Program Design TIG Week: Research Activism for Youth: Facilitating a Virtual, Community-based Skill- Building Program by Asma M. Ali & Myles Castro

We are Asma M. Ali Ph.D. and Myles Castro MPH of the Sinai Urban Health Institute [SUHI] in Chicago. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we recently changed the format of SUHI’s Research Activism for Youth [RAY] program from an in-person into a 100% virtual program.

RAY is a 6-week community-based program that empowers youth ages 16-19 that aims to make positive changes in their communities. The program introduces topics of community-based action research, qualitative and quantitative methods, developing community relationships, public health careers, and the role of community-organizations in facilitating change. Each year, the program culminates with a youth-identified, researched, and developed presentation on a community health-related topic and their proposed solutions.  

However, moving to on-line learning required careful consideration and modification of several aspects of the program design and delivery. While many of our tips seem like common-sense program design, they require special attention for youth learners. Below are some of our lessons learned for changing the delivery format of these programs for youth:

Hot Tips:

  1. Consider the special needs of youth learning research skills. Developing lesson plans with learning objectives for each virtual session to maintain focus on essential program goals. Youth learners required shorter sessions, several breakout discussions, and more focused activities than adults to practice newly learned research skills. The RAY program had 1.5 hours each of in-person synchronous time and asynchronous course work to promote maximum opportunities for learning. 
  1. Consider the technological needs of youth living in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Access to an electronic device and basic software was critical for virtual participation in the program. RAY provided these resources to youth lacking access to required electronic devices on a rental basis. Alumnae mentor-initiated discussion of these needs were utilized to reduce any stigma-related barriers. Also, the program was delivered online using the youth-friendly BaseCamp for content management and GoToMeeting for weekly “live” virtual delivery. The platform provided a place to store assignments and activities. Frequent reviews and utilization in- class of platforms and resources supported ongoing participant engagement. 
  1. Feature talented speakers and engaging sessions. A blended synchronous and asynchronous format helped RAY participants practice skills and engage deeply with the content.  Guest speakers were invited for half the virtual sessions to discuss the application of new skills like qualitative research, community organizing, public health careers, and community-based work for social change. Guest speakers continually engaged with participants throughout the course to discuss skill applications within community contexts.
  1. Replicate community-building opportunities of the traditional in-person youth program. Without unstructured time to build group relationships, community-building for virtual programs must be intentional and flexible. For RAY, weekly in-class time offered ample opportunities for large and small group discussions. However, we also invited former program alumni to help support peer discussion sessions between the virtual sessions. In addition, youth participants connected with program facilitators and guest speakers to learn more about their work. 

What other tips do you have for creating engaging on-line programming for youth learners? 

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Program Design TIG Week with our colleagues in the Program Design Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Program Design TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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