Josh Burker's Action Research Site
Creating an Inclusive Elementary School Tech Club
Action Research Literature Review Draft 3
This year I am working to improve my actions and practice in a Technology Club that I founded at an elementary school three years ago. The club was started at the principal's behest: work with a smart and talented fourth grade student who was at times rebellious and felt little challenge in his school work or engagement with his peers. The club started as a technology troubleshooting club that sought to help with computer issues in the classroom. Over the past three years the club has evolved as the participants have changed their interests and desires as to what they wish to do with technology. Presently I would characterize Tech Club as being a multimedia club where students produce a variety of works in various digital forms, ranging from PowerPoint presentations gone crazy to musical compositions, photography, and even film-making.
Tech Club has from its inception lacked female participants. While girls have participated in various important ways over the years, they lack a defining presence in the Club and its culture. The work contributed by girls over the years has been fundamentally different than that of the boys. While a group of boys worked to enhance and expand their skills three years ago in our first efforts at a stop-motion film, a girl wrote the dialogue that brought cohesive narrative to the piece. Another girl enjoyed working on the sets for the same film, painstakingly building them from construction paper and glue, but she was not as engaged by the stop-motion film making or editing the film on the computer. Activities in the Tech Club have always had a heavy emphasis on the technology side of the activities and the projects emphasize this focus: building a digital picture frame; shooting a stop-motion film; filming documentary movies with teachers. Joan Hanor believes it is important to include viewpoints from women, honor and attend to the voices of girls, and to examine the meaning girls make through their computer use (1998). What modifications might be made to the way Tech Club operates and the kinds of activities that we take part in to better suit girls?
Female use technology differently than do males, and the difference in use must be considered. Bhargava, Kirova-Petrova, and McNair find that academically, females do as well as males in technology classes but males spend more of their time after school playing with computers and male enrollment in computer science courses in college are higher (1999). Females seek aesthetic experiences in their computer use, which is also a means of establishing and cultivating relationships.
Accessibility remains an issue for female in regards to computer use. Elementary school-age girls place high value on their teachers' reactions to their work done on the computer and the teachers' reactions can be a determining factor as to whether the girls feel their work is met with respect and consideration (Hanor, 1998). The opportunity to work with computers may be limited for girls because of prejudices of society that are communicated in subtle and blatant ways by the actions of parents, adults, and the mass media suggesting to girls that computers are not for them (Bhargava et al., 1999). According to Bhargava, Kirova-Petrova, and McNair "girls in general view computers and technology as being beyond their capabilities and realm of understanding" (1999). Therefore, it is important, especially at this young age, to work against such stereotypes and assertions and to create an environment where girls are comfortable using technology and are able to develop and refine their skills. Traditionally, there has been a lack of support offered to girls and women who want to learn about and use computers (Bhargava et al., 1999). Hanor likens this to a young girl's lack of empowerment "to participate in the decisions that would effect positive change in her life, a lack of respect for her contributions to the community life of the classroom" (1998). Computers are not used across the curriculum but rather in ways that only interest boys (Bhargava et al., 1999). Furthermore, boys dominate the use of computers while girls tend to be nonassertive in their right to equitable computer time (Bhargava et al, 1999). Teachers compound the issue, according to Bhargava, et al. (1999), citing documented examples where teachers prefer boys to handle the computers, an action that suggests to the girls that they are not needed or are unwanted near computers and have nothing to contribute to the class' understanding or use of the computers. Some suggest that all-girl computer clubs or classes might be a solution to this domination by boys; Kiley Hartshorn, who as a student wrote about her experiences in an all-girl computer club researching relevant topics of interest to girls, felt the single-gender composition of the club was beneficial to the girls. However, dividing students by gender might be unnecessary if one's actions are deliberate. By consciously assigning girls and boys to computer activities and by scheduling computer use to make sure all students have time to use the computer, one might be able to successfully combine boys and girls and expect balanced, fair use of the computers (Bhargava et al., 1999).
Aesthetics are an important and overlooked component of technology projects involving girls. Aesthetics are connected to interpersonal relationships as well: when girls use computers, "interpersonal relations were highly regarded as a factor contributing to their aesthetic enjoyment" (Hanor, 1998). According to Hanor, "Using an aesthetic framework to study girls' interactions with computers builds on research findings about girls' ways of knowing" (1998). These different ways of knowing might include "tacit, ambiguous, problematic, experiential, and intuitive" means (Hanor, 1998). In fitting with the differences in the ways in which girls use computers, girls are more interested in using computers to produce tangible results (Bhargava et al., 1999). Therefore, the technology itself might not be of interest to girls, but what they are able to produce with the technology is the focus of their interests. Choice, for girls, is more important as it helps inform the aesthetic qualities of their projects: "color, shapes, tools, clip art, and animated sequences" have been found to be elements in computer applications that engage girls (Hanor, 1998). Additionally, unstructured time is important for girls to give them the opportunity to "mess around" with computers in a free-form manner (Hanor, 1998). This unstructured engagement is important for "girls value the emerging consciousness that evidences itself visually through random or free-form exploration" (Hanor, 1998). Studies cited by Gordon (2000) suggest female students enjoy the multimedia possibilities offered by constructive use of technology. The multimedia capabilities of computers provide aesthetic experiences that "are integrated experiences that incorporate perceptual and cognitive pleasures derived from repetition, playfulness, daydreaming, and fantasy" (Hanor, 1998). Projects such as Hartshorn's, in which she created a multimedia stack that included pictures she drew as well as a digital photo of herself on the biography page, are an example of projects that engage a girl's aesthetic sensibilities (2000). If a girl's "learnings are enabled through imaginative, creative and aesthetic experience" then it is necessary to create computer projects that challenge the imagination and desire to create (Hanor, 1998).
