June 2006 // Volume 44 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA2

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Bridging the Digital Divide: An Evaluation of a Train-the-Trainer, Community Computer Education Program for Low-Income Youth and Adults

This article details the evaluation of a train-the-trainer program aimed at bridging the digital divide among adolescents, youth, and adults in poor urban communities within the city of New Haven, Connecticut. Teens were trained in computer skills and teaching skills to others and then went into their communities and facilitated training sessions with children and adults of varying ages and abilities. The evaluation found that teen trainers experienced increases in computer skills, computer self-efficacy, and empathy for others and that the secondary participants experienced increases in computer skills. The article discusses implications for future efforts bridging the digital divide.

Matthew S. Mutchler
Evaluation Coordinator
Center for Applied Research
Storrs, Connecticut

Stephen A. Anderson
School of Family Studies
Storrs, Connecticut

Umekia R. Taylor
New Haven Project Director
Department of Extension
New Haven, Connecticut

Wanda Hamilton
New Haven Program Coordinator
Department of Extension
New Haven, Connecticut

Harry Mangle
Statewide Project Director
Connecticut USDA New Communities Project
Department of Extension
Hartford, Connecticut

University of Connecticut

Computers are rapidly becoming central to the daily lives of Americans. They are commonly used in school settings, in the home, and in social settings. Many resources that were once distributed to individuals in hard copy are now available on the Internet, including newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals. Many agencies and programs, such as the Cooperative Extension System and its 4-H program, are using computers as a means of serving their client populations (c.f., Fairchild, Vigna, & Fassett, 2004). Children are using computers both at home and in school for educational and recreational purposes (Facer, Sutherland, Furlong, & Furlong, 2001).

Studies have shown that regular computer use is correlated with the development of cognitive skills such as spatial representation, iconic skills, and visual attention. Furthermore, regular computer use has been found to be positively correlated with academic performance (Subrahmanyam, Greenfield, Kraut, & Gross, 2001; Subrahmanyam, Kraut, Greenfield, & Gross, 2000), self-esteem, motivation (Reaux, Ehrich, McCreary, Rowland, & Hood, 1998), and problem solving (Mayer, Quilici, & Moreno, 1999).

In order to benefit from this technological advancement, however, individuals must possess the skills and confidence to use computers. Training has been shown to be effective in increasing skill and/or self-efficacy (Fletcher-Flinn & Suddendorf, 1997). Unfortunately, low-income families often have limited access to, or knowledge of, computers and the Internet, increasing their exclusion from mainstream America due to this Digital Divide (Eamon, 2004; Facer & Furlong, 2001; The Children's Partnership, 2005).

As a result, less is known about how low-income youth acquire knowledge of computers, especially outside of school. The literature on after-school and other kinds of community youth development programs suggests that such programs are an effective means of improving youths' academic success (grades, motivation, commitment to schooling), vocational achievement, and social development (e.g., positive identity, personal efficacy, self-regulation, resistance skills, problem-solving skills and quality of adult and peer relationships) (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, & Hawkins, 2002; Eccles & Gootman, 2002; Roth, Brooks-Gunn, Murray, & Foster, 1998). This makes such programs an ideal setting in which to promote computer skills and confidence. Additionally, research has shown that having access to computers and the Internet helps youth-at-risk bridge the Digital Divide (The Children's Partnership, 2005).

The study described here examined whether a community program for low-income individuals could facilitate computer skills in two ways. First, youth were enlisted to serve as facilitators or trainers of other youth and adults who received computer skills training. Both the youth facilitators (the Primary Audience) and the participants in the training (the Secondary Audience) were studied to see if their experiences in the program would produce positive outcomes. With regard to the youth facilitators, it was expected that the experience would enhance their knowledge of computers and sense of mastery or self-efficacy with computers.

Further, the experience was expected to promote improved achievement motivation and empathy in relating to others. Active involvement in community service, leadership opportunities, and peer mentoring in other kinds of community youth development settings have been found to be associated with improved motivation in the classroom, self-expression, tolerance, and cooperation with others (c.f., Mahoney, Larson, & Eccles, 2005; O'Donoghue, Kirshner, & McLaughlin, 2002; Rhodes, 2002). With regard to the Secondary Audience of participants in the training, it was expected that they also would increase their knowledge of computers.

