Today, March 13, 2015, is Digital Learning Day (#DLDay). I was honored to spend the morning in conversation with Secretary Arne Duncan and staff at the US Department of Education for their monthly roundtable. This month’s topic was on achieving equity for learners through technology, also known as techquity. I joined Cathy Casserly and Jutta Treviranus in a conversation ranging from Open Educational Resources and open licensing to measurement methodologies to account for outliers. The perspective I brought from Mozilla’s Hive Chicago is deeply influenced by the work being done in Chicago and in several other cities to create peer-to-peer professional development communities working together to advance connected learning and digital literacy for all youth.
In preparation for the conversation we were asked to respond to three questions.
- How can technology support a more equitable learning environment for all students to maximize their learning potential?
- What role can technology play in making high quality resources and experiences available freely to all students/teachers, and how do we make sure these experiences and resources are available to students/teachers regardless of location, accessibility issues, etc?
- What is the Federal Government’s role in promoting the expansion of access to technology, building accessibility into technology, and ensuring dissemination of technology in a way that promotes equity and excellence of digital learning experiences?
In our daily work at Mozilla and throughout our networks, we continue to probe a related and fundamental question of equity:
Are all youth having the kind of experiences that make them want to keep learning?
As Hives seek to address that issue through our work, we maintain the importance of building networked contexts to best serve digital age learners. Our emerging theory of action might go something like this:
- If you mobilize educators and invest in their ability to create connected learning experiences,
- Then you will increase their capacity to create programs and practices through which young people gain the literacies and motivation needed for resilience in the digital world.
- If you embed these programs and practices across a network of organizations and educators,
- Then they will spread to create a citywide context where more youth are motivated and enabled to keep learning.
In other words,
- If you build learning networks of educators and youth-serving institutions who do their work in the open,
- Then we will increase the wisdom of the crowd to meet the opportunities and challenges of digital age learning, improving the way successful programs and practices are generated, spread, and scale.
If the goal of techquity is to ensure technology is fully leveraged to create experiences that motivate kids to keep learning, context matters at least as much as access to tools.
As we attempt to implement this approach in Hive Chicago there are promising early indicators of success from our collective efforts.
To date, the strongest evidence we have for the validity of this approach is the commitment of educators and organizations to integrate connected learning principles throughout their teen programs,.
We have evidence that educators are mobilizing to collaborate. In a three-year NYU report on Hive Chicago and Hive NYC, one Chicago participant noted about Hive:
I think it serves as a great opportunity. I’ve been doing youth development work for just about 20 years now, and I’ve always, over the years, heard organizations or people representing youth work saying, “We should have a place to get together. There needs to be a collection of folks like us who can talk about these issues…. I think the Hive provides a nice opportunity to really do that, to really bring us together, to allow us to collaborate, to allow us to find out ways to enhance our programming and to find ways to do it better…. I’ve learned about so many resources for my teens and for me, as I’ve developed programming, that I didn’t know was out there, so I’m just happy that the Hive is able to provide that for us.
We have evidence that the funded incubation pipeline is working: Our growing portfolio of projects includes many examples of projects that are growing from ideation to pilots that grow and spread. We are in the process of updating the portfolio with previously funded work. Here are a few highlights from past Hive-funded projects.
Creations embedded in institutions: More institutions that are part of Hive are adopting this work as integrated aspects of how their ongoing operations serve teens.
- There are an increasing number of “hanging out, messing around, and geeking out” (HOMAGO) spaces for teens within cultural institutions, museums, and schools across the network, drawing inspiration from Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia and other learning labs nationally.
- Within many organizations, youth councils have evolved from Hive-funded innovations to embedded components of their infrastructure.
- Increased cross-sector collaborations produce teen programs such as Adler’s 2014 Civic Hack Day that connected civic action, coding, and science in ways that address community issues in the lives of youth.
- Organizations are submitting proposals that build off models tested by other organizations, such as STEAM Studio piloted by DePaul’s DYN and Northwestern’s FUSE.
- The Hive-funded Connected Mentor framework is being used throughout the Network at organizations like Convergence Academies, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, YOUmedia, and U Chicago’s Game Changer.
There are also early indicators of successful youth engagement.
- In NYU’s 3-year report which surveyed 718 Chicago youth (more than 90% students of color) in Hive-funded or Hive-like programs, we see an increase from 73% in year 1 to 80% in year 3 in the percentage of students agreeing that “I learned things that will help me go deeper into an interest I already have.”
- We saw similar increases in the responses to these questions:
- I learned things that will help me with school (72% Y1 to 78% Y3).
- I am going to explore a new interest based on things I learned (70% Y1 to 77% Y3).
- I learned things that I could use in a job one day (77% Y1 to 82% Y3).
Direct Indicators of Success
Despite these early indicators of success, we still want more direct indicators of impacts on youth learning and engagement. Ultimately we want to be able to show the direct academic, civic, and career impacts produced by the experiences kids are having in digitally powered programs produced from professional collaborations within networks like the Hive.
As we eagerly move toward more direct measures of positive outcomes for youth, we’re mindful of a recent CCSR report:
- “Despite all of the attention on test scores, high school grades are the strongest predictors of college graduation and middle school grades are the strongest predictors of high school grades.”
If we could show a direct correlation between exposure to our connected learning programs and the resultant increase in attendance and grades we would be a long way toward demonstrating our goal of developing more youth who want to keep learning. Still other questions remain:
- For youth who may be at the margins – low-income, new to English, court-involved – what programmatic approaches are best for engaging them?
- What conditions will increase transfer of youth engagement across learning contexts?
- How do we link student engagement from interest-driven connected learning programs to the outcomes which we know to be predictive of academic and college success, such as middle and high school grades and attendance?
No doubt we have more to learn.
As we celebrate Digital Learning Day we know that access to technology is a necessary but insufficient condition for ensuring that all kids keep learning. In addition to access, what’s needed to advance equitable learning is the creation of more contexts in which powerful connected learning experiences can be discovered and pursued.