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Lynne Borden, from the University of Arizona, describes the use of online surveys in a national study of the out-of-school time activity participation of middle and high school youth.

As part of the National Youth Participation Study, researchers at the Pennsylvania State University and the University of Arizona are conducting a national online survey of middle school and high school youth (ages 12–18) to help better understand why they participate in structured activities and programs, such as band, debate team, sports, and 4-H clubs, during the out-of-school time (OST) hours. The study's goal is to tap youth's points of view about what makes programs appealing to join and what makes them worthy of continued participation, as well as why youth stop participating.

On the survey, youth are asked to respond to questions about their OST experiences in reference to three different activities: (1) a program in which they are currently participating, (2) a program in which they used to participate, and (3) a program in which they were never involved.

The survey, which takes about 20 minutes to complete, asks youth to discuss the following:

  • How they made their decisions to join certain activities
  • What they do in those activities
  • Why they chose not to join an activity
  • Why they decided to stop attending an activity
  • What they get from being involved in those activities

The online format was selected for a number of strategic reasons. First, it offered the best opportunity to take the study to a national scale. Second, it was clear to researchers that they would need to survey a large number of youth. They expected a significant diversity of responses as to why youth participate in after school programs and their patterns of participation; they hoped that the online format would facilitate reaching large numbers of youth. Third, the format offered the opportunity to target subpopulations of youth from across the United States—in both urban and rural areas.

In our previous research, we have found that some subpopulations of youth are often underserved. Moreover, whatever programs are offered may be poorly attended if they do not match the needs or interests of the young people they hope to serve. While sacrificing the benefits of a representative sample, the use of online methods provides a unique opportunity to include a large and diverse group of youth, which is essential to the success of the study.

The website that houses the survey was designed to be easily accessible and appealing to young people. The website's designer, who has expertise in user-friendly survey technology, employed exciting and colorful design elements and made use of formatting familiar to young people to ensure that they found the survey engaging. The study is inclusive, as respondents don't have to belong to particular organizations in order to participate. It is also completely anonymous—there is no identifying information requested in the survey. In addition, the data are secured—stored in a password protected database—and no one but the researchers can access them.

One lesson that was learned in developing this online study was that the effort to make the protocol simple for participants did not make the process any easier for the evaluators. Dealing with the technology for creating and implementing the online survey proved to be very complex and challenging. Another hurdle associated with this new data collection technique was meeting a university institutional review board's strict but reasonable criteria of anonymity and security to protect youth's rights. This survey will be conducted for several years, to allow as many young people as possible to participate. The first report will be generated by August 2005.

To view the survey visit

Sample Survey Items for a Young Person's Involvement in a Current Activity

Please rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how true each statement is for you, where 1 is not true at all and 5 is very true.

  • I like it. / It is fun.
  • The activity is consistent with my religious/cultural values.
  • I like belonging to a group.
  • Other people look up to me. / I get to be a role model.
  • I can spend time with friends.
  • I feel safe.
  • The adults care about me.
  • I get to know youth who are different from me.
  • I can get there easily; transportation is not a problem.
  • It is very different from school.


Lynne Borden
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist
University of Arizona
School of Family Studies & Consumer Sciences
Division of Family Studies & Human Development
P.O. Box 210033
Tucson, AZ 85721-0033
Tel: 520-621-1063

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