Technology in support of Learning – some added thoughts

The topic of technology in support of learning and promoting positive social development is near and dear to my heart.  It is the reason why I entered the computer field many years ago, and why I am now trying to merge my tech background with pedagogy praxis.  I think I heard Mitch mentioned that we don’t really do anything with our discussion, analysis, and inquiry.  I trust that there will come a stage in this doctoral process were that begins to change.  I think down the road, we in the ITP program will be asked to create a mini project that incorporates technology and pedagogy.  I for one entered this program precisely because I want to do this kind of work, and develop a capacity to roll out this kind of project for social improvement goals.

I will paste here a project concept that I have in mind that firstly deals with African American student’s utilization of technology to improve our social condition.  A successful conceptualization and implementation of such a project would be extensible to other groups who have been traditionally marginalized and/or oppressed in various localities.

This kind of work may not be interesting to many folks, which is why I am hesitant to bring it up.  However, it is why I have entered this program.  I thought I would paste my conceptualization here as a dovetail to the discussion of chapter 9 in our readings because it is an application of the same ideas, and because it also speaks to Mitch’s comment about moving to doing.  As always, I hope that I don’t inadvertently offend anyone with comments I make in my passion to address the critical problems in the African American community.  By the same token, I recognize that I am in this program not on my own behest, but in service to the oppressed in particular, and by extension all people.  To what ever extent I can improve the condition of the oppressed, I would have fulfilled my purpose of coming to this program.  One other thing is that some may think my singular focus on the African American population is not relevant to them, or is very narrow minded of me.  To this I would say that I think if we can solve the historical problem of unequal and biased education Africans are relegated to in the context of Institutionalized racism, I think then we would simultaneously solve similar problems for all peoples; just as civil rights gains for African Americans were taken advantage of by all groups, including the woman’s movement.  In addition, by equalizing education for African Americans, all of society would benefit beyond imagination.

The below was first written by me on 05/11/08

Culturally sensitive distance learning project for African American and other underprivileged students

Overview

The nature of technological innovation is that it grows exponentially.  Technological advancements are one of the greatest engines of change that affects the status of individuals in society.  Those who are able to learn and manage technological advances will be the financial winners in the society.  Those with no mastery of technological advances or functional literacy in the use of technology will be the financial losers in society.  The purpose of this project is to bridge the gap between the technological haves and have-nots particularly African Americans in urban schools.  The project will avail African American students in urban schools to the latest in collaborative distance learning technologies.  This will not only better acquaint disadvantaged students with technology capabilities via the learning space, but also enhance the quality and impact of the educational experience in all subjects.  This will be accomplished in a culturally sensitive way, connecting African American experts in various disciplines to African American students.  The expertise of these experts will go further to reach a larger number of students via distance-learning spaces.  Similar to the idea that a dollar that is exchanged several times within a community before leaving the community will result in economic growth of that community; so too, knowledge from experts exchanged and multiplied within that community before leaving the community will result in the growth of the knowledge capital of that community.   The target population for this project initially is African American students in urban schools.  However, the goal is to extend the project to any underprivileged group.

There is an underlying assumption in conceiving this project that the forces of institutionalized racism as it manifests in urban education will no doubt impact against the project. Therefore the design of the project will need to take this into account in its inception.  Contingencies for this must be devised to neutralize the negative effects of institutionalized racism as much as possible.  Furthermore the population we are targeting have been socialized and mis-educated within an institutionalized racist system.  One aim of the project will be to counter this negative conditioning through the delivery of distance learning spaces that are culturally sensitive.  It is vital that educators with a critical race theory perspective devise, implement, and maintain this project.

Project Objectives

The project will have the following primary objectives:

1)    To use current computer, digital, and networking technologies in urban school settings, or extensions of the school environment (libraries, special learning centers), to deliver collaborative spaces were African American youth can learn and employ those skills to promote their achievement.

a.      Achievement is measured not only by acquiring skills needed to compete in society, but skills and tools needed to uplift African American communities according to African American visions and self defined standards.

