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How are you using technology to work with youth from a distance?

By Kari Robideau

Girl reclining with her ipadIn what felt like an instant, our traditional ways of meeting youth needs halted. The essence of our work is building relationships. Now that we are all physically distant from young people we serve, how can we continue to do it?

Let’s answer this question with intentional programming and purposeful opportunities. While developing youth programs in distance learning formats is not our usual strategy, following best practices and achieving youth outcomes is what we will continue to do.

Technology can help us stay connected, but let's be smart about how we use it.
  • Many things have changed in the last few weeks, but one thing has not. We are youth development professionals grounded in positive youth development practices. We provide high-quality learning environments with experiential learning opportunities in out-of-school time.
  • Ask young people and families what they need during this time. Survey your youth leaders by email or text.
  • Be mindful of the hours kids are spending in online school work, their adjustment to new routines and challenges with access to wifi and bandwidth issues. Youth work is active, hands-on and we do not want to contribute to too much screen time.
  • Practice true youth-adult partnerships where youth are leading and adults are guiding. Use online tools youth are familiar with and give them opportunities to plan and implement their ideas.
  • Allow the needs to drive the tools used to deliver programs, rather than picking a single tool for connecting.
    • Consider no-tech options. Write letters to young people and include handouts with hands-on activities. You could include a treat, like a stick of gum, or a card with an inspirational saying.
    • Use technology such as video conferencing or Flipgrid to share and apply. Encourage participants to do an activity ahead of time and use your time together to share their work. Or, consider doing the activity together on video if bandwidth allows.
    • There are some groups who still need to have meetings with agenda items and decisions to make. Use a video conferencing tool that is familiar to those leading the meeting, be mindful of members that cannot participate due to bandwidth issues and always follow program policies, including the safety of minors.
  • Use this time to build your own technology skills for the future when virtual programs are no longer needed for regular programming. For example, this experience will enable youth groups to meet virtually when there are weather-related cancellations.
  • Acknowledge that we are not going to be able to re-create all scheduled programming during this time because the goals of some programs won’t translate into high-quality online experiences. And that’s OK. The time to re-engage in person will come again.

Sharing creative ways to deliver high-quality learning experiences for young people during this time eliminates duplication and provides everyone more time with delivery. How are you continuing youth work in out-of-school practices while we are physically apart?

-- Kari RobideauExtension educator & associate Extension professor

Read more about working with youth from a distance

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  1. Kari, Thank you for sharing your blog. I have had to change my delivery and have been using technology. Your tips are important as youth workers decide to use an online delivery. Keeping youth safe should be priority #1. Having a 2nd or 3rd staff or volunteer to help ensure youth safe in an online environment. Also, practice. Teaching via technology is different than in person delivery. Understanding the tools also aides in the delivery. Thanks again Kari for your blog!

    1. As an "early adopter" to moving our 4-H programs to distance learning formats in order to continue to share hands-on, experiential learning opportunities to youth... I thank YOU, Brian!!! Going beyond the experience, you raise up the importance of taking extra steps to make sure programs stay SAFE for our youth, as well!!!

  2. Just as youth are partners with us while planning in-person programming, I was meeting with a small committee of 4-H youth about what alternative programming could look like. By listening to the youth I heard: We can't just do it to do it. It has to be good otherwise, they may not come to the program when it is in-person. We have to find a way to get the youth connected. And we can't do an all-day zoom!
    These young people are spot on! And their viewpoints take us right back to our foundation of high quality youth programs leads to positive youth development, which Kari as you reminded us is one of the things that hasn't changed.

    1. Thank you for giving that example of YOUTH VOICE, Karen!!!

  3. I appreciated bringing the conversation back to what's important in all of our youth programs: intentional design, positive youth development, youth-adult partnerships, youth program quality, and safety of young people. While those things may be intuitive in our in-person practice, the opportunity (and challenge) is to put that into practice virtually. I'm encouraged by the many great examples I've seen from colleagues and volunteers!

    1. Thanks, Becky! YES - as youth practitioners... we've got this!!!! Use what we know to keep moving forward during this time.

  4. Thank you Kari for sharing all these resources! In any programming it's so important to consider the needs and then be intentional with the development & delivery of it. And in going "online" we need to be even more intentional and thoughtful.

  5. Thanks Kari and I want to underscore your statement about recognizing that some programs may NOT be very adaptable to online/virtual strategies, and that this is OKAY to postpone somethings. We as youth workers are not usually very good at considering this as an option. I'm also finding with my club families that the youth want to connect, parents too, and it is these connections that they miss, not necessarily having an educational program or planning for the future but rather that we can just connect in the immediate. Youth are missing social connections at school, and in 4-H and sports, etc. so my thinking is going more toward connecting and focusing on the social emotional learning aspects of our club "goals." That's where my head has been as I think about my volunteer role especially.

  6. It's hard working with youth from a distance. I usually speak to students in a school assembly setting and I too have had to rethink how I'm going to stay connected.

    Currently, I'm making video based curriculum for students because even though I can't physically be at their school, the message can still get to them through an online platform.

    The biggest challenge as you presented is recreating the 'normal' programming that students are used to receiving. I feel like learning can now be streamlined because you cut out a lot of the social aspects that comes with normal learning. On the flip side, students will need other ways to learn how to deal with conflict as well. Interesting times, thanks for posting.


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