Dr. Lanise Block believes that digital applications and digital instructions are powerful tools to engage students to learn. As the founder of Digital Empowerment Academy and an educator for 18 years, Block works with students, especially in North Minneapolis, to share digital tools and learning.
The Second Annual Digital Empowerment Youth Conference showcased that engagement on June 7 at the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) center in North Minneapolis. Specialists (instructors who mentor at DEA), scholars (students who are enrolled at DEA), and family members came and celebrated another year’s achievement for students from various North Minneapolis high schools.
During the breakout sessions, over 15 students presented their research on diverse social issues, such as homelessness, human trafficking, worldwide sweat shops, bullying at school, teen suicides, gender stereotypes and so on. All presentations were shown from iPad apps, such as iMovie, Prezi, Flowboard, Haiku Deck, and so on. In this program, all students could use a free iPad for research and they learned to transfer words, charts, photos and videos to different apps for a presentation.
“When I started learning [about the] digital divide, as related to the achievement gap, I felt the need to have this program, particularly in north Minneapolis,” said Dr. Block. “Statistics spell out that north Minneapolis has the most non-users of software and hardware. … I love working with teenagers. So I founded this program, specifically to teach youth about digital advocacy and empowerment, particularly in north Minneapolis.”
Dr. Block got funded partly from Minneapolis Public Schools Equity Diversity department, BestBuy, UROC, and Code Savvy. Since 2013, she has worked with local high schools and recruited teenagers, mainly from the 13-17 year-old age group. Three-hour meetings at the YMCA on Broadway Avenue every Saturday teach them how to do research online and how to navigate apps and use them for presentations.
“We want to expand our program to younger kids and our scholars (current students) could be their mentors,” Dr. Block said. We also want to have programs for communities and families. It’s all the matters of finding space and time,.”
Brian Lowenski, a PhD Candidate from University of Minnesota, spoke about Maya Angelou, and quoted her saying, “There is no greater agony than bearing the untold story inside you.” He complimented the young scholars’ presentations as a great way to showcase awareness of social issues and using digital media as a powerful tool to do that. Lowenski said that this program helps youth become media producers instead of simply being media consumers nowadays.
At the beginning of the conference, DEA instructor Arthur Buckner mixed iPad-produced sounds and drums in a digital performance (video below.)