Hopeworks: Roles, technologies, social languages, and development in one urban youth organization

Carol Cuthbertson Thompson, University of Pennsylvania


This ethnographic study investigates the effects of digital technologies, social languages, and roles upon youth learning at Hopeworks, an urban youth organization in Camden, New Jersey. The youth team complex Web design and mapping techniques and plays a variety of roles (employee, peer mentor, college student, conference presenter). Schools researchers, and youth organizations have often looked at technology, social languages, participation, and development as separate rather than integrated phenomena. In this dissertation, I argue that when combined they can have a powerful impact on youth learning. Together these tools and structures of participation not only help sustain engagement but also create opportunities for collaboration and development in a way that no single role can. A primary question in this research is what kinds of activities, roles and circumstances are most likely to promote development? Secondarily, what kinds of development occur? The approaches of sociocultural learning theory and linguistic anthropology are particularly helpful in examining developmental changes in roles and participation within Hopeworks. The dissertation looks first at the kinds of curricula the youth learn and the kinds of problem solving they require. Next, it examines the social language prompted by the technologies and new roles. These help the youth structure both their understanding of complex technological artifacts and how they represent themselves within Hopeworks and to clients. Last, it examines the ways certain kinds of roles create opportunities for trainees to consider and analyze their own participation and learning, Rehearsals for conferences and radio programs, for example, are important opportunities for youth both to demonstrate expertise and to construct new roles with the help of others. As opportunities for youth to engage in metacognition and anticipation of the needs of their audiences, rehearsals are particularly powerful occasions for learning. This research envisions opportunities in which youth can arrive at deep understanding not only of practices and materials but also of their own learning and themselves, and it thus has implications for other learning environments including schools.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Educational software|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Thompson, Carol Cuthbertson, "Hopeworks: Roles, technologies, social languages, and development in one urban youth organization" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3225555.