As part of the USDA funded New Communities Project, a two-tiered computer education program entitled Parents, Children, and Computers aimed at increasing both skills and self-efficacy was implemented by the University of Connecticut, New Haven County Extension Center. The project involved collaboration with several community agencies in the New Haven area. The Primary Audience for this project was youth between the ages of 14 and 17 years who were trained as facilitators to teach computer literacy skills to a Secondary Audience of youth and adults living in their local communities.

Persons in the Secondary Audience who received the computer literacy training were members of at-risk families, caregivers, and individuals working or volunteering in agencies serving at-risk populations. The Secondary Audience benefited from one-on-one instruction that was simple and offered in a non-intimidating environment. Because the sessions were held in a community neighborhood center or after school program, the participants were familiar and comfortable with these settings.

The youth facilitators taught the participant by using simple terminology to guide participants in acquiring hardware, software, and Internet skills. Based upon anecdotal reports by participants, the youth facilitators were warmly and respectfully accepted as the experts by both younger or same-age peers and adults. Young children saw the youth as role models, while the adults respected the teenagers for their knowledge and ability to teach them.

The project was based upon a "train the trainer" model of pedagogy that aimed at empowerment through knowledge and skill acquisition. The program emphasized the development of life skills and cultural literacy as a means of fostering a sense of personal accomplishment. This article reports on data from the first 3 years of the project.

Youth in the Primary Audience participated in a 20-hour technology training before they taught as facilitators in the community setting. The training was designed to provide youth facilitators with a basic knowledge of the operation and the care of a computer. The activity-based hands-on guide had four modules. Within each module, there were four sections: "Words to Know" (terminology); "Learn It" (concepts and skills); "Doing" (activities to practice concepts and skills learned in section 2); and "Exploring" (Internet sites and activities that offer further enrichment in each area). In addition to the in-program training, youth were strongly encouraged to explore and further develop their computer skills in other community settings, such as schools, libraries, and local community centers. See Table 1 for a description of each module and its sections.

Table 1.
Description of Training Modules

Module Sections

Module 1
Computer Basics

Module 2
Word Processing

Module 3

Module 4

Words to Know

CPU, RAM, ROM, monitor, Dos, application software

Cursor, style, character, dialog box, scroll bar, point size

WWW, Cyberspace, ISP, Chat rooms

Presentation, storyboard, clipart

Learn It

Hardware, Software

Keyboarding, Format, Editing, Tools, Insert

Safety, How to Search

Set-up and Design









Evaluation Methods

Primary Audience

The primary audience consisted of 22 participants from five different New Haven area schools. There were 10 participants for year 1 (2001/2002), 6 participants for year 2 (2002/2003), and 12 participants for year 3 (2003/2004). After eliminating cases due to missing data, there were six year-1 participants, four year-2 participants, and 12 year-3 participants. Because of the small number of participants, all three years were combined into one cohort for purposes of analysis. Participants were between 13 and 17 years old, and most (59.1%) reported having "some experience" with computers. Sixteen (72.7 %) reported owning their own computer, and 18 (81.8%) reported that they used the Internet before this program. Four participants (18.2%) reported having attended a computer-training course prior to this program. See Tables 2 and 3 for primary audience demographics.

Table 2.
Grade Distribution of Primary Audience

Grade in School

# of Participants

8th Grade


9th Grade


10th Grade


11th Grade



Table 3.
Gender and Ethnicity Distribution of Primary Audience















Four outcomes were included in the evaluation. These were Computer User Self-Efficacy, Achievement Motivation, Empathy, and Knowledge of Computers.

Computer User Self-Efficacy (CUSE: Cassidy & Eachus, 2002) originally consisted of 30 Likert-type items with a maximum score of 180. Higher scores indicate higher levels of computer self-efficacy. One item was dropped from the measure ("DOS-based computer packages don't cause many problems for me"). This was done out of concern that participants would not be familiar with DOS due to the prominence of Windows and MacIntosh operating systems. Thus, the scale used had 29 items and a maximum score of 174, with higher scores indicating higher levels of Computer User Self-Efficacy.

