: Aekta Shah
: 55.39 MB
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, Much of our current knowledge about technology in research and learning settings relates to devices and software programs: What types should be purchased?; How many should we buy?; What training is required?; and What return on investment will they produce? The implicit message communicated by this research is that technology transforms learning by simply being introduced into a setting -- and that any technology tool will produce powerful opportunities for learning. Just give youth iPads and results will follow. Over the past several years, groups of learning scientists, critical scholars, and participatory researchers have pushed back against this perspective, arguing that: (a) most traditional technologies utilized by scholars today reproduce problematic "banking" methods of learning (Freire, 1970); (b) scholars, leaders, and educators who rush to integrate technology in formal and informal learning settings often overlook the ways that race, identity, power and privilege shape the technologies that they give youth; (c) context matters -- unlocking the benefits of these new participatory forms of technologies for learning requires a shift in pedagogical approaches, embracing more critical, de-colonizing, and participatory forms like youth participatory action research (YPAR); and (d) new, mobile, interactive, accessible forms of technology have the potential to transform learning by creating a new participatory culture that fosters collaboration, communication, critical consciousness, and creativity. Throughout this dissertation, I use the term participatory technologies to describe these emerging tools. I define participatory technologies as the broad set of technology tools that can allow youth to engage with, critique, and co-create the systems, structures, and environments that shape their everyday lives. Participatory technology tools allow individuals to be both consumers and producers of information; and as the term "participatory" suggests, I argue that it is important for youth to use technology to "read the world" using their own socio-cultural lenses; critique and dismantle systems of power, privilege and oppression; and become active participants in co-creating a more just and equitable world around them. Using participatory technologies, youth can examine, influence, and alter the way that power is conferred and exercised across many arenas ranging from public health (#StayHome), politics (InstagramLive town halls, Arab Spring), civil rights (#BlackLivesMatter), urban planning (Google's Sidewalk Labs), disaster response (Ushahidi), to social justice (#MeToo). In the era of COVID-19, the case for participatory technologies could not be more urgent. As Alain Labrique, director of the Johns Hopkins University Global -mHealth Initiative shares, "The connectivity and participation through technology we have today gives us ammunition to fight this pandemic in ways we never previously thought possible" (A. Park, 2020, para. 3). In the face of this unprecedented global pandemic, colleges and classrooms have rushed onto online settings, physicians are conducting tele-visits through FaceTime and WhatsApp; "non-essential" workforce members, as well as family and friends, are connecting over Zoom; "social distancing" adherence is being tracked by epidemiologists through geo-location data; and global dance parties are being held on Instagram Live. To date, however, the global technology response to COVID-19 has only scratched the surface of what new participatory tools offer. For example, much needed real-time data on where outbreaks are occurring, how many tests are available, and what resources exist in communities in terms of critical health services, tests, or groceries (Where can I buy eggs? Which places take WIC for baby formula? Where are the lines the shortest? Where/when can elders and vulnerable populations shop safely?) is scarce. Additionally thousands of educators, forced to move online rapidly, are now scrambling to find and implement new, innovative technology tools to critically engage their students in the absence of face-to-face learning opportunities. Participatory technology tools provide an enormous opportunity to support this next wave of digital, remote, and connected forms of learning and engagement with youth by supporting generative, interactive, and community-engaged forms of learning that go beyond standard online modes of teaching and learning. Overall, the types of real-time engagement, interaction, and information-sharing that participatory technologies enable is critical to ensure that all communities can survive and thrive through this pandemic in the short term. And the opportunity in the long term is even greater; whether it's expanding opportunities for remote learning, increasing digital connectivity for vulnerable populations, improving epidemiological understandings through real-time community-driven data, or achieving better work/life balance through digital work from home opportunities; participatory technologies can transform the way we live, learn, work, and play. While the applications of participatory technologies are many, and span across fields and disciplines, in the context of this dissertation I examine what using participatory technologies might mean for scholarship and practice across learning settings in terms of enabling critical, reflective and dialogical learning processes; developing new literacies; collecting new forms of community-based data, increasing youth autonomy; and creating learning communities inside and outside of the classroom. I further argue that participatory technology tools are best embedded within participatory research and learning contexts, like YPAR, designed to allow youth to critique and co-create epistemologies, methodologies, and pedagogies. To explore this topic empirically, I crafted the following research questions to guide my dissertation across three distinct studies: 1. In what ways does participatory technology develop youth's critical Big Data literacy? (Study 1) 2. How does the use of participatory technology in a YPAR classroom impact youth's perceptions of learning and identity-development? (Study 2) 3. What effect does using a participatory technology tool have on youth's critical digital and public health literacies? (Study 3) To investigate these questions I utilized a model that couples a participatory technology tool (Streetwyze) within a participatory action research context called YPAR 2.0 (Akom, Shah, Nakai, 2016; Akom, Shah, Nakai, Cruz, 2016), across three studies with young people (ages 14--20). The three studies examine the implementation of the YPAR 2.0 model and participatory technology tool across varied settings (formal vs. informal learning; United States vs. International; classroom vs. outside-of-school program) and topic areas across the social determinants of health (tobacco exposure, patterns of racial segregation, food access, environmental justice, etc.; Akom, 2011b; Gee Ford, 2011; Hardeman et al., 2016) in order to test its' efficacy across contexts. Finally, I analyzed both youth-generated data and qualitative data to understand the impacts of the participatory technology tool on youth's consciousness formation, critical literacies, content-knowledge, identities, and overall development. Together, the three research projects seek to put forward a new understanding of participatory technologies, and a YPAR 2.0 model, that can help scholars and educators across disciplines advance youth learning, development, and health in more de-colonized, equitable, culturally-relevant and empowering ways.