Centering Youth Voice at #HerDigitalVisions

by Megan Ryland, Program Coordinator, #HerDigitalVisions

It is easy to get caught up in the swirling world of digital media these days. There is always something new to watch, learn about, or analyze. Media and digital literacy are tools that need constant sharpening in this landscape. By extension, this means that creating effective and engaging media literacy programming for youth in this environment demands that media educators keep up with emerging trends and stay in touch with the issues and experiences that are most relevant to young people right now.

Access to Media Education Society (AMES) supports young people in stepping into the digital world, and using media to raise voices that are often unheard or dismissed. In particular, the program #HerDigitalVisions supports self-identified girls (ages 12-15) to find spaces for themselves online, and navigate the virtual landscape (safely, creatively and responsibly). The program uses digital play and media production to creatively and critically explore this digital terrain.

Critically, #HerDigitalVisions focuses on engaging youth “where they’re at” to understand how to best support their media and digital literacy. To do this, we invest in developing their critical media lens and thoughtful “Internet instincts” that can grow with youth, rather than telling them how they should behave. Good judgment and critical thinking can be applied online and offline, and their value will long outlast any static rule set in a quickly changing digital world.

In 2016, #HerDigitalVisions grew into an after-school program that engaged 15 participants over the course of 18 workshops that took place between February and June. As the Program Coordinator, I facilitated the program with 13 different special guest mentors, who each brought their unique insights and skills to the program. With such a team, workshops were able to cover a broad range of skills and perspectives, including topics like film making, social media campaigns, what’s real online, coding, workshop facilitation, research, and digital citizenship.

This Spring, #HerDigitalVisions participants:

  • Created 3 videos over the course of 5 sessions
  • Collaboratively created a 60-minute digital education workshop
  • Learned the ABCs of facilitation
  • Delivered their workshop to peers in Vancouver classrooms and in other venues
  • Researched the program itself to help shape future digital education programs

Because we are aware that keeping up with youth and technology requires constant listening and innovation to stay connected and relevant, #HerDigitalVisions continues to transform as AMES learns from each round of participants.

Rather than simply rely on written evaluations, we did participatory action research within the program, so that the girls were a part of collecting data and drawing conclusions. This meant that conclusions about the program were based on the experiences and expertise of participants themselves. (For more information about our findings, please get in touch at

The things we learned from the Spring 2016 chapter of #HerDigitalVisions directly informed the shape that the program will be taking this fall. Among the kind of questions explored in the participatory research were: What had the most impact on participants? What did you think were the most important parts of the process, and why?

When tough program decisions have to be made, youth feedback can guide what must stay, and what can go. This is part of centering youth voice within the program structure itself, along with hearing from youth through program content.

This November, #HerDigitalVisions is starting a YouTube channel that we’ll create during weekly workshops together, alongside learning key media, digital, and critical thinking skills. It will give participants a chance to spend more time filming, a favourite activity by far, and an outlet to respond to what they’re learning about—whether that response is to share, interpret, or critique that information. We’re also centering conversations about power, inequality, and empowerment, based on the feedback of participants. These conversations are part of making meaning of media, and using these new tools to make space and advocate. More broadly, participants were clear that program impact relied on creating a fun space where participants felt accepted, rather than judged, and mentors could speak from experience, not just a textbook. This guidance helps support how we run our programs and the environment we create.

We ask youth to come and expand their world with us, but as an organization, our world expands each time we run a program too. We see what youth respond to, what they’re missing, what they’re experiencing, and how we can make an impact. It’s a new media world out there, and we’re in this together.

More Information about AMES

AMES is a West Coast non-profit that uses digital media, artistic collaboration, and creative facilitation to engage marginalized youth in personally and socially transformative storytelling practices. Our approach is rooted in values of creativity, accessibility, diversity and inclusivity. Our programs aim to offer dynamic models of community-based cultural production and outreach that result in concrete skills development and the creation of works that prompt critical dialogue, expand horizons, and foster imaginative visions for change. The organization grew from a commitment to giving folks who had been pushed to the margins the tools to “take back the media” and tell their own stories. You can find more information on our website.

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© Media Literacy Week 2014
Semaine éducation médias 2014