the best of qualities is dispassion

My Response to “At Last: Youth Culture and Digital Media”

This week I critiqued and wrote a response to the digital stories “Nanna’s House” and “Grandma’s Roof.” These digital stories were produced by two seventh-graders, Abigail and Victoria. The girls composed poems about their visits to their grandmothers’ homes and then read their poetry as the narration for their digital stories. This worked so well that I decided to search for an article that describes the pros and cons of young people using this device in digital storytelling. My searching led me to, “At Last: Youth Culture and Digital Media: New Literacies for New Times,” which I will respond to in this blogpost. Glynda Hull published this paper in 2003 at the University of California, Berkeley addressing the benefits of community-based digital storytelling programs for youth. In the piece Hull made some excellent points, a few of which I intend to address. I also intend to consider one she fails to discuss, which is the sustainability of community-based digital storytelling projects.

Hull (2003) focuses on the Digital Underground Storytelling for Youth (DUSTY) program as an example of the creativity and social cooperation that digital storytelling can bring to a community. Hull (2003) describes DUSTY as, “… a collection of after-school, evening, and summer programs that is a university-community collaborative aimed at closing the digital divide” (p. 230). She then explains the benefits of DUSTY and like programs in the following:

As a community dedicated to providing access to new technologies and to promoting particular social practices around them – for example, ways of thinking about stories, self, and community, and ways of interacting and participating – DUSTY isn’t an isolated phenomenon. In neighborhood centers, youth organizations, community theaters, and faith-based institutions around the country and across the world, youth are similarly envisioning, creating, rehearsing, performing, and revisioning, using language, media, their voices and bodies to represent themselves, their families and friends, their communities, their ideas, their takes on our world. (p. 230)

Hull (2003) explains that youth, due to their active participation in such programs, are not only acquiring 21st-century skills but are actually reinventing and invigorating human communication. She argues that, “… they are doing so by juxtaposing and joining a variety of semiotic systems and technologies” (p. 230). She also argues that there is a great benefit to these media based out-of-school programs and considers them a valuable complement to school-based literacy instruction (p. 231).

Credit: Indigo Flores
Photo Credit: Indigo Flores

Later, Hull (2003) makes the case that, “… some forms of representation seem better for expressing or performing some kinds of meanings than others.” She argues that while alphabetic essays are well suited for certain types of critical thinking that the type of digital storytelling produced by youth at DUSTY may be better at fostering critical thinking in other areas. Hull (2003) does acknowledge that some digital storytelling does indeed relinquish some of the evidence-based arguments associated with more traditional forms of argumentation (p. 231). I agree with much of what Hull writes and am becoming increasingly convinced that digital storytelling does indeed have some if not all of the advantages and benefits that Hull details, although my learning about digital stories is in its early stages I do hold out great hope for it as a learning device.

As I previously wrote Hull’s research is focused on the DUSTY program based in Oakland, California. DUSTY was founded in 2001 by Michael James, Director of the Oakland Technology and Education Center and a Professor from UC Berkeley. My web-searches for DUSTY unearthed the 2008 Edutopia article Telling Their Tales, At Last: Urban Youth Use Technology to Express Themselves which conveyed great hope for the program and its plans for going global. The piece describes How DUSTY was helping to build up kids’ self-esteem while bridging the “digital divide” for some disadvantaged youth in the San Francisco Bay area.

The article includes a link to DUSTY Oakland which reports that the site is temporarily unavailable and the latest post on their FaceBook page was in 2013. I found only a handful of digital stories on the DUSTY YouTube channel, with the latest upload last year. I was hoping to find DUSTY thriving and was therefore very disappointed to find that it is apparently withering. The cause could be budgetary pressures in this time of large cuts to higher education in many parts of the country, or possibly other problems and pressures.

As we shift learning to the web how might copyrighted images, music, and video hinder the creative process, as sites like YouTube and FaceBook take down, or mute perceived violations. I openly wonder if these copyright obstacles might have added to the pressures on a program like DUSTY. Hull (2003) describes how the youth at DUSTY tend to include images, music, and video from popular hip-hop culture in their digital stories (p. 229). Of course, there is much available through the Creative Commons and other copyright-free sources, but will this media satisfy the creative desires of our youth and permit the free-flow of their artistic expression. The chilling effect of copyrights on education, especially in this era of web 2.0 is real and must be continually discussed.

It takes a great deal of energy and determination to establish university-community collaborative programs like DUSTY. One must sing the praises of those with the fortitude to establish them and I hope that DUSTY is indeed thriving, somewhere, hidden away from my prying eyes and web-searches.


Hull, G. (2003). At Last: Youth Culture and Digital Media: New Literacies for New Times. Research in the Teaching of English, 38(2), 229-233. Retrieved from

2 thoughts on “My Response to “At Last: Youth Culture and Digital Media””

  • Robert,

    I have two points for your critique:

    1. I really like that you tried to find an article that related to the style of digital storytelling that you chose to create for this week.

    2. I find the acronym DUSTY to be quite unfortunate for the topic of this article — lol. Dusty brings to mind someone finding an old book in an attic that is covered in dust. Though, I guess, you could look at it as taking an old concept (storytelling) and dusting it off and presenting it in a new way (digital storytelling). So, that being said, maybe DUSTY isn’t so bad after all 🙂

    Great article. Digital storytelling is a great way to instill all of the concepts mentioned in the article in a way that is both fun and engaging for students.


  • Well, great minds truly DO think alike! I also addressed the D.U.S.T.Y project in my blog entry this week. I am sorry to hear that the project is apparently defunct. Public education is now entering what is, in my opinion, a critical make or break phase. Using technology in the classroom is now becoming an expected norm but, as usual, funding is barely adequate to facilitate the technological innovation necessary to keep pace with countries such as Finland, whose students consistently outperform our U.S. counterparts.

    I agree with your assertion that current copyright laws are hindering our students’ creative abilities. It is interesting that in a world where almost every piece of music can be illegally downloaded, copyright attorneys choose to shut down student created videos whose only purpose is to express their artistic voices. They are not trying to financially profit from such videos. I understand and support musical artists needing to make a living from their creations, but I don’t agree with censoring student voice, especially when there is not apparent financial motivation to do so.

    Thank you for pointing out this crucial barrier standing in the way of student artistry.
    -Andrew Polson

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