Two teenages sit together at a table and work on laptops.
16-year-olds Christina Xu and Ethan Gabel of Lincoln work on an online digital skills presentation on May 5, 2022, at the Lancaster County Extension Office in Lincoln. Xu and Gabel are among teens across the state who participate in a 4-H program to help their communities learn digital skills. Photo courtesy of Tracy Anderson.

A year ago, 16-year-old Christina Xu found herself standing in front of 15 adults at a Lincoln senior center, talking about using emojis and other online behavior. 

Xu is one of a group of Nebraska teens who share their technology knowledge and skills with others as part of a national 4-H program.

The 4-H Tech Changemakers program, which operates in Nebraska and 17 other states, trains and equips teens to bring digital skills training to their communities.

Ten Nebraska Extension Educators representing 14 counties lead groups of teens who teach digital skill-building workshops. The workshops can be presented to anyone of working age, 14-years-old and up, according to Dawn Lindsley who oversees the program in Nebraska.

In Lancaster County, the teens gave their presentations at Lincoln senior centers. 

Christina Northeast Senior Center 838x1024 - Nebraska teens teach digital skills workshops in their communities
Christina Xu gives a presentation at the Northeast Senior Center in Lincoln on April 29, 2022. Xu is one of four teens involved in Tech Changemakers in Lancaster County. Photo courtesy of Tracy Anderson.

“I think going to the senior centers was really good, because it helps close the gap between the younger generations who know how to use technology better,” Xu said. “A lot of them told us how their grandkids got them their phones, but they didn’t know how to use it. So our presentations kind of helped them understand their technology better.”

The National Tech Changemakers organization puts together “grab and go” lessons that can be found online or taught by teens in-person, Lindsley said. They cover topics like strong passwords, being responsible online and how to communicate online using platforms such as Zoom.

In addition to those lessons, teens involved in the program work together to create their own presentations, tailored to their communities. In Nebraska, teens have created presentations on topics like phishing scams, internet safety and cloud computing, according to Lindsley.

The teens aim to create interactive presentations and involve their audiences during the in-person workshops.

“Engaging people is very beneficial to increase knowledge and skills,” said 4-H Extension Educator Tracy Anderson. “Research shows that when you do things with your hands, oftentimes it does help increase and retain information.”

Xu agreed. She said she tried to incorporate questions and fictional scenarios in her presentations to keep her audiences engaged.

“They have the technology, they just don’t have the knowledge to use it.” she said. “Some of them told us that they went to the library for help, but it was kind of hard because it wasn’t individual or what they wanted, so they really appreciated having teens come in and teach them, and just show that we’re interested in helping them learn more.”

While the Tech Changemakers program aims to teach digital skills to those of working age, it also works to educate the teens involved.

“This program is twofold,” Anderson said. “It provides an opportunity for people to increase their digital skills and knowledge; and it’s also an opportunity to help the youth increase their public speaking skills, digital skills, critical thinking skills and the ability to work together as a team.”

According to Lindsley, Nebraska Extension Educators advertise the program on their local social media channels to recruit teens, or they directly reach out to teens they know are tech savvy or with strong leadership skills.

The program is starting its second year in Nebraska, with hopes to expand its reach throughout the state, Lindsley said.

“We had a reach of over 2,500 across the state, either in person or virtual,” she said. “And that seemed to work well, so we do both options.”

In January, the Nebraska Tech Changemakers started a new, monthly online program called “Tech Talk Tonight,” in an attempt to reach more people who might not be able to attend in-person sessions.  Each month, one of the teens teaches about a subject they’re interested in and passionate about, according to Lindsley. 

“We have a survey that people have to fill out at the end of it,” she said. “And we reached nine other states, with that first one. So it’s pretty cool that it’s taken off.”

Sarah is a senior majoring in Journalism and ADPR at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a minor in business. Throughout college she has interned with HuskerVision and Olsson and plans to graduate in Spring of 2023.