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Research Development Paper 1

Research Development Paper

Molly Frendo

CEP 900/932
Dr. Koehler and Dr. Roseth
August 3, 2010
Research Development Paper 2

First Draft of Research Interests

I am interested in examining the affordances and constraints of technology in

developing the skills and knowledge of youth-serving volunteers and staff. Educational

technology has proven to be successful in a classroom setting and for some professional

development purposes; however, less is known about how hard skills can be taught and

demonstrated virtually. I hope to better understand the translation of successful formal

educational technology frameworks to non-formal educational opportunities for youth and

adults. Of particular importance to me is virtual collaboration and how participation in an

online volunteer community can improve outcomes and satisfaction. I seek to better

understand what motivates volunteers to participate in virtual communities and how this

participation can lead to a deeper connection to the service organization. Additionally, I

hope to study new trends in virtual volunteering and the role of technology in civic

engagement.

Current Statement of Research Interests

My research integrates the fields of volunteer management, educational technology,

and virtual community development to study virtual volunteering and the role of

technology in civic engagement for youth and volunteers. More specifically, I am focused

on understanding what motivates volunteers to participate in virtual communities, how

this participation may lead to a deeper connection to service organizations, and how

participation in an online volunteer community can improve learner outcomes, client

outcomes, and volunteer satisfaction.


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Reflection on the Evolution of my Research Interests

As I reflect on the journey I have made from my initial statement of research

interests to my present one, the biggest thing I notice is that my research interests have

become more focused. I am still interested in all of the things mentioned in my initial

statement. This precision sometimes causes a small amount of anxiety; it makes me afraid

that I have cut something critical from my RDP. I am working on being mindful that I

will be able to gain knowledge in those areas by focusing on the goals mentioned in my

final statement. My final statement more succinctly pulls together my interests and

provides me with the language to effectively convey to others who I am as an academic.

This process has made it clear that I will continuously need to remind myself that

the most successful research has a specific focus and to try to examine too many factors at

once will lead to a lack of clarity and an inability to isolate variables that may or may not

show causal relation. Doing this will require an intentional shift, as the practitioner in me

has become accustomed to making several changes at once if an attempted effort is not

successful after a few tries. Practitioners are more accustomed to relying on intuition;

research requires clearly stated rationale and that changes be made methodically so that it

is clear what changes have made a difference. Reading for my RDP has both helped and

hindered this process. The ideas I encountered have inspired me to try new techniques in

my own work, but I also know that I need to be very intentional before doing so in order

to effectively evaluate the changes. Doing this will make me not only a better researcher,

but also a better practitioner.


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Experts in the Field

As I work towards a better understanding of my research interests, it becomes

apparent that I will need to combine research from experts in the fields of volunteer

management, educational technology, and virtual community development.

Volunteer Management Experts

Some experts in the field of volunteer management include Milton Boyce, Sarah

Rehnborg, Mary Merrill, and Susan Ellis. Milton Boyce’s 1971 research on leadership led

to the development of the ISOTURE model, which is held in high esteem by the nation’s

land grant universities. ISOTURE stands for identify, select, orient, train, utilize,

recognize, and evaluate. This model provides a comprehensive approach for working

effectively with volunteers. Any work I do with volunteers is approached from the

standpoint of the ISOTURE model; therefore, any process I implement online will need to

encompass it. Dr. Sarah Rehnborg is a lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the

University of Texas in Austin and the associate director of the RGK Center for

Philanthropy and Community Service. In addition to an interest in volunteer management,

Dr. Rehnborg studies public sector volunteerism and the assessment of organizations

working with volunteers and national service members. Her work will be invaluable as I

look for ways to evaluate the impact that participating in a virtual volunteer community

has for the volunteer and the organization they serve. Mary Merrill was an international

consultant and trainer on the subject of risk management for organizations working with

volunteers before her death in 2006. Her work is widely influential in the field of

volunteer management; her knowledge is reflected in diverse publications on a range of

subjects. Specifically, her work will be important in my own because risk management of
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virtual volunteers is a key issue to consider. If we are not able to directly provide face-to-

face supervision to a virtual volunteer, we need to consider how we will create an

environment that minimizes the potential damage he or she could do in serving a client or

representing an organization. Finally, Susan Ellis is the president of Energize, Inc., which

is an organization that specializes in volunteerism and provides training and consulting to

those working in the field. She has written twelve books about issues pertaining to

volunteer management and edited the Journal of Volunteer Administration for six years.

