Youth-Led Research, the Internet, and Civic Engagement

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From pages 2-3: "...[M]y colleagues and I are constantly looking for ways to involve disadvantaged adolescents in creating sophisticated and valuable research that they can give away to the public. In our current project, college faculty and students will not conduct research alone. High school students--mostly not college-bound, all African Americans or new immigrants--will do most of the work. They will frame the research questions, collect the data in the field (using Palm Pilots to enter information), and make analytical maps for a public website. "This project is the latest in a series of informal experiments that have the goal of engaging youth in research of public value, using new information technology. Most recently, we worked with students at the same high school to create a deliberative website about the desegregation of their own schools. In that work, oral history rather than geography was the relevant academic discipline. Before that, we helped students to interview local residents and create public maps of community assets. Once we have completed the current mapping project, we will move on to new fields. "At this point, I cannot report that engaging youth in public-interest research generates powerful effects. Our own project has barely begun; besides, it is not well designed to measure effects on the students. (The class is small and self-selected; there is no control group.) In many other places, adolescents are engaged in original, sophisticated, community-based research. However, I cannot find any effort to assess these projects in a serious, controlled way. Nor are there any aggregate poll data that would help us to estimate the effects of research on adolescent researchers. "This, then, is a theoretical paper. For reasons described below, I believe that we should expect to see important benefits from engaging adolescents in the 'scholarly communications commons.' We should expect the participants to obtain civic skills and values as a result of creating public intellectual goods. They should also gain academic and technical skills and interest in attending college. They should develop an understanding of the digital commons and thereby enlarge the political constituency for policies that protect the commons. Meanwhile, communities should benefit from the materials generated by diverse new groups; and powerful research universities should benefit from new opportunities to collaborate with students in their vicinity. As a result, it should be possible to persuade universities to use some of their research resources for projects that would increase youth civic engagement."
children, community, information commons, universities, internet