Young People, New Media, and Visual Design: An Exploratory Study That increasing technological convergence and innovations are reshaping the media in content creation and distribution is a point that we need not belabour. Print, electronic and digital forms overlap and become simultaneously available, thereby providing an interesting mélange of older information and communication technologies (ICTs) with the newer ones.
various mobile communication devices has raised optimism among
developmental agencies and media education practitioners. There are two
responses: one celebratory and euphoric and the other cautious, but
optimistic. Several agencies and organizations are engaged in
developing policies and programs that are cautious and optimistic.
Consequently, questions are asked and discussions carried-out on the
transformative potential of these emergent ICTs for children and young
people. In this context, it is appropriate to ask how these
technologies could enable enhanced participation and help overcome
barriers to education. In what ways, if at all, children and young
people interact with these technologies? In the following exploratory
essay, I look at two initiatives from India where children and young
people are exploring new media technologies for informal learning and
I discuss the two initiatives through a series of sketches and
vignettes to demonstrate how young people learn and develop innovative
uses of media. In the Cybermohalla project, youngsters work with a
range of digital media and produce experimental digital works, computer
animation, write texts using graphics publish wall magazines, edit
books, etc. The main aim is to give a forum where the youngsters not
only explore their creativity, but also comment on the social and moral
topics that impact their lives. Mapping the Neighborhood is
conceptualized as young people, new media, and visual design, 1 an
alternative learning experience through the use of ICT and community
maps in the learning process and is based on participatory learning and
collection of relevant information of the locality. Throughout this
exploration a fine balance has been attempted between theory and
practice as young people’s voices – dialogue and deliberations – are
articulated. Young people gain access to tools of media production in a
variety of ways; from training and imparting basic to advanced
technical skills, using production facilities and equipment to learning
about script writing, story boarding, lighting, set design, page
design, layout, digital graphics, and computers. The acquisition of
media-making, knowledge and skills, embedded in the lived experience of
young people, offers unique perspectives, a vision and a voice that
need to be examined to understand youth participation in media.
ICTs and the Pedagogies of Engagement
Cybermohalla (Cyber-Neighborhood) is an experimental project designed to enable democratic access to information and communication technologies among poor young women and men in Delhi, India. These young participants (ages of 15 and 23), mostly school dropouts visit the Compughar (literally, an abode of computers, in Hindi), a media lab with several lowcost desktop computersand free software, to freely express their ideas and imaginations from the mundane to the serious. Working at the media lab these participants write, draw and sketch a range of interesting verbal and visual narratives and texts published as books, diaries, magazines, and wallpaper that become available in print as well as digitized formats. The following account describes the philosophy of the project:
One can approach the Cybermohalla project from many directions. One can begin with a critique of the technological imagination and the excessive universe of the dominant mediascape, and then go on to map a counter strategy which grounds itself on access, young people, new media, and visual design, 2 sharing and democratic extensibility. One can see it as an experiment to engage with media technologies and software ‘tactically’, and create multiple local media contexts emerging within the larger media network that the Internet seems to engender. Still one can see it as an engagement with local history, experiences, modes of expressions and creativity.
young people, new media, and visual design, 3 From this description, it is clear that Cybermohalla is about adopting alternative strategies to explore and engage the ICTs so as to provide young people opportunities for learning and education. The Hindi-Urdu words that are combined with English to produce terms like “Cybermohalla” and “Compughar,” capture the evocative and open-ended features of new media technologies. These technologies are not rooted in a singular space and place, but as deterritorialized forms offer unique possibilities for informal learning that can be actualised in nonlinear ways. For instance, reflections of young participants on the everyday life in the city are sprinkled with personal experiences, creative self-expressions, and commentaries that offer some concrete suggestions on social and political issues. The ICTs also open up “spaces of dialogue” for the young participants: conversations and discussions lead to collective participation in a variety of multimedia experimental works. “What binds them together is their experimentation and play with diverse media forms (photography, animation, sound recording, text, etc.) to improvise and create cross-media works – texts, collages, posters, print publications, videos, installations.” These multimedia projects – involving new ICTs and “media mixes” – not only generate excitement among the youngsters, but also overcome the deficiencies of the older and traditional models of education and learning, particularly in the formal systems of education.
