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.
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