TAG Team Tech: Wrestling with Teens and Technology June 2015
Developing a Technology-Focused Outcome-Based Program
Connecting Teens with Success
Volunteer opportunities when school is out to assist with summer reading programs or during the school year such as tutoring positions; internships that might be paid and more focused around a particular project; or even teen advisory boards (TABs) that actively plan experiences and are a voice for service excellence are all long-standing examples in libraries of programs that offer teens workforce development training which can give youth a much needed edge.
Creating opportunities in libraries for teens to explore career pathways is recommended by the Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action report in order for them to be successful in this increasingly competitive economy. While there are many different program models in existence in libraries of how teens can be supported to gain these career skills, designing outcomes as part of the program can serve to tell the story of what the teens are learning and is a great way to be more effective.
One such program this column is going to look at this month is a technology-focused internship that takes place in Studio i, located at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina. The building Studio i is located in, ImaginOn, was open to the public in 2005. Back in the 1990s when the development team conceived of how they wanted to support teens with technology, they knew interaction, teamwork, and networking could be achieved through tools as well as a dedicated area that were both personally interesting and relevant to the intended users.
The visionaries for designing the building saw the purpose of Studio i as two-fold. The technology was not only to be used by youth to “bring stories to life” (the mission of the building which is also a partnership with the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte) but for the youth to facilitate its use, through an intern program, which would grow their leadership and social skills.
Building an Outcome-Based Program
A viable outcome-based intern program with a focus on technology needs to start with a framework that can evaluate its effectiveness. Outcome-based programs typically consist of four main components which include the following:
This includes what goes into the program such as funding, equipment, or staff. In regards to a teen technology intern program, you would want to look at the resources that could be purchased or requested through a grant for the library that teens would have access to in order to create with themselves or show others how they can use it.
A snapshot of inputs for Studio i consists of an approximate 1200-square-foot space. There is a nine-foot curved blue screen that covers the center wall and is able to be digitally “removed” and replaced with any image as the new background, transporting teens to outer space or the outer banks with a few clicks of a mouse. Three stations on moveable tables have cameras connected to the computers to use iMovie or Stop Motion Pro for animated movies. The popular enclosed recording booth with corrugated foam walls to produce higher quality sound is where teens can give the microphone all their energy, passion, and pain which can be soaked up by the iMac, to layer a collage of song through Garageband. The Studio opens after school and on weekends as well as during school for group fieldtrip visits. Staff are in the space during open hours along with an intern which is typically two teens per two or three-hour shift. Staff help model behaviors for the interns such as giving visitors and overview of the space and helping them get started with the software. Once an intern is comfortable with what to say and how the software and hardware works, they take the lead to introduce people and get them started.
Inputs for technology-focused outcome-based programs don’t have to be as elaborate and space intensive as Studio i in order to develop practical skills for teens. Depending on your community and the interest of your teens, having people bring in their own devices for trouble shooting can be a way teens can interact with technology and gain great customer service skills. Many libraries have computer labs where a staff or volunteer are often utilized. This could be a great opportunity for teens to help not only on a daily basis but they could even develop a workshop to teach using particular software as well.
These are the actions teens will be engaging in while they are participating in the program. In addition, looking at what the training for the program will include and consist of are also part of activities.
While the primary part of the Studio i internship is to assist visitors that walk through the door, whether it be giving them a brief tour, introducing them to a software, helping record a song, troubleshooting, or suggesting a way to go about developing an idea, they also have the opportunity to work on projects. When visitors don’t need assistance, interns can work on anything from promotional videos for the library to developing a workshop to teach. Creating materials displays on content related to Studio i, to helping set up technology for a program, and taking photos of one in process are other activities they engage in as well.
Brainstorming project ideas should involve input from the interns. Sometimes taking notice of what a possible project could be might not be obvious until the need presents itself. Project management can involve collaborating with other interns or working alone. Giving suggestions during the planning process of the project can help teens avoid pitfalls and feel a sense of accomplishment even if they would change how they did something the next time.
This is what teens are producing through taking part in the activities.
Studio i interns produce videos—both live-action and animation-centered—around everything from the system-wide Teen Summer Reading Program to statewide and national ALA or YALSA contests. Interns have also produced videogames and machinima as well as music and workshops on the various software and hardware.
Showcasing what interns have produced can be as large as a community-wide film fest to something internal such as a how-to video on using the self-checkout machines. For internships that are based on helping visitors use their own devices, creating a pathfinder or handout of commonly asked questions is a great way for teens to develop a product that can be used repeatedly. Having something tangible is also proof that can be shared with staff, administration, and community members that teens are actively involved in the program and creating results.
These are the changes that result from the program. The outcomes can be the most rewarding part of putting this action plan together!
For the Studio i intern program, pre and post surveys, software assessments, and comments on targeted observable behavior are the main ways that outcomes are measured.
Through the surveys, teens are asked a short set of questions online that ask them to identify what they want to learn during the four month term as well as what they feel their strengths are, with examples provided. The post survey then compares answers from when they first began the term in order to identify whether or not a change has occurred. For example, if interns report they disagree that they are confident in helping others with technology for their pre survey but then change to “strongly agree,” a positive change has resulted. Answers can always be discussed with the interns if more clarification is needed, especially on ways their experience could be improved.
Software assessments are given to the teens by sitting down with them and going through the basic steps of starting a project (for example, stop motion animation video) and troubleshooting. The questions are given to the interns during the term so they know what to focus on and there are no surprises. The purpose is mainly to see that they have become familiar and comfortable with showing others the software if they hadn’t known how to use it previously. Teens have also developed assessments for software that they have learned on their own and are used in the Studio.
Lastly, observable behavior might include things such as collaborating on projects with others to giving visitors tours of the Studio. While this isn’t graded or pass/fail, it’s more of a discussion where staff can point out what we’ve observed and whether or not they agree with that observation as well as have anything else to add, particularly in regards to being supported in order to better succeed.
Outcomes can show change not only in growth of a skill but understanding and knowledge as well. Developing outcomes along with the interns that will be assessed is a great way to get feedback to see if you’re giving enough support and training to help the interns accomplish these goals.
Sketching out the framework can be a great way to get buy-in for the program from your supervisor or other administrator to keep moving forward in developing each component. This exercise can be an approach to enhance an already existing program to building something new. It will help your library stand behind results that show it is helping teens gain those necessary life and career skills!
Kelly Czarnecki is a teen services librarian in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has written extensively on teens and technology in libraries and teaches online classes for American Library Association. In her spare time she enjoys learning how to grill, watching the Chicago Bulls, and training for her next triathlon.