Report – “He saw I had a loving for it”: Youth Interest Signaling as a Means of Generating Social Support in Technology Pathways


“All learning pivots on who we [and our teachers] think we are and who we [and our teachers] see ourselves as capable of becoming.”
– Smith (1998), with edits inspired by Robert Petrone (2016)

Download report buttonIn this research study, we explore the ways that youth engage in “interest signaling”,  actions youth undertake that communicate their needs in ways that motivate adults and peers to mobilize resources to support them. We highlight how interest signaling is a key factor driving the process of brokering – signals are critical mechanisms for adults to understand what youth interests and expertise are, and, thus, be able to act as effective learning brokers. Through observing after-school digital media-making programs, and interviews we conducted with focal youth, program staff, and other support providers at school and home over a two-year period, we gathered evidence of a range of youth actions that brought them support. These included sharing accomplishments, reaching out for guidance, openly displaying expertise, and networking.

Our work revealed two broad types of signaling:

Open-ended displays of interest performed without a provider target in mind and without necessarily intending to generate support; and

Direct bids for help aimed at a specific provider with the specific goal of generating support.