October 1, 2001
The Computer Clubhouse Network is intended to respond to two of the key goals of Intel's Innovation in Education initiative: to provide underserved youth with increased access to technology, and to encourage female and minority youth to enter technical careers. More specifically, the Computer Clubhouse Network seeks to provide young people with the opportunity to work in a collaborative, supportive community to use technological tools to express and explore their own ideas and perspectives. Intel is funding the creation of 100 Computer Clubhouses over the next three years, both in the U.S. and around the world. This evaluation was focused on exploring the obstacles and opportunities faced by these newly established Clubhouses and the developmental trajectory they follow as they build local capacity and create a working community of youth engaged with technological tools.
The creation of the Computer Clubhouse Network is an important opportunity to investigate one way community-based organizations are responding to increasing pressure to provide greater accountability for their after-school technology-related programming. Creating effective technology programs with clear, attainable goals is challenging, requiring these organizations to hire, retain, and develop staff proficient in the use of technology and able to articulate what constitutes effective use of these tools, and to understand what resources are compelling for populations characterized by poverty and limited educational resources.
The Computer Clubhouse model approaches technology development for traditionally underserved young people through the principles of design-based learning, a process that emphasizes creative exploration of materials and media to support the expression of young people's ideas and perspectives. In Computer Clubhouses, adults mentor and support young people pursuing their own interests while also encouraging a spirit of community-building. Focusing on the expressive and creative uses of technology distinguishes this model from traditional afterschool technology programs that emphasize either developing technical skills or reinforcing school learning through homework help and remediation.
The Center for Children and Technology (CCT), part of the Education Development Center, Inc., is conducting a three-year independent evaluation of the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network, based at the Boston Museum of Science. This evaluation is an important opportunity to investigate the impact of an innovative technology development program for young people that addresses a set of goals distinctly different from directly addressing school-related tasks through interventions such as homework help or remediation. What benefits might such a program have for both the youth it serves and its host organizations?
As part of our Year 1 evaluation, CCT conducted a range of qualitative research, including site visits to eight Computer Clubhouses between December 2000 and April 2001. We selected sites to represent the range of community-based organizations hosting new Clubhouses, including large, well-established afterschool programs serving large numbers of youth from multiple schools and smaller community-based organizations. While on-site, the evaluation team interviewed key program administrators at the host organization, including the program director, technology coordinator and/or volunteer director, as well as Clubhouse mentors and support staff, and conducted structured observations of activity in the Clubhouse. We also conducted periodic phone interviews with coordinators, attended three of the five training sessions, interviewed all Network staff, participated in monthly coordinator conference calls, and tracked online discussions among coordinators and network staff.
We discovered among program participants a deep commitment to the Clubhouse vision and a strong shared vision of the spirit and intent of this project. Our analysis shows that the considerable variation in progress among different sites in enacting the four principles of the Clubhouse model is related more to the range of local challenges faced by the sites than to conflicting agendas for the Clubhouse. We observed that a number of factors affect program development, in particular:
- The prior area and degree of expertise of Clubhouse coordinators, including the ability to assess the needs, skills, and interests of members entering a Clubhouse and support members in their engagement in design activities.
- The local resources available, including reliable volunteer mentors with technical expertise and experience with youth.
- The level and consistency of institutional support of the Clubhouse from the host organization, including how Clubhouse time is scheduled in relation to other programs and the match between other technology initiatives and the Computer Clubhouse.
The greatest variation we observed in Clubhouse programs is the level of knowledge that different coordinators bring to the process of creating and maintaining a social environment that effectively privileges and supports sustained design-based activity by members. This report outlines the challenges associated with creating this type of environment and identifies a number of most-promising practices for doing so successfully.
We suggest that sites are moving along a developmental progression and are at widely varying stages of program maturity. The pace of this progression is influenced by a number of factors related to the host organization, the coordinator's prior expertise and experience, and the needs and priorities of the local community.
As the Network continues to grow and as existing sites continue to develop their programs, it is becoming increasingly urgent to establish more, and more varied, forms of sustained support and guidance for Clubhouse coordinators. It is most important to develop resources for coordinators, who need further opportunities to learn about effective practices for guiding and encouraging design-based activity in their Clubhouses.
Intel and the Network have invested heavily in providing intensive support to sites during the startup process, and there is enormous enthusiasm across the Network about the work that is under way. As the diversity and strength of the Clubhouse community grow, our research can provide guidance to inform program development in ways that meet local priorities but also maintain the spirit of the Clubhouse model.