As lockdowns loomed in early 2020, Teen-Turn grappled with how to give girls access to learning activities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The charity provides teen girls from Ireland’s underserved communities with opportunities to gain STEM experiences, as well as qualifications and jobs. These experiences come in the form of hands-on activities in computer laboratories and other places after school, to help girls gain the confidence to pursue a career in STEM.
But how could such activities continue during a time of social distancing?
Teen-Turn’s first strategy was to move to video conferencing. But given that it works with school-age girls, it had to tread carefully in choosing a platform.
“We knew we wanted something that was safe, encrypted, and reliable,” says Teen-Turn Co-founder Joanne Dolan. “So, we did our research and came across BlueJeans, but we wanted to make sure it had all the things we needed.”
Topmost of these was security, followed by an option to split into breakout sessions, the ease of facilitating and jumping in and out of these sessions, and the ability to record. “Then we had to see if there were things like whiteboarding, and how easy it was to interact with other programs,” says Dolan. “We also tested whether it would work on a browser without having to download an app.”
BlueJeans Meetings ticked all those boxes, making it Teen-Turn’s top choice for its online self-directed learning and mentoring activities.
Growing the Number of Participants While Reducing Dropout Rate
The transition to online learning wasn’t easy. Dolan’s team had to make sure everyone had a device and could connect online, while trying to reimagine how they could deliver content that would continue to stir a passion for STEM.
“But once we got them online, a lot of them knew how to get around better than we did,” admits Dolan.
The shift online notably brought unexpected gains and broke new ground for Teen-Turn. The Dublin-based charity has seen its number of participants increase by more than 20 percent, adding nearly 300 more girls to its programs since March 2020. Its number of mentors has also risen by around 20 percent, and its participant dropout rate has plummeted.
“In the past, if we had 100 girls start, only around 60 would finish the full 12-week program. Now, over 90 would complete it,” says Dolan. “We have never seen that many cross the finish line. So, it’s a pretty big difference.”
In place of its summer work placement program for girls, Teen-Turn launched STEM Inside Webinars, where participating companies taught girls design thinking, engineering, and other STEM concepts via Bluejeans Meetings for a week. The outcome was amazing, says Dolan. “We got really good feedback. It was a really good experience, and the participants learned so much.”
And because the program was virtual, Teen-Turn was able to bring in a more diverse group of mentors, including company executives based overseas. “The girls got to ask questions of women who were C-suite executives and senior vice presidents of these companies. And that was just extraordinary.”
Helping Girls Be More Confident in STEM Subjects
Teen-Turn also successfully went virtual with its free tutoring service for secondary school girls who are preparing to take a university entrance exam, called the Leaving Certificate Examination in Ireland. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving certificate students were given the options of sitting their exams, receiving calculated grades, or having a combination of both in Spring 2021.
“Many of the girls in our programs decided to sit the exams because they’ve been tutored,” says Dolan. “And they all did really well. They came back and said, ‘Oh, I answered that exam question well because my tutor went over the problem during our video conference session’.”
As restrictions ease, Teen-Turn is looking to slowly move its programs back to in-person activities — but not fully.
“Instead of going back to 100 percent attending in-person, it will likely just be one-third of our participants,” says Dolan.
“So, there’ll be one-third who will be doing the program hybrid using BlueJeans Meetings. And the rest will stay purely virtual, also via BlueJeans. That’s because the results that have come from our remote learning have been great, and we’ve achieved a really high retention rate.”