The Kulture of KLICK!

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The emergence of a unique, technology-rich culture for middle school students

 

At three o’clock the bell rings and kids all across the country saunter out of school. Some go to sports practice, others participate in drama or other after school clubs, and many have after school jobs. Still, millions of teenagers just hang around. For many children, current youth culture is one of drugs, alcohol, sex and other potentially destructive behavior. Often unsupervised, children frequently get into trouble. Statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show "youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are most at risk of committing violent acts and being victims between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. — a time when they are not in school at the end of the regular school day" (US Department of Education 1998). Teenagers everywhere are literally dying for stimulating and creative things to do. In response, educators at Michigan State University, with partners from several local school districts, made it their goal to re-focus teen energy into productive activities. Today, for nearly 300 Michigan teenagers, three o’clock means time to KLICK!

KLICK! (Kids Learning in Computer Clubhouses!) is a federally funded project that has established afterschool community learning centers in 10 middle schools serving especially needy populations in nine inner city and rural school districts across Michigan. Participating KLICKers (as the student Clubhouse members are called) are from some of the most isolated and at-risk schools in the state. The computer clubhouse concept is a powerful intervention strategy that addresses multiple needs of young adolescents and their communities. By engaging students in thoughtfully conceptualized, carefully organized, well-supervised, and authentic learning activities, the program impacts students and their communities in four areas: Academic Achievement, Citizenship/Community, Technology, and Service/Safety (ACTS). Specifically, KLICK! has led to:

The emergence of a unique, technology-rich culture for middle school students

 

At three o’clock the bell rings and kids all across the country saunter out of school. Some go to sports practice, others participate in drama or other after school clubs, and many have after school jobs. Still, millions of teenagers just hang around. For many children, current youth culture is one of drugs, alcohol, sex and other potentially destructive behavior. Often unsupervised, children frequently get into trouble. Statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show "youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are most at risk of committing violent acts and being victims between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. — a time when they are not in school at the end of the regular school day" (US Department of Education 1998). Teenagers everywhere are literally dying for stimulating and creative things to do. In response, educators at Michigan State University, with partners from several local school districts, made it their goal to re-focus teen energy into productive activities. Today, for nearly 300 Michigan teenagers, three o’clock means time to KLICK!

KLICK! (Kids Learning in Computer Clubhouses!) is a federally funded project that has established afterschool community learning centers in 10 middle schools serving especially needy populations in nine inner city and rural school districts across Michigan. Participating KLICKers (as the student Clubhouse members are called) are from some of the most isolated and at-risk schools in the state. The computer clubhouse concept is a powerful intervention strategy that addresses multiple needs of young adolescents and their communities. By engaging students in thoughtfully conceptualized, carefully organized, well-supervised, and authentic learning activities, the program impacts students and their communities in four areas: Academic Achievement, Citizenship/Community, Technology, and Service/Safety (ACTS). Specifically, KLICK! has led to:

  • Enriched after school life through safe and constructive activities
  • Improved academic achievement, particularly in language arts, social studies, science and mathematics
  • Improved communication, collaboration, and creative and critical thinking
  • Strengthened relationships between school and community
  • Increased expertise in modern technologies
  • Increased understanding and sharing across generations

An unanticipated result of these KLICK! clubhouses has been the emergence of a unique youth culture based on ideas of freedom to learn, respect for one another, and a healthy attitude toward cooperative learning and shared knowledge. This "KLICK! culture" alone is reason enough to call the program a success.

What Happens in a Clubhouse?

A typical computer clubhouse is filled with networked computers, scanners, digital cameras, laser printers and a server, as well as the latest software to film and edit digital video, author Web pages, and chat interactively with other clubhouse sites around the state. At any given time, there are a variety of projects and activities going on in a clubhouse. Many KLICKers enjoy building personal Web pages, making Web sites for businesses, filming and editing digital movies, creating PowerPoint presentations, and even burning their finished products onto CD-ROM. Several KLICK!-wide projects exist, like writing for the program’s internal newspaper The Password Express, and competing in KLICK!-wide activities like networked video game competitions and homepage design contests. The opportunities are endless.

Each site has an adult site coordinator who manages the day-to-day operations of the clubhouse. Generally, clubhouses have a large group of users, including about 20 core members who are the most frequent and active participants. One of the most successful clubhouses is at a small school in rural northwest Michigan. The two local site coordinators have let the clubhouse metaphor guide their actions and management style. Says one of the coordinators, "We want kids to feel like this is their place. It belongs to them and they can use it however they’d like. My job is to make sure access is provided fairly, that nothing gets destroyed, and to provide whatever expertise I can — if they ask."

