What are the connections between your “real life” and online communities? How do people of different ages and backgrounds use the Internet? What would it look like to map the social networks of Humboldt County?

These were just a few of the questions taken up by students in the Real Life/Research Lab [http://reallife.accesshumboldt.net], a series of digital literacy workshops facilitated by Access Humboldt throughout 2012. “We wanted to design a program that would help teens understand the importance of local community, by connecting it with the online networks they are so familiar with,” said Brett Hanover, youth media project manager at Access Humboldt. “In the process, we could explore how digital media could better serve young people.” Teams of students were selected at three sites - Dream Quest Teen and Youth Center in Willow Creek, Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods in Klamath, and the Community Resource Center in Loleta.

Each workshop kicked off with a series of community mapping exercises, in which teams designed creative concept maps of their real and virtual social circles. This process revealed regional differences between the groups. Students in Loleta were members of a large number of websites and social media channels, but found it difficult to connect with civic organizations or youth programs.


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In Willow Creek and Klamath, students were well informed about local opportunities but expressed frustration with the low availability of Internet access. All three groups identified issues that affect the entire region, including circuits between tribal and non-tribal communities, the impact of marijuana cultivation, and a perceived lack of hyper-local news coverage. Topics unique to teens were also discussed, such as the over-reliance on limited sources of information. “People go to Facebook and stop there,” said Coelho Hill of the Willow Creek team. “What if it went away?”

To further explore these topics, students used wifi-enabled video cameras to collect interviews with peers and family members. Teams learned how to create websites with WordPress software, and published their edited interviews and other materials online. Each group proposed future projects that would meet the needs expressed in their discussions and interviews, including wi-fi hotspots, town meetings over video chat, and student news blogs. Real Life/Research Lab projects can now be viewed online at http://reallife.accesshumboldt.net. The site also includes a free, Creative Commons licensed curriculum document for educators who wish to adapt units of the workshop.