Relevant research: Combining service-learning and technology fosters positive youth development

In an ongoing effort to promote youth empowerment in education, we’d like to offer this research synopsis. This one pulls together several of our favorite subjects: youth development, project-based learning, and technology.

Best Practices for Integrating Technology and Service-Learning in a Youth Development Program by JoAnn R. Coe-Regan, PhD and Julie O’Donnell, PhD, MSW.

Community-based programs that are meant to promote youth development have been around for quite awhile. Numerous studies indicate that youths benefit from these programs in many ways: a more positive self-image, a reduction in risk taking behavior, improved school behavior, etc. Because research illustrates the success of after-school programs, federal funding has increased from $40 million to $1 billion in recent years. A ubiquitous and recurring challenge these programs face is how to recruit and retain teens despite the potential barriers of boredom, family responsibilities, and spending social time with their friends.

In 2006 the YMCA Youth Institute of Long Beach, California developed a service-learning program to help overcome these barriers which “…uses technology as an integral mechanism for promoting positive youth development and enhancing the academic success and career readiness of low-income, culturally-diverse high school students.” (Coe-Regan & O’Donnell, 2006)

The YMCA Youth Institute research is unique in the fact that it focuses on the mutually supportive benefits of technology and service-learning. It also supports the idea that effective technology learning is more than skill acquisition, but is built into collaborative, authentic projects.

Overall, the study found that service-learning which emphasizes technology not only increases positive youth development, it also retains and sustains the service-learning program. Participants were particularly attracted to learning new technology skills and saw this as increasing the likelihood of being successful in life.

The participants spent the entire year working in teams to develop projects including digital storytelling, graphic design, 3D animation, and how to troubleshoot and use computer networks. Additionally, curriculum was developed to link the project content to school content standards.

Coe-Regan and O’Donnell identified five best practices to implementing a service-learning program that emphasizes technology to enhance positive youth development.

  1. Focus on under-served youth. The study found that ‘nesting’ such programs in low-income, diverse communities helped youth connect with a wide range of other cultures as well as helping reduce the ‘digital divide’ that many youths must overcome to be competitive in the 21st Century job market.
  2. Use collaborative, project-based techniques to teach technology. The study found that using projects to teach technology not only increased interest, but participants also gained better planning and problem-solving skills than traditional, specific skill acquisition. Youth also gained more confidence by learning from ‘trial and error’ and from working in teams to develop ‘real world’ solutions to problems as they arose.
  3. Emphasize the usefulness of technology skills in the workplace/higher education. It was found that many youths are well aware of the expectations teachers and employers have in regards to technology competency. Therefore, participants had an authentic desire to learn about new technology. It was found that the program retention increased due to the youth’s determination to succeed in college and the marketplace by developing their 21st century skills.
  4. Stress the importance of service to the community. The study found that 90% of participants found their service learning experience to be positive. Many of the youths continued their service learning beyond the program by participating in internships, volunteering, or helping teachers in their school with technology.
  5. Focus on personal growth and development. “The data suggested that this technology program appeared to have the ability to do more than simply influence technology outcomes. Many participants mentioned the technology skills when asked about the overall general knowledge and skills, but the majority of participants talked about other things they learned about themselves and life skills that went beyond technology skills and knowledge. These included: developing leadership skills, making friends, getting along with others, speaking in front of others and voicing their opinions, balancing life and gaining the motivation to continue with their career goals.” (Coe-Regan & O’Donnell, 2006).

Overall, the study found that service-learning which emphasizes technology not only increases positive youth development, it also retains and sustains the service-learning program. Participants were particularly attracted to learning new technology skills and saw this as increasing the likelihood of being successful in life.

Reference: Coe-Regan, JoAnn R, & O’Donnell, Julie. (2006). Best Practices for Integrating Technology and Service Learning in a Youth Development Program. Journal of Evidenced-Based Social Work, 3, 210-220. Retrieved from EBSCO Host Database.

(This synopsis was written by Steven Hicks, Generation YES grants and special projects coordinator.)

2 Replies to “Relevant research: Combining service-learning and technology fosters positive youth development”

  1. Service Learning provides a compelling reason to learn, teaches the skills of civic participation and develops an ethic of service and civic responsibility. Service learning increases motivation and retention of academic skills as specific learning goals are tied to community needs. By solving real problems and addressing real needs, students learn to apply classroom learning to a real world context.

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