The CUSE is reported to have excellent psychometric properties, including internal consistency of a = .97 and a test-retest reliability score of r = .79. Tests of criterion validity were performed by comparing scores of software engineers, Internet users, radiographers, physiotherapists, and nurses.

Analyses of Variance showed that the CUSE significantly discriminated between these groups such that those in groups that required more computer knowledge (e.g. engineers, Internet users) scored higher in the CUSE than those in less computer-oriented groups (e.g. nurses). Construct validity was assessed by correlated CUSE scores with scores on computer experience and number of computer software packages used. Correlations were significantly positive for both comparisons (Cassidy & Eachus, 2002). In the study described here, scale reliability was .92 at pretest and .91 at posttest.

The Achievement Motivation Scale (Institute of Behavioral Science, 1990) measures an individual's motivation to achieve his or her future dreams and goals associated with job, family, and/or community. It has been found to have an internal consistency of .78, and consists of 13 Likert-type items with a maximum score of 65. Higher scores indicate higher levels of Achievement Motivation. Reliability scores for the study were .79 at pretest and .84 at posttest.

The Empathy Scale (Bosworth & Espelage, 1995) measures one's ability to care, trust, and listen to others. It was found to have an internal consistency of .62. The scale consists of 5 Likert-type items with a maximum score of 25. Higher scores indicate higher levels of Empathy. Reliability calculations for the current study yielded poor results: the pretest alpha was .47, and the posttest alpha was .46.

Knowledge of Computers was measured by asking participants to complete four "knowledge modules" designed by the program coordinators. The four knowledge areas were: Hardware & Software (13 items), Word Processing (15 items), Internet (5 items), and Power Point (4 items). Participants responded to True/False questions in each knowledge area. Only 12 of the 22 participants had complete data for the module evaluation.

Primary Evaluation Analysis

Using a paired sample t-test, significant results were found for Computer User Self- Efficacy, Empathy, and each of the four knowledge modules. For the Computer Self-Efficacy, the mean pretest score was 134.95, compared to a posttest score of 162.82. This difference was statistically significant (t = -9.69; p < .001). In regards to the Empathy measure, mean at pretest was 17.09, compared to 17.77 at posttest (t = -3.07; p< .01). When assessed on Knowledge of Computers, participants improved from a mean of 6.42 correct to 12.75 correct answers for the Hardware & Software Module (t = -14.09; p<.001), 10.67 correct to 14.42 correct answers for the Word Processing Module (t = -7.36; p < .001), from 4.25 correct to 4.83 correct for the Internet Module (t = -2.55; p < .05), and from 3.25 correct to 4.00 correct on the Power Point Module (t = -2.69; p < .05).

Across all Modules (maximum score of 37), participants improved from a mean score of 24.58 at pretest to a mean of 36.00 at posttest (t = -16.04; p < .001). No significant changes were found for achievement motivation.

Participants' performance on the CUSE and on the Modules indicated that the program was successful in increasing participants' comfort, self-efficacy, knowledge, and expertise regarding computer use. However, because of the low reliability for the empathy scale, this result should be interpreted cautiously.

Secondary Audience

The secondary audience consisted of 99 community members ranging in age from 5 to 56 years old. The wide range in age is related to the broad spectrum of different sites that incorporated the computer course into their programs. See Table 4 for other demographics. Most of the training occurred in elementary and middle school settings as well as neighborhood community centers. The mean age for youth participants was 8.71, and the mean age for adults was 35.00. Participants at each site were taught information and skills based on the Modules in which the Primary Audience were trained. All of the settings are located in Empowerment Zones within the city of New Haven, indicating high levels of poverty for residents (see http://www.empowernewhaven.org/).

Table 4.
Gender and Ethnicity Distribution of Secondary Audience





Asian Indian













Computer Knowledge. The secondary audience completed a simple test of their knowledge of computers at pretest and posttest. This test involved them pointing to eight parts of the computer (on/off switch, keyboard, eject button, monitor, compact disk, CD drive, mouse, screen) and then performing six operations on the computer (turn on the computer, insert the CD, start a program, end a program, turn off the computer, connect to the Internet). The youth facilitators (primary audience) administered this assessment orally and gave a score of "can do" or "cannot do" for each item. Due to missing data, only 96 participants were included in the "pointing" analyses and 94 in the performance analyses.

