Web 2.0 for Education Outreach to Low-Income and Minority Students

I've been asked to help facilitate an event at the end of March with educational and government representatives on the topic of using the new technologies of the Web specifically to help low-income and minority students--and in particular to open greater opportunities for higher education to them. If all goes as we're planning right now, I'll be broadcasting the event live as a part of the interview series here and for anyone with an interest in this topic.

My job for that day will be to lay out the vision and possibilities for this angle on Web 2.0, as I've told them that I don't have any particular expertise directly here, but want to be a part of helping to bring the dialog forth.

I'm interested in what ideas you, dear network members, have on this topic, and if there is anyone you think I should particularly look to for thought leadership here. I'm also interested in involving some students in the discussion.

Thank you for any help.

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Been where you are right now, here are some starting points:

1. Students who do not have Internet access at home (some don't)

2. Valuable web resources that are blocked (especially video sites)

3. Professional development and equipment for teachers (some teachers are just not yet familiar with how to use web 2.0 resources for learning in and out of class or either don't have a laptop, camera, etc. or won't use their personal ones in school). I've learned that PD is most successful when it is job-embedded, in-class assisted (tech coach w/content teacher), sustained throughout the year, and done is small groups/learning communities.

which all lead to

4. Leadership commitment
Yes, this thread has clearly come out in the discussion here. I'm glad it has become part of the discussion.
I work for a College of Medicine that would like to expand a rural physician training program but rural kids, who are the best students for this type of program, frequently lack science education because of a lack of resources/labs. The Internet is a great way to fill this gap.
Will Richardson's recent post on "Those Who Publish Set the Agenda," and the linked study, seem to have something really pertinent to say in this discussion.

http://weblogg-ed.com/2009/those-who-publish-set-the-agenda/
A few of these comments have touched on the access problem in rural areas. NPR has a report this morning about this very issue and how it may be addressed with the economic stimulus package that President Obama will sign into law tomorrow. A very interesting listen:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100739283
Fascinating. This was the paragraph in the accompanying story that I've been wondering about:

"Rural advocates recall the decisions the nation made decades ago to use federal funds to extend electricity and phone service to all Americans, including those in the most remote and least-populated places. They view broadband as a similar kind of right to infrastructure."
Indeed that is a compelling analogy. As a city dweller I am sympathetic to the concern with extending broadband infrastructure to rural areas largely at the expense of urban taxpayers. As others in this forum have indicated, we haven't yet solved the access problems within cities where broadband is readily available. It would of course be ideal to do both, but if resources are limited what should be the priority? Extending infrastructure out to sparsely populated areas, or subsidizing access to existing infrastructure in denser cities? Either choice will likely be controversial.
Please count me in on the discussion... I look forward to tuning into the broadcast. I work in a low income area in the Black Belt region of the great of State of Alabama; where majority of my students are still using dial-up at home to access the internet... Before we can look at Web 2.0 and One to One in my area we are still battling affordable and accessible high speed internet access in the community...
I'm thinking there are a couple of different issues here. When I travel around the country visiting classrooms I see a very stark contrast between schools and the way they approach technology. It's not exactly a "have vs. have not" situation -- I call it a "do vs. do not" situation.

I see:

1. Schools/students with limited access and opportunities - These are mainly rural schools without access to special funding or the will to move towards technology. It's not that they are always poor or minority, but that they are not able to purchase technology for financial or other reasons. Lack of funding and lack of access are serious issues. Some of these schools have an evangelist teacher or tech coordinator who overcomes these problems through sheer force of their personality. However, that's hardly scalable.

2. Urban and very large school districts. This happens to be where many minority and low income students live. These schools tend to have money, but lack the capacity for innovation. Large districts notoriously lock down computer capabilities, have lower ratios of tech support personnel to computers, and tend to purchase pre-canned test prep software. There is often a lack of trust between administrators and teachers caused by the overly large size of the organization, which encourages inefficiency and ill will at all levels. It makes it harder for innovation to take hold and when it does happen, rarely expands through the system. Locking down technology limits students ability to actually DO anything with the technology other than skill drills and test prep. Piling more equipment into these schools won't help, and while increasing access out of school may help a few kids, the lack of ability of the districts to take advantage of their already purchased technology and access indicates that "more" won't work magic either. Lack of funding is NOT the issue.

3. "Mainstream" districts. These are the schools, typically in medium size districts, where technology is working. These districts have "enough" money (we all know it's never enough!), and are a manageable size so that the infrastructure doesn't overwhelm people actually doing their jobs, and administration trusts teachers. They don't tend to purchase locked down test prep systems because their test scores are OK - so the students and teachers actually can use the computers for creative work. With leadership that pushes past the status quo, these are the schools where the "magic" can happen.

In other words - I see a real gap between schools that allow students to DO, MAKE, and CREATE and those that don't. I see a gap between teachers who are trusted to make good educational decisions for their students and teachers who feel they are just anonymous cogs in an uncaring system. I see a gap between district leaders who see technology as facilitating learning opportunities and district leaders who see technology as disruptive to the tenuous hold they have on their giant, unwieldy system.

The gap I see is more about district size and the way we currently fund education in this country. We've heavily subsidized technology and access in urban schools and yet these schools are terrible at allowing students to do anything interesting. More money isn't going to help, and simply giving access to kids at home skirts the issue that these districts have wasted vast sums of money on technology already, and worse -- DON'T GET IT.

It seems to me if you are trying to address the problems of low income and minority students, you have to understand that the fact that being low income and minority is not the PROBLEM, it's that being low income and minority lands you in districts that can't cope with change. The bureaucracy of large, urban districts that fosters tension, suspicion, and squashes innovation has a LOT to do with it. So solutions that address only the student, or only access are not sufficient - it's a system problem, not a kid problem, and not simply an access problem.
Fascinating. I love your ability to significantly add to conversations, Sylvia.

Thinking out loud--if we a technological elite student population is being created, how much of that is from home access and how much from school?
Hey Steve, that's a big IF. I don't see any evidence of a "technological elite student population" being created anywhere.

If they figure it out at home, sometimes you get kids who are programming, composing music, and doing other amazing things. Sometimes it's just MySpace mastery. It's definitely more personal interest. This kind of ability may be slightly more prevalent if there is more widespread access, but that's kind of a haphazard approach.

If they have a teacher-leader at school, they might have access to great technology, but usually these are one-off programs created because of a passionate teacher. You hear stories all the time of student teams building robots, airplanes, and more with a charismatic leader.

Again, it's rarely about access.
I use maps of Chicago to try to help people understand the distinction you've described, because until we focus on the issues of educating kids in these large urban districts in a separate discussion from issues of how all kids learn, we'll be using same terms, but with different meanings, and therefor unrealistic solutions. You can see these maps at http://mappingforjustice.blogspot.com

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