Elizabeth Bandy
Oct 7, 2016 · 7 min read

by Elizabeth Bandy

What’s the role of public media in education and of public in public media? The intersection of these questions is at the heart of what we’re trying to do.

~Robin Mencher, KQED Executive Director, Education

What lies at the intersection of these two simple but powerful questions for KQED’s Education team? Youth participation.

As visions go, youth participation is great. It’s short, to the point and ties into the central goals of the digital media and learning field. But, what does it actually mean? Moreover, how exactly does one design products that foster it…and to what end? These are the questions KQED Education staff have been asking themselves and each other on the path to defining their new vision for public media education, as outlined in their Theory of Change.

In Part I, I described KQED Education’s radical shift away from a reactive group that repackages existing KQED content and toward a team that implements a proactive strategy for public media education. This strategy is informed by the needs of the education system, educators and learners and uses both original and existing KQED content. Ultimately though, it emphasizes fostering youth participation to create 21st century learners and communities.

Here, I explore how they are implementing that new strategy through the products they create.


From Engineering Is to #EngineerThat

#EngineerThat Student Challenges

In my last piece, I used KQED Education’s Engineering Is e-books to illustrate how the team’s thinking has evolved. Created prior to the development of their current strategy, the e-books contain the core elements staff have identified as important for youth learning media products. But, they are ninety-five percent consumption. The direct youth participation element is minimal and supplemental.

In response to this realization, the science education team has turned their efforts to more participation-based engineering initiatives, such as the #EngineerThat Student Challenges they piloted in early 2016. These initiatives illustrate how KQED Education is translating its vision of youth learning through media participation into action.

Emphasize creation over consumption. The Engineering Is e-books present students with a real-world problem and then, through text, video and illustrations, show how scientists and engineers work together to solve that problem. For the #EngineerThat challenges, students were asked to identify a problem in their communities that could be solved with engineering, work through relevant science and engineering concepts, and come up with a possible solution. To complete the challenge, students created a media piece to explain these elements and then shared it via social media. Students were provided with relevant KQED content, including the e-books, to serve as the background texts and inspire the participation piece.

Offer levels of participation. According to Mencher, the KQED Education team strives to incorporate the design principles of equity and access into their participation projects. One way they accomplish this goal is by building in multiple levels of participation. For the #EngineerThat challenges, students created and submitted a range of media products to illustrate their work, including short video, photos, drawings and infographics. The inclusion of these options, or levels, allows projects to be adapted to a variety of contexts and increases the potential to engage traditionally underserved youth who may not have the access to technology or skill level necessary to produce a video.

Raise youth voices. Education staff strongly believes in the importance of highlighting youth voices, and the #EngineerThat challenges did so in several key ways. First, students were asked to share their media creations via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Second, KQED Education featured the top five solutions online, leveraging KQED’s reach and visibility as news media organization to share youth voices with the broader community. Moreover, those top five projects were determined by not only KQED staff but also a team of teen judges.

Connect to the community. The #EngineerThat challenges both connected teens directly to their communities by asking them to solve real-world problems and provided a platform to showcase community media creations, addressing the “public” aspect of public media. Continuing to build on KQED Science’s close relationships with other local organizations, #EngineerThat’s teen judges are members of the California Academy of Science’s Teen Think Tank.

The Education team continues to develop participation-focused initiatives, and what they have learned from the #EngineerThat pilot has led to a new engineering challenge design, Engineering for Good, which will launch this school year.


From Theory to Practice

#EngineerThat is just one example of KQED Education’s new products and initiatives designed to foster youth participation, all of which are grounded in the team’s philosophy of digital media and learning.

The KQED Education team believes that the most valuable role public media can play in education is to foster media literacy skills for participatory learning and civic engagement in young people and to provide opportunities for learning, self-expression and sharing with and through digital media. A set of core beliefs about digital media and learning shape and drive how they create products to foster youth participation.

  • By providing easy access to vast stores of information, digital media have facilitated a democratization of learning. Knowledge is quite literally at our fingertips.
  • Learning in schools can and should be connected to how young people learn and engage outside the classroom.
  • Deeper engagement with content, including through the process of media creation, leads to deeper learning opportunities.
  • Projects that connect youth to real-world problems can offer opportunities for choice and self-expression engage youth more meaningfully in the learning process, particularly those traditionally underserved.
  • Media literacy skills are critical for participation in work, political and social life.

In conjunction with these beliefs, KQED Education staffers feel that a public-serving media institution should provide youth from all backgrounds access to real-world, media-enriched learning opportunities and media production and analysis training that helps them become more engaged and involved members of their communities.

In addition to the engineering products discussed above, the education team is incorporating these principles into a number of new initiatives. They are developing opportunities for students to create media around specific learning topics and to share and showcase some of that work online.

KQED’s Letters to the Next President Media Make

For instance, KQED Education staff are connecting youth to the Letters to the Next President 2.0 project, which asks students to write about election issue that matters to them and create a piece of media expressing their views. In the example pictured above, KQED Education asks students to create and record spoken word letters and share them via social media.

The team is also assembling a youth advisory board to provide creative and editorial input on their various products and initiatives. And, they are offering teachers opportunities for online professional development.


From Youth to Teachers

Often, enthusiasm for the democratization of learning made possible by digital media and self-directed projects leaves teachers out of the equation. As one educator noted in a recent MindShift article, project-based learning “had always been pitched to him as a process where the teacher got out of the way and the students learned on their own.” He discovered, however, that teachers are critical to successful learning outcomes. While technology can place the world’s vast knowledge literally in students’ hands, teachers still provide crucial guidance, context and skills development.

The education team has not attempted to leapfrog teachers in their efforts to foster youth participation. Rather Mencher explained, they continue to build on their strong relationships with educators, who have long trusted KQED as a provider of safe, high quality and forward-thinking instructional supports.

To engage educators in their new vision, KQED Education has developed a new model for professional development, designed to help teachers engage youth in learning through and with digital media. Launched in July of this year, this online professional development destination, KQED Teach, incorporates the same action-based design as the team’s youth participation products.

KQED TEACH testimonial

Emphasize creation over consumption. Rather than have teachers sit in a workshop or lecture about media making, KQED Teach allows educators to work their way through a variety of modular lessons. Topics range from exploring bias to how to build a professional learning network via social media to editing a video piece. Each module includes an opportunity to practice new skills and use knowledge gained in a “make and share” activity.

Offer levels of participation. In the past, KQED offered teachers face-t0-face training workshops. The topic, time, place and activities were pre-determined, and only small numbers of teachers could participate. With TEACH, participants can choose which lessons to complete and make activities to engage in, based on their time, interests and needs.

Raise teacher voices and connect to the community. KQED Teach offers more than learning modules. KQED has designed the platform to foster collaboration and sharing among teachers. Participants can upload their media making activities and share their ideas and experiences implementing what they have learned with their students.

Designed around the same action principles as the youth participation products, the KQED Teach experience models how teachers can create media engagement experiences and foster participation with their students.


Learn more about the KQED TEACH software platform in my colleague Scott Burg’s latest article:

Disrupting Public Media

A Study of Transformation at KQED

Thanks to Tim Olson

Elizabeth Bandy

Written by

media & learning researcher, writer, educator & evaluator

Disrupting Public Media

A Study of Transformation at KQED

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