June 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 3 // Research in Brief // 3RIB4

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Engaging Migrant Families in Extension Technology Programs

Building on a strong foundation of documented successes and Extension research, a community technology center paired youth development with pragmatic computer instruction for migrant Hispanic parents. Data collection preceding and following 32 hours of instruction reveals substantial and significant shifts in self-efficacy in computer use and computer engagement with youth.

Michael Wallace
4-H Youth Development Faculty
Washington State University Extension
Bellingham, Washington

By definition, successful Extension programs are those that recognize and meet the needs of their local communities. Like many states, Washington State supports small-scale agriculture that frequently utilizes Mexican migrant farm workers. Skagit County, Washington maintains a large Hispanic population, yet few families that migrate for work become first-generation residents.

This "revolving door" is not always a result of choice. Frequently, migrants find few resources when they arrive in a rural community and a dominant culture that does little to mitigate the barriers to successful residency. Often there is not an economic environment that supports off-season laborers, which means that if families have an interest in staying they need to arrive with, or quickly acquire, other employable skills.

In one Skagit school district, nearly 50% of the youth attending public education are in poverty (as defined by utilization of the free/reduced lunch program), and of those, nearly 25% are not speaking English as their first language (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 2007). Nationally, Hispanics are the least formally educated minority group, with only 52.4% receiving a high school diploma (Farner, Rhoads, Cutz, & Farner, 2005; US Census Bureau, 2002). Couple that with the fact they will be the dominant race group in the United States in a few years. School teachers and administrators in the Skagit area often report that families with migrant children seldom completed an entire school year because of cultural migration/work patterns, and engaging migrant parents remains an ongoing challenge.

Families that arrive with hopes of becoming permanent residents find, among other challenges, that transitioning from temporary to permanent labor requires the acquisition of new and competitive skills. Two of the greatest challenges for migrant working families are literacy and contending with familial strife due to cultural reorientation. (Examples of this: the woman's role in the workplace; coping with the discontinuity of values as children are educated in the dominant culture's value system.)

As the study reported here indicates, most Hispanic adults immediately recognize computer literacy as a highly desirable skill. The goals of the "Families Accessing Community Technology" (FACT) project were to provide parents with computer skills that helped them safely and effectively access the resources of their community, to recognize some of the potential impacts of technology on their youth, and to help them pave the way towards a self-determined community of support. This project reinforced numerous findings from similar prior projects and programs throughout the United States.

The FACT project was designed and supported through Washington State University Extension, the 4-H Youth Development Program, and the collaboration of several community partners. Providing technology access has repeatedly proven to be an effective means of engaging Hispanic audiences. This program was funded through a Verizon grant, and a sustainability plan was built into the proposal. This program provided four of the recognized attributes considered by Extension professionals to be essential in delivering effective Latino programming:

  • Bilingual (frequently monolingual) instruction from a Spanish speaking instructor

  • Adult and youth programs occurring concurrently and in close proximity

  • Opportunities for extended learning and relationship building

  • A collaboration of community resources (Bairstow, Berry, & Driscoll, 2002; Couchman, Williams, & Cadwalder, 1994; Escott, et al., 1996; Hobbs, 2004).


Small groups of adults (8-10) took computer skills and Internet classes while their children participated in a 4-H Reading and Crafts club in an adjoining room. The objective of the computer classes was Internet instruction that would provide the adults with access to immediate community resources. The objective of the 4-H club was to provide engagement to youth while introducing families to the 4-H model of community building through youth clubs. There were three sessions, each 2 months (32 hours) long. All of the staff hired to deliver this program were Hispanic and bilingual (Hobbs, 2004).


A survey was created by the investigator intended to measure the success of the program goals. The survey was then translated by the bilingual course instructor, who administered the survey before and after each 2-month session to program participants. The instructor frequently talked students through the survey. Additional comments were garnered by the instructor and shared with the investigator. Of the 35 participating adults, 25 completed the 32-hour program and received a certificate. Of these, 18 successfully completed pre and post tests. The test was built on a Likert scale, with the following descriptors: 1=All the time, 2=A lot, 3=Sometimes, 4=Not often, and 5= Never (Table 1).

Table 1.
Pre and Post Questions with Mean and Median Differences

Question (with translation) Pre MeanPost MeanPre MedPost Med
I use computers when I need to find information.
Utilizo computadoras cuando necesito buscar información.
I am comfortable using computers.
Me siento cómodo usando computadoras.
I use the internet to find things I need.
Uso la internet para buscar cosas que necesito
I use a computer to purchase things online.
Uso una computadora par compras cosas en la internet.
I watch what my children do when they are on the internet.
Miro lo que mis niños hacen cuando estan en la internet.
I am concerned about what my children do on the Internet.
Tengo pendiente de lo que hacen mis niños cuando usan la internet.
I feel I can control what my children do with a computer.
Siento que puedo controlar lo que mis niños hacen cuando usan una computadora.
I know activities I can do with my child on the internet.
Conosco actividades que puedo hacer con mi niño en la internet.
I feel like computers can be used to learn and share about my community.
Siento que las computadoras pueden ser utiles para aprender y compartir sobre nuestra comunidad.


