Implications for educators and technology developers

In making decisions related to education policy, curriculum, and learning goals, it is important to consider the relationship between power and the range of perspectives included within a discourse because

[i]t is highly likely that the parties involved will have different perspectives and agendas regarding what constitute an effective or worthwhile curriculum. In this sense it is possible that different stakeholders will have different conceptions of […] what are the right ends or goals for education (or, even, what education or ‘being educated’ actually means).33

When students from low-income households are included in such decision-making processes, they are given an opportunity to play “a creative role – actively improving on ideas” that directly impact their lives.34 Such an approach requires educators and technology developers to create opportunities for students to “manage their own learning and growth, by setting goals and managing resources.”35

Knowledge building and epistemic agency can also empower students to “think and act freely even in the face of any threat, oppression, seduction or confusion from an authority”36 because they enable “control” over learning-related “goals, strategies, [and] resources” as well as “evaluation of results”37:

In guiding and structuring the liberty of learning, educators should equip learners with effective cognitive tools to create and critically examine knowledge (understanding) in exercising the freedom. At the same time, educators should feel comfortable in suppressing their zeal for excessive intervention to allow learners the freedom of learning at a proper level to give the benefits it will bring about such as the sense of fun, free play, exploration and ownership.38

In order to encourage intellectual freedom, educators and technology developers must balance students’ need for independence with their desire for experiences in which “responsibility for learning is shared, expertise is distributed, and building on each other’s ideas is the norm.”39

By emphasizing social engagement among students and communities within decision-making processes related to education policy, curriculum, and learning goals, educators and technology developers can facilitate “discourse, interaction, activity, and participation” that supports the building and sharing of culturally relevant ideas and creations.40 In addition, through the process of developing agency, students from low-income households are forced to examine aspects of their own identities, which

speaks as much to the capacity [of] students […] to change themselves and situations endemic to their own lives, as it does to changing larger conditions external to them, such as institutional justice.41

In support of critical inquiries into causes of oppression, educators and technology developers can leverage instructional approaches such as “reality pedagogy,” which provide tools to meet “each student on his or her own cultural and emotional turf.”42 To support this goal, educators and technology developers must create learning opportunities in which “new competencies and new problems have a chance to emerge”43 as a product of students’ creative expressions.

For example, Science With Tom’s interviews with diverse scientists enable students to consider concrete examples of multiple career pathways as well as conceptions of success. Students are also given the opportunity to explore scientific content and practices through rap music videos. A teacher in Sacramento, California, described the progression of his students from engagement, to analysis of lyrics, to the creation of their own songs.44 By emphasizing both scientific and hip hop cultures, the videos help students develop “the confidence necessary to translate newly formed knowledge into creative expression.”45 Through the practice of creating and sharing ideas, students are empowered to understand their past and present as well as to “imagine future possibilities.”46

Several organizations are also addressing the challenges faced by students from low-income households through “community-based, technology-enabled educational interventions”47:

Black Girls Code teaches young girls and pre-teens of color in-demand skills in technology and computer programming. Science Genius leverages hip hop pedagogy to engage urban youth and educators in STEM exploration. Hack the Hood connects youth to real-world consulting projects building websites for local businesses and nonprofits. Qeyno Labs harnesses the interests of high potential youth from low-opportunity settings through radically inclusive hackathons.48

These programs do not attempt to use technology to replace human interactions, but rather leverage it as a tool to enhance learning through “facets of design, trial and error, and exhibition to a broader audience.”49

In a reality where “genius is not always defined by academic success,”50 questions remain about how to measure academic and social growth. In some school environments, trends like user-generated content51 and portfolio-based assessment52 can create opportunities for broader interpretations of “achievement.”53 Nonetheless, in order to become genuinely transformative, education technology must function as part of an ecosystem of supports that equips students from low-income households with the skills required to “identify and solve challenges in their own homes and communities.”54


33. Hopkins, 2015, p. 613
34. Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2015, p. 401
35. Ngussa & Makewa, 2014, p. 32
36. Ryoo, 2010, p. 9
37. Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2015, p. 406
38. Ryoo, 2010, p. 10
39. Hmelo-Silver & Barrows, 2008, p. 49
40. Oshima et al, 2012, p. 904
41. Harrell-Levy et al, 2016, p. 106
42. Emdin, 2016, p. 27
43. Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2015, p. 413
44. White, 2016
45. ibid, para. 9
46. Eveleth, 2015
47. White, 2014, para. 13
48. ibid
49. Schwartz, 2016, para. 4
50. Emdin, 2012, para. 4
51. Knoblauch, 2014
52. Thomas et al, 2005
53. Dawson, 2011, para. 1
54. White, 2014, para. 14