Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Empowerment through technology: three different approaches

Well, at last (and arriving in incredibly late :$), the last entry of the semester.

Today's discussion during class helped me view this week's readings from a different stand. Nevertheless, in order to honor the fact that I should have posted this before class, I have decided to use my original impressions on the readings as they were written on Wednesday.

I had the impression that this week's readings were tightly related to topics that, in one way or another, we've already discussed. Constructionism, community building, cultural identity and empowerment are mentioned again, but from a different stand:

  1. Pinkard's paper attempts to explore the impact of culturally responsive instruction on children's early literacy learning. Cultural responsive instruction states that "learning is most efficient when students are able to draw upon knowledge of concepts, procedures, and strategies they know well from their everyday experiences"(Pinkard, 2001, p. 18). In order to create a culturally and instructionally responsive reading experience, Pinkard presents two computer-based learning environments specifically designed to facilitate the development of literacy skills in African-American children. Rappin’ Reader and Say Say Oh Playmate situate reading tasks in familiar activities for African-American children, such as rap singing and clapping games (p. 18).

    The goal of a cultural responsive instruction, as described by Pinkard, appears to me as strongly related to Gee's description of situated meaning and Papert's definition of constructionism. In order to exemplify situated meaning, Gee (2005) explains that "people know what words mean and learn new ones only when they can hook them to the sorts of experiences they refer to — that is, to the sorts of actions, images, or dialogues that the words relate to"(p. 36). On the other hand, Rusk et al (2009) describe that for constructionism "what’s important is that learners are actively engaged in creating something that is meaningful to themselves or to others around them" (p. 6). All of this concepts focus on more or less the same: learning can be better achieved if the learner is engaged, either because he can relate the new knowledge to something familiar or because he is interested in achieving a certain goal.

    Although Pinkard states that, compared to other types of activities, rap singing and clapping routines can be more engaging for African American kids, I think these activities can be way more engaging for any child, no matter his culture. One of the main reasons why Rappin' Reader and Say Say Oh Playmate were successful is that singing and clapping are part of "every child's culture", as well as playing hide-and-seek, drawing and painting in walls and playing with play dough. I don't pretend to dismiss the fact that rap music and traditional African American clapping routines can in fact be more engaging for African American learners. But I think it is also important to consider how these computer-based learning environments can be used in a multicultural classroom where every kid has a different ethnic culture and even family culture. How can Pinkard's work be used to provide children frequent contact to other cultures in order to transcend their own ethnic culture and built a transcultural identity?

    Mentioned before by Black (2006) in his work on Fanfiction, a transcultural identity is a way to rebell against categories that are usually associated with ethnic groups and culturally specific details (Yeh et al, 2007, p. 3) . "It stresses values like 'otherness', 'alterity', 'continuous transformation' and 'multiplicity', causing cultural boundaries to fade" (Renzi, 2004, p. 109), "allowing multiple cultures to trespass, coexist, coalesce, and be ‘happy together.’" (Yet et al, 2007, 3).

    I think that Pinkard's work can be a first step to the creation of a transcultural space in the classroom. By including songs of their own cultural background, every kid could be able to show their culture to class. Together, children would appropriate the songs, modify them and create new songs, just like Fanfiction writers and readers do. And they would all feel empowered to see that their own culture is being included in the creation of this new space.

  2. I found Rusk et al (2009) presentation of the Computer Clubhouse's principles very similar to Hull and Katz's (2007) work on DUSTY and digital storytelling. Both the Computer Clubhouse and DUSTY are informal learning spaces that aim to support young learners to envision and enact agentive selves. They provide young learners with access not only to tools and resources, but also to people who can inspire and support them. The idea in both cases is to let the learners appropriate the technology and make it their own through a free and safe dialogic process of exploring, sharing, reflecting and proposing new activities.

