is delivered in classrooms. Shaping the experience of the module around these standards increases the potential for dissemination by helping classroom educators see how the content fits into their current teaching plans. We have also been curating resources to support youth participants in their discovery and design process. The principal guiding this work is the fundamental question: What do teens need to do and know in order to build a strong, safe, and supportive online network?

Media Power Youth is now recruiting youth leaders to participate in this program through social media and outreach to schools, youthorganizations, and community partners. We have developed an online application so students in remote learning or hybrid school settings can easily apply. We’re seeking student leaders who want to help others navigate the unique challenges that digital spaces create for young people and build authentic educational resources that reflect youth experience.

Quarter 4 Update

Briefly restate the specific aims or objectives associated with this project

The study objective is to evaluate the effectiveness of Media Power Youth’s in-school curriculum, Screenshots, in shaping students’ beliefs on media usage and the skills and behaviors that contribute to positive social experiences.

Tell us about your efforts to reach a range of audiences and maximize impact through dissemination and implementation.

Concurrently with our data analysis, we have conducted outreach to teachers as part of our COVID-19 response to support remote learning efforts. We created a new online Facebook group, MPY Teachers Collaborative, where K-12 teachers can share their experiences and challenges. We crafted and distributed new lessons through this forum that teachers can use in their digital classrooms, including a lesson that explores the impact of media on mental health and features the TAM film highlighting the youth advisory panel from the September 2019 colloquium. Now that we have established this new communication channel, we can utilize it to disseminate our findings, promote professional development trainings, and inform teachers of how to access the Screenshots curriculum.

We have also adapted our full-day, in-person Screenshots curriculum training to a shorter, online format and have piloted a couple of sessions with educators. We intend to offer more training this summer following the conclusion of the school year once educators have had a brief period to recharge from the stresses created by the abrupt transition to remote learning during the pandemic.

Quarter 3 Update

Tell us about key learnings you’ve uncovered over the course of your project, including advice you might give to investigators conducting similar work.

We learned considerable lessons in regards to the implementation of both the curriculum and the study.  We experienced firsthand the challenges of rolling out a curriculum linked to an empirical study across four middle schools.  Each school had its own approach to integrating the curriculum into their classes.  Such variety of implementation conflicted with our desire to maintain fidelity across the sites.  It was a valuable lesson in flexibility. Overall, we feel that the benefit of a real-world evaluation in multiple locations outweighed the cost of variability in the implementation.  For other investigators and curriculum designers interested in this area, we would recommend a curriculum design that reduces the burden on teachers as much as possible and an implementation strategy that includes developing school-level program champions as well as district-level support.  Having buy-in of the program among those who dictate and those who implement the curriculum is vital to a project’s success.

Quarter 2 Update

Briefly summarize (3-5 sentences) what was accomplished with regard to these aims in the present quarter.

The four middle schools participating in the study selected which 7th grade classes would receive the curriculum first and those who would receive the curriculum second. We developed a teacher planning tool to assist teachers in coordinating the evaluation, curriculum lesson plans, and the completion of the media creation project. We also arranged weekly check-ins with the middle school teachers to discuss progress and questions. Pre-assessments were completed by the selected students (348 completes) and the curriculum is now being taught to the first group of students. Early feedback from our regular one-on-one check-ins suggests students are finding the curriculum engaging and relevant.

Tell us about problems encountered, changes to your approach, and reasons behind these changes.

In the last 8 months, there have been a number of changes within the school district where the project is taking place. Some of these include a new superintendent, school board election, a redistricting initiative, school staff turnover, availability of new health-related curriculum options, and new thinking on the best way to implement social-emotional and interdisciplinary curricula, such as media literacy education.

We achieved agreement with the four participating middle schools to conduct the evaluation with a variety of classes that included health classes, study/enrichment blocks, and core classes (social studies, language arts, and math). Some students and teachers were not accustomed to engaging on the topics featured in the Screenshots curriculum in these types of environments so the pre-assessments and some of the early lessons took longer to complete than anticipated as it took some time to establish classroom behavioral norms.

We believe that these challenges reflect the types of dynamics we are likely to encounter in disseminating the curriculum. There is lots of innovation happening within individual middle schools as they seek to better meet the needs of the communities they serve and provide more social-emotional learning opportunities. This makes it difficult to maintain consistent conditions when conducting research across different schools. The experience we’ve gained in navigating these complexities early on in our project is going to greatly enhance our ability to disseminate this curriculum to a broad range of schools and enable us to provide better guidance to schools on implementing these types of initiatives within the constraints of school scheduling

Quarter 1 Update

What excites you about the funded project?

We are excited about being part of a national research community that is advancing our society’s understanding of how technology impacts mental wellness. This project will enable MPY to offer a wider assortment of evidence-based resources to families, teachers, and community-based organizations. David Bickham, our co-investigator, said: “It’s extremely fulfilling to be part of a project that moves my research from documenting the risks of technology to one that maximizes its potential. The Screenshots curriculum represents an opportunity to demonstrate that young people are not powerless against media-based forces and that school-based educational programs can enhance the beliefs and skills necessary to lead positive and healthy, online lives.”

Tell us more about your team!

Our team is a collaboration between a media literacy educational nonprofit organization, Media Power Youth, and an academic research center, Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Rona Zlokower (Principal Investigator): Rona is the founder of Media Power Youth and a passionate advocate for public health initiatives. She enjoys gardening, yoga, and soup making – now that fall has arrived in New Hampshire.

Heather Inyart (Executive Director, MPY): Heather leads Media Power Youth in its mission to provide media literacy education to children, parents, and youth-serving professionals. She enjoys hands-on, creative projects including knitting and painting where she can play with color and texture to make something new.

David Bickham (Co-Investigator, CMCH): David’s research examines the impact of media use on the health and well-being of adolescents. David’s favorite tech-free activity is playing strategy board games, such as Viticulture, Pandemic Legacy, and Wingspan.

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