December 11, 2017 | Comment

From Tech Engagement to Tech Scholars

Categories: Educational Practice, Equity
College of DuPage's 50th annual Commencement

One of the reasons I was very excited to join a community college is because there is a gap in how we think about bringing digital media and technology into learning. While there is a lot of research on K-12 and higher education in general, there isn’t as much research on students who are at risk of failing to continue their education at community colleges. These years are a unique opportunity when it is imperative that people in a position to do so work to close the various achievement gaps. The one people are most familiar with is the role of remediation as students come into higher education. For many year 13 and 14 students, in community colleges and beyond, the common tech mantra of “fail harder” is not an option, given the limited amount of flexibility these students have. Their options are often already limited due to developmental placement in language and math courses, balancing work, school, and home life, in addition to other situations outside of their control. But, these students  are the ones who will create the future. Giving these students opportunities to explore technological innovation through experimentation that they can then bring back to their courses and the wider college community will help them become part of their institutions and help them see themselves as not just learners but scholars able to shape their own future.

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I was really excited to see the work being done in CCC Maker, an initiative to create maker spaces in California community colleges. It led to many questions about doing some of this work at a smaller scale, at not just community college, but any institution trying to increase both engagement, technological, and digital literacy among students early in their higher education career. I’ve spent the past two years thinking, researching, and plotting in the technological and digital literacy gap. For this reason, I have moved toward thinking of students not just as learners, but as scholars who can and should be deeply engaged in the technological life of the college or University. Given the other demands of scholarship and teaching, it is unreasonable to expect faculty to stay up to date on current technologies and practices as they relate to both college administration and pedagogy. There will always be some faculty who are drawn to this type of innovation. For those who do not have the time or cannot figure out how to  bring the new in the ever evolving world of new media in their classrooms, students can be empowered to bridge the gap. This is work that requires institutional support though. The potential rewards are great as this expands technology access, innovation, and equity.

Highly informed by the High Impact Practices defined by by AAC&U, there are three areas where students can create student led common intellectual experiences: learning communities, collaborative assignments and projects; undergraduate research; and service learning and community-based learning.

Here are my three areas of focus for students:

  • Research and experimentation with emerging and growth technologies.
  • Attending, presenting, and participating in technological community spaces both on and off campus.
  • Bringing knowledge and expertise back to the larger college community, including students, faculty, and administrators.

Part of turning student learning into research is a two-pronged approach to understanding digital media and technology that understands the engagement with these things as both a learning objective within the classroom and skills attainment for out in the workforce. Students should focus on experiential learning by engaging in digital and technology-centered activities both on and off campus. With support from key faculty and staff, especially in centers for teaching and learning or similar spaces, students receive guidance to  translate experiences into meaningful learning. They can then help design modules in collaboration with faculty and staff that can be used in courses, seminars, and collegewide projects. This approach ensures that students are able to stay at the center of their learning. It also reinforces social pedagogy. Additionally, this approach helps campuses determine what technologies are explored and which co-curricular activities or invited guests might help create integrated technology-based learning.

My current institution has a very strong peer mentoring focus, allowing students to earn money while helping other students navigate  their first couple of college years. This is an ideal space to support this type of work, augmenting already existing professional development programming for students with an additional layer of technologically focused training and opportunities.  Moving forward, I hope to explore other ways to build this type of work into the early college experience and how to assess the impact. I am most excited about thinking through how interdisciplinary teams can create pipelines for underrepresented communities into collaborative STEAM spaces through hands-on work and exploration. I am thinking specifically about how this type of programming can help turn more women, who might not have had previous exposure to digital media and technology, into student champions and scholars in technology.

Banner image credit: College of DuPage