Technology outreach programs : their impact on middle-school students and their families from underserved communities
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The goal of this study is to provide a better understanding of the impact of outreach programs designed to impart technology skills to middle-school students from underserved communities, on both participants and their families. An outreach program, called Hi-Tec CompNow, was chosen for this study. This program was conducted as an after-school program for middle-school students from underserved communities in central Texas wherein participants learn computer hardware and software skills during a ten-week period. The study utilized (a) an interpretive analysis of the data generated from a questionnaire administered at the beginning and end of the program to obtain participants‟ computer beliefs, (b) program observations recorded by the researcher during program sessions, and (c) interviews conducted by the researcher with participants and their families after program completion. Results of the study showed that the majority of participants experienced some increase in their CSE beliefs at the end of the program, but the changes were not statistically significant. The study further illustrated that participants interviewed by the researcher expressed increased confidence in computers, spent more time on home computers, and were able to resolve computer issues in their homes. Parents were pleased with the program as well and generally expressed increased confidence in their children‟s computer skills. The study identified some of the program attributes which seemed to have led to enhanced CSE beliefs in most participants. These included hands-on experiences and teacher demonstrations of computer skills. In addition, the study found that student encouragement through family support and commitment had a positive impact on participants‟ CSE beliefs, while negative family input had a negative impact. Lack of culturally-responsive learning content, participants‟ lack of use of the dial-up Internet service provided cost-free for a year, and perceptions that the computers provided by the program were outdated and thus not fully functional were factors which seemed to have undermined the program‟s impact on digital equity. Additionally, the program provided software which focused on document creation, spreadsheet-based analysis, and presentations. However, the study also revealed that most participants utilized home computers for more “recreational” purposes, e.g. playing games, and playing and/or editing music, games, and videos. The study suggests that well-intentioned outreach programs such as Hi-Tec CompNow are making laudable efforts to bridge the digital divide. However, they need to reinvent themselves to ensure underserved populations do not get left behind in a digital world that has moved beyond the desktop computer. To enhance the digital literacy of the underserved, digital equity programs must provide opportunities to build their skills in multimedia, mobile media and online participation in addition to fostering access to newer computers of good quality with high-speed and wireless Internet.