One example where ICTs are being incorporated into the formal school learning settings is the Mapping the Neighbourhood Project in India. The project, conceptualised and developed by the Centre for Spatial Database Management and Solution (CSDMS), an independent organization with support from the Department of Science and Technology of Government of India, involves school children from the rural and urban regions of Almora and young people, new media, and visual design, 4 Poster, copyright, CSDMS Nainital of Uttaranchal province of North India. The basic approach to community mapping has been to visually construct a “map” of the places and spaces in the community. It has been widely used as a tool for planning and development of various projects. The Mapping the Neighbourhood
project extends the concept by involving
school children in the process. The main
purpose of the project is to provide school
children opportunities to learn about their
regional geography and landscape and share
this with other members of the community.
The school children learn about global
information system through workshops
organized at their respective schools. The
students work with personal digital assistants
(PDAs) and global positioning systems
(GPS) technologies to map their
neighbourhoods. Another goal is to bring
young people, new media, and visual design, 5
student in dialogue with local and rural communities about the integrating mapping technologies
for local development. An important aspect of learning here, one that goes beyond the formal
schooling, is in active participation of school children in community development. The notion of
participation takes on a whole new meaning in the activities of the school children. ICTs provide
a context for social networking and ongoing conversations among children and adult members of
the rural communities.
Commenting on the innovative work, Rumi Mallick and Himanshu Kalra point out “that
young people learn about participation and democracy while in school where they not only spend
considerable proportion of their lives and undertake a formal education, it is also a place were
many of their views and perspectives on life are developed and shaped.” Although the idea
behind the project is referred to as “an alternative learning experience,” the primary intent is to
integrate ICTs into formal education. Mallick and Kalra explain that “with an aim to create an
enabling context for the youth to live, grow, learn, participate, decide, analyze, and change, the
programme empowered the youth of the mountain areas by exposing them to technology tools in
this case Geo-ICT tools.” These are innovative ideas, extending the traditional community
mapping through technologies and bringing school children as stake-holders in the development
process. More important, it is aimed at transforming the idea of education from classroom
settings to the field. These strategies enable learning, and as Mallick and Kalra rightly point out,
provide knowledge as well as raise the consciousness of the school children.
Working Class Neighbourhoods and Community Mapping
The three media labs of Cybermohalla are located in different parts of Delhi – an illegal
working class settlement in central part of the city and a poor colony in south Delhi – and
young people, new media, and visual design, 6
provide opportunities to young people to work individually and collectively. The idea of a
“mohalla,” as a neighbourhood, exceeds the semantic connotations implied by the English term.
As a social space, mohalla, with “its sense of alleys and corners,” can be conceived as “dense
nodes” where young people from economically deprived and marginalized communities carryout
their everyday activities. Formal schooling is out of reach or unaffordable for the youngsters.
They visit the lab out of curiosity, but soon get absorbed in the creative possibilities offered by
computers and other media. Gradually, the young members, mostly women, begin to express
themselves via the computer screens. A bi-monthly magazine “Ibarat” explored various meanings
of work in women’s lives. The magazine in Hindi and English is made available in digital and
printed forms. A series of creative writings in the form of diaries have been published into a book
called, “Galiyon Se” (By Lanes). These are a bunch of reflections and thoughts on the everyday
life in the city. Here is one such reflection on streets and by lanes:
For the last one year now, I have been in regular conversation with the group of young
people in Compughar. Amongst other things streets and lanes were discussed many times,
Streets make for great conversations. Streets would lead us to think about the harsh and
aggressive behaviour of men towards each other and towards women in particular, the
total lack of pedestrian pathways or respect towards them, the absence of street lighting,
noisy traffic and its uncaring behaviour, or the near-total inaccessibility for disabled
people or elder people. Also being amidst strangers, in crowds and moving with crowds.
This young women’s narrative account of the streets of Delhi offer some unique insights into
what has become of the public places and spaces. Although this reads as a political critique, there
are many more writings that offer some interesting solutions to civic life and public
infrastructure in the city. Some participants write about streets, some draw and sketch using
young people, new media, and visual design, 7
graphics software presenting multiple perspectives on the topic. The materials produced become
available to all participants and distributed in the neighbourhoods for further commentary and
Shveta Sarda, coordinator at the Cybermohalla project, suggests that linking the broader
environments of our digital worlds with the conversational worlds that we live with in our
localities is central in understanding “publicness”:
The world of the digital surrounds us. In our lanes and by-lanes we live through a dense
palimpsest of images, texts and sounds, increasingly accessed and accelerated through the
digital – VCDs, CDs, Cable, PCOs, DTP operations (pamphlets, stickers, sign boards),
etc. Through our own practice, we are trying to work out an interface between this
density and our concerns. We use the digital to create for us a networked platform in our
own explorations with texts, images and sounds.
