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Youth and technology are like a hand and glove—a natural fit. Inspired by conversations with Time Warner Inc. Office of Corporate Responsibility, this section offers a set of articles on how youth programs are using media and video production to engage youth in participatory evaluation, and the challenges and benefits of using technology in youth programming and other settings.

Tony Streit, from Education Development Center, discusses the challenges and potential rewards of using technology to enhance learning in both formal and informal settings.

One of the greatest challenges educators face is not how to teach basic technology skills but rather how to use technology to develop thoughtful learning experiences for young people. It is fairly easy to implement software-based learning, where youth are plugged into computer-directed activities and experiences. A more difficult task is promoting technology-infused experiences that take youth beyond access and simple application of tools to creative experimentation and innovation.

A similar challenge for educators is facilitating the development of critical thinking skills as they pertain to new technology. The Internet and the multimedia capacity of the latest hardware and software offer youth the opportunity to explore the meanings behind media-generated images and messages. Truly literate young people in this age need the ability to decipher this type of content and to recognize bias. Effective technology learning experiences help young people to become smart, healthy consumers as well as innovative producers of media content.

YouthLearn, an independent project based at Education Development Center,¹ works to support educators as they integrate technology into their curricula, so that they may deepen their work as facilitators of learning and provide information-rich, experiential learning activities for young people. Working with practitioners in a range of settings, from formal classroom environments to community-based youth programs, YouthLearn offers professional development, research into best practices, and consultation on effective program design.

Building Capacity to Use Technology for Learning
At the core of YouthLearn's work is the belief that learning for young people must be experiential—relevant to their lives, their families, and their communities—allowing them to create and explore as they learn independently and in collaboration with others. Technology functions best as a tool for learning when it is used to support and extend project-based, experiential learning.

YouthLearn encourages educators to locate themselves and their programs on a continuum from passive to active learning, and to chart steps for strengthening their programs. A project-based approach gives young people the opportunity to engage in a learning process that frequently involves collectively creating and presenting a product to an audience. Technology tools assist in each phase of the process, from research and planning to production and exhibition, helping youth develop technology skills as they are applied within the project. This integrated approach enables programs to match infrastructure to organizational capacity while offering opportunities for community engagement and youth leadership.

Laying the Foundation
Without buy-in and vision at the management level, technology initiatives in schools and community organizations will have limited impact. Organizational leaders need to understand the demands that technology places on their staffs and programs. This understanding, or lack thereof, often influences how technology is deployed. For example, while many schools and agencies have fairly sophisticated labs with networked workstations and high-speed access, these settings are not always conducive to hands-on learning or to integrating technology into other activities. A particular site might be better served by applying wireless technology and portable equipment so that educators have tools at the ready. It is important for organizational leaders to help educators build a technological capacity that complements their program needs rather than trying to get the most technology bang for the buck. And, beyond infrastructure, professional development is often sadly lacking, when in fact it is frequently the most important investment.

Training Implications
A key shift that needs to take place in the training of educators is the development of communities of practice that support the ongoing, day-in, day-out exploration of methods and best practices. For that reason, a number of YouthLearn services are centered on creating peer networks and allowing colleagues to collectively identify and address their professional development needs. YouthLearn has an ever-growing online community of more than 2,000 educators, both in the U.S. and abroad, who connect via a discussion list to share ideas, insights, and opinions. A complimentary newsletter and weblog culls research, articles, and opportunities that support this community's needs. Additionally, YouthLearn's website offers detailed information about technology integration, teaching techniques, curriculum design, and youth development principles. With these kinds of services at its base, YouthLearn builds tailored training activities to fit the needs of specific audiences, often using a blended-learning approach where face-to-face training is complemented by online e-learning activities.

Regardless of the delivery method, the application of new knowledge should be a primary outcome of training. For educators, training should mean advancement of skills, experimentation with new tools, and discovery of new technology-enhanced approaches that will truly empower them and their young people.

¹ Education Development Center (EDC) manages more than 350 projects in 40 countries to advance learning and healthy development. EDC's work includes early childhood development, K–12 education, community development, and learning technologies, among others. The YouthLearn Initiative was originally created by the Morino Institute and is now a project of EDC's Education, Employment & Community (EEC) program division. www.youthlearn.org

Tony Streit
Director, The YouthLearn Initiative
Education Development Center
55 Chapel Street
Newton, MA 02458
Tel: 800-449-5525
Email: tstreit@edc.org

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