Secondary Evaluation Analysis

Across all 3 years of data collection, participants' mean scores at pretest were 5.61 (pointing) and 3.47 (performance). At posttest, the mean scores were 7.97 and 5.88, respectively. It should be noted that all participants in year 3 (2003/2004) exhibited no variance on either scale at the posttest. All participants scored the maximum: 8.00 (pointing), 6.00 (performance), and 14.00 (total). A paired-samples t-test of this data revealed that the pre-post differences were significant. For pointing, t = -15.02 (p < .000), and for performance, t = -13.24 (p < .000).

However, because the secondary audience was so diverse in its composition, with some coming from a presumably "normal" population of youth and others coming from a low-functioning adult population, subgroup analyses were also conducted. Repeated measures analysis was used to re-examine all of the dependent variables using age (operationalized as over 18 years of age or under 18 years of age) sex, and experience with computers (none, very limited, some experience, quite a lot, extensive) as between-subjects factors.

These tests revealed significant interactions between time and levels of computer experience for both pointing (F = 5.96, p < .001) and performing (F = 5.792, p < .001), indicating that participants with more previous computer experience were able to perform more tasks and point to more items successfully at post-testing than those with less experience. A significant interaction was also found between time and age for performance (F = 5.39, p < .02). Adults performance scores (x= 2.00) were lower than youths' performance scores (x= 3.57) at pre-test, but showed slightly better improvement at post-test (x= 6.00 vs. 5.88). There were no significant interactions in terms of sex. Comparisons between low-functioning and "normal" adults were not performed due to a small sample.


The results of the evaluation indicate that the New Communities Project in New Haven was successful at increasing computer self-efficacy, computer knowledge, and empathy for others within their primary audience of youth facilitators. These results are consistent with existing literature indicating training can facilitate computer skills and a sense of computer self-efficacy among youths (Fletcher-Flinn & Suddendorf, 1997).

The impact of participation upon empathy scores is interesting and provides some support for the idea that engaging youth as trainers of others in the use of computers may be another facilitative context that can promote positive youth development outcomes (Mahoney et al., 2005; O'Donoghue et al., 2002; Rhodes, 2002). The results also support previous research indicating that involving youth in the use of computers can enhance psychosocial variables (Reaux et al., 1998).

The lack of change in regards to Achievement Motivation was initially surprising. It seems, though, that the lack of change here may be due to participant selection. The primary audience was obtained through an application and review process facilitated by the Extension staff. It is, therefore, likely that these participants were already highly motivated to achieve. This measurement has been dropped for the final 2 years of the project.

In addition to benefiting the primary audience, the project seems to have had important effects upon the secondary audience as well. Secondary audience participants demonstrated significant improvement in their computer skills (pointing and performance tasks) following completion of the program. Additional analyses indicated that those who began the training program with higher levels of computer skills were more likely to benefit the most.

However, somewhat surprisingly, the subgroup of older adults who showed fewer computer skills at the start of the program showed slightly more skills at the end of the program than younger participants who began the program with higher skill levels. This latter finding suggests that the training can be effective with populations of older, low-income individuals who have had limited access to, and previous knowledge of, computers (Eamon, 2004; Facer & Furlong, 2001). Additionally, the lack of gender differences on the pointing and performing tasks supports existing research that indicates a narrowing of the gender gap in computer use and ability (Miller, Schweingruber, & Brandenburg, 2001; The Children's Partnership, 2005).

There are several limitations to the study described here. In terms of the primary audience, one must exercise caution in generalizing the evaluation results due to the small sample size. Additionally, the CUSE (Cassidy & Eachus, 2002) was designed for adults, and applicability for teens is unknown. The reliability tests provide preliminary support for the scale's use with younger populations, but once again one must consider the small sample size. Finally, the poor internal reliability statistics for the Empathy Scale are of concern.