Sixty young participants from three different labs – 20 from each – have been involved in
sketching ideas around “publicness.” Working with a range of multimedia forms like animations,
booklets, broadsheets, HTML, typed and formatted texts, sound scape, photo stories, written
word, audio and visual juxtapositions or narratives, storyboards, etc. members develop
innovative perspectives on alleys, corners, mohallas, and locality – important metaphors for
“publicness.” Visiting the city alleys and corners, meeting disadvantaged children and other
dwellers in the poor and working class neighbourhoods, young participant begin conversations
with a young girl child working in a factory, an old woman sweeping the streets of Delhi, to a
middle aged man who runs a photo studio, a shop keeper, a tea stall owner, etc. Several young
members have produced a collage called “Hamari Dilli” (Our Delhi) texts.
young people, new media, and visual design, 8
young people, new media, and visual design, 9
The “Walls” project draws upon ideas of publicness and locality to talk about how walls interact
with and shape human experience. The experimental multimedia work being carried-out by
young participants connect ideas of dwelling and experience. “Dwellings are made of walls. Our
lived experience shows these walls are testimonies of fractured, fragile, contested stories of the
everyday struggle to make life in the city. Walls are demolished. Walls get hardened. Fragile
lives build themselves and reside along walls. Women gather around walls to share experience,
youngsters lean against them to recount the day’s stories from other parts of the city, infants rest
in their shade.” The Cybermohalla project provides opportunities of self-expression and
exploration for the young under privileged people from Delhi. The new and old ICTs not only
enable an enhanced participation in media, but also allow young participants a creative range of
possibilities for commentary, critique, and dialogue.
In recognition of the contributions in media education through ICTs for young people,
Cybermohalla was awarded the UNESCO Digital Art Award in 2004. The approach to
cyberspace and the new media as open-ended and globalized forms of communication with the
ability to connect with localized forms of communication as embodied in the “mohalla” is an
innovative feature that provided inspiration to several groups in different parts of the world.
The main goal of Mapping the Neighbourhood is to make computer-based education
attractive to young learners. Although ICTs are understood to enhance learning and participation,
the project integrated the uses of several technologies like personal digital assistants and global
positioning systems to local developmental needs. This itself is an innovative approach. The
involvement of school students makes it a unique exercise. First, it seeks to transform the
traditional education process with learning that now takes place in the community, outside the
young people, new media, and visual design, 10
classroom. It is through “doing” that students acquire knowledge. Second, the idea of
development itself is transformed. Community participation provides the student learners
opportunities and training in citizenship. The convergence of ICTs, development and education
can be glimpsed in the work being carried out by students in Almora and Nainital area in
Hawalbag. Here community mapping goes beyond territories and landscape; rather, the visual
representations of their regions gives the people knowledge and understanding of how
communities live in the social and material world. Mullick, Dhar, and Satyaprakash (2004)
conclude that the use of ICT as an alternative form of education in rural and urban areas has
demonstrated that this form of education can have appositive affect on the community at large…
Innovative use of technology change the way development takes place and ensures that the issues
of general public are addressed. Taking the children as ‘agents of change’, this project has tried
to evolve an alternative form of education as well as developmental process” (p. 35) This
involvement of the students in community mapping, the ongoing conversations with rural
citizens, the engagement with their environment, the coming together of local forms of
knowledge and modern information and communication technologies, points to an innovative
exercise in social development that can be adapted and replicated in other underdeveloped and
developing regions of the world.
This form of the local-global engagement is more productive than the one that is visible in
commercial and popular media around the world, and is an interesting social communication and
development model articulated by young people. The conversations between student teams and
local community members are an exercise in decentralized planning and rural development. As a
form of “direct education” it emulates what Paulo Freire had outlined through his philosophy of
young people, new media, and visual design, 11
education: dialogical education through interaction with a focus on practice (or praxis). The ICTs
also open up “spaces of dialogue” for the young participants: conversations and discussions lead
to collective participation in a variety of multimedia experimental work.
young people, new media, and visual design, 12
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