One must be mindful of the differences in the ways girls use computers and inform one's actions based on the available research and the students' observable actions. Girls value computer use that creates and reinforces interpersonal relationships. There is an aesthetic component to a girl's computer use that must also be considered. By creating "learning experiences that extend beyond the context of ordinariness," girls and boys alike are better served and challenged by technology (Hanor, 1998).
Technology can help students to find voice in the world and fosters collaboration and communication. While girls in particular are interested in the interpersonal relationships created and developed by technology and computer use, all students benefit from increased collaboration and communication possibilities. The ability for individuals who have traditionally been denied a public forum to use technology to give themselves voice is empowering.
Girls use technology in varied ways to increase their voice. Narrative, according to Hanor, is another aesthetic influence that is important to girls (1998). The stories, drawings, and symbols that girls create when using computers are aesthetic forms that reveal their knowledge (Hanor, 1998). These stories might be in words or in pictures, but either way, according to Hanor, girls are able to reflect upon their own and their classmates' experiences (1998). Technology and computers give girls voice and the ability to share their thoughts and feelings and construct meaning of their world in a public forum that in turn inspires more dialogue.
Technology also promotes an ability to share different ideas and to collaborate. Computers and technology offer "opportunities for connections of unparalleled proportions" (Hanor, 1998). Starting with the physical and social environment in which the computers are used, some researchers consider it important to make computer use social, grouping students to computers to encourage collaborative work (Bhargava et al., 1999). Computer programs can be suited towards cooperative work because they can be configured to accept input from two different joysticks, for example (Goldsmith, LeBlanc, 2004). This collaborative use can be beneficial for students with lower computer skills; as Thomas and Keller report in their work with Girl Scout Brownie troops, girls who know little learned considerably when working with less literate peers while those who knew more enjoyed working to help others (2002). Girls' interests in collaboration makes for a different computer experience than boys'. For girls, "relevant application appears to be more important" when using computers as girls are more interested in the collaborative, partner-based process (Bhargava et al., 1999). The collaborative process is beneficial to students with autism as well. In Lewis, , Trushell, and Woods' study where an autistic student was paired with classmates to complete an adventure application on the computer, the autistic student came to consider others' opinions when navigating through the game or solving puzzles (2005). Collaborative computer use in this case led to the autistic student being able to better share with his peers as well as to cope better in structured group settings (Lewis et al., 2005). By encouraging students to participate in computer activities that emphasize "group learning, social interaction, and cooperative problem solving," instructors are doing students of both genders and all abilities a service (Bhargava et al., 1999). Allowing students opportunities to "try things out, discuss alternatives, make comparisons, and continuously evaluate their own and their classmates' ideas and projects" promotes further communication and collaboration in the computing culture (Hanor, 1998). By emphasizing the collaborative aspects of computing and by encouraging students to participate in cooperative activities that foster collaboration, technology helps promote the free exchange of ideas.
Technology helps girls and marginalized students find voice and provides avenues for collaboration and increased communication. Girls place emphasis on narrative and voice in their own work. Projects that foster increased communication and collaboration help engage females because such projects include an interpersonal relationship component. The possibilities for increased communication increases if students are encouraged to collaborate in their computer use and if cooperation is encouraged over competition (Bhargava et al., 1999). The potential to offer girls and marginalized students a voice through their computer use is a powerful possibility.
All students stand to be empowered by their use of computers. Furthermore, computer literacy and fluency increase a student's leadership potential because of her or his experience and capabilities. The computer is a useful tool for both genders, and is used to increase social connections and boost self-esteem.
Computers and the internet make it possible for students to access information on issues that matter to them and assist them in making informed decisions that affect their lives. In Kiley Hartshorn's paper, she writes about how internet research allowed her and the other girls in the technology club to choose topics and conduct research that mattered to them personally as eighth grade girls: eating disorders, careers, grief and loss (2000). The relevancy of the topics makes the information more personal to these students. The knowledge that they gain is applicable to their lives and effects them positively. Teachers should aim to demonstrate computers are a way for students to gain new knowledge and that they can be used to accomplish tasks (Bhargava et al., 1999). Coupled with a collaborative computing culture, students stand to be empowered by the knowledge that they are able to create and the information they are able to retrieve.
