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Showing posts from June, 2011

What does it mean to be driven by data?

From evidence-based practice to data-driven decision making, the role of data in driving everything forward is becoming omnipresent. As a recovering quantitative sociologist this excites me. As a person devoted to building the field and making a difference in the lives of youth it raises both opportunities and concerns.

Like driving a car, youth work is a navigational sport filled with hundreds of decisions on a moment-by-moment basis. Whether it is the development of the field of youth work or the development of a young person, we process thousands of bits of data to make decisions.

But the data driving these decisions, like many others, are a real mix -- some conscious and quantitative and some unconscious; some rational and some emotional. We drive differently when we are angry than when we are happy.

If youth work is to become a data-driven field, we had better make sure we know what that means and take a strong role in shaping the data available and how they are used.

In driving…

Top 10 tech tools for our work

Do you feel overwhelmed by all the technology options? Do you find it hard to choose from, or even keep up with, the flurry of possibilities?

I'm not an early adopter. I still have a land line telephone, buy CDs from a shop, and don't have cable TV. But professionally, I want to stay up to date on tools for doing my work as a researcher and evaluator. I imagine they could help program staff be more productive and progressive too.

Here are my top 10 tools, based on personal experience, recommended by people I respect or that just look interesting, organized from finding and organizing information at the start of a project, to collecting data and presenting it to others.
Google Scholar. This academic search engine is my go-to place to search for scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources; peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations…

Ideal learning environments: An impossible dream?

Is it possible to build the ideal learning environments described by the thinkers in our field? Or is it better to strive for a "happy medium" between theory and the realities of practice?

Now and then I like to dust off and reread literature that shaped my thinking. Milbrey McLaughlin's report, Community Counts: How Youth Organizations Matter for Youth Development influenced my thinking on how to build intentional learning environments and put into perspective the value of community.

McLaughlin says that the most powerful learning environments are intentionally youth-centered, knowledge-centered, and assessment-centered and reflective of the community they are in.
McLaughlin constructed a theory of ideal learning environments focused on youth, knowledge, program assessment and reflective of the community. It is hard to find fault with these ideals:

Youth-centered

Learning environments are effective when young people know that they matter and that they are central to what …

What's the definition of youth work insanity?

How often in programs do we continue to do something because "It's that time of year again"? A quote from Albert Einstein reads, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I don't think Einstein was thinking about evaluation when he coined this phrase, but it nicely articulates our tendency to continue to offer youth programs without "checking under the hood" periodically.

As an educator for program evaluation, I believe strongly in using evaluation to guide and improve youth programs and to prove their worth to others. I know that others will agree with me on this. But I think we often fail to intentionally build evaluation into our program design and as a result our programs suffer. Jane Powers'research on youth participatory evaluation demonstrates that the act of intentionally engaging youth in the evaluation experience helps to not only build stronger programs but also youth development skills in…

Inspiring the next generation of youth workers

How can we spark the interest of young youth workers to become engaged as leaders in our field? What avenues will the next generation of leadership use to create networking opportunities to meet and learn from each other? In the new world of social networking, will technology become a vehicle for hosting forums and addressing the crucial issues in the field through blogs, Facebook, Twitter? What conversations will be relevant and helpful to connect youth work peers?


As I celebrate my 37th year in the field of youth work - seven years working directly with young people and 30 years at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, I am impressed with the tremendous amount of growth and change the field has endured. For the most part, these changes have been a positive evolution for a field that strives to be inclusive of sub-sectors including school age care, afterschool, youth development, and summer programming.



But change creates pressures as well. We now face some of the greates…

Service learning belongs at the core of youth programs

"Service learning" is a term that is overused, misunderstood and under-implemented. Too often, secondary and higher education compartmentalize service learning into standalone courses, reducing the benefits to the learner and the effectiveness of service learning pedagogy.


The National Service Learning Clearinghouse describes this mode of learning: "Service-Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities."

In my research of engaging youth in service-learning, the benefits to youth are well known, as are the benefits for educators and community partners. The University of Minnesota Community Service-Learning Center enumerates the benefits to learners as these:

Increasing knowledge on class topicExploring values and beliefsHaving opportunities to act on values and beliefsDeveloping critical thinking and p…