Additionally, Ellis’ current work focuses on exploring virtual volunteering and the role of

the Internet in supporting volunteers. She co-developed the Everyone Ready program,

which is used nationally by staff in land grant institutions and others to teach volunteer

management skills to staff.

Educational Technology Experts

In the field of educational technology, I hope to look at the TPACK framework

developed by Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler to see if successfully translates to the

training and education of volunteers. The TPACK approach views knowledge of

technology, pedagogy, and content area in relationship to one another and encourages

educators to practice at the intersection of these areas. TPACK supports the idea of

finding the appropriate technological tools to fit the pedagogical approach used to teach a

certain subject area. It will be invaluable to me as a framework when considering

translating face-to-face methods of training and supporting volunteers into virtual ones

and in considering which tools might be successful in teaching civic engagement in an

online setting.
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Virtual Community Experts

Howard Rheingold is a well-cited expert in the field of virtual communities.

Rheingold has been faculty at both Stanford University and the University of California

Berkley. His work is the base for a wide expanse of knowledge on the ways in which

virtual communities can bring individuals together. Rheingold’s work will inform the

ways in which I consider virtual communities and their role in developing civic

engagement. Robert Putnam’s work on social capital will also prove invaluable as I work

to better understand how technology impacts citizenship and civic engagement. His article

and book Bowling Alone discusses the declining social capital present in current society;

both Putnam’s work and the work of his critics will be invaluable as I consider the ways in

which new technologies are capable of promoting civic engagement and social capital

through virtual communities.

Annotated Bibliography

In building an initial list of research to review for my research development paper, I

sought articles that discussed virtual communities and the development of civic engagement and

social capital through those communities and online volunteering or service learning. Many

interesting and provocative articles, books, and commentaries emerged; out of those, I selected

these six to be the ones I focused on to gain a better understanding of the scholarship that has

been conducted to date about my research interests or similar areas. Throughout my process, I

did not find research that specifically discussed interactive virtual volunteer communities that

enhanced the experience and support of face-to-face volunteers and created new volunteer

opportunities online. My research will require me to take a cross-disciplinary approach in order

to find more substantive answers to my questions.


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Bers, M., & Chau, C. (2006). Fostering civic engagement by building a virtual city. Journal of

Computer-Mediated Communication, 11, 748-770.

This article focuses on the development of civic engagement in adolescents using Zora,

which is a three-dimensional virtual environment. In it, youth are encouraged to design their own

city, structure their society and its values, and engage in civic conversations with one another.

This pilot study utilized both qualitative and quantitative data. Researchers coded the interactions

of twelve youth (ages 11-17) who volunteered to participate in the workshop over nine sessions.

Data were coded according to civic actions and civic discourse. The researchers define

participation in civic actions within Zora as creating hero/villain objects and adding values to the

community’s definitions. Civic discourse consisted of civic dialogues (conversations) and civic

deliberations (debate and arriving at consensus). The authors rank civic deliberations at the

highest level of civic engagement in Zora. Though the authors acknowledge that their sample is

exceptionally small and not especially generalizable, the data indicate that Zora has a great

potential to serve as a safe space online for youth to engage in conversations about civic

participation. Through this online community, youth had an opportunity to define their own

values and beliefs while also learning about the values and beliefs of the other participants. They

were able to gain a richer perspective and build empathy for others and build a common

community with diverse opinions. This exploratory study helps to lay the ground work for future

research connecting the civic engagement education of youth in a virtual setting to see if there is

a positive correlation to civic engagement offline. Additionally, the authors suggest that future

research could determine if adding an adult facilitator could enhance the positive youth

development aspects of Zora and enhance civic engagement.


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As I consider my own work, this research is relevant because it speaks to the potential of

online communities to promote civic engagement. According to the Project on Civic Reflection

(www.civicreflection.org), volunteers who participate in ongoing conversations about civic

engagement through the process of civic reflection are more satisfied with their experience.

Further, the authors point to some key questions I would like to explore more in my research:

how do individuals create a virtual identity that allows them to feel “present” in the community?

How do we create shared goals and move forward with group agendas in an online community?

What is the democratic process like in an online community? I had not considered the

development of artifacts and discussion of heroes as potential ways to encourage civic dialogue.

