New Barriers to Technology Integration and Digital Education Equity: Fostering Agency and Engagement in Technology-Based Activities

New Barriers to Technology Integration and Digital Education Equity: Fostering Agency and Engagement in Technology-Based Activities

Nicholas C. Wilson (Northeastern University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1770-3.ch007
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This chapter explores two critical areas essential to the implementation of next generation tools in formal learning settings: (1) persistent barriers to technology integration in schools and (2) supporting student agency through different forms of participation in technology and digital media activities. Concerns that the educational digital divide has evolved into an issue of equitable participation in producer-level technology-mediated activities have underscored the need to identify new barriers to integration and student engagement. While persistent barriers to integration continue to impact the frequency and purpose of technology use in the classroom, a re-centering of focus on agency and its relationship to students' identity development underscores the need to understand how the next generation of tools and technologies can be harnessed to overcome social and educational inequities.
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After nearly twenty years since the turn of the 21st century, calls for educators to harness the power and utility of digital tools for learning have hardly diminished. Digital technologies now simplify access to (and analysis of) large sets of computer-generated data, augment our everyday worlds with interactive phenomena and information, and create immersive, virtual realities for learning. As this next generation of tools and technologies makes headway into our schools, concerns among educators and educational researchers alike remain dialed into the equitable distribution and use of these tools for formal educational purposes. Emerging divisions surrounding children’s participation in certain uses of technology (Dolan, 2016), and the technological capital youth acquire through their engagement with networks of programmers and digital media producers (Zhang, 2010) have subsumed fundamental issues related to technology access and training for educators. The literature continues to show that youth from less advantaged communities continue to experience fewer opportunities than their more affluent counterparts to develop highly-valued technology skills, particularly in school (Barron, Walter, Martin, & Schatz, 2010; Hohlfeld, Ritzhaupt, Barron, & Kemker, 2008). New gaps forming around youths’ participation in technology-mediated forms of cultural expression and activity (Martin, Nacu, & Pinkard, 2016; Pinkard, Erete, Martin, & McKinney de Royston, 2017) supplant persistent findings that educational structures and practices influence how youth engage with various forms of digital media for academic purposes. In an effort to narrow these so-called participation gaps surrounding youths’ use of technology, the educational community has called for new efforts to keep equity and inclusion at the center of technology programs and technology integration strategies in the classroom. In the process, researchers have sought to identify new barriers that stand in the way of this call.

Digital equity scholars continue to argue that educational resources and practices must harness learners’ cultural and personal funds of knowledge, and position educational technology use as an opportunity for identity development and cultural participation. Many of the learning designs and resources developed through this line of research leverage youths’ personal interests and experiences as assets for participating in producer-type activities (Ito et al., 2013) such as making (Deborah A. Fields, Searle, & Kafai, 2016; Kafai & Peppler, 2011; Peppler, 2013), computer programming (Pinkard, Barron, & Martin, 2008; Pinkard et al., 2017), and game design (Holbert et al., 2014; Steinkuehler & Squire, 2014). Yet consistently, issues involving student agency and engagement in these environments persist (Sims, 2014; Warschauer, 2004; Warschauer, Zheng, Niiya, Cotten, & Farkas, 2014). As a way forward, the growing body of research on digital education inequity advocates that technology and media-based teaching and learning in formal settings must be taken up in tandem with new ways of “doing school” —new systems, infrastructures, and teaching practices that simultaneously destabilize dominant discourses and narratives related to schooling and technology, and foster new practices that re-center students’ lived experiences as assets for agency and engagement. Dedicated supports that enable teachers to overcome common barriers to technology and digital media integration (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2013, 2010; Ertmer, Ottenbreit-Leftwich, Sadik, Sendurur, & Sendurur, 2012), opportunities to become stakeholders in technology-enhanced curriculum development and implementation (Penuel, Fishman, Cheng, & Sabelli, 2011), and knowledge of effective strategies that motivate and sustain student agency in the racialized and gendered domains of digital media production and gaming (Pinkard et al., 2017) are just some of the hurdles educators face when it comes to enacting equity-centered teaching and learning practices.

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