    Although very similar in goals and principles, DUSTY and the Computer Clubhouse differ in the type of tool used as basis for constructing agentive identities. While DUSTY focuses mainly on the construction of autobiographical digital narratives (Hull and Katz, 2007, p. 43), the Computer Clubhouse promotes the use of computers as a "universal machine" able to support self-expression in a variety of domains: music, art, science, and mathematics (Rust et al, 2009, p. 12). In one way it almost seems as if the Computer Clubhouse is trying to impose the use of the computer as the panacea to every educational problem. But, even if it is so, from my point of view the Computer Clubhouse's merit goes beyond its foundations on the technocratic dream: it allows learners to negotiate their learning space and work together beyond cultural boundaries to reach meaningful self-imposed goals.

  3. Finally Srinivasan (2006) also talks about how technology can empower marginalized groups, but from a completely different point of view. His interest is in exploring how indigenous communities make sense of certain technologies in order to achieve "community-focused cultural, political, educational and social objectives" (p. 501). In his paper he describes how a group of Native American communities attempt to solve a problem of cultural and geographical disconnection by proposing the use of web-based technology and participating in the design of the solution (p. 506).

    Srinivasan's work took me back to Nardi and O'Day's article on Information Ecologies. Indigenous and ethnic communities are indeed ecologies, and wether they use technology or not, they manage information and have their own communicational practices. Just like Nardi and O'Day (1999) , Srinivasan's stresses the need for ethnographic processes before attempting to introduce any new technology to a community (p. 14). He worked closely with tribal leaders and community members and just like Nardi and O'Day recommend, together they worked from core values, payed attention to existing practices and asked strategic questions (p. 65). As a result the community built Tribal Peace, a web-based media environment that served as a space of exchange and preservation across the 19 reservations (Srinivasan, 2006, p. 508)

    Tribal Peace is different from the Computer Clubhouse and Say Say Oh Playmate. It was a community initiative, where community members participated through all the design and implementation process. Nevertheless, this does not necessarily ensure the sustainability of the process once the researcher is gone. In this regard Srinivasan says "if self-sustainability is to be reached, it would entail a significantly lower correlation with the time spent by the ethnographer". This leads him to a very important conclusion: when it comes to empowering communities through technology it is important to consider that "a technology’s ability to impact a community is subject to accompanying social and cultural processes."

Going back to my model, due to this similarities between the concepts touched in this week's readings and the ones that I've already included, I decided not to change it. I feel that my model represents pretty accurately what I've learned in this class and what I consider important aspects of a healthy learning community: carefully designed class activities (with or without technology), collaboration, group work, peer review, reflection and empowerment of the learners so they can become agents of their learning process.

I must end this post saying that it's been an interesting journey to force myself to have an opinion about the readings. Writing my insights in a structured format and trying to link them to my model have been challenging tasks. To be honest, I'm a little bit relieved that it's getting to an end, cause frankly writing takes me forever and it's even worse when it's in English. On the other hand, I'm really thankful for what I've learned throughout this whole process :)


Pinkard N., 2001, Rappin’ Reader And Say Say Oh Playmate: Using Children’s Childhood Songs As Literacy Scaffolds In Computer-Based Learning Environments, J. Educational Computing Research, Vol. 25(1) 17-34

Gee P., 2005, Good Videos and Good Learning, PHI KAPPA PHI Forum/Vol. 85, No. 2

Rusk N., Resnik, M., Cooke, S., Origins and Guiding Principles of the Computer Clubhouse

Black R., 2006, Language, Culture, and Identity in Online Fanfiction, E–Learning, Volume 3, Number 2

Hull G., Katz M., 2006, Crafting an Agentive Self: Case Studies of Digital Storytelling, Research in the Teaching of English Volume 41, Number 1

Srinivasan,R., 2006, Indigenous, ethnic and cultural articulations of new media, International Journal of Cultural Studies, 9, 497

Nardi B., O'Day V., 2000, Information Ecologies, Using Technology with Heart, MIT Press