University of Minnesota Extension
Menu Menu

Extension > Youth Development Insight > March 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Online research warning: Your results may vary

Trudy-Dunham.jpgHow do you search for research-based information? How do you find out about the topics you need to know as a professional? How well do you know the tools you use to search? Perhaps not as well as you think you do.

If you are like most people today, you rely in part on the Internet as a research tool. More specifically, you rely on a search engine such as Google, Yahoo or Bing. What are your expectations of these tools?

We know to carefully check out our online sources. Anyone can publish online, so we check that the source is identified, credible and current. But we assume that the most relevant and representative of what is known is going to show up on page one of the search results. And we assume that the search I conduct will result in the same resources as yours, as long as we use the same search terms. And that the computer or mobile device used is irrelevant to the research results.

search.JPGWe can no longer make these assumptions. The algorithms used today by search engines are filtering the information we are exposed to based upon our own past behavior (and that of our computer). So the results that I get will be different from the ones that you get. And the results that I get on my home computer may be different from those I get at the office. In fact, the search engine may be limiting search results to those that agree with what I already know -- just the opposite of what a researcher wants!

So what are our options? Many of us use Google Scholar to locate scholarly information. It is free, and as convenient and as easy to use as the other search engines. There are just two problems: we don't know what resources are searched or excluded, and the algorithm for ranking them is unknown.

Google Scholar does include many peer reviewed journals, other periodicals, and scholarly books. Studies comparing it to subscription or fee-based research databases have sometimes found it competitive, sometimes not. We know that "free" resources (those that do not require a subscription), and those with more citations are (or were) ranked higher. But we won't know when or if the ranking algorithm or what is searched, changes.

Does that mean we shouldn't use Google Scholar? No, it is probably the best free tool for locating research-based information online. But I recommend that you augment your search with other search strategies.
  • If you have access, conduct the online search on the Web of Science (many universities subscribe, and if you log in to your university account you can access it online).
  • Change your search terms to synonyms or to other aspects of the topic. If you know who conducts research in the area, search on author name.
  • Scan beyond the first couple pages of results
  • Remember, just because you didn't find it online doesn't mean that there isn't research on the topic.
  • Consult a librarian for more options.

What concerns do you have (or not have) about using Google or Google Scholar to conduct a research literature review online?

-- Trudy Dunham, research fellow

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

5 simple steps toward publishing

Kate-Walker.jpgAre you looking to publish, but don't know how to proceed? Too often lack of time, confidence or discipline gets in the way. Good ideas languish, important work goes unshared, and contributions go unrecognized. I've had my share of good and bad publishing experiences, benefited from amazing mentors, and picked up a few lessons along the way.

Here are five simple steps to get you moving toward the sometimes daunting process of publishing:
  1. Present at conferences. Conferences force you to develop publishing.jpgand articulate ideas for future articles. Posters and presentations provide a forum to get ideas out and gain valuable feedback. If you get in the habit of presenting regularly, you build in a structure (deadlines!) for generating new topics and keeping your writing moving forward.

  2. Enlist buddies. Writing doesn't have to be isolating - recruit writing partners. This might mean writing collaboratively, inviting colleagues to be reviewers, or creating a writing support group. Let's face it, it helps to be accountable to others, and more heads are better than one.

  3. Find a home. Location, location, location. A recent post reminds us that it can be hard to find outlets for youth development research. Start with your own bibliography. If a number of articles come from the same journal, it might be a good place to start. Also, consider your audience (e.g., Afterschool Matters, International Journal of Volunteer Administration) as well as your methodology (e.g., Action Research, Qualitative Inquiry) when trying to find a publishing venue.

  4. Follow a template. Once you've picked the journal you will submit to, find a similar article to use as a model and imitate its structure. It doesn't need to be the same topic, but should use similar methods (survey, interviews, case study). The model can help you outline sections and know how long each section should be. Academic writing can feel formulaic and stifling, but I'd argue that it's easier to follow rules than make our own!

  5. Make a plan. I recommend Wendy Laura Belcher's book, "Writing Your Journal Article in 12 weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success". It helps demystify the writing process and offers practical steps to move that conference paper into a published journal article. Also, Rich Furman and Julie Kinn's book, "Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles; Writing and Publishing in the Helping Professions". It guides readers through each step of the process, and even includes sample submission and revision letters.

How about you, what gets in the way of publishing? Do you use any of these methods? What other strategies or tips work well?
-- Kate Walker, research associate

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Can learning make people happy?

Jennifer-Skuza.jpgDo you ever get involved in something so deeply that nothing else seems to matter, and you lose track of time? If you answered yes to that question, then you have experienced flow.