Computer use is also empowering to marginalized students and is a useful tool for both genders (Bhargava et al., 1999). In Kiley Hartshorn's case, her technology skills, particularly research skills, improved because of her exposure to technology and her work in a technology class (2000). While the gender of a computer teacher seems to matter little, many computer teachers at the elementary level are female and have shown creativity and innovation with their computer use (Bhargava et al., 1999). The use and instruction of computers by any teacher, regardless of gender, but informed by aesthetics and applied across the curriculum is important for the success of students. The role of women in technology careers is also important to expose children to; Bhargava, Kirova-Petrova, and McNair suggest using female guest speakers to talk about their work and demonstrate how they use computers in a variety of ways (1999).
In a setting like Tech Club, where the focus is less on instruction and more on experiential learning and collaboration, the child with Asperger's Syndrome who is interested in technology stands to benefit doubly, for he or she is engaged in an activity that he or she finds compelling, and the means and method of the activity itself are beneficial for individuals with Asperger's Syndrome because of the social component of the project. Children with Asperger's Syndrome may find it difficult to make and keep friends, although they desire to engage socially and "fit in" and are frustrated by their social difficulties (Carrington & Graham, 1999). In the case of Ben, collaborative computer work with his peers resulted in increased social status: Ben was chosen by other students in all social activities such as playing with him at recess or sitting next to Ben on the bus ride to a field trip (Lewis et al., 2005). The collaborative computer culture also led to increased self-esteem for Ben, whose parents described Ben as proud for being chosen for the computer activity with his peers (Lewis et al., 2005). Ben's work on the computer with his classmates resulted in better interactions with his peers and an increased ability for Ben to give instructions so he could better have his needs met. It is important when using computer assisted learning with students on the Autism Spectrum that social interaction be encouraged as part of the project to discourage a reliance on the "non-human interaction of the computer" that could create a surther obsession with the computer and decrease social interactions (Carrington & Graham, 1999). The prevalence of technology in society bodes well for children with autism. Goldsmith and LeBlanc imagine a near-future when the increased use of technology may promote "increased acceptability for technological intervention aides for children with autism that will not result in children with autism standing out from the crowd, but rather, blending into our more technologically advanced society" (Goldsmith & LeBlanc, 2004). Silberman writes about a "PDA for autistic kids" in development that is able to interpret subtle physical characteristics of a social interaction and provide feedback that encourages and coaches the user to display appropriate responses (1999). The collaborative use of computers by children with autism and their peers, as well as a means of engaging students with Asperger's Syndrome with a subject in which they are interested, offers interesting possibilities for empowering these marginalized students.
Computers encourage leadership potential in all students. By scaffolding students as they learn to use computers and software until they become more competent, adults can increase students' computer literacy and help establish them as leaders in technology use (Bhargava et al., 1999). For Tracy Thomas and Julie Keller technology was an opportunity for Girl Scouts to earn technology badges and to attract young people to the Louisville Free Public Library facilities (2002). Programs such as this allow girls to become more computer literate and more comfortable asking questions about and experimenting with technology (Thomas & Keller, 2002). Additionally, field trips to diverse settings where females model "competent computer use" are beneficial for all students as examples of leadership and empowerment (Bhargava et al., 1999). Teachers can encourage leadership in their students' computer use by demonstrating competence to inspire competence (Bhargava et al, 1999). Girls in particular can be inspired if the teacher asks girls to help assist them in introducing new software (Bhargava et al., 1999). This strategy has also worked particularly well for me in Tech Club with a student with Asperger's Syndrome who knows the Mac and PC operating system and applications with uncanny thoroughness. By relating computer use to all subjects, students' strengths with the computer can be transferred to all aspects of their academic and social lives (Bhargava et al., 1999).
The possibilities offered by technology and computers to provide relevant information, to empower the user, and to encourage leadership potential in students are diverse. Girls and marginalized students, particularly those with Asperger's Syndrome, stand to benefit from increased social standing, leadership possibilities, and knowledge about the issues that affect their lives.
In improving my actions I hope to increase participation in Tech Club. Central to this effort is adapting the program to better suit the interests of girls and marginalized students, especially students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This requires a modification of curriculum for the Tech Club with a greater understanding of the ways in which girls and other students use technology and what they seek to get from their technology use; using the computers in a social context, rather than in isolation; and finding ways to give girls and marginalized students voice with their use of technology. Increasing participation also demands other important considerations when trying to attract girls to a technology-focused organization. Increasing participation by marginalized students requires an understanding of the benefits technology might have in empowering these students and giving them voice. Hopefully, my work with these students and all other students will lead to increased opportunities for leadership, both in their school and the larger community.
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