Kimberly A. Scott is an Associate Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Graduate School and Institute of Education at Arizona Sate University in the Division of Advanced Studies of Education Policy, Leadership, and Curriculum. Her research interests include urban education issues related to technology equity. In addition to being the Executive Director/Principal Investigator of COMPUGIRLS, Kim is also Executive Editor of The State of Black Arizona.
Despite the presence of the first Black in America’s highest political position, this success does not necessarily cross gender and/or social class boundaries. For example, women of color are less likely to enter technology fields than White females (see Goode & Margolis, 2004; Margolis & Fisher, 2003; NSF, 2006) To explain this phenomenon requires consideration of how a girl’s race, gender, social class, context, and community involvement work together to create their real-time and virtual experiences with digital media.
The digital divide is no longer about who has access to computers, but what happens during that access. How does the interaction between the user and the technology reinforce or dispel stereotypical images of race and/or gender? How does social class shape the contours of the associations between user and technology? What are the outcomes that may correlate to the interactions? The following facts provide partial answers to the above:
Fact: Although the Kaiser Family Foundation (2005) revealed that African American and Hispanic youth spend more time with media (e.g. video games) than White youngsters, research by Jansz and Martis (2007) demonstrates that the majority of game protagonists are White males and/or females in racially and gender stereotypic roles.
Fact: Children from under-resourced areas are less likely to occupy schools with advanced level computer science courses than those attending more affluent schools (see for an example Goode, 2007; Margolis, Estrella, Goode, Holme, & Nao, 2008).
Fact: Even if every American girl received a new laptop, this equal distribution would not necessarily produce equitable outcomes. Given the history of oppression that virtual worlds, gaming, and digital media have perpetuated (see Digitizing Race, 2007; Cybertypes, 2002; Race in Cyberspace, 2000) in order to equalize the technological playing field may require schools to provide a different type of culturally relevant computing.
As one of my colleagues, Gregory Aist, stated, “Technology and digital media have always been culturally responsive—it has appealed to the interest of White middle-class boys”. Thankfully, there have been recent attempts that consider this racialized-genderized-class conscious digital divide and provide more culturally responsive computing experiences. One such example is a National Science Foundation ITEST funded program entitled, COMPUGIRLS (see for another example, Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity.).
COMPUGIRLS is a digital media program for adolescent girls (ages 13-18) from high needs districts. Girls engage in a series of 6 courses during which the participants use various technologies to research, analyze and present social and/or community issues. In collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of the East Valley, Sacaton; several Phoenix Metropolitan underprivileged districts, and Arizona State University, we currently host two sites: 1. On Arizona State University’s Mercado Campus and 2) The Boys and Girls Club of the East Valley on the Gila River Indian Community. The majority of the girls are of Hispanic descent (62%) followed by relatively large African American (19%) and Native American (17%) populations. Girls’ topics have included multiple myeloma among reservation inhabitants, unequal school spending, and consequences of early motherhood.
Integral to COMPUGIRLS’ success is the culturally responsive pedagogical practices that mentor teachers learn and hopefully embrace. Trained over the course of the program, mentor teachers are a combination of community members, in-service teachers, and graduate students. Assigned a cohort of approximately five girls, the mentors guide the participants through the program’s components—coursework, presentations, field trips, and internships.
As the Executive Director and Principal Investigator of COMPUGIRLS, I believe that girls engaged in this program will have more positive gains to their present and future self-concept, technological self-efficacy, and academic and social self-perception than non-participants. As we continue with our longitudinal analysis in hopes of expanding and exporting COMPUGIRLS to other locations., I believe schools—irrespective of their urban or suburban status– can consider incorporating certain elements of our program.
1. Culturally responsive, project-based computing activities should not be seen as an extracurricular, school-centered endeavor. Rather, schools should encourage teachers to shape their general lessons around critical digital media exercises. This would require school administrators to divert more resources towards a different kind of professional development. Given the significance of high stakes testing, such a decision may seem risky, but there can be no progress without risk. And risk-taking should be collaborative. Universities and/or community organizations engaged in culturally responsive computing should work with schools to provide such training. Society must cease believing that schools, particularly in urban districts, can make sustained changes by themselves.
2. Encourage schools to create safe, girl-only spaces for technology programs. These contexts need to value, recognize, and respect girls’ identities along multiple lines of intersection. Concurrently, these spaces should also guide girls to critically analyze their selves and how they can use technology to reinforce or modify those images.
3. Schools should teach youngsters that technology can be a means towards a more socially just end, but is not an end in and of itself. How to manipulate technology and produce new innovations that advance communities should center our efforts.
Until we as educators understand the nuances of the new divide, recognize some model programs, and risk challenging our own beliefs, technology may produce short-term equal outcomes but will do little to further long-term race-gender-social class technological equity.
Goode, J. (2007) If you build teachers, will students come? The role of teachers in broadening computer science learning for urban youth. J. Educational computing research, 36(1) 65-88.
Goode, J. & Margolis, J. (2004). What is Computer Science, Anyway?: Deepening Urban Teachers’ Understandings of Computer Science and Working Towards an Engaging Pedagogy. In R. Ferdig et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2004 (pp. 814-819).
Jansz, J., Martis, R.G. (2007). The Lara phenomenon: Powerful female characters in video games. Sex Roles. 56, 141-148.
Margolis, J., Estrella, R., Goode, J., Holme, J., Nao, K., (2008) Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Margolis, J., and Fisher, A. (2003) Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing, Cambridge, MA MIT Press.