2)    To make knowledge from leading African American professionals, leaders, and thinkers available to African American students in these collaborative learning spaces.

a.     This will be either through live video conferencing, video playbacks, Internet services, or other media.

3)    To provide this learning space from a culturally sensitive pedagogical framework, considering the particular learning styles, strengths, weakness, interest, aspirations, crisis, challenges, and spirit of the African American student.

4)    Provide opportunities for the African American student to engage ideas, values, knowledge, and projects of other cultures in spaces that are mutually beneficial to African American students and non-African American students (distance learning cultural exchange).

5)    To deliver culturally sensitive pedagogical learning material, utilizing current shareware application technologies, interactive software, and virtual media representations, that addresses the learning needs of African American students in a technologically challenging world.

6)    To tap into the creative potential of African American students while simultaneously addressing the technological achievement gap.

7)    To use this project as a template for other oppressed groups.

8)    To multiply the creative and technical knowledge capital of students.

Anticipated difficulties from a critical race theory perspective

Part of planning this project is to analyzing the feasibility of getting it into the public schools.  This project is approached from a critical race theory perspective. The nature of institutionalized racism is to maintain its obstruction to the healthy advancement of people of color, particularly African Americans.  Institutionalized racism will no doubt attempt to block the success of any serious project that seeks to actually improve the educational, hence material progress, of African Americans. Necessary to the success of the project are contingencies to counter the negative responses of educational decision makers in power who are complicit with institutionalized racism.   A critical race theory perspective will anticipate obstructions from various fronts. The following issues would have to be considered in this regard:

1)    Unwillingness of educational policy makers to adopt this project precisely because of its potential to actually effect the advancement of African American urban students.

a.     In my view, considering the pervasiveness of institutionalized racism in education, it is not a given that those in control of urban educational curriculum, financing, and policy (majority white), will support this project that targets the learning needs of urban African American students.

b.     Even if said educational decision makers gave lip service to this project, it would be an important task to ensure that the appropriate support is maintained though the life of the project.  This would no doubt entail managing the many faces of racism that will attempt to derail the project along the way.  One of these faces is a lack of financial support for the project.

2)    Those in educational decision making positions may attempt to change or modify the project to an extent that it is no longer in line with its original objectives.

3)    Because the project aims to improve the skills of African American students, some groups will claim that it promotes reverse racism and demand either that the project is not adopted or that it will be opened to all groups or none at all.

a.     The solution to this complaint would be to compromise by

i.     Opening the project to multiple cultural groups.  This will require collaboration in design and implementation.

ii.     Enlist private funding support to modules that address specific African American educational needs.  This will sidestep the claim that public funds are used solely to benefit African American students.

iii.     Seek legal protections under the assertion that such projects that aid historically oppressed groups requiring special funding of special projects.

4)    There will be the challenge of getting African American educators who are involved in the project on the same page.  It is not a given that African Americans agree on what is culturally sensitive pedagogical material and how to tailor educational materials to African American sensibilities.  Often times a house becomes divided against itself self and falls.  Just because a person is an African American educator does not mean that this person will have progressive views, or come from a CRT perspective.  Such a person may even be a plant by those in power to ultimately derail the project.

5)    It is probably best to have a model of this project running simultaneously outside of the public school arena, say on the private Black school and post secondary school levels.  This will allow the project to be free from the many constraints of institutional racism.  The project will be shown to work in less racist environments, and serve as a model for input into the secondary and primary school levels.

6)    The project will have to have the sound footing of research into the developmental needs and attitudes of African American students with regards to computer technologies, distance learning spaces, and culturally sensitive learning pedagogies.

a.     There must be an approach, backed by research, into how to effectively deploy distance learning to African Americans in public schools.

b.     Consideration has to be given to the current low level of technology literacy of African American students.

7)    Consideration has to be given to the low level of technology infrastructure and maintenance in schools that have primarily Black students.  This will need to be addressed on the funding level.

