Nurturing a generation of Digital ‘Ninjas’

Sarah Hoss, a qualified teacher and member of the National Union of Journalists, spent 9 years embedded in further education where she’s been innovating in the use of a digital skills to improve learner involvement and transform our young people into active citizens, participating fully in their education.

sarah hoss, TEDx SwanseaI’m on a mission to encourage young people to stop spending so much time on social media and put their energy and develop digital skills by sharing and collaborating on ideas and innovations to make things better – because that’s a win-win.

We have an opportunity to bring up a generation of digital ‘ninjas’ honing their skills to improve their education and eventually they will take more of an active part in their communities too. Digital, direct democracy works in many situations and fosters a culture of active citizenship, social entrepreneurship and dynamism. Learners learn best by doing and showing others – VocalEyes provides these experiences as they learn online etiquette and acquire the social and digital skills vital for today’s society and jobs market.

I believe learner engagement – how we successfully engage our learners to improve their learning and participation in school or college life – is the jewel in the crown that shines through attendance, attainment and completion rates.

Whenever I meet fellow-professionals the appetite for youth engagement is always apparent, but so is the frustration many experience trying to encourage young people to take part in an authentic way that doesn’t feel like a ‘tick box’ exercise involving a small number of learners mandated to take part and large numbers put in front of surveys.

Keen youngsters may shrug their shoulders and complain that they wanted to be a member of the school council but weren’t chosen and feel thwarted and rejected, or the ones that succeed say they feel overwhelmed with the task and end up just voicing their own concerns rather than representing the collective voice of the people they are trying to represent; I have yet to meet anyone who thrilled at the opportunity to fill in an online survey.

Suggestion boxes can become litter bins. One professional confided in me recently that a suggestion box she had erected asking for ‘green’ ideas had attracted just one suggestion in five years!

Running a Youth Parliament is a big job; Learner Voice officers express frustration that ‘nothing seems to change’ despite their best efforts in capturing learner-generated ideas. Even consultations based in community settings and aimed at adults often find themselves with 2 or 3 ordinary people turning up to participate.

Sounds familiar? There is a happy ending to this scenario being played up and down the corridors of schools and colleges. Forget Facebook, don’t tweet about Twitter, snap out of Snapchat.

The solution may lie in digital media – but rather than social think action:

An action network that encourages young people to come up with original good ideas for improving their experience and getting their needs met which allows the best ideas to be turned into action. If appropriate, ideas can be shared as best practice blogs across the sector.

VocalEyes can assist schools deliver on many of Prof Donaldson’s recommendations – the need to deliver general social competences, life skills and personal confidence and a growing skills focus – an emphasis on application and development of higher-order skills, particularly creativity (entrepreneurship) and digital literacy.

VocalEyes also assists in the delivery of the eight key competences identified by the EU encompassing citizenship, society, employment and personal effectiveness. VocalEyes develops active citizenship in its users, gives class reps and pupil councils a clear set of roles to carry out which sees good ideas turned into action and improvements made, where possible in a timely manner.

VocalEyes offers the decision-makers an opportunity to explain why such and such isn’t going to be possible, or that it will be considered and then learners can track its progress and also begin to understand that practicalities of turning their ideas into action. I’ve also worked with local schools using VocalEyes at a Digital Democracy event where pupils were encouraged to post up their own ideas and also rate and debate each other’s ideas.

Rod Francis the headmaster of Milford Haven Comprehensive School said:

“Listening to our young people is vitally important to progress the school and be able to respond promptly. We also want to encourage our young people to be polite and respectful in their dealings with each other whilst online. VocalEyes fosters a culture of respect for other people’s opinions and also assists the school’s senior leadership team to engage with our learners.

“I’m also keen to see this system adopted in secondary schools to deliver an efficient process for capturing the learner voice and encouraging young people to participate in democratic decision-making”.

If young people start to feel empowered by contributing ideas, voting for each other’s ideas and seeing some of those ideas turning into policy and action they will be the active citizens of the future that we are all working towards.

A successful trial in a small village school in rural Wales led to Pembrokeshire College testing the system, assisting in its development and peer-promoting it across the education network. I’ve seen VocalEyes successfully employed in conferences, course rep meetings and classroom sessions; it’s a private, discreet conversation that generates authentic data whilst protecting your organisation’s reputation. Interested in seeing what VocalEyes can do for your school? Please do get in touch.