Developing Advocacy Leadership

On Choosing a Topic

Three main ideas were shuttled around in our group: the new Math SOL tests, the digital divide, and attracting minorities to the teaching profession. We chose the digital divide, as it primarily affects students in families with low incomes.

In my field, it’s something I see, as I work with teachers who report back on the inequity of access students have beyond our school walls with technology. Specifically, we’re talking about access to computers, mobile devices, and reliable, high-speed Internet.

Several folks in our group have been “working” on this issue in their roles as leaders – I was interested in hearing one contributor talk about using federal or state grant money to set up access to computers after school, along with transportation. As we continued our discussion of this issue, we began brainstorming ways to advocate for students affected by the digital divide, whether it be to offer inexpensive computers for sale, petitioning the local government for providing low-cost, reliable internet access, or extending the availability of technology already in our schools.

I believe we narrowed our focus on to how specifically we could help these students. I think everyone saw value in having access to technology, whether it was for helping prepare them for a college career, to perform better in school today, or to acquire 21st century skills. One member of my group works for a school division that provides laptops to each student–so I think we had a range of student experiences from which to work.

The issue may be summarized in the following graphical “fishbone” organizer:

Digital Divide Fishbone

Resources

Likely the most obvious cause for the digital divide is the economic factor. Food, clothes, and shelter will always trump a computer with wifi or high-speed access at home. One of the reasons school divisions might try a 1:1 program is to “conquer” the digital divide by eliminating the economic aspect of the issue. In this case, technology is seen as too much of a luxury for it to be provided. This would include data plans on “smart” phones, broadband or even “dial-up” access, or a reliable computing device.

Teacher Expectations

When teachers assume all kids have had equal experiences with technology, or have equal access at home, it can affect the effects of the digital divide. Imagine the student who has access to “Google” at home and the student who does not. That child has access to a whole world of information that the other does not. This advantage has the potential to make an inequitable learning opportunity when we, as educators, assume students and by extension, families have access to information and computing resources at home.

Internet Access

I imagine affording technology hardware and software isn’t the only hurdle. In the US, we have to pay for access to the Internet as well. I am thinking of a study that was done that showed increased productivity and economic development in rural areas when high speed internet was brought-in. Families may be able to afford technology (such as an X Box) but it’s a different experience when devices are connected to the Internet.

Location

One’s physical location may preclude them from having the same access as others. In my community, certain areas are “well covered” with broadband access, while others are not. This may not be economic, but the disadvantage in living in a sparsely populated area.

Values

What happens when the economic or location issues are resolved? Do parents of students who never before had access to internet-augmented technology automatically value the new tools? What happens in low-income areas when iPads or laptops go home? From anecdotal evidence with colleagues involved in 1:1 programs, I have found that some families don’t’ adapt well to the new technology when it arrives.

Limited Time

Most students today have access to technology in schools — although this time is often limited with limited resources. 1:1 schools are still not the norm, and so for kids without technology at home, they still face a disadvantage when their exposure to technology at school is limited. They are not afforded the same opportunities, for instance, for socialization via social networks, asking personal questions of others/through websites, or developing significant digital skills (art, music, programming, etc.).

Video

This video hopefully allows the viewer to see how I focused on the core issue behind our topic… what can educators do – and why they should care? It leaves a lot of unanswered questions for the viewer, but hopefully could be a conversation starter, or brainstorming igniter for input from different educators.

Focusing on the Digital Divide from John Hendron on Vimeo.

PLE 3 Task 12: Video of an Advocate

Like so many fans of the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, I’ve enjoyed watching the movies, and seeing the maturity develop among the child actors between the first film and their entrance into young adulthood by the end. I had seen several gay actors and actresses make video service announcements for the Trevor Project, but I guess I was surprised when I learned Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe was also a spokesperson, and among the most famous and most viewed advocates.

In this video, Radcliffe doesn’t exactly say why he has been involved, but he does consider his involvement in supporting suicide prevention for queer youth to be the most important contribution he’s made outside of acting. He indicates his involvement isn’t for personal involvement, but for helping a group of young people who need advocates in their darkest time of need. I can recognize that he would be well-known to almost everyone who is a teenager due to the popularity of the Potter franchise, and his reach and influence as a non-gay advocate is a powerful statement, at least politically.

I had learned about the TP when several videos had been released by technology companies on YouTube, such as Google and Apple. I found the rawness of some of the messages to be powerful artifacts of the challenges adults are facing, and did face, as teens.

I believe it takes courage to speak candidly about a cause you are passionate about. But that courage can translate into empowerment for others. Just as Christopher Reeve and his family advocated for support of victims of spinal injuries, or Michael J. Fox advocates for research into Parkinson’s disease, I admired Radcliffe for taking on a need in today’s society. I wager he took on something he didn’t need to, and in looking at some of the ugliness in YouTube comments, he pays a price in taking a stand in advocating for those who have a genuine need. That’s selfless and something to be admired, and is likely why he deserves the title as a leader–and as the video communicates — a hero.