8)    Consideration has to be given to the lack of training of school personnel in computer technology and application usage.  This problem can be partially mitigated by making the collaborative spaces highly user friendly and removing as much of the setup and operational requirements away from end users and instead onto technicians on the server level.

Project Planning, Piloting, and Roll Out

The project will be delivered in stages.  The project would be piloted in test urban education districts.  As progress is being made in delivering the project in the test districts, the success of each stage will be used to justify expanding the project to more districts.  It will be easier to manage negative forces of racism as they attempt to stifle the project if the project is released in stages and in test districts. There will be built into the project, facility for capturing user data and feedback.  This information will be continuously analyzed to make updates to future releases of the product. It will be easier to refute the naysayer, obstructionists, pessimists and racists, with hard data showing positive results.  However, results will not always be defined by the criterion of those outside the CRT camp.

The deployment of a product to masses of African American students would have many of the same research and development issues as any other product, lets say a portable devise or a future car.   It is important to do upfront research into the needs, desires, aspirations, predilections, and challenges of the population you are dealing with.  This will inform how to develop a product that the population will buy into, gain high utility of, and benefit from.  Students in general are already high users of mobile devices.  These devices can extend the distance learning spaces.  The distance learning applications can be tailored to run on mobile devices, just as the Internet is tailored to run on mobile devices.  African American students are no less intrigued by the delivery of technology to the personal hand held device than any other group.  This interest can be capitalized upon to deliver culturally sensitive learning spaces into a wider field.   The design of the project should be open ended from both a technology and methodological perspective to allow for new advances in techniques and knowledge that could expand the breath and depth of the learning experience via distance learning spaces.  African American students must experience positive and productive uses of technology driven learning spaces.  This will give them a critical perspective from which to judge whether other uses of technology is beneficial or detrimental to their education and social progress.  Not all technologies are beneficial to the socio-economic progress of underprivileged groups.  In fact technologies can and are used to widen the educational and wealth gaps between groups.

The below are some elements of a pilot to the program

1)    Pick a school and grade level that already has a decent technology infrastructure along with educators and staff trained on how to utilize and maintain the technology infrastructure.

2)    Explore existing collaborative technologies that can facilitate distance-learning spaces and connect students to expert knowledge capital held by African Americans in a particular field.

a.     This can be myspace

b.     Instant messenger with video feeds

c.     Youtube videos

d.     Explore collaborative/shareware software applications that facilitate distance learning.  Ideally this would be freely available on the Internet and modified for urban educational needs, or can be procured at relatively low cost as a part of infrastructure package deals.

3)    Identify specific lesson objectives and content to pilot.  These will be culturally sensitive lessons.

4)    Work in an area with low achievement measures but where it is not difficult to measure results.  Perhaps math would be a good disciple to start with.

5)    Identify shareware/collaborative applications in the targeted subject matter.

6)    Have a control group to compare with.  This control group will ideally be a class in the same school that is not involved with the project, or another school in the same district that has comparable infrastructure but not the project implementation.

7)    During execution of the pilot program a premium will be placed on capturing participant demographic information and feedback about attitudes and performance on lessons.  A research team from education research programs would be involved in the operations of the pilot program.  Their primary objective would be gathering ethnographic data on student’s experiences and attitudes for later analysis and reporting.  This information would be fed back to the pedagogical and technology design teams, who would in turn to modify future releases of the project based on user feedback and progress.  It would be important for members of the research team to espouse critical theory perspectives as well as demonstrate sensitivity to the cultural expressions, learning styles of African American students in urban school settings.

8)    The pilot program would continue to run and be revised in successive releases until expected positive results can be achieved and verified.

9)    Once the pilot project is shown to have achieved its goals then it can be moved to the next phase of being replicated to other sites, in which case, aggregate statistics would be gathered on the progress of the expanded project.

10) Positive project accomplishments would be leveraged for a larger infrastructural investment on the part of districts and state agencies.

11)  A pilot project in a private Black school would run simultaneous to the pilot project in a public urban school.  The private school project should have similar demographics to the public school project.  The purpose of simultaneous executions would be to ascertain the degree to which constraints due to racism and bureaucracy slow down the progress of African American students in public urban schools.  This information would be useful in lobbying against these obstructions.

