Afterschool Focus: Technology in Afterschool

Technology can be a transformative tool in education. It can help us change the way educators and students collaborate, reinvent approaches to learning, shrink equity and access gaps, and adapt learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners.1

Meaningful application of technology in education requires more than access to devices and software. The practice requires us to reflect on how technology supports learning. Recent studies have found a new digital divide that “separates students who use technology to simply complete activities from those who use technology to engage in learning in more active and transformative ways.”2 To help students become empowered citizens and have access to 21st-century jobs, educators cannot limit technology to tutoring games and virtual flash cards. We must help students creatively and effectively use technology to support their learning.

This issue of Illinois Quality Afterschool Quarterly explores how 21st CCLC programs can integrate technology into afterschool programming to foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Because many 21st CCLC programs have offered some virtual programming this spring and may continue this practice in the fall, we also outline considerations for virtual 21st CCLC activities.

Technology Integration

Instead of naming the hottest items on the ever-growing list of apps, software, and devices that are available to afterschool programs, we want to challenge you to think about how your 21st CCLC embeds technology in learning rather than using it as a standalone activity. Doing this means shifting from technology use to integration. Technology use occurs when usage is random or an afterthought, instructional time is spent learning to use the technology, or technology is merely used to deliver information. In comparison, technology integration occurs when staff and students access technology as a tool to support learning. In this situation, students can select the most appropriate technology for high-level thinking activities. Technology integration should foster the following skills:

  • answering driving questions
  • assessing a website for bias
  • exploring topics and learning skills beyond the expertise of afterschool staff
  • connecting with experts
  • synthesizing and presenting findings to an audience.3

Technology integration may not require the purchase of new devices or software subscriptions. Ask your 21st CCLC team to take an inventory of your current technology and curricular resources. Think of the different devices you already have, such as computers, tablets, robotics materials, and digital cameras. Then take stock of the software, apps, and websites and how you use them. Brainstorm with your team ways that you can use existing technology to foster project-based learning and service learning and some of the critical-thinking skills described above.

As students expand their use of technology, you will want to teach them to be safe and respectful while navigating the digital world. Safety includes learning what information is safe to share, identifying and responding to cyberbullying, managing self-presentation online, and avoiding identity theft. Websites such as Social Media TestDrive and Common Sense have guidance and courses on digital citizenship.

Finding innovative ways to use technology in afterschool is an ongoing process. To support afterschool programs with technology integration, the National AfterSchool Association has collaborated with Google to develop the Afterschool Tech Toolkit. The resource offers a series of professional development modules and planning tools, including an integration continuum grid to map how your program currently uses technology, a technology integration checklist, and a tool to plan for enhancing technology integration in your program. Be sure to engage both staff and partners in the process, providing opportunities for professional development, exploration, and even mistakes.  

Using Technology to Support Virtual Programming

As many 21st CCLC programs have opted for virtual programming in recent months, technology has also become a factor in supporting remote afterschool enrichment and academics. Below are some considerations for maintaining continuity and supporting student learning in a virtual environment. 

Communicate with students and families. If your afterschool program has transitioned to remote programming or a hybrid of in-person and remote programming, be sure to communicate those changes to students, their families, school staff, and partners. Let students know you are still available for academic and emotional support. Communicate to your students that the program will still be operating, albeit virtually, and let them know when staff is still available. 

Create a virtual learning plan. As you do for in-person programming, your team will want to create a plan for virtual activities. Creating a plan includes selecting a platform such as Zoom or Google Hangouts. The district you support or its parent organization may have a platform that you can access. If you need to select a platform, Afterschool Alliance has an overview of some of the features of different platforms. As you make your selection, be sure to inquire about families’ technology access. Just as you do for in-person programming, you will want to set a schedule, develop activity plans, and communicate information and expectations to students. Continue providing support to staff, remembering that professional development needs may be different in a virtual environment. Be sure to explore ways for students to interact in small groups through structures like breakout rooms or meetings with small groups and one-on-one sessions. 

Even in a virtual environment, afterschool best practices should still inform your programming. Continue to seek student input on activities and offer online enrichment that builds on student interest and skills. Relationships with community partners remain important in a virtual learning environment. Above, we discussed the digital divide in terms of how students engage with technology; however, when students are participating in virtual programming from home, they might also have limited access to devices or high-speed internet. Partner organizations might be able to bridge that divide. They can also contribute to online learning opportunities by creating content and activities in their area of expertise. The Program Profile and News from the Field stories from this issue of the newsletter provide additional examples of how 21st CCLC is using technology to support remote learning. 


Edutopia. (2007, November 5). What Is Successful Technology Integration? Retrieved from

National Afterschool Association. (2018). Empowering Afterschool Professionals for Digital Learning. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education. (2017). Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education: 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from


1U.S. Department of Education, 2017.  

2 National Afterschool Association, 2018; U.S. Department of Education, 2017.

3 Edutopia, 2007.