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The Digital Fault Line: Power, Policy, and Leadership

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This is the second post in a series about about Understanding Digital Inequalities, based on a workshop at the American Educational Researchers Association. The first post, with a background on the evolving Digital Fault Line, is here. During this AERA workshop, we held an interactive, collaborative session to surface key themes related to the evolving digital divide (or what I call, the Digital Fault Line with its ever opening and closing divides). As presenters, we committed to producing a "flash publication" this week where we put our collective insights into writing and quickly get them out in the public sphere. In this post, we report out on two of our discussions (which were defined by our participants), one about Power, Hegemony, and Reproduction, and a second about Policy and Leadership. My hope is that for scholars, this provides an opportunity to document and extend our conversations. For practitioners, I hope this provides a more transparent window into how researchers are theorizing the evolving digital divide.

Power, Hegemony, and Reproduction

My colleague Netrice Gaskins took the lead in our conversation about Power, Hegemony, and Reproduction and she has a great blog post describing the structure of our whole workshop as well as the details of her group's more focused discussion.

She writes:

One of the issues I talked about in my [opening provocation] is the difference between designing digital media in ways that engage local (Indigenous or "emic") knowledge vs. alien digital conceptions. My group was tasked to discuss ideas about what might enable underrepresented minorities to fully access their personal, or collective power and influence, and to employ that strength when engaging with others, institutions, or society. It's the difference between being digitally literate and feeling a sense of agency - i.e. by producing, re-producing, re-appropriating, or re-deploying technologies. A few sub-themes/issues emerged in my group:


Infrastructure - a pattern of connections that provides for interaction, communication, and progress. The group noted the need for participation of all stakeholders in the design of digital media applications and platforms. This includes settings that are both formal and informal settings, as well as rich (safe) environments (see Bruce Lewenstein).

Communities of Practice - a group formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor (Etienne Wenger, 2006). This includes schools creating partnerships with CoPs, engaging the use of local (Indigenous) knowledge in the participatory design of digital media technology, and engaging CoPs to engage in the design of digital media in ways that are meaningful to them.

Participatory Design - actively involving all stakeholders in the design process in order to help ensure the project meets their needs. The group emphasized resisting technology standards, fostering maker culture (over consumption), modeling production in open-source (universal access), and creating opportunities for underrepresented groups to design from the ground up.

For the full context, see her entire post.

Policy and Leadership

A second group, facilitated by Georgia Tech professor Betsy DiSalvo gathered around interrelated topics of "Policy and Leadership," "Assumptions and Engagement" and "Relevance". The focus of the conversation was on K-12 school policy and leadership with two seasoned teachers talking about their experience in various school systems. One of the concerns was that the leaders at all levels had incorrect assumptions about digital fluency, computational thinking, and who could use and create with digital tools. There was also concern that the leadership did not include professional development of teachers on how to use technology to increase learning rather than just using technology as an add on in the in the classroom.

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The group came together with consensus on four critical steps than our need to be taking to move forward in better understanding and ameliorating the digital inequities.

First, increased professional development with district level administrators and school site leadership to help them develop a vision for digital fluency and computational thinking. This vision should emphasize not just the use of technology, but also address the relevance of technology and best practices for using technology to reach learning goals. As part of implementing the vision we discussed the importance of communication with teachers and transparent rational for implementation. The rational includes four levels of digital learning that need to take place to give a comprehensive learning experience that will equal the playing field among our population.

1. Purposeful use of technology for learning
2. Purposeful learning to use technology as informed consumers of technology and information (digital literacy)
3. Purposeful learning to be creators and producers with technology (digital fluency)
4. Purposeful learning to adapt and create computation (computational thinking)

Second, we discussed the importance of marketing and adapting the current digital learning and teaching tools. As a group we are all excited about and have see the potential of the many effective learning tools and strategies for meeting all four levels of digital learning. However, one of the reasons that these tools and strategies are not working is because we do not have effective communication about what works and how to adapt it to different audiences. One important line of research could focus on weeding through the many case studies and tools and finding ways to get the best in the hands of schools to help them build a tool kit and best practices for their teachers. It is important that this work also is adaptable for audiences and for changes in technology. Teacher training will be critical in making this possible.

Third, we recognized that new models need to be continued to be developed because of changes in technology and because few of the current technology learning tools and strategies address disenfranchised groups. If we hope to address digital inequities in the U.S. a focus on being more inclusive to underrepresented minorities, women, and those living in poverty needs to be a the forefront of new educational technology development.

Fourth, we recognize the need for evaluation. Too often the "gee wiz" effect of new technology or creative and fun digital creations take the spotlight when communicating about educational technology and digital learning. In addition to these spotlights we need to conduct and communicate effective and rigorous evaluation of new tools and programs. The groups asked, What works? And in what circumstances and for whom does it work?

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my publications, C.V., and online portfolio, visit EdTechResearcher.

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