Chapter 7: Youth-Based Community Development

Youth today are key change agents and technology leaders in most communities and cultures. An Internet search for "youth and entrepreneurship" will result in long listings of programs leveraging the skills of youth on behalf of their communities. Junior Achievement,,  and 4-H programs,, have been dramatically empowered by the informational and collaborative resources the Internet provides. Viable, home-based businesses are booming as a result of the Internet and web-based marketing.

Youth literally embody the future of their communities, and they must be part of inventing the means by which they will be able to remain as contributing citizens in their rural communities.

The future of rural America, which today is represented by 27% of the national population, depends on use of Internet to create jobs allowing communities to retain those youth who wish to live in rural America. Today, rural youth typically must move to larger cities to find work, bleeding rural communities of their most capable future citizens.

The following article references the potential role schools can ideally play teaching youth Internet skills in a community service context using the robust "project-based learning" Internet resources in a ‘real world community problem-solving context. Youth have an important role to play helping communities understand the benefits of Internet use in the face of accelerating technological, social, and economic change. Over 50 service learning and entrepreneurship resources are listed at;

Model Small Schools Showcase Community Internet Learning

Internet access allows even the most rural schools, and potentially home schools, to leapfrog ahead of mainstream schools if they can learn to use the Internet to teach themselves what they need to know on an ongoing, even daily basis. The Bettles Field School has 18 students in the remote village of Bettles, Alaska, Population 35. A satellite dish provides for two-way Internet access, their interactive link with the world of learning.

Using very modern computers the Bettles students routinely teach themselves, and each other, the latest multimedia authoring tools as the conduct their own project-based learning web activities through their own web site. One such project focuses on weather with a partner school in American Falls, Idaho, as a collaborative effort comparing weather patterns of Alaska and Idaho. Links to top global weather resources and monitoring stations have been collected, as a community resource. A second collaborative project involves wolves, where ongoing Alaskan wolf tracking studies are compared with a similar project in Ely, Minnesota.

A third project focuses on Snow Geese, with a fourth project being a robust instructional site on Alaska, and Native Alaskans, submitted as an entry in the Thinkquest international competition ( .) Though they didn’t win an award this year, they are continuing to update the site as a global resource. The local community history and stories are shared with the world through their website:

The principal and head teacher, Jeffery Holt, and father to six of the students, actively facilitates encouraging the students to learn specific software applications. He views his role as focusing on maintaining an overview of the best software for student creativity, while the students are responsible for learning the mechanics, developing lifelong learning skills that will fare them well throughout life. With students of diverse talents, the strengths of each are emphasized and a group spirit assures that everyone gets the help they might need. The learning model is more ‘familial mastery learning’ than punitive disciplinarianism.

Jeffery also teaches a Spanish class via the Internet ( demonstrating how teachers can literally teach anyone, anytime, from anywhere!

Together, Bettles students have pooled talents to create a school web page with dozens of pages with original artwork using digital art tablets, original digital photographs, photographs modified with Adobe Photoshop software, panorama spinable images, 3-D rotational images of Native crafts, automatic hyperlinks which display local weather on their home page, and so on. Students are now learning digital video-editing, using Media 100 software, and are preparing streaming video presentations. An Internet radio station is in the planning. The students have created their own CDROM’s and are learning about MIDI music and MP3 Internet music capabilities.

Under Jeffery’s leadership the Bettles Field School is considered to be among the top 3% of the schools in Alaska, and word is spreading rapidly about what his students have proved is possible for all Alaskan students. It is not surprising that his ninth-graders scored very high on the ACT exam (22+). Though many schools have the Internet access and equipment, the vision for its application is too often missing.

Students are well known in the community as skilled resource persons and routinely tutor citizens on computer and Internet skills as well as how to create web pages for local crafts and businesses. The school is a regular host of community activities, multimedia presentations showcasing students’ work, and sharing the best Internet resources on topics chosen by the students and citizens themselves.

The digital camera, and other items, are on frequent loan to community members, in return for their working with students. Interactive and social entertainment, centered on inquiry-based Internet learning, has replaced passive viewing of television. The social currency is trading new knowledge, skills and encouragement!

Modern research suggests that the ideal school of the future is the small rural schoolhouse of yesteryear, with the addition of Internet resources and communications capabilities. Multiage mentoring, small group individualized learning close to, and engaged with, the local community.

The pace of learning is both collaborative and individualized, tailored to local community needs and issues. Creating culturally appropriate schools is a very important theme in Alaska, where an online course teaching the state standards for creating culturally supportive schools is available URL

Today, many communities consist of members who have moved in from diverse cultures and locations, creating the need to establish a common ground of understanding before members can work together effectively to achieve common goals. New skills must be learned to create the social info-structure with the intelligence to make good things happen on behalf of the community.

Many K-12 classrooms are now learning these new skills through participating in project-based learning Internet activities. Project-based Learning (PBL) has emerged as a structured collaborative activity model to teach collaborative skills by creating action-oriented learning activities. Many of these activities intentionally involve the community and community issues because the role of schools is to grow good citizens.

Two great, short, tutorials on project-based learning (PBL) are available along with PBL models (Webquests, Thinkquest, Cyberfair, and Community ShareWeb,)

1. Project-based Learning Models Web Tours

2. Global SchoolNet Harnessing the Web Tutorial:

These are also listed at along with many examples of Native Alaskan Internet innovations and collaborative applications.