The clubhouse concept is one of teachers and students, adults and children, working collaboratively on problems and activities of mutual interest. It’s common to find parents, business owners and other community members working alongside students. A few clubhouses have even been offering student-taught classes to assist the public in learning computer technology. At KLICK!, students have access to and are learning about powerful technologies on which they will surely draw as adults.

What follows are the results of semi-structured interviews with students from each of the ten sites. During these interviews, common threads emerged as students shared their stories. Though different in many ways, students continuously spoke of three qualities existing in their clubhouse: "friendliness," "helpfulness," and "free-ness." Rather than re-labeling these descriptors with more conventional terms, we have chosen to use them in their student context because their words speak more loudly than our own. The remainder of this article describes how these elements combine to produce a definitive and powerfully important KLICK! culture that aligns itself well with the goals described above.

Friendliness

Two very articulate eighth graders had a great deal to say about their clubhouse and what role it has played in their school. Almost 50% of their student body is involved with KLICK! in some way, and its presence is making a difference for individual kids and their school at large.

Interviewer: Who is the average or typical KLICKer? Are they jocks or nerds or kids who need help after school or what ... who are they?

Zoë: Well ... I don’t think there is a typical KLICK! person. I mean, we’re all different.

Will: Wait! We are all similar in one way. We don’t judge others and we accept wh'ever wants to be a KLICKer.

Zoë: Yeah, that’s true. I guess you could say we’ve formed our own KLICK! clique, if you know what I mean.

Will: I admit it, I probably wouldn’t have become friends with some of these people before KLICK!. We were brought together by our common interest in computers, not by the clothes we wear, or the music we listen to.

There’s no doubt that their clubhouse has added to the local sense of school community, fostered some friendships, and has helped a few kids to find their niche. The mother of one student stated it best: "Nelson feels differently about himself now that he can do all this stuff with his computer. For the first time, his older brothers are coming to him for help and that really makes Nelson feel good." The culture of friendliness at KLICK! helps draw kids in and then keeps them coming back.

Helpfulness

What has emerged from the culture of friendliness is a strong proclivity toward helpfulness. The students interviewed below not only articulate this view but also illustrate a healthy and productive stance toward learning technology.

Kevin: Nobody can be an expert at everything! That’s why it’s so important that we all work together and help each other out.

Franki: If you get stuck on a program or don’t know how to do something, all you have to do is ask.

Kevin: We don’t just help each other; we help our teachers, our parents, other people in town, and even the businesses.

Curious about helpfulness spilling out beyond the walls of their clubhouse, I asked around for a few stories. I’ll tell just one, then point to several other illustrations of KLICK! helpfulness existing on the Web.

Helpfulness within school: Adopt-a-Teacher

In an effort to more intimately join the school and the actions of his local Computer Clubhouse, one site coordinator implemented an "Adopt-a-Teacher" program at his middle school. Teachers needing computer advice or assistance could be "adopted" by a clubhouse member volunteering her time and energy after school. "I never knew you could adopt somebody so, well, old!" said Helen, a student participating in the program.

Helen adopted her 7th grade social studies teacher, Ms. Miles. "She d'esn’t really know all that much about computers and the Internet so I help her out finding good information about whatever we’re studying," says Helen. New to teaching social studies, Ms. Miles had much to learn about the content and wanted to supplement her dry textbook with interesting details about American history. "Do you realize how much is out there?" asked Helen after her first attempts to find information on the Web. Ms. Miles replied, "Yes I do, that’s why you’re helping me!"

During a unit on the American Revolution, Ms. Miles wanted her students to hear the "messy details" of history, not just the canned version supplied in the textbook: "My students didn’t believe me when I told them most of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence died in poverty — ostracized as radicals. I asked Helen to see what information she could find about the signers and she brought back some amazing stories! The details Helen’s research lent added excitement and flair to the unit and made it one of the most productive units of the year."

Because Ms. Miles’s students hated their assigned textbook, Helen used the desktop publishing skills she learned in the Clubhouse to make class handouts that were more clear and interesting. Ms. Miles would write what she wanted the handout to say, and Helen would organize it, add graphics, and spice it up with some eye-catching twists. In bragging about Helen, Ms. Miles said, "The other students were really impressed with Helen’s skills and enjoyed the handouts so much more than the book. We all came out ahead."