12) The results and ongoing progress of the project will be posted in educational journals and forwarded to African American communities as well as educational policy makers.  Leaders in the African American communities will be armed with progress reports that will demonstrate the effectiveness of the program, giving them leverage to lobby for its expansion.

13) Educational research institutions that support this project from a critical pedagogy standpoint will continuously bring to bare ideas from technology experts on collaborative distance learning methodologies and pedagogy, to improve the quality and dynamic delivery of distance learning spaces and culturally sensitive content.

14)  The pilot program should be enabled with cultural collaboration, modeled after successful student exchange program ideas.  This will demonstrate the commitment to not only close the achievement gap between African Americans and other groups, but also to facilitate relations with other groups in mutually beneficial ways.  This would address a major project goal.

Maintaining and Extending the Project

The central core of the project is fidelity to delivery of expert knowledge to African American students by African American’s with knowledge capital in ways that are sensitive the learning styles, needs, aspirations, and standards of African Americans.  These are all self determined continuously by African Americans themselves.  This will be done by polling African American parents, students, and educators on what they believe African American students should learn in these collaborative distance learning spaces, and how content should be delivered.  Also central to the success of the project is that educators with a critical race theory behind their pedagogical methods are involved in the design, implementation, and ongoing evolution of the project.  The project will no doubt be buffeted by racist elements in the society, but contingencies for this will be put on the table upfront with the foresight that a CRT perspective provides.

It will be important that the project is flexible/adaptable to the changing technologies, changing self-definitions of the African American community, and changing relations with other communities.  It will be important to learn from models of what is doable from African American educational sectors that are less constrained by the negative effects of institutionalized racism (i.e. private Black schools on all levels).   This project will likely take root and flourish faster in more or less independent private Black institutions than in public urban schools.  However, it is important that the average African American student is taught how to work in collaborative technology enhanced spaces to remain competitive in a society that determines winners and losers increasingly by the levels to which one can manage and exploit advances in technology.

This project should be placed in the larger context of African Americans collaboration with Africans in the African Diaspora and with other cultures.  It should also be a model for cross-cultural exchange. It should also have as a major objective to survive and neutralize as much as possible racism locally, nationally, and internationally.  As the project expands to larger arenas, it will be vital that it is governed by people with wider perspectives of global education and global obstructions to the educational advancement of underprivileged groups.

Finally it will be important to extend this model for bridging the technology gap between haves and have-nots to all traditionally oppressed groups, not only within America but also in any locality.  This can certainly be a model for any group.  Perhaps the availability of such a model, and its implementation across disparate groups will be a meaningful vehicle for breaking down barriers across cultures.  Perhaps if African Americans can bridge the technological learning gap between Blacks and Whites we will also be able to bridge economic and social gaps as well.

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One Response to “Technology in support of Learning – some added thoughts”

  1. diysociology Says:

    This is fantastic! I loved reading this!

    Building on your introductory points, about how working to solve historical problems of unequal and biased education can improve matters for all affected communities, I’d like to recommend a book I think is really smart: Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing, by Jane Margolis and and Alan Fisher (http://www.amazon.com/Unlocking-Clubhouse-Computing-Jane-Margolis/dp/0262133989) (you can get copies super-cheap off Amazon these days).

    Their focus was on women who were already part of the computer science undergraduate program at Carnegie Mellon — but those women still described having had much less access to computers than the men in the program did, as children, and they were, in general, less confident than the men were. The study format is particularly well done; the researches follow four cohorts of women through their time at CMU, matched to an equal number of men in the same department, and they collect qualitative and quantitative data on the groups.

    I mention this is at such length because I think aspects of it make it a strong citation in support of your project.

    —-

    Coming back to your project as a whole — I agree strongly that technology can lead to work on social and economic goals. I’ve heard the objection before that it’s useless to give someone internet access if they have “more basic” needs that aren’t being attended to. I understand that point, sure, but information is *also* a basic need.

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