Overall scores were computed by summing the response categories (range 1-5) across all nine items. For participants with very high levels of discomfort, scores peaked at 45. Prior to the program, participant scores ranged from 18 to 45, while post-program scores ranged from 15 to 31. For four participants, responses showed little change or an increase in discomfort with computers. However, the median shift in scores was an improvement of 11 points.

Paired-sample t-tests were used to detect changes in individual responses to each question before and after the program. Paired sample t-tests account for the fact that multiple observations were made on the same cases. Substantial and significant shifts were seen for many of the items. They were:

  • I know activities I can do with my child on the Internet (mean difference=1.83; p<.001)

  • I use computer when I need to find information (mean difference=1.67; p<.001)

  • I use the Internet to find things I need (mean difference=1.61; p<.001)

  • I feel I can control what my children do with a computer (mean difference=1.17; p<.01)

  • I am comfortable using computers (mean difference=1.11; p<.01)


Overall, participants in all three sessions of the training increased their comfort with computers significantly. The program may be slightly more effective for males than females, though the findings are somewhat inconclusive, especially given the small number of females (6). Overall comfort using computers increased significantly, but the biggest gains were seen in Internet use and activities with children.

The class appears to have effectively introduced the parents to using Internet technology. As the last question indicated, most parents were already aware they need to know more, which was why they were in the class. There was significant improvement in their apparent confidence to use computers to find information, but very little change in their online spending habits.

The questions that focused on their children's use of computers and the Internet garnered the most varied responses. A frequent verbal response from parents to the instructor was that they did not own a computer at home and that they did not have any clear idea of what their children were doing with them in the schools. Parental concern for what their children did on the Internet increased over the 6-week sessions, but so did their belief that they could effectively manage their children's involvement with technology. When the six female respondents were averaged separately, their concern over their children's Internet use went from 3.8 (Not Often) to 2 (A lot). The response from the males (1.8 to 1.4) was fairly consistent and higher than that of the females.

Another interesting gender-related observation was in the make-up of each of the sessions. While the first session was predominantly men from the community, the class roster indicated that each consecutive session had more women engaging. This would echo several articles recognizing the role of the male as publicly predominant (Albert, 1996; Landis & Bhagat, 1996). For 4-H, whose volunteer composition is on average 70% female (USDA, 2007), this is important information to take into consideration.

Graduation ceremonies were planned for each session cohort, which included invitations to extended family members, food, and games. Certificates of completion and recognition were provided by the community partners. These events were critical to creating an environment of familial inclusion. However, Latino communal contributions can easily be considered "second nature," rather than an investment in volunteerism. "Latinos have a strong history of creating organizations to improve community conditions," (Gregory, et al., 2006). The whole family approach was instrumental in the success of the FACT project and is an important step in building the bridge to program sustainability. Latino people and families that share many traditional values with the 4-H culture: responsibility, a concern for others, and contribution to group effort.

As indicated by several researchers, translations should be done professionally, or at minimum reviewed by additional bilingual parties before being applied (Barristow, Barry, & Driscoll, 2002; Watson, 2001; Couchman, Williams, & Cadwalder, 1994). The FACT instructor was a professional educator whose native language was Spanish. Discussions between the investigator and instructor were critical in creating an effective survey tool. Potentially, the instructor's ability to read and write Spanish may have helped the investigation by mitigating the presence of participant illiteracy. When surveys are created between cultures, proper translation should be coupled with critical analysis of cultural bias. Future research efforts would benefit from creating culturally relevant survey instruments that recognize and explore the pressing issues and values of the surveyed culture.

The benefits of the FACT project were quickly ascertained by members of the community. The instructor reported that one female participant was hired as a secretary after completing the course. Another mother in the program repeatedly expressed delight at learning that she could be in e-mail contact with her children's teachers. It may be these early successes in the first session that began to shift the gender scale in the class.

Latino audiences vary in socio-economic status, cultures, values, and expectations. The FACT program offered one opportunity for job skill retraining for migrant families. The presentation of technology as a topic could be translated to any skill set, and, provided the four attributes of successful programs listed at the beginning of this report are met, success is very likely.


Albert, R. D. (1996). A framework and model for understanding Latin American and Latino/Hispanic cultural patterns. Handbook for Intercultural Training, 2nd Ed., Sage Publications Ch.18 p327-348.

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Couchman, G., Williams, G., & Cadwalader, D. (1994). Three keys to a successful limited resource families program. Journal of Extension [On-line], 32(2). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1994august/a2.html

Escott, R., Mincemoyer, C., Nauman, D., Rodgers, M., Sigman-Grant, M.(1996). Developing skills and expertise to program in Latino communities using satellite technology. Journal of Extension [On-line], 34(5). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1996october/tt2.html

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Watson, W., (2001). Translating Extension publications into Spanish: practical hints for Extension professionals. Journal of Extension [On-line], 39(6). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2001december/tt2.html

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Washington State Report Card. Retrieved June 15, 2007, from: http://reportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/

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