In addition to in-school helpfulness, several KLICKers have been helping their local community with various projects. Check out these KLICKer-built Web sites that illustrate the culture of helpfulness emerging in clubhouses.

http://www.klick.org/baldwin

Local tourist attraction Web site

http://www.klick.org/detour

Local town’s 100 year anniversary celebration

http://www.recycledcaps.com

Local business Web site

One of the clubhouse site coordinators reacted to some of these service-oriented projects with these words: "These kids have learned so much more about their local community and history then they thought they ever would. They have a feeling of pride and connectedness to their community that they didn’t have before. You can just see how excited they are to be doing this, plus they get to show off their computer skills!"

 

Free-ness

Trying to learn why KLICKers are willing to spend so much of their free time working in a clubhouse, I tried to contrast their clubhouse with a regular classroom.

Interviewer: Is it different to learn in the clubhouse than it is to learn in your regular school classes?

All students: Yes, definitely.

Interviewer: Why? What’s the big deal? Aren’t they the same?

Hannah: No, no. It has something to do with ... free-ness. That sounds like a funny word, but that’s just what it is.

Emma: In most classes you have to learn what the teacher or the book wants you to, how they want you to, and when they want you to, but a lot of kids don’t want to learn that stuff or else don’t learn that way.

Hannah: Yeah, but at KLICK! we get to learn whatever we want, however we want. It’s great!

Our conversation revolved mostly around issues of "free-ness" and soon the students landed on freedom as the better descriptor. These students were able to identify two important instances in which an element of freedom was very important to them.

Even with various Web security devices in place, students described free-ness to explore the Internet in the way they wanted as an exciting activity. "Whether we have some specific information to find or are just cruising around, surfing the Web is great because you decide where to go!" stated one student.

Many schools have chosen to constrain their Web-surfing students to a relatively small and innocuous portion of the Web. Others, including many administrators in the KLICK! consortium, have opted for a more open management strategy. One of our clubhouse school principals described the situation to me like this: "We’ve given our kids relatively free access to the Internet and as problems arise, we deal with them. It’s given us an opportunity to address some ideas of decency, freedom of speech, and personal responsibility as an entire school. It’s been good for us all."

The other important element of freedom students described was in how projects get completed. At one of the most rural, but active clubhouses, kids had been commissioned to make placemats for the local restaurant, highlighting upcoming events at the school. The task was quickly assigned to three of the most active and savvy clubhouse users who reported, "Our site coordinator said, ‘Here, you guys do this’ but we didn’t exactly know how. We asked him and he said, ‘I don’t know how, figure it out’ so we did!" These three KLICKers each felt a sense of pride and ownership at their accomplishment — beyond what they would have felt if they had been given the typical "cookbook" directions for completing the project. Clearly, the culture of free-ness is attractive to students and suggests why they are willing to dedicate so much time and energy to their clubhouse projects.

Summary

KLICK! is an example of a successful after school program dedicated to re-framing current youth culture. It provides tools, skills, and opportunities to both expand student horizons and contribute to school and community in productive, meaningful ways. It’s interesting to notice that the qualities of KLICK! culture these students spoke of correspond well with our ideas of current progressive schooling and the establishment of a learning community. Perhaps through other innovative, technology-rich programs like KLICK! we can continue to shift what it means to be a part of a community, work with others, and be a teen — we can shift youth culture toward more positive ends.

Mark Girod is a doctoral student in educational psychology at Michigan State University. His interests are science, technology and aesthetics.

E-mail: girodmar@msu.edu

Yong Zhao is an assistant professor of educational technology at Michigan State University. His interests are in informal learning environments, teacher education and second language learning. Dr. Zhao is also the project director for KLICK!

Web: www.klick.org

 

References

U.S. Department of Education. 1998. Keeping Schools Open as Community Learning Centers: Extending learning in a safe, drug-free environment before and after school. [available online] http://www.ed.gov/pubs/LearnCenters/

1 KLICK! is funded by a grant from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement ('ERI), US Department of Education. Opinions expressed in this article do not represent those of the funding agency. We wish to thank all site coordinators, community representatives, school administrators, teachers and students at the 10 Michigan schools as well as staff at the KLICK! central office at the College of Education, Michigan State University for making KLICK! a success. For more information about KLICK!, visit our Web site: http://www.klick.org/ or contact Dr. Yong Zhao, Director, KLICK!, 346 Erickson Hall, College of Education, MSU, East Lansing, MI 48824.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.

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