It Takes a Network to Raise a Child: Improving the Communication Infrastructure of Public Education to Enable Community Cooperation in Young People’s Success
by Mica Pollock - 2013
Background/Context: In this essay, I propose a design research agenda that braids equity research and technology research in education. More specifically, I propose that researchers join educators, youth, families, and community partners in tackling a central challenge for education research today: figuring out how and when low-cost and commonplace technologies, in combination with face-to-face talk and paper, can support necessary communications between the range of supporters who share students, schools, a district and a diverse community. I call such work improving the communication infrastructure of public education. This Essay discusses this research agenda as forged in the OneVille Project, a participatory design research effort engaging people of all ages in exploring the potential of low cost and commonplace technologies (cell phones, computers, free software) for connecting people in youth support efforts in the diverse community of Somerville, MA. In the OneVille Project, educators, parents, young people, and research partners together designed and tested new communication infrastructure, including new data displays for communicating ready/reliable information about young people to educators, students and families, online portfolios for sparking robust communication about the whole student, student-teacher text messaging for affording rapid/routine communication about students' well-being, and multilingual phone and face-to-face parent networks for enabling far-reaching communications across language and technology barriers.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In education, much research suggests that to support young people’s talent development, students and the diverse people who share education communities need to communicate information regularly with student support in mind, and to build relationships supporting this communication. But often a support network goes underutilized – like a city at night, with half of the bulbs gone dark. Who in a diverse community needs to communicate what to whom in order to support young people? What barriers prevent such communication? Which channels and habits of communication might enable these necessary communications? Encouraging others to ask such questions in their local school systems is the purpose of this essay.
Research Design: In the OneVille Project, we attempted a key design task in education: testing how, if at all, low-cost and commonplace technologies might enable necessary communications to support young people's success. We found people motivated to improve a specific necessary communication - teachers wanting to view student data more easily or reach absent students; administrators, teachers and students wanting to communicate more about students' learning interests and lives; parents wanting to communicate across languages - and then shaped specific design projects around these desires.
Conclusions/Recommendations: In the OneVille Project, I came to understand how when educators, youth, and families help design and embed tools and strategies for enabling necessary communications in their own diverse schools and communities, they can make it more normal for ready and reliable, robust, routine and rapid, and far-reaching communications to happen. Technology can't be treated as if it will automatically enable such necessary communications; instead, researchers and school community members need to test which channels, which detailed designs of channels, and which habits and ground rules for using channels enable specific communications necessary for student support.
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