Designing Youth Participatory Action Research Pathways: Bringing YPAR to DML

Sometimes when you are immersed in a community and surrounded by friends with like-minded interests, beliefs, and ideas, you begin to forget that an entire world that does not understand your lingo or share your experiences exists outside that community.

I re-learn this lesson often in the context of the Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) community. I feel so fortunate to have been invited to share my YPAR experiences across multiple audiences over the past few weeks. I participated in an Educator Innovator webinar alongside several members of the UCLA Council of Youth Research to discuss the work that students in East and South Los Angeles have been doing for over a decade to amplify youth voice and advocate for equitable education. I gave a talk at my university about the book I recently wrote with Antero Garcia and Ernest Morrell about this same YPAR community. And, I’m working with Antero Garcia and Danielle Filipiak to publicize a YPAR workshop that we’ll be offering at this year’s Digital Media and Learning Conference.

As I talked about YPAR again and again, I began to wonder if I was simply repeating myself and if everything to be said about this practice has already been said. I quickly realized, however, that my fear was unfounded. Each time that I shared about the ways that YPAR transforms who does research (hint: youth), how they do it (hint: in a participatory fashion), and for what purposes (hint: for social action), folks approached me to tell me that this was the first time they were hearing about YPAR and that they were excited to learn more. I realized that I was taking for granted the importance of raising the profile of this crucial work at every possible opportunity because I had forgotten how many people have not yet been exposed to it.

At its most basic level, YPAR involves placing youth at the center of the research process by mentoring them to create research questions about issues that matter to them and encouraging them to take the lead in collecting data about their questions and sharing their results in multimedia formats with multiple stakeholders. Yet, this practice is so much more complex; rather than train young people to mimic the actions of “traditional” (read: adult) researchers, YPAR transforms who has the authority to produce knowledge (hint: youth), how research should be conducted (hint: in a participatory fashion), and why it should be done in the first place (hint: to foster social action and justice).

It is exceedingly difficult to capture the transformative nature of YPAR in an hour-long webinar (or in one blog post). Each time I talk about YPAR, I wish for more time, not only to talk about it, but also to listen to others share their ideas and challenges in trying to get YPAR started in their own unique contexts.

This is why I am so excited that Antero, Danielle, and I will have the luxury of an entire 6 HOURS to roll up our sleeves with a group of educators at a DML pre-conference workshop this October. We will be able to not only provide a more thorough accounting of the history and theory of YPAR, but also hear from students and teachers who are currently engaged in it and collaboratively draft plans to bring YPAR to more young people in learning spaces far and wide.

We feel that the partnership between YPAR and DML is a perfect one — with the proliferation of digital tools that can be used to amplify youth voice comes the need to harness these tools in order to democratize our public sphere and advocate for marginalized communities. We are thrilled to work with the DML network to push this conversation forward.

Won’t you join us? Register now and let’s keep this conversation going!