img_4174Recently, I attended the Digital Media and Learning Conference (DML) in Irvine, California hoping to learn a bit more about this education focused world I’ve jumped into after finishing up a PhD in Information Science. I was not disappointed. The DML Research Hub is composed of a group of researchers who are interested in all things digital media and learning (not surprisingly). They have several initiatives including connected learning, make-to-learn, and youth and participatory politics. You can find out more about their work here.

The conference included a mix of educators, researchers, academics, and even librarians. The wide range of presentations held during the conference is what impressed me most. Everything from game design and maker programs to Scratch and digital citizenship. There seemed to be a space for anyone interested in how digital media impacts youth learning. For someone interested in the everyday lives of young adults (like me), the conference demonstrated how commonly used digital media such as gaming and Makerspaces can play a role in the education of youth. Education no longer seems static, fixed in the traditional classroom, but instead learning can occur in many forms and engage the learner rather than bore them.

Three sessions that I attended stick out in my mind: The first, Get Creative with Coding: Dance, Sports, and Other Interests, asked that all participants to take part in some hands on playing through Scratch, a free coding program available from MIT. By taking time to play with Scratch and a smaller version of Scratch called Scratch “Microworld”, we learned how to encourage youth to develop their own online projects on whatever they find interesting – music, sports, fashion. The tie into libraries is that as an informal space for learning, libraries can motivate youth to use the library resources to access this freely available online coding program and become more involved in making within their communities.

Another session, Blazing the Trail: Action Research and “Post-Emergent” Library Makerspaces, brought together five public libraries (Billings Public Library, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Lynn Public Library, Anythink Libraries, and the Free Library of Philadelphia) to discuss what happens AFTER a library creates a makerspace. Called “post-emergent library youth makerspaces”, these libraries discussed the common problems that a youth focused library makerspace may encounter after the groundwork of the makerspace has been set and the making is already happening. Each library discussed how they used action research (usually research to solve a problem) to improve and sustain their makerspaces. What interested me in particular about this session was the collaboratory nature of the libraries’ work. They worked together to learn from and help out each other. Through this collaborative work, these libraries have made their youth makerspaces even more innovative and engaging. Additionally, it allowed a supportive space in which librarians could help one another figure out the problems that the different makerspaces where experiencing.

Finally, I attended Digital Citizenship: Creating Culture in Context to close out my DML experience. I’ve been interested in digital citizenship and the important role that it plays in preventing cyberbullying form occurring for a while now. Digital citizenship encourages youth to be safe, ethical, and responsible users of technology especially social media. In this session, the presenters discussed the importance of digital citizenship and how parents, teachers, and other community members can take part in the education of youth about online behaviors. Two school districts who are actively engaged in digital citizenship training of students provided a lens through which attendees could see the role of educators that is needed in the whole community approach to digital citizenship education. Librarians and libraries were not mentioned, but it is easy to see how, as community hubs across the United States, libraries can take on some of the training that is necessary to support 21st century online youth. It cannot be only school or parent-supported education. It must involve support from all members of the community to empower youth on and offline.

This closes out my time at the DML Conference 2016 with a brain full of how these ideas can be applied to libraries. I hope to attend the conference again, this time presenting and showing more of a library representation in a largely education crowd. As the “Get Creative with Coding” session highlights, libraries are centers for informal learning. We only need to provide a bit more to demonstrate of all the wonderful learning that youth are provided through library programs, services, and interactions.

About Abigail Phillips

Abigail Phillips, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University. You can find her by e-mail: or on Twitter: @abigailleigh.

2 Thoughts on “Getting inspired at DML 2016

  1. Thanks for the great post! For the Blazing the Trail session I think it should be ‘Anythink’ Libraries rather than ‘Anything’ Libraries

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