This study’s sample was focused on adolescents; I wonder if this approach would be successful

with adults. My current work on virtual civic reflection has been primarily through the

discussion of text, video, or current events. If adults were given the opportunity to create these

“objects” before proceeding with text-based civic reflection, they might have a better

understanding of one another and therefore create a more substantive dialogue. Additionally, this

article pushed me to consider the ways in which youth could be engaged in non-formal

experiential educational opportunities that promote active citizenship and civic engagement.

Bers, M., Beals, L., Chau, C., Satoh, K., Blume, E., & DeMaso, D. (2010). Use of a virtual

community as a psychosocial support system in pediatric transplantation. Pediatric

Transplantation, 14, 261-267.

In this article, the authors discuss the use of Zora as a platform for a virtual community

populated by pediatric transplant patients. Their goal was to create an environment where

patients could decrease feelings of isolation, learn about their medical treatment adherence, and

share their stories. The mixed method study analyzed measures of central tendency to quantify
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community participation and coding of data provided during chats, home visits, and phone

interviews. Many participants in the study described an increased sense of normalcy, enhanced

self-concept and ability to contribute to the community, and an expanded social network. The

virtual community was carefully monitored by researchers and project coordinators to ensure

safety of participants and also take them through a curriculum on using the technology,

collaborating on ideas and shared visions, and coming up with strategies for taking medicine or

transitioning to college life as a transplant patient. Several of the participants developed face to

face friendships as a result of Zora and one used her experience on Zora to educate her teacher

and classmates about the impact of organ donation. Though the study size was small, the

research indicates that the use of a virtual community could provide support to an isolated and

vulnerable population beyond geographic barriers.

This article supports my research interests in several ways. First, it described how the

author of another one of my annotation articles used the virtual environment Zora in different

and complex ways. I am interested in virtual community platforms that are flexible and easily

adapted for unique purposes. For instance, many organizations work with multiple kinds of

volunteers; therefore, one standard virtual community might not meet everyone’s needs. Rather

than forcing organizations to purchase and learn multiple platforms, it seems most appropriate to

think about adapting existing ones for new purposes. This is important as I consider the platform

I might utilize in creating virtual communities for the volunteers I work with; we have been

leaning towards Moodle because it is free and fairly adaptable. This article made me wonder if

there were elements that existed in Zora specifically that created this outcome or if it was the role

of the facilitators and developers in designing that environment. Essentially, it made me think

seriously about the TPACK framework of Zora in relation to Moodle. I think I can incorporate
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the elements of Zora that were successful in this study into my own research. Second, this article

made critical points about the ways in which virtual communities can support vulnerable and

underserved youth populations in out of school settings. Volunteers could be trained to facilitate

virtual communities and engage populations of youth who might not otherwise be able to

participate in non-formal experiential education.

In my work with youth mentoring, a current trend is e-mentoring. The benefits of e-

mentoring compared to face-to-face mentoring are widely disputed, particularly because it has

the potential to be inconsistent and impersonal and is difficult to monitor from a case and risk

management perspective. The results of this study could be useful in developing an e-mentoring

community that would address some of the concerns of e-mentoring. It would allow us to reach a

population of youth not currently being served. If I were to develop a community like this for

youth and mentors, I would create common spaces for everyone as one group, for just mentors,

and for just youth. Then each mentoring pair would have a private space (accessible only to them

and the program staff) to communicate with one another and develop a more intimate

relationship. This approach would not only keep people engaged in e-mentoring, but also be

easily monitored. Finally, this article points to some of the ways in which virtual communities

might transfer over to a participant’s offline life. If an individual’s participation in a virtual

community is transformative enough (as this study indicates), he or she may be compelled to

change behaviors in reality. This concept is important to consider as we engage individuals in

civic engagement online and then track to see if it transfers to their behavior offline.

Cravens, J. (2006). Involving international online volunteers: factors for success, organizational
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benefits, and new views of community. The International Journal of Volunteer

Administration, XXIV(1), 15-23.

Cravens conducted a survey of organizations who utilize international virtual volunteers

in the developing world deemed “outstanding” by the United Nations Volunteer Program

between 2002-2005. The goal of the survey was to identify how virtual volunteers are thought of

in relation to staff members, how organizations provided support to online volunteers, how

online volunteers built organizational capacity, and the necessary infrastructure of organizations

who utilize virtual volunteers. Cravens provides a standard definition of virtual volunteering:

volunteer activities that are completed, in whole or in part, via the Internet on a home, work, or

public access computer, usually in support of or through a mission-based organization.

Organizations need to have staff with excellent communication and literacy skills as well as the

technology capabilities. These organizations shared that they used virtual volunteers to do many

of the things asked of their onsite volunteers, but that virtual international volunteers also offered

a more global perspective and increased diversity. Some of the critical factors for success

mentioned included: frequent and timely communication, regular reporting, stringent screening

and pre-service requirements, clear instructions and position description, and placing virtual

volunteers amongst teams of other virtual volunteers.

As someone who has worked in the field of volunteer management and is very familiar

with research on best practices in the field, Cravens’ article helped me to connect what I know

about face-to-face volunteers with virtual volunteers. Milton Boyce pioneered the ISOTURE

model of volunteer management, which stands for interview, screen, orient, train, utilize,

recognize, and evaluate. All of these components need to be actualized in order to run highly

effective volunteer programs. This article helped me to better understand how the ISOTURE
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model would translate to virtual volunteers. It was clear that requirements for online volunteers

should not be less rigorous than an organization requires for its face-to-face volunteers.

Additionally, online volunteers need frequent communication and feedback in order to keep

them motivated. In sum, the article helped to demystify virtual volunteers and provide

information about necessary components to consider when including virtual volunteers as part of

an organization. I will use these results to inform my research related to online volunteers and

virtual training and support for face-to-face volunteers. Currently, the training period is used to

not only give volunteers the skills they need for their job, but also to build a relationship with

program staff who provide the training. I am particularly interested in studying this to know if

volunteers need face-to-face time with staff as a part of developing a deep and lasting connection

to that organization. One thing this article inspired in me was the desire to compare two

randomly assigned groups of volunteers serving in the same area to see if their satisfaction with

their volunteer experience and volunteer outcomes were less than, greater, or equal to one

another if one group was provided with face-to-face training and the other group experienced all

of their training online.

Guthrie, K., & McCracken, H. (2010). Making a difference online: facilitating service-learning

through distance education. Internet and Higher Education, 13, 153-157.

In this article, Guthrie and McCracken discuss two case studies of online service-learning

courses at the University of Illinois Springfield. The researchers discuss the role of service-

learning in helping universities meet their service mission within the context of new trends in

increased enrollment in online courses. In the courses described, some students choose to

volunteer virtually while others select local service organizations approved by the university.
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Students are required to complete 60 hours of service during the course of the semester and also

create a personal service action plan in which they tie learning outcomes to their service

activities and indicate what resources might be needed to support their learning. They also create

indicators that will measure that outcomes are being met. Students also are required to participate

in reflection on their service, a critical component of service learning pedagogy, in both public

and private (discussion forums and journals) ways on the online learning platform. The case

studies show that service learning is effective in online courses and that the majority of the

challenges are very similar to general challenges associated with virtual learning. Many students

continue to be involved in service long after the course is over.

This article informs my research because it shows that the benefits of service learning

pedagogy can translate to an online educational environment. As with all online courses, careful

attention needs to be paid to how discussion questions and assignments are written and

facilitated. In my experience, service learning can intimidate educators and I would assume that

this would carry through to apply to virtual learning. However, the benefits of experiential

learning, increased civic engagement, and connection to the community appear to be worth the

additional efforts required to make service learning successful. In my own research, I will

consider how the learning activities described in the case study could translate to non-formal

experiential civic engagement opportunities for youth through technology. One way of studying

this would be to engage youth in out-of-school time in a virtual community where concepts of

teen leadership, citizenship, and civic engagement were taught and promoted and they were

challenged to complete volunteer hours in the community and then come back to the virtual

community to reflect personally and as a group on the experience. Interactions in the community

could be facilitated by adult volunteers who were interested in exploring virtual volunteering.
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These adults could also play a role in identifying service opportunities for young people in their

local community.

Kollack, P., & Smith, M. (Ed.). (1999). Communities and cyberspace. New York, NY:

Routledge.

In the book chapter entitled, “Net surfers don’t ride alone: Virtual communities as

communities,” authors Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia discuss the role of the Internet in the

changing scope of community. They discuss the extreme views taken by both advocates and

critics of the Internet and explain how they are not research-based; rather, these viewpoints tend

to ignore important information and put Internet usage in context. Originally written in 1997, this

piece describes the different kinds of social ties fostered by the Internet and how online

communication both positively and negatively affects the speed at which these relationships

grow. In many cases, Internet communities mirror more generally the cultural trend where

people have less significantly close ties and more acquaintances.

Because this book chapter was written in 1997, the information it contains is valuable

from a historical perspective. Though many of the functions discussed in the article (Internet

Relay Chat, Electronic Bulletin Boards, etc.) are outmoded forms of online communication, it

was interesting to see how much of the debate surrounding the ability to foster a sense of

community online remains the same. Conversations about the Internet increasing diversity,

building social capital, and connecting people both locally and globally continue today. Much of

the research that Wellman and Gulia seek for further information has been conducted; however,

the ongoing conversation continues because new forms of technology are always emerging. As I

consider the implications of this for my own research, it becomes apparent that it is more useful
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to think not necessarily of the types of technology that exist (i.e., IRC, social networking,

MMOs, MUDs, etc) but instead to consider the functions of these tools. Though the

sophistication of these technologies has evolved, their essence remains the same. Because the

Internet is driven by people hoping to better educate, connect, and entertain themselves, new

tools arise based on socio-cultural trends. As someone who is interested in better understanding

the role of technology in community life and education, I need to remember not to become too

personally invested in one particular technology; rather, I need to be mindful of the affordances

of technology as they relate to my desired outcome. Of particular interest to me within this

article is the concept of how technology can affect the growth of relationships. Relationships

with staff and other volunteers can be crucial to the satisfaction and retention of volunteers.

Many volunteer organizations are not able to get their volunteers together to participate in

community building events regularly because of divergent schedules and cost. It would be

interesting to study if virtual support groups or virtual community events or trainings are a way

to address this need for community while considering time and cost effectiveness. I am not sure

how this could be measured; perhaps by doing a long term study of two randomly assigned

groups of volunteers – one who participates in virtual community events and the other group

who does not. They could then be asked to gauge their satisfaction and level of commitment to

the organization. Long term commitment to a volunteer organization is very important in the

field due to the high cost of training, screening, and supporting a volunteer.

Steinkuehler, C., & Williams, D. (2006). Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online

games as "third places". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11, 885-909.


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In this article, Steinkuehler and Williams argue that massively multiplayer online games

(MMOs) contribute to social engagement by functioning as a “third space” for individuals to

interact with one another, collaborate, and participate in dialogue. Their theoretical framework

combines two approaches; first, they discuss MMOs as a virtual “third space” as defined by

Oldenburg (1999) and second, they examine MMOs’ ability to develop an individual’s social

capital as defined by Putnam (2000). The authors combine quantitative and qualitative

approaches, examining data from 750 randomly assigned participants in the quantitative portion

and conducting an ethnography of game participants over the course of two years. Their results

indicate that the structure of the MMOs studied fit Oldenburg’s criteria for “third spaces”

(neutral ground, level playing field, conversation is the main activity, accessibility and

accommodation, presence of regulars, ability to maintain a low profile, a playful mood, and a

home away from home). As such, the players are likely to build bridging social capital (i.e. the

ability to connect with new people and experience different ideas) but do not often build bonding

social capital (deep personal connections). The authors are able to clearly make the case that

video games can function as a “third space;” however, I do not feel as though they effectively

argue that participation in MMOs build social capital beyond the world of the MMO.

This article informs my research by helping me to consider the roles of games in virtual

volunteer communities. Games provide participants with an opportunity to take on roles and

have a purpose while in an online community. Additionally, learning games are one effective

way to keep participants engaged in an online community rather than having them read

information and answer questions. For instance, we work with a group of 4-H volunteers who

teach kids archery and other shooting sports. Much of their training currently involves proper

mechanics of shooting sports as well as being able to identify and prevent risk management
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issues involving youth and shooting apparatuses. Online games could be an engaging way for

them to master this content and participate in role playing activities with one another. Having

this added functionality could show individuals who might be hesitant to participate in a virtual

community that there is a reason to participate in a virtual learning community as a volunteer. It

would be interesting to assess a volunteer’s attitude about participating in a virtual community

prior to their enrollment and to see how that changes over time in relation to what they see as

valuable within that community. For instance, are volunteers motivated to participate because it

is a good opportunity to further develop their skills and/or are they motivated because they can

develop a connection to other individuals who are interested in the same subject as they are?

Additionally, the authors make a good case about how much conversation goes on in MMOs that

does not necessarily relate to the game; instead, individuals learn about one another in an

environment where real world hierarchies matter less. In this way, the MMO is less of a game

and more of a virtual community. To this end, it would be interesting to assess if a virtual

community inhabited by volunteers and staff changes the dynamic between staff and volunteers

in a positive or negative way. For instance, it might create a stronger bond and increase retention

but it could also create boundary confusion between staff and volunteers.

Agenda: Next Steps

As we approach the end of our first semester in the hybrid EPET doctoral program, I

consider how I will continue to further my research goals beyond this semester. In reflecting on

the process of writing my research development paper, it became clear that this is still the area in

which I want to continue my studies. In my professional life, I am motivated to do my job well

by the hundreds of volunteers and staff who rely on me for support as they work with youth. I

have found that technology has been an invaluable resource and I am passionate about the ways
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in which it can improve our programming with volunteers and youth. Throughout the experience

of developing my research interests, the information I have encountered has given me exciting

ideas to enhance my work. In turn, my work will continue to drive and inform my research

interests.

Over the next few months, the focus of my job will be shifting to allow for an even

greater emphasis on technology integration. As I adjust to these new responsibilities, I intend to

implement some of the many ideas that have come to me during this process. For instance, I will

be piloting one of our day-long face-to-face workshops for staff development as a three week

online course. This small project will help me better understand how hard skills can be taught

and assessed virtually. One of my new responsibilities will be to design a virtual community for

youth from military families in three states to learn about physical fitness and nutrition; this

community will allow them to track time spent outdoors engaging in physical activity. As is the

challenge with many grant-funded projects, I was asked to participate in this project after funds

were received. The parameters of the project are not necessarily how I would have designed

them; as a result, I will be relying heavily on concepts learned during my first semester in order

to encourage youth and volunteer motivation to participate in this community.

Prior to beginning the EPET program, I developed a concept paper that the

organization I work for, Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), is currently in the

process of marketing to funders. The concept paper proposes the development of a 4-H Virtual

Community of Volunteers (4HVCV). The goal of the 4HVCV is to provide volunteers with the

opportunity to connect to a larger network of 4-H volunteers, staff, and specialists to continue

their learning and build their sense of connection to Michigan 4-H Youth Development. MSUE

is one of 74 universities in the U.S. committed to using eXtension, an online community of land
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grant institutions across the nation. Best described as an interactive learning environment,

eXtension offers research-based answers, trustworthy field-tested data, and an opportunity for

staff collaboration across states. For staff and volunteer development purposes, eXtension uses a

learning management system called Moodle and acts as the server host for committed partners to

operate their own Moodle courses. The 4-H Virtual Community of Volunteers pilot project will

include the development of virtual communities in the following four areas: general 4-H

volunteer training and support, and three program areas of 4-H shooting sports, 4-H rabbit and

cavy, and 4-H planned youth mentoring. The three program focused tracks will allow us to try

different approaches with volunteer groups who have diverse needs, therefore giving us a

broader base to evaluate the impact of the project in general. These four pilots will provide new

knowledge for future expansion in the future. Through this effort, the use of online 4-H volunteer

education and support will become institutionalized as a part of Michigan 4-H Youth

Development. The following paragraphs can better provide an example of how these different

groups of volunteers could be studied and what we could learn from them.

General 4-H Volunteer Training and Support:

A general 4-H volunteer training component to an online community will promote

consistency across the state. Michigan 4-H volunteers will be granted access to the 4HVCV after

completing MSUE’s Volunteer Selection Process. This ensures that the volunteer is an

acceptable volunteer according to MSUE’s policies while also giving that volunteer an

opportunity to develop a face-to-face connection with a local 4-H staff person through

orientation. The online training component will lead volunteers through modules such as

Michigan 4-H’s Guiding Principles, philosophies on positive youth development, and basic

concepts on risk management. Participants will test their knowledge through Moodle’s quiz
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capabilities at the end of each module. Additionally, this component of the 4-H Virtual

Community of Volunteers will include discussion boards where 4-H volunteers can

communicate with each other across the state, ask questions and receive support from 4-H staff,

and access the latest resources from 4-H.

4-H Shooting Sports Volunteers:

4-H shooting sports volunteers are required to be certified prior to being allowed to work

with youth. Currently, this certification takes place at a weekend workshop held annually. Much

of this current training focuses on basic knowledge transfer rather than the development of skills.

Potential shooting sports volunteers come to 4-H with vastly different knowledge and experience

in the multiple disciplines included in the 4-H shooting sports program. For instance, some

shooting sports volunteers have a great deal of content knowledge but very little understanding

of their role as a 4-H volunteer – that is, providing youth with an opportunity for positive growth

and development. Others might be life-long 4-H volunteers who have never held a bow or a rifle

before but are interested in trying a new project area. The staff and volunteers currently leading

the certification workshop must find a way to keep both sets of volunteers engaged while also

ensuring that the content area is mastered. Requiring 4-H shooting sports volunteers to

demonstrate their knowledge in an online community prior to coming to the face to face

workshop will allow staff to focus on skill building and better meeting the needs of those in

attendance. Staff can more carefully craft the training agenda if they knew the strength and

weaknesses of each workshop group.

In the 4-H shooting sports Virtual Community of Volunteers, volunteers can learn the

different parts and functions of shooting equipment and begin learning basic principles of risk
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management. They can participate in simulations that will allow them to react to common

situations they will encounter when working with youth. Afterwards, they can be tested on that

knowledge to show that they are prepared to move to the next level of training, the in-person

workshop. By preparing the volunteers ahead of time with materials they can learn on their own

time and at their own pace, they gain confidence and are able to focus on mastering the skills

needed for certification. Additionally, those individuals who are less familiar with 4-H can be

reminded of the emphasis of youth development throughout the activities of 4-H. Preparing both

kinds of volunteers ahead of time empowers them to impart their wisdom to one another. The 4-

H shooting sports Virtual Community of Volunteers will also serve as a support system for 4-H

volunteers. Discussion board forums can be created to share best practices and activity ideas in

shooting sports, promote local events and learning opportunities, and connect with 4-H staff

about risk management issues.

4-H Rabbit and Cavy Volunteers:

4-H rabbit and cavy volunteers have needs somewhat similar to shooting sports

volunteers; they need access to resources and information on best practices associated with

raising and showing rabbits and cavies. Many 4-H staff members have some animal science

responsibilities; however, it would be impossible for them to be experts on all the different

animal projects 4-H youth undertake. In Michigan, the State Rabbit and Cavy Committee is

comprised of volunteers from around the state who have an expertise in that content area. In the

rabbit and cavy 4-H Virtual Community of Volunteers, expert volunteers will serve as “virtual

middle managers” and assist other 4-H rabbit and cavy club volunteers with their questions and

concerns. A 4-H middle manager is defined as a 4-H volunteer who has 3-5 years of experience

within 4-H; he or she provides support to newer volunteer leaders. Within the 4HVCV, these
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expert volunteers can monitor and maintain an “ask an expert” discussion board, troubleshooting

issues as they arise and helping other rabbit and cavy volunteers with ideas and activities to

improve learning experiences for youth. They can assist 4-H specialists and staff in the

development of curriculum, activities, and resources that are research-based and age appropriate.

As with the shooting sports 4HVCV, these volunteers and 4-H staff can work together on

creating and posting videos that can help others prepare to teach content to youth and take a

“train-the-trainer” approach to better help volunteers educate young people. The virtual middle

managers will have their fingers directly on the pulse of the 4-H rabbit and cavy area as a whole

and provide feedback that will allow paid staff members to more effectively meet their needs.

The rabbit and cavy Virtual Community of Volunteers will allow volunteers to connect with one

another and build a sense of community with others in the state.

4-H Youth Mentoring Volunteers:

4-H planned youth mentoring, like 4-H clubs, is a delivery vehicle for positive youth

development. Michigan 4-H Youth Development defines planned youth mentoring as an

ongoing relationship between a youth and an adult or older teen peer; group mentoring can also

occur but must not exceed the ratio of one mentor to four youth. Mentoring can take place in a

community- or site-based setting. Many 4-H youth development opportunities focus on a young

person’s learning and growth through mastery of a content area with the support of their adult

volunteer leader. 4-H planned youth mentoring promotes positive youth development by

emphasizing the relationship between the mentor and mentee as the primary focus, rather than on

growth through mastery of a project area. Many young people involved in 4-H planned youth

mentoring programs are at higher risk for involvement in social services and therefore have more

intensive needs.
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Because planned youth mentoring is a delivery vehicle of 4-H and not a project or

content area, the 4-H Virtual Community of Volunteers for 4-H planned youth mentoring will

not teach mentors how to mentor. The 4-H planned youth mentoring Virtual Community of

Volunteers will act as a virtual support group for mentors who need an opportunity to share

successes and frustrations with others who understand their experiences while also learning from

the experiences of others. It will provide them with resources to better meet the needs of their

mentee. For instance, staff can post research-based resources on supporting youth who are

questioning their sexual identity, being bullied, struggling with an eating disorder, or facing a

teenage pregnancy. Because 4-H planned youth mentoring volunteers in Michigan typically

participate in a minimum of 4-6 hours of training prior to being matched with a youth, the

Virtual Community of Volunteers will not serve as a training resource for 4-H planned youth

mentoring. The face-to-face training helps mentors to understand their role, how to create and

maintain appropriate boundaries, youth and adolescent development, communication skills, and

issues related to the special populations 4-H mentoring programs often serve (i.e. systems-

involved youth). It is necessary to do this training in a face-to- face setting because much of the

success of a mentoring match relies on the staff member’s personal perceptions and intuition

regarding potential volunteers. Many 4-H planned youth mentoring programs offer in-person

opportunities for mentors to come together regularly to support one another. However, while

mentors appreciate this opportunity, it is often difficult for them to prioritize additional time

away from their personal responsibilities that are not directly spent with their mentee. Mentors

can look to the 4HVCV for activity ideas when they are in need of new opportunities to explore

with their mentee and share what has worked well in their mentoring match. 4-H mentors will

need to have the Virtual Community of Volunteers incorporated into their pre-match training, as
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it is necessary to ensure that the identity of the youth is always protected within the discussion

forums for confidentiality purposes. Staff with 4-H planned youth mentoring responsibilities will

need to be actively involved in the 4-H planned youth mentoring Virtual Community of

Volunteers because so many of the issues or concerns that can be shared with another mentor

must also be shared with the mentor’s case manager.

I hope the project outlined in the above paragraphs provides a clearer example of one

way I might pilot work involving technology to better support volunteers. I am still considering

the best way to identify sample groups for this project. For the general 4-H Volunteer training, it

would be relatively easy to compare the progress of volunteers who are provided with online

training compared to those who go through the traditional training; however, for the specialized

communities, it will be an issue of finding a sample that is representative of our population. That

is, my fear is that we cannot force participation in these communities and yet I know that it will

introduce bias in my findings if I evaluate only individuals who are interested in technology and

willing to try participating in a virtual community. Motivation will be a serious factor to

consider. Of additional concern is determining which variables to measure. Some to consider

might be volunteer satisfaction/retention, volunteer’s gain in knowledge about the subject area,

and enhanced outcomes for youth supported by that volunteer. This project will be huge in scope

and there will be many lessons to be learned from it beyond those already explained. This will

have implications for how we train staff to work with volunteers with and through technology

and what we need to consider differently in developing online curriculum compared to printed

curriculum. Fortunately, I am surrounded by a team of youth development professionals who are

recognized at the state and national level for their research-based work with youth and
Research Development Paper 25

volunteers; I am confident that this is a project that we can do well and potentially shape the field

of volunteer management in the process.

After nearly completing this semester, I realize how much I have learned and how much I

have yet to learn. Reading research related to the various components of my own research

interests has made me hungry to discover the places in which the various fields intersect. For

instance, is there an overlap between virtual communities and volunteer support? As students

engage in service learning through online courses, is the learning community transformed into a

“third space”? We understand what motivates students in online courses and we understand what

motivates volunteers – can those areas be combined to better understand what motivates

volunteers to give their own time to participate in an online community? There are many

questions I would like to answer and concepts I need to better understand, many of which are

still unknown to me.

The initial reading I have done for my RDP has given me many ideas to turn into avenues

for answering these questions. Prior to implementing any of these ideas, however, I need to

spend more time reading about good study design. My instinct is to always start bigger than is

feasible; therefore, I need to learn more about creating manageable sized sample groups,

recruiting participants for studies, assigning them to groups, training staff who will help me

deliver treatments and collect data to be consistent and uniform in their approach, and evaluating

my methods. Additionally, I need to learn to navigate the Institutional Review Board at Michigan

State University. Considering all these factors is very overwhelming to me; particularly because

the nature of my job gives me a large degree of carte blanche. I can do many different kinds of

programming with many different groups of people. Because my job has not been done by

someone else before in this organization, I have the freedom to take it where it needs to go. With
Research Development Paper 26

that freedom comes great responsibility to create programming that is based on research and

enhances outcomes for youth and volunteers. I hope that by continuing to examine how other

researchers approach these questions and by cultivating relationships with faculty members in

the College of Education, I will gain confidence and competence in designing research studies

and programming that will live up to my standards as well as the standards of the University and

the field at large.