July 1, 2000
In 1999, we evaluated the pilot version of the Boys and Girls Club of America (B&GCA)'s Project Connect, an effort to infuse fourteen of its member clubs with technology access and use and to inform future technology integration projects at other clubs nationwide. Our task was to help B&GCA determine the impact of the Technology Centers on members, and to describe the circumstances and practices that best facilitated positive outcomes.
To conduct a preliminary needs assessment and program impact study, data were collected through different research methods: telephone interviews; site visits (Newark, Philadelphia, Taunton); and informal meetings. CCT also reviewed all of the proposals submitted by the fourteen selected sites. In addition, CCT held an evaluation workshop at the National B&GCA in Atlanta. The purpose of the workshop was to give an overview of the evaluation guidelines. Among the topics addressed were: ways to assess the impact of technology; general protocol for site visits; critical components of both formative and summative evaluations.
Site visits and telephone interviews revealed that the project is clearly having a positive impact on Club members. The project has given children access to technology, educational software, and the Internet, all critical to bridging the digital divide. Children have developed a variety of basic computer literacy skills, including word processing, using spreadsheets, file management, Internet navigation, and conducting research. Additionally some have learned to use software and the Internet for creative and expressive purposes. Club staff felt that the technology made the Clubs a "more fun" place to be. Technology Coordinators reported that technology labs were used for homework help during Power Hour and members learned to work collaboratively with their peers. Some Coordinators further reported an increase in the number of members attending the Clubs because of the new labs.
Our evaluation identified factors that foster successful technology implementation at the Project Connect pilot sites:
- Prior experience of Technology Coordinators and Technology Directors has a significant impact on the speed at which technology is adopted in most Clubs. Tech Coordinators adept with technology are better able to share their computer expertise with other staff members.
- Professional development is key to a solid program. Technology Coordinators working together to mentor staff on a weekly basis can accelerate the development of a coherent and well-integrated technology program.
- The presence of effective leadership that supports the technology staff and program is another key to the successful implementation of the technology.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of America and its Project Connect initiative are creating a community environment that can exploit new technologies for engaged learning and the preparation of a qualified and technologically literate workforce. Although all fourteen pilot Technology Centers are still in the process of being fully implemented their technology programs are designed to provide lifelong learning skills, a broad educational background, and the ability to work in culturally diverse contexts to all Club members.
In this context, it is fair to say that the B&GCA's Technology Center initiative has increased computer and Internet access in most of the pilot sites. Moreover, the presence of a Technology Center in these Clubs has helped to increase membership.
However, Project Connect is confronted with the challenges of providing ongoing training based on the Technology Centers' specific needs in the areas of technical assistance and technology integration into other educational programs; staffing; strategies for financial sustainability; and local comprehensive evaluation. If Project Connect is to become part of the larger B&GCA environment, it also is critical that the successful efforts and lessons learned demonstrated so far by some of these Technology Centers be communicated back to the entire B&GCA community.