EXCEL Academy @ NYU

The EXCEL Academy @ NYU is a community-college collaborative alternative college preparation program for underserved, underperforming youth in the poorest parts of New York City. The project is funded by the Teagle Foundation with the aim to improve college preparation in terms of traditional school reading, writing, and critical thinking. As an alternative approach to college preparation, instructors and researchers at this site have iteratively designed our work to engage youth across the school year in as many spaces of learning as possible with exchanges on campus and in their neighborhoods and schools, scaffolding youths’ experiences as they journey across cultural, geographic, and economic boundaries.

In a 4-week summer portion of the academy, youth take three courses on the NYU campus with professors in foundational logic (game-based), cosmopolitan ethics (seminar course), and 21st Century Composition (workshop/lab, discussed a bit in this post). These courses mediated students’ heretofore limited experiences with reading and writing college texts, while engaging with them in a philosophical exploration of college as a cosmopolitan experience—not unlike the participants’ current experiences living in the 21st century in an urban center.

The Academy is a site for Space2Cre8, a global social network for youth, including sites in South Africa, Norway, Japan, India and the United States designed by Professor Glynda Hull. The youths’ engagement in Space2Cre8 is the practical application of cosmopolitan ethics as youth engage with others from around the world. This social network creates a venue for digital, multimodal and print-based composition and international interaction, providing the context for the empirical study of adolescents’ learning in school, out of school, and online.

In addition to participating in international digital exploration, youth at this site study the concepts of cosmopolitanism through multiple modes of philosophic inquiry. As part of the program, youth read and discussed Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Appiah, 2006) in a seminar course, while also drawing and analyzing neighborhood maps, blogging about digitally-created belief collages, writing college application essays exploring the connection between their personal experiences and their values and beliefs, and designing “cosmopolitan conversation” digital stories in their 21st Century Composition course. Like youth at other sites around the world, these young people interpreted, critiqued and posted creative and critical compositions, polled and chatted with one another, and experimented with representations of self through the construction and maintenance of an online profile.

This project will be discussed at the 33rd Annual Ethnography in Education Research Forum and the American Educational Research Association 2012 Annual Meeting, and in a chapter in the forthcoming Critical Digital Literacies as Social Praxis in Knobel and Lankshear’s series on New Literacies.

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Anna Smith, PhD, educational researcher & teacher educator blogging about composition in the digital age, contexts for learning, theories of development, and global youth.

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