In terms of the secondary audience, the existing results seem strong, considering the large sample size and consistent performance of the measurement. The lack of variance at the year-3 post-test raises some concern that the ceiling may have been set too low to capture more advanced learning and skills. That is, were the questions too simple, or did this strong performance simply show that the youth facilitators were adept at teaching the targeted skills? What other impacts did this program have on the secondary audience? Would the findings of other studies of computer use apply to this population in terms of the academic and psychosocial benefits? Unfortunately, due to issues of age, reading level, and mental health (in the adult population), we were unable to measure other possible outcomes.

Despite the shortcomings mentioned above, it is clear that Parents, Children and Computers is having a positive impact on its audience. This project paves the way for future Extension-based programs aimed at increasing access to computers and decreasing the Digital Divide for youth-at-risk.


This material is based upon work supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under the Connecticut "New Communities Project" (2001- 2006), Award #2001-41520-01137. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Center for Applied Research is a joint venture of the School of Family Studies and the Department of Extension at the University of Connecticut.


Bosworth, K., & Espelage, D. (1995). Teen conflict survey: Center for Adolescent Studies, Indiana University. (Unpublished).

Cassidy, S., & Eachus, P. (2002). Developing the computer user self-efficacy (CUSE) scale: Investigating the relationship between computer self-efficacy, gender, and experience with computers. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 26(2), 133-153.

Catalano, R.F., Berglund, M.L., Ryan, J., Lonczak, H.S., & Hawkins, D. (2002). Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. Prevention and Treatment, 5(15), 1-106.

The Children's Partnership (2005). Measuring digital opportunity for America's children: Where we stand and where we go from here. Retrieved June 9, 2005

Eamon, M.K. (2004). Digital divide in computer access and use between poor and non-poor youth. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 21(2), 91-112.

Eccles, J., & Gootman, J.A. (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Facer, K., & Furlong, R. (2001). Beyond the myth of the "cyberkid': Young people at the margins of the information revolution. Journal of Youth Studies, 4(4), 451-469.

Facer, K., Sutherland, R., Furlong, R., & Furlong, J. (2001). What's the point of using computers? The development of young people's computer expertise in the home. New Media & Society, 3(2), 199-219.

Fairchild, P., Vigna, D., & Fassett, J. (2004). Celebrating 4-H, youth, and technology: The Nebraska 4-H cyber fair. Journal of Extension, [On-line], 42(3). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2004june/a1.shtml

Fletcher-Flinn, C.M., & Suddendorf, T. (1997). Computers and 'the mind': An intervention study. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 17(2), 103-118.

Institute of Behavioral Science (1990). Youth interview schedule: Denver youth survey. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado. (Unpublished).

Mahoney, J.L., Larson, R.W., & Eccles, J.S. (2005). Organized activities as contexts of development. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Mayer, R.E., Quilici, J.L., & Moreno, R. (1999). What is learned in an after-school computer club? Journal of Educational Computing Research, 20(3), 223-235.

Miller, L.M., Schweingruber, H., & Brandenburg, C.L. (2001). Middle school students' technology practices and preferences: Re-examining gender differences. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 10(2), 125-140.

O'Donoghue, J.L., Kirshner, B., & McLaughlin, M. (2002). Introduction: Moving youth participation forward. In B. Kirshner, J. L. O'Donoghue & M. McLaughlin (Eds.), Youth participation: Improving institutions and communities. (pp. 15-26). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Reaux, R.A., Ehrich, R.W., McCreary, F., Rowland, K., & Hood, S. (1998). PCs for families: A study of early intervention using networked computing in education. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 19(4), 383-410.

Rhodes, J.E. (2002). Stand by me: The risks and rewards of mentoring today's youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Roth, J., Brooks-Gunn, J., Murray, L., & Foster, W. (1998). Promoting healthy adolescents: Synthesis of youth development program evaluations. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 8, 423-459.

Subrahmanyam, K., Greenfield, P.M., Kraut, R.E., & Gross, E.G. (2001). The impact of computer use on children's and adolescents' development. Applied Developmental Psychology, 22, 7-30.

Subrahmanyam, K., Kraut, R.E., Greenfield, P.M., & Gross, E.G. (2000). The impact of home computer use on children's activities and development. The Future of Children, 10(2), 123-144.