Flow describes a sense of effortless spontaneous action that people feel in moments that stand out as some of the best in their lives. The concept stems from the seminal research of Mihály Csikszentmihalyi.

He found that most people are happy when they are in that state of flow - a state of concentration or complete absorption in the activity at hand. Athletes call it "being in the zone." Artists and musicians describe it as being passionately focused on their creative work. Children experience it when they are fully engrossed in their play.

What does flow have to do with learning? Well, the experience of flow can serve as a magnet for learning -- that is, a draw for developing new levels of challenges and abilities. The learning environments found in youth work can offer prime opportunities to foster flow. Csikszentmihalyi identified a number of factors that accompany the experience.

I have taken eight of those factors and described them in the context of youth work practice to provide some ideas on how to build learning environments that support flow.

focused.jpgClear Goals

Flow is most often achieved when goals have been set by youth themselves, and are achievable and measurable.


In a relaxing and engaging environment where they can focus, youth may also develop persistence, which comes when they are given time to practice endurance. In our well intended rush to give youth answers and to provide an efficient learning experience, adults deny youth the vital opportunity to explore long enough to find out the answers for themselves.

Loss of self-consciousness

Youth often feel as though they are surrounded by an invisible audience. Concerns such as how youth look to others or how well they measure up to others' expectations will rob them of flow. So, incorporate methods or curricula that help youth bolster their self-esteem and shape a strong sense of self.

Direct feedback

In flow, youth know how well they are doing in real time. This can happen in a variety of ways. Adults or peers could give youth clear and immediate feedback on their performance. Eventually youth can learn how to judge the quality of their own performance and improve by seeking out resources for themselves.

Altered sense of time

Youth have the innate ability to become so absorbed in an activity or topic that fascinates them that time seems to stands still. Equally they can turn off quickly when they decide something is boring. Adults can ruin youth learning processes by rushing them through too much material, in too short a time, and by not giving them the chance to relate a new idea to their earlier experiences.

Ability, balanced with challenge

Anxiety can set in if an activity is too challenging. Boredom can be experienced if the activity is not challenging enough. Apathy can occur if both challenge and ability are too low. Gradually increasing both ability and challenge will help youth experience flow.


It is important to feel in control of an activity. In this case, control is the confidence that comes from having the self-knowledge to predict what you can do because you have prepared for the activity.

Intrinsically rewarding

Flow cannot be imposed or rewarded with artificial recognition. Rather, it stems from an inner joy that comes from being engaged in an activity. Help youth find their internal motivation by creating vibrant learning environments that allow for sparks to emerge.

Do you see a relationship between happiness and flow? Do you see youth experiencing it? Could an emphasis on flow serve as a magnet for learning?

Jennifer A. Skuza, PhD
Extension professor and program leader, educational design & development

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Is youth work worth it? Not without adequate compensation and professional development

Thumbnail image for nextgen-main-logo.jpg
Last month my fellow bloggers asked, "How can we reinforce the belief that youth work is a career and not just a pipeline for other professions?" The answer is complex. But one key is money, and perhaps in the current economic climate, this question is the elephant in the room: Is professional development or advancement in the field worth the investment without adequate compensation?

My opinion is that it isn't. Betsy StarrPassion and commitment to youth motivate youth workers to enter the field. However, to retain them, there is a clear need for increased compensation commensurate with advances in training, education, and job title. Otherwise, for many, it's just not worth it to stay.

First, the good news: some have found creative ways to meet this need.

  • Vermont offers professional recognition bonuses for achieving certificates, credentials, and degrees.
  • The After School Corporation in New York, in addition to offering academic support and assisting with finding scholarships, paid stipends to those completing certificate programs on several CUNY campuses.
  • The Missouri Afterschool Network is currently working with the Department of Higher Education to develop a career lattice and salary recommendations. People are also sharing ideas and resources more than ever.
  • The Next Gen community initiated the Career Pathways group that convenes quarterly phone calls to provide updates. (Please post a comment below if you'd like to join!).

And, the bad: it has been difficult to sustain compensation and incentive programs as funding sources dry up. For example, those piloting and adopting the TEACH scholarship program, touted as a promising model for school-age professional development, are still reeling from its recent decimation. Pennsylvania responded by looking into grants such as Race to the Top funding and by building collaborations with other agencies.

Professional development and compensation both help sustain a profession, and we need both, lest we be regarded as a pipeline to other careers. So, please post your comments, whether you have news to brighten our day or are looking to commiserate

Does your state have any innovative compensation or incentive programs in place or in the works? What other strategies can we provide for keeping youth workers motivated and on a career pathway?

Betsy Starr, National Institute on Out-of-School Time

Research associate

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.
  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy