Published on 11/28/22

4-H Tech Changemakers help adults develop digital literacy skills

By Josie Smith
Houston County 4-H Tech Changemaker Leilani Priest-Akens addresses 130 university leaders at a regional conference while standing at a lectern and speaking into a microphone. She wears a collared shirt with the 4-H Tech Changemakers logo and flags representing the U.S. and 4-H are visible in the background.
4-H Tech Changemakers address the digital divide between young people and senior citizens by providing education on common technological devices, assisting with one-on-one support, and helping with online activities. In this photo, Houston County 4-H Tech Changemaker Leilani Priest-Akens addresses 130 university leaders at a regional conference discussing new tech survey resources. (Photo by Josie Smith)

Youth involved with the Georgia 4-H Tech Changemakers program are bridging the digital divide and providing digital literacy education to improve workforce readiness skills in adults. The 2021-22 cohort surpassed previous record impact numbers by reaching 5,488 adults during the program year.

Approximately 1.6 million adults in Georgia lack access to a high-speed internet connection. The 4-H Tech Changemakers project uses an adult-youth partnership model to empower teens as teachers of digital literacy in areas lacking broadband Internet access.

High school 4-H’ers, known as Tech Changemakers, work cooperatively with 4-H faculty, staff and adult volunteers to plan, implement and evaluate needs-driven educational programming in their local communities. These programs are designed to help adults adopt and use technology to improve their economic mobility and access opportunities.

Georgia 4-H Tech Changemakers held 91 hands-on classes, workshops, and trainings led by 88 trained 4-H’ers from 15 counties during the 2021-22 grant cycle. The most popular topics included responsible online behavior, email communication, online safety tips and video conference communication.

Of adult participants surveyed after Tech Changemaker events, 95% reported that they gained new technology skills, 96% said the skills they learned would impact their work and life, and 98% felt that the teen leaders were knowledgeable about the topics they taught.

Funding for the 2021-22 4-H Tech Changemakers grant is coordinated by the National 4-H Council and the Microsoft Corporation, with additional support from Land O’Lakes, Tractor Supply and Verizon. The grant has been renewed for its fourth year in Georgia and the 2022-23 grant program is currently underway.

The Georgia 4-H Tech Changemakers program expanded from 15 counties in 2020-21 to 22 counties for 2022-23.

“We are excited to see the impacts this program continues to have within local communities, and I am encouraged by the growing interest for counties to participate in this grant,” said Katie Bowker, the program's coordinator.

Nationally, 23 land-grant institutions deliver the Tech Changemakers program, reaching 36,718 adult participants during the 2021-22 cycle. These events were facilitated by 325 4-H’ers nationwide.

Catoosa County 4-H Agent Caleb Millican related the story of a participant who, struggling to find a job, was aided through a resume-building workshop.

“Even though there are websites online for resume building, many ask for money or are hard to navigate. Using our resume template, she was able to help make a resume that suited the job she was applying for and even secured an interview for that job,” Millican said.

Tech Changemakers programming has a profound impact on the student leaders in addition to the adult participants. Worth County 4-H Agent Kristen Ford has seen students’ presentation and teaching abilities improve significantly.

“Teaching others about a topic can be nerve-wracking, but this program gives students a chance to practice these skills. Having adults who are excited about youth teaching has helped 4-H’ers gain confidence,” Ford said.

The program facilitates 4-H partnerships with city and county governments, school systems, and community organizations.

“As broadband expands into rural areas, having community members ready to adopt and use these technologies is so important. Our digital-native 4-H Tech Changemakers are creating a path that leads to an overall digital transformation throughout our state,” says Kasey Bozeman, Extension 4-H specialist for science programs.

Georgia 4-H empowers youth to become true leaders by developing necessary life skills, positive relationships, and community awareness. As the largest youth leadership organization in the state, 4-H reaches more than 225,000 people annually through University of Georgia Cooperative Extension offices and 4-H facilities.

Josie Smith is the public relations coordinator for Georgia 4-H.