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Extension > Youth Development Insight > December 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Finding ways to engage youth in program evaluation

Nicole-Pokorney.jpgAre you engaging youth in program evaluation? You may be wanting to do so, but having trouble finding a way to do it.

In October, educators from our center and youth workers from several area youth programs embarked on a journey to explore innovative ways to engage youth in program evaluation. The Innovators on Youth Roles in Evaluation Cohort emerged as the laboratory for this exploration. The Innovators began to gather the information about Youth Participatory Evaluation (YPE) from our early meetings and Kim Sabo Flores' presentation that month, Transforming Youth/Adult Relationships through Research and Evaluation.


YPE is a practice that benefits youth, adults, and program. In her blog post, Youth as partners in evaluation - an idea that is catching on, Kate Walker began the discussion on how programs benefit from involving youth in evaluation and research.

In her presentation and book, Youth Participatory Evaluation, Strategies for Engaging Youth People, Kim Sabo Flores further describes the benefits:
  • Youth learn research skills youth-participatory-evaluation.jpg
  • It is a fundamental right
  • Gather better data
  • Improve programming
  • Model of community action
  • Resourceful data collection
  • Ability to ignite human development
  • Strengthen youth-adult partnerships
You can read more from Kim Sabo Flores on the American Evaluation Association blog.
The question emerging for me through this journey is: "How do we create the room to allow evaluation to occur?" As with all good youth engagement practices, we know what is good for the youth, adults, and program, but how do we design our programs to allow the space to actually do it?
By using a service-learning methodology, we can create the space for progress monitoring, or evaluation, and we also can align the components of YPE and service-learning to strengthen community action and advocacy.

How have you seen YPE and service learning playing out in youth programming? How are you carving out the space in your program to do it?

-- Nicole Pokorney, Extension educator, educational design and 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.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Collaborations with schools benefit youth

Samantha-Grant.jpgRecently I was part of a school-community partnership group. We were brought together to create a measurement plan for learning objectives set forth by a local school district. The objectives all focused on building 21st Century skills in youth.

There was a heavy emphasis on developing global citizens and cultivating youth interests and talents. Too often these traits are thought of as "soft skills"; however research suggests that soft skills are sometimes the most demanded in the workforce. In fact, National Public Radio ran an article that stated that preschool is one of the best training programs because of the emphasis on soft skills in early childhood. Like preschool teachers, youth workers strive to help youth develop skills that will make them more productive citizens.

girls-at-computer.jpgOther members of the school-community group were surprised when I said that youth workers think about 21st Century skills all the time. In fact, these are often the goals that drive our program. Their surprise led me to wonder why K-12 teachers don't know this very important part of nonformal learning. Clearly there is a need for more sharing of knowledge. So how can we as nonformal educators collaborate more effectively with schools?

I am not the first person to be concerned about this. AnnMarie Schamper, an educator in Philadelphia, wrote an article in the Spring 2012 edition of Afterschool Matters called Collaboration Between Afterschool Practitioners and In-School Teachers. With a realistic perspective she expressed the need for in-school and out-of-school educators to collaborate and communicate. She offered concrete examples from her practice to serve as a learning tool for others. Collaboration isn't easy, but she put the need for it into perspective, saying, "Collaboration between in-school teachers and after-school practitioners helps both sets of professionals, but the ultimate beneficiaries are the students."

As youth workers, we care deeply about the development of the young people that we work with. Even though it is challenging to find ways to connect with schools, I would argue that it's increasingly important. If we are to build 21st Century learners, we need the help of whole communities, and schools are an important player.

How have you effectively partnered with schools? How have you overcome barriers? What benefits have you seen?

-- Samantha Grant, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

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, December 5, 2012

Click activism: Are social media changing civic engagement?

Trudy-Dunham.jpgHave social media changed how the youth you know engage in civic activities? Are charities and civic organizations too out-of-touch with today's youth to engage them in their communities?

Recent research suggests that digital citizenship (regular and effective use of the Internet) is associated with civic engagement and participation in democracy. Further, innovative use of social media has become a key factor in engaging youth (as well as adults) in working and supporting the causes they believe in. We've recently seen evidence of this in news accounts about its use in super storm Sandy and political campaigns. The Internet and its social media tools have already, or soon will change the traditional civic and social organizations in our society.

youth-with-laptop.jpgSocial media have been shown to powerfully grab our attention. They can dramatically expose us to problems and issues, encourage us to care about them, to want to fix the problem and better our world. For many it can be a life-changing experience. Social media support our ability to organize, to shape our message and to share it widely. But do they promote real civic engagement? Or do they provide just an easy, relatively meaningless, form of social activism?

What is at work here is more than just the Internet and its social media tools. It is how these tools are being used that can promote civic engagement. They can provide a mechanism for youth to form and join in a "participatory culture", defined by Henry Jenkins as one with a strong sense of community, low barriers to participation, informal mentorship, and opportunities for creative work. These are cultures where youth have voice and power, where they act and can influence, where they can make a difference, cause change, have autonomy.

But informing others requires that one first inform one's self. This is fostered through youth learning by doing and sharing, and by within-community mentoring and networking. The mentoring provides scaffolds for further learning, building skills and knowledge that enable us to grow and take action effectively on the issues we care about.

Another attribute of a participatory culture is youth-developed materials or products: telling the story, retelling, and remixing. These can be tweets or blogs and videos, building on a shared experience to give voice to their ideas and take action.

Think of the Eight Essential Elements for positive youth development. It is easy to see that most are present in a participatory culture. The caring adult may or may not be there, but it does include friends and mentors of various ages. And when the culture is organized around a social issue that youth care about, it provides an opportunity for generosity, to value and practice service to others.

Adding Internet and social media to our youth development programs has great potential for enhancing youth voice and youth leadership in today's society, providing an opportunity for them to be more actively engaged in their community and their world. Online participatory cultures researchers are finding examples of the attributes and strategies these organizations use to enhance youth voice and engagement. And, as these organizations are demonstrating through their community chapters and clubs that meet face-to-face, they do not have to replace more traditional youth programs. But we can enhance these traditional programs by adding the social media tools and participatory culture attributes.

Have social media changed how the youth you know engage in civic activities? Have they changed how youth programs engage youth in civic activities?
-- 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.
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