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Advocating for Equality through Technology

Creating equitable access to technology is a recurring theme here at the Digital Media and Learning Conference in San Francisco.

An inspiring session this morning featured several groups of students from urban Los Angeles who used technology to conduct research investigating issues of oppression in their school communities, including the digital divide, school discipline policies, culturally irrelevant curriculum, and food equality in low-income neighborhoods.

For instance, students from Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles, located in a predominantly low-income Latino neighborhood, researched the healthy food options in their neighborhood. The closest grocery store with organic, healthy choices was a Trader Joe's, located an hour away by bus. Surveys of the student body and the community found that 55 percent of community members did not feel that the neighborhood had health food options, and 93 percent of those surveyed had at least one family member with a diet-related illness.

Using digital cameras, video cameras, and audio recorders, those students advocated to create a community garden to promote physical exercise, a wider variety of healthy foods, and a stronger unified neighborhood.

Students at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles used technology to research the lack of technological resources at their school. Through surveys and observations, they found many use their cell phones as a replacement for computers. Only 23 percent felt that they had the technology they needed at school to succeed. Students in the high school share three carts of laptops and 14 library computers, only 10 of which work and three of which have the capability to print, the students found.

"This lack of technology will not allow us to develop skills for today's job market, relegating us to low skills or service industries," said one student. That structure creates a wider divide between the "haves" and "have-nots," she argued. Students at Crenshaw are not familiar with software programs such as Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint—skills they need to succeed in college and the workplace, they argued.

Many student presentations used technology to empower students to explore inequalities in their school communities. Digital tools are helping to engage them in community issues, share their perspectives with others, and teach their peers what they have learned.

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