Betts, J.D. (2006). Multimedia arts learning in an activity system: New literacies for at risk children. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 7(7).


The Multimedia Arts Education Program (MAEP) was an after school program for low income, middle school youth in Tucson, AZ. The program focused on developing arts technology skills over five-semesters, with three main skills objectives: job skills, art technology skills, and multimedia literacy. This summative evaluation showed that the after school arts technology program increased self-efficacy in technology and English Language Arts literacy. Participants also reported better performance in high school and more interest in post-secondary education and work opportunities. The program was discontinued after six years (1996-2001) when the local arts council changed leadership and the program was no longer seen as a priority.

Key Findings:

Participants expanded their art technology skills and vocabulary through graphic design, storyboarding and video tools. Participants developed a more critical eye, analyzing media arts products for aesthetic value, purpose, and meaning.

Participants improved their English Language Arts (ELA) skills through attention to grammar and composition learned in the Language Arts Lab portion of the program. Participants frequently cited the gain in ELA skills and the Language Arts Lab as the most helpful in their schoolwork.

The evaluation data indicate an increase in participants’ perceived self-efficacy. Participants’ felt better able to use basic literacy skills and more confident in their ability to learn new technology and to use technological tools to design and build something and to share ideas in a group.

In follow up inquiries with 29 students who graduated from the MAEP program (by completing all five semesters), the researchers found that none of the students had dropped out of high school and most were on track to graduate, some with plans for post-secondary education. Many stated that computer literacy skills learned through MAEP, along with the computer they received for completing the program, helped them get better grades in high school.

Significance of the Findings:

Overall, over 1000 middle school students participated in the MAEP program, of which about 300 completed all five semesters of the program. Most students came from Spanish speaking homes, and several students in each class were English Language Learners (ELL). Of the students that participated in the program for more than one semester, a direct correlation is found between MAEP participation and increased success in school and work through computer skills developed in the MAEP program. The increase of perceived self-efficacy is significant because self-efficacy is linked through research to persistence behavior (the ability to work towards a goal) a skill necessary for success in school and work.


In the six-year study, researchers collected data for an early cohort of participants over an eighteen-month period using participant observation, interviews, and pre and posttest questionnaires designed to measure changes in perceived self-efficacy and attitudes about art, technology and learning. Researchers conducted a limited number of interviews (sixteen) with parents. They also contacted program graduates four years later as a query into their high school success (defined as graduation) and career directions.

Limitations of the Research:

The researchers relied on qualitative and self-reported data where independently verifiable data exist. For example, researchers contacted participants’ high school ELA teachers to see if the students were succeeding in ELA coursework. This type of data could be collected from student records such as report cards and could be compared with a control group.

Questions to Guide New Research:

To what degree does participation in an after school arts technology program improve participants’ English Language Arts skills?

How does participation in an after school arts technology program (or any arts program) affect graduation rates for at-risk youth?