Three of the most significant PBL models will be described briefly, followed by discussion on what an ideal project might look like incorporating the best of all three models.


A wonderful model for developing your own project-based learning activities: Read about why teachers love WebQuests! Select the slide show!

In a typical webquest activity, students would use the Internet to access specific information on a defined topic, researching first as an individual, and then engaging with others in a defined small group activity to share their research results and integrate it with those of others. The activity ends with a group presentation and often creation of a web page with the research findings. Linking such activities to real world problems and issues makes this model extremely important and relevant as a necessary trend in education. Duration of a Webquest activity can be from 2-3 class periods up to several months.

The Official Webquest homepage, offers teachers a highly customizable format for creation of their own online projects. Online recertification courses for teachers are available during which they will create their own webquests and then post them all on the Internet.. Rich collections of teacher-created webquests are available via web pages created as a result of these previous classes, giving teachers a model for sharing their creative lessonplans with other teachers.

Example Webquests From Inservice Courses (Teacher-created)

Dozens of "ready-to-go" collaborative classroom activities for all ages listed by grade level and topic!

One unique feature is that in addition to extensive training materials and examples, template outlines are available allowing teachers to quickly author original webquests with minimal time and effort.

Teachers can use template web pages to easily design their own projects:

Tutorial on designing WebQuests

Teachers' WebQuest template
Just edit this template web page to create your own WebQuest in minutes!


Thinkquest is one such PBL activity, where teams of three students, from 4th grade and up, collaborate via Internet to create instructional web pages to help other kids worldwide learn. Over 5,000 high quality web sites are posted for your review. Thinkquest used to offer a free CDROM’s with software and tutorials with which you can learn to create quality instructional web sites, too!

There are now over 5,000 quality instructional web sites created by students posted at the Thinkquest web site:  Listed by subject area, this resource is exciting for teachers in that the resources are ready to use and that they motivate students when they learn the web sites are student-created. The Thinkquest web page is


Cyberfair, found at, is a project-based competition for students of all ages, sponsored by MCI and Cisco Systems, and offers a structured opportunity for students to create web pages showcasing school and community synergies among eight categories. Many Elementary School entries of extraordinary quality make the point that even very young students can participate. The students literally feel they are championing the cause of their cultures and develop great pride in their multimedia depictions of their local community and culture. Strongly recommended; See examples of each of the following categories in the winners listings.

* Local Leaders

* Community Groups and Special Populations

* Business and Community Organizations

* Local Specialties

* Local Attractions (Natural andMan-Made)

* Historical Landmarks

* Environmental Awareness

* Local Music and Art Forms


Envisioning the Optimal Community Development Youth Project!

The best elements of each project suggest an emerging model for the future.

Consider taking Thinkquest’s CDROM model of providing a robust and complete collection of software and tutorials, and combining it with the step-by-step training and template a model of Webquest, and then combine with these the ‘real world problem-solving’ community-based model of Cyberfair. We’d have a community collaborative capacity-building model which combines a comprehensible structure, with the best resources, to engage a broad cross-section of local citizens.

Youth today represent the first generation to grow up with computers. Youth are the key change agents and technology leaders in most homes, communities and cultures, worldwide. "Culture Club" is a concept paper which articulates a methodology of involving youth, and community members of all ages, in creating mentoring opportunities and instructional resources tailored for local citizens.

Other youth-based models have been created by Junior Achievement, with emphasis on entrepreneurship and community service. 4H programs have similar structures and goals. The following section suggests common themes for consideration when looking at this new model of education, which would use portfolio-based assessment as opposed to standardized testing.

Further resources on collaborative online activities are available in the online course "Designing K12 Internet Instruction" at .

We’re all kindergartners in the information age.

If we were to identify the lessons learned from four years of Thinkquest we’d find that

Students learn ‘how to learn’ particularly where new multimedia software and technologies are involved.

Students learn adaptation of tools, which become transparent vehicles for self-expression and teaching others.

Students learn how to help each other responsibly.

Students learn discernment of information and authenticity issues.

Student learn human collaborative skills and skill sharing.

If we take these learning outcomes and were to design the ultimate community project-based learning model, including the best of the PBL models discussed, we’d have the following componets:

- Students mentoring others in the use of web learning resources.

- Students working together to identify the best collaborative strategies and tools oriented to real-world problem solving in a culturally sensitive entrepreneurial and instructional context.

- Students would create their own legal Ebusinesses using free web services such as and, they have their own free email accounts, free original web sites, free web conferencing, listservs and many other collaborative tools and environments.

- Students would monitor and trade stocks in both simulations and the real world. They would develop their skills at the highest level, using the latest tools, because practically speaking, they can’t afford the time with anything less if they are to have competitive skills in a constantly learning knowledge society.

Toward Creating a Global Educational Model

Due to continuing advances in technology, the majority of the world’s population, representing 15,000 cultures, will have the opportunity to learn, and teach, via Internet within the next 10-20 years. With the current teacher shortage, Self-Directed Learning courses, with emphasis on the PBL models above, may be the only way to meet the vast need for instruction worldwide within the context of meeting local community needs. Teachers and students will find it increasingly feasible to be able to teach anyone, anywhere, from any location. How we learn to apply our imaginations toward best use of the incredible tools at our fingertips is a challenge we all share.