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A Multicultural Perspective on Technology in Schools

What if, instead of thinking about technology as an add-on, or instructional tool, or device to facilitate student learning, we thought of it as a driver of school culture?

Last week, I started a new course in multicultural education. In completing our introductory readings, I kept thinking about the similarities between implementing multicultural education and successfully integrating digital technologies into school culture. According to Banks (2015), the goal of a multicultural curriculum is to ensure that all students experience educational equality. Too often, schools only focus on integrating examples, theories, or literature from other cultures to develop multicultural education.  Banks (2015) argues that this content integration only represents a first step. Additionally, when the focus remains at the content level, educators often lament that multicultural education "doesn't fit" within their content areas. Over the years, I have heard similar concerns about technology. When the focus remains on how to "integrate" different tools into the content, some educators feel as though the devices or apps may be better suited to "other subjects."

A multicultural curriculum focuses on content and strategies to account for prior conceptions and cultural distinctions (Gay, 2002). It also looks at the symbolic curriculum including pictures on bulletin boards, awards given to students, mottoes, and artifacts displayed around the school to determine the connotations of the culture. Further, a multicultural curriculum addresses the images and messages portrayed outside of school that impact the beliefs of the students. Teachers then provide cultural scaffolding for students and model ways to value the diversity of others (Gay, 2002).

When technology becomes a component of school culture, how do teachers take into consideration their students' experiences from outside of class? What messages are students hearing about technology, computer science, computational literacy, or STEM from the media and society? For example, organizations such as Google CS First, Code.Org, and Minecraft Education want to shift the perceptions of what it means to be a computer scientist - especially for women and students of different ethnicities. Finally, how is technology represented around the school in terms of posters, events, and policies. Do students see signs banning devices instead of embracing them? Do they listen to talks discouraging inappropriate social media use without also receiving opportunities to build a positive online presence?

What if, instead of thinking about levels of technology integration specific to curriculum or tasks, we took a whole-school cultural perspective?

Nieto (2008) presents a model of multicultural education that addresses varying levels of school cultures. Whether considering racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, or gender differences, a monocultural school only represents the interests and identities of the dominant group. Historically, American public schools have predominantly represented the perspective of white, European males (Nieto, 2008). Similarly, a monocultural school from a technology perspective may be a teacher-centered, content-driven curriculum where technology - if used at all - simply digitizes existing tasks.

As schools begin to add multicultural content to the curriculum, or designs a multicultural course, they progress to the tolerance phase (Nieto, 2008). Though the school may issue statements about respecting and recognizing the differences of others, the curriculum largely remains the same.  Consider programs where students may use technology to complete quizzes, consume content, or complete a digital worksheet. Teachers may tolerate technology from the perspective of allowing it in class, but it remains siloed as "tech projects" or curriculum to be addressed by a specialist from outside of the classroom.

When schools progress through the acceptance and respect phases, substantial changes begin to occur. Multicultural education shifts from an attitude of assimilation to one of acceptance. Rather than existing as a special day, course, or experience, multicultural becomes part of the fabric of the schools themselves (Nieto, 2008). When schools reach the respect phase, students no longer focus on technology but instead view it as a tool to support their learning. Classroom instruction and curriculum begin to shift so that the tools allow teachers to better reach their students and empower them as active learners.

Finally, when students begin to struggle together, to learn together, and to develop empathy such that they naturally respect the cultures of others, a school has reached the final stage in Nieto's (2008) model: Affirmation, Solidarity, and Critique. Instead of teaching content, teachers now teach complexity and craft experiences through which students can make deeper connections to the course material and their cultural identities. When a school embraces technology at this stage, it creates a new definition of learning that includes students, teachers, administrators and the broader community.

Last spring, I worked with a group of educators using the Technology Integration Matrix as a means to assess their classroom practice.  According to the matrix, at the transformation stage, "The teacher cultivates a rich learning environment, where blending choice of technology tools with student-initiated investigations, discussions, compositions, or projects, across any content area, is promoted." As we discussed what this could look like in practice, one teacher commented that she did not feel as though she was ready to achieve this level. She stated that to create such an environment would require a completely different culture, and that would require more than just a change in her curriculum. As I reflect on her statement through the lens of multicultural education, I believe that she is absolutely correct. The challenge then lies in creating the vision and systemic implementation to change the culture of school. 

References

Banks. J.A. (2015). Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching. (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53, (2), 106- 116. doi: 10.1177/0022487102053002003

Nieto, S. (2008). Affirmation, solidarity and critique: Moving beyond tolerance in education. In Lee, E, Menkart, D., & Okazawa-Rey, M. (Eds.), Beyond heroes and holidays (pp. 18-29). Washington, DC: Teaching for Change.

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