Empower All Students with Inclusive Computer Science Education
Technology integration and digital learning environments have become increasingly relevant in today’s classroom. With proper use and thoughtful instruction, these tools are essential to preparing students for any career path.
But why is meaningful tech integration especially important for students of color? And why should teachers focus on equitable access to computer science education specifically, ensuring dominant culture is not the only recipient of the benefits?
Increased representation of students of color in technology-related fields heightens our collective ability to solve some of the world’s most deeply-rooted problems and systemic challenges with a fresh lens. Given the fact that our teachers are oftentimes some of the first relationships we make in life, first role models, first authority figures, and first beacons of truth outside our families, they can be highly influential in nurturing student confidence and ambition.
It’s been proven that educators generally may extend more empathy, patience, and affinity for students of their own race in trying times of classroom management. If the same students keep getting called on by the teacher, praised for their efforts, or given immediate feedback time and time again, those students are far more likely to feel more confident and have more agency in their learning.
Propelling Collective Inclusion
With a focus on inclusivity, teachers can enhance the impact of computer science education.
When it comes to dismantling broader systemic challenges, students will model their teachers and peers. Students in as early as 2nd grade are ready to reflect on their potential unconscious biases and already exude limiting or excluding beliefs. Help students become aware of these internal judgements and challenge yourself to reflect on your own, too.
In times of outburst and frustrations, call students in and offer a new way of thinking. Keep your expectations high when countering stereotypes about CS and help them identify their part in collective agency to disrupt these forces.
It’ll be a continual practice. Fortunately, more and more resources are becoming available where teachers can gain the insights, skills, and strategies to create equitable CS programs.
Introducing students of color to computer science learning experiences helps to narrow the digital divide with increased representation in advanced courses and the industry at large. Kevin Clark in the Journal of Children and Media writes:
“African-American teens, especially younger children and girls, also said they want to learn more advanced technology skills, such as creating digital music or starting an online business. We should nurture and respond to this healthy desire by providing access to advanced computer/technology courses and training programs.”
Here are three components to an inclusive computer science education, as well as strategies to support them.
1. Normalize diversity
Let diversity be an accepted norm of the school and classroom culture. Introduce students to a diverse selection of role models in CS. Our aspirations are a direct result of someone we look up to making them seem possible for us. Furthermore, when we enlist students to promote the culture we’re aiming for, we can refigure the status quo. Let it be known, geeking out about CS is cool!
Include your guidance counselors in this norm as they advise students on viable life choices. Their awareness of this issues is key as they can unknowingly filter out to students before they even try. Work to help them understand what CS is about and who’s a good fit for the advanced courses, higher education, and STEM careers. (hint: everyone!)
2. Create Learning Spaces that Inspire
Our surroundings allow us to feel productive and focus on what we’re learning or working on. The learning space can send empowering messages to and motivate students.
Select posters and images that appeal to a diverse range of student interests, experiences, and backgrounds. Here’s one we love. Show films or other media examples of how CS impacts and influences everything from the sciences to the humanities and the arts. After a classroom assignment, display projects to provide evidence that CS is creative and dynamic.
3. Elevate Your Instruction
The beauty of a career in technology is that the output is iterative. Approach your CS instruction knowing that there can be multiple solutions to a problem and that the solutions will change over time, too. First, all students must feel comfortable taking risks, making mistakes, and understand that different kinds of knowledge and perspectives will be required to solve our most complicated problems. So, focus your instruction on solving problems rather than finding a single right answer.
Classroom journaling allows students to gather their thoughts before discussing aloud. Whether in small groups or full class activities, students can think about their own ideas around a particular topic before listening to others speak in a larger discussion. Then call on diverse students to share and give all students a voice.
What Representation Can Do for Technology
Virtual Reality has already emerged as another method for delivering modern-day professional development. VR has blown up in the gaming world, and we’re now seeing evidence that gamification can actually rewire our neuropathways and ultimately breed new-found empathy. This has led to conclusions around VR being an immersive way to recondition the way humans perceive and interact with each other.
Created by developer Clorama Dorvilias, Teacher’s Lens, was designed to gamify debias. The game can rewire our unconscious biases to alter the experience of present day learners and past systems of oppression. Users can actually start gaining more empathy for students while playing the game – a key ingredient to an inclusive classroom.
Equity in education is undoubtedly complex and multi-pronged. The solutions are slow moving and will take time. My hope is that examples like this are just the beginning of what’s possible with more widely-adopted computer science education and diversifying future talent in the tech industry.
As the technology ramps up and research is devoted to beta testing products designed especially for education, this paves the way for access fueled by diversity and representation, which will inevitably lead to deeper innovation for the greater good.
Not only will students be prepared to pursue a lucrative career, but the world as we know it will be empowered with diverse solutions with uncapped potential, in the name of true digital equity and accountability for our future.