During fall semester of 2012, our Community Informatics Studio class has been exploring ways to design popular education style workshops that are rooted in people’s everyday experiences and that emphasize empowering the whole community rather than individual members of the community. As we planned our workshops, using a studio-based learning approach, we read works by John Dewey, Paulo Frieire, Virginia Eubanks, Jane Addams, Randy Stoecker, and other practitioners and became familiar with popular education, popular technology, community and guided inquiry, participatory design, and participatory action research. These authors and concepts provided us with strategies we could build on as we designed our workshops.
The Beginning of a Popular Education Workshop
As I began planning my workshop, I saw genealogy as a workshop topic that could engage people within a popular education framework because:
- Many of the communities we discussed over the semester value community, history, and rootedness.
- Genealogy requires some pretty sophisticated research skills that can be transferred to other areas of participants’ lives. People are motivated to learn these skills because of their desire to learn more about their family’s history.
- Genealogy offers opportunities not only to consume information but also to create and share information through digitization or oral history projects.
- The nature of genealogy research places history and the context of the information found at the forefront. Social justice issues are bound to surface through census records and other historical documents, and people are usually willing to discuss these issues because they want to know more about their family’s history.
After receiving feedback on my proposed workshop during an in class desk critique, I realized that planning a genealogy workshop would work, but I needed to change my approach for it to be considered a popular education or popular technology style workshop. I needed to emphasize the communities’ history more than the individual participants’ histories, and I needed to place more emphasis on people’s everyday experiences instead of focusing on teaching participants how to use technology as a tool for genealogy research. Therefore, I decided to primarily focus on my fourth point when designing the workshop and focus on local or community history rather than genealogy. The result is a popular technology workshop for teenagers that combines John Dewey’s theories of popular education, Virginia Eubanks’ social justice and popular technology workshop framework, and inquiry based learning.
When I graduate, I would like to be a youth services librarian, so I wanted to design a workshop for teenagers. However, designing a popular education workshop focusing on genealogy for teens was difficult because as Noah Lenstra explains in “What Digital Community History Means: Cyberorganizing and Commercial Culture in Three Small Cities,” “Americans care more about family pasts than about local, national, or ethnic pasts” (1) and “young people become community historians as they age” but are not necessarily interested in family or community history when they are young (8-9). In order for the workshop to be successful, I needed to convince the teens that this topic is important and beneficial to them. In order to do this, I used John Dewey’s popular education model.
In Experience & Education Dewey explains that there is a relationship between freedom and purpose. According to Dewey, freedom is an important part of the education process but “the only freedom that is of enduring importance is freedom of intelligence, that is to say, freedom of observation and of judgment exercised in behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worth while” (61). Freedom as an end in itself is not beneficial (63). There must be a plan and method, and it is the teacher’s responsibility to offer suggestions that guide learners as they develop a plan. The plan should be co-operative rather than a dictation (71-72). As I designed the workshop, I didn’t want to tell teens that community history is important and that they should care about it. I wanted them to reach those conclusions themselves by having the freedom to draw on their experiences and share them with the group during activities and discussion. Even though I wanted to give the teens freedom, I also wanted to make sure that the purpose of the workshop was clear and the workshop’s goals were met. I used an inquiry framework to achieve this goal.
Inquiry is characterized by the inquiry cycle: ask, investigate, create, discuss, and reflect. Although these stages are called the inquiry cycle, inquiry rarely takes place in a simple, linear fashion. The five steps in the process can interweave, one step can be embedded in another, and not every step is always present in every inquiry based experience (Youth Community Informatics Project 3). My workshop is no different. I’ve broken the workshop down by section in order to explain how each section corresponds to Dewey’s popular education framework, the inquiry cycle, and Virginia Eubanks’ social justice and popular technology framework.
1. Introduction (Discuss)
I began the workshop by asking the teens how they are unique because teens care about identity and individuality. This question is also meant to prompt a discussion that will help the teens move from thinking about themselves as individuals to thinking about themselves as members of multiple, intersecting communities.
2. Definition and List of Communities (Reflect/Investigate/Discuss)
After the teens start to see themselves as members of communities, the next step is to ask them to draw on their knowledge and experiences with communities to investigate what a community is by defining and categorizing it. Teens have a chance to investigate by reflecting on what they already know to write their individual definition of community. Then, they have a chance to investigate further as they discuss their definitions in small groups and with the group as a whole as they work to combine their individual definitions into one group definition. Asking the teens to come up with a group definition of community privileges their knowledge and experiences, and it serves as a team building activity where all of the participants can work together to define what a term means to them as a group.
3. Community Mapping (Reflect/Investigate/Create/Discuss)
Teens have another opportunity to reflect on and investigate what they know about community and what their communities value as they create maps of their communities based on their knowledge and experiences. Once their maps are done, they will discuss their maps with the group in order to gather more information about what a community is and how different people view communities. Part of this discussion is how an outsider would have drawn the map, what an outsider may have included or excluded from the map, and why an outsider might see the community differently than an insider does. The discussion also serves as a transition into the Local/Community History section which draws on Virginia Eubanks’ social justice framework.
In her book, Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age, Virginia Eubanks explains that “technology is not a destiny but a site of struggle.” People who are “closest to problems have the best information about them and are the most invested in developing smart solutions.” Furthermore, it is important to recognize that “the collective experiences, beliefs, and values of different groups of people are immensely valuable in analyzing social issues, making good decisions, and building strong organizations” (155). By asking teens questions about how insiders and outsiders view community and by making it clear in the first three sections of the workshop that the teens are members of many communities not just one and each person’s network of communities is unique, I hope that the teens will begin to see that they have a role in preserving local/community history.
4. What is Local/Community History (Reflect/Investigate/Discuss/Ask)
The teens have another opportunity to reflect on what they already know and to investigate their prior knowledge further by doing a quick write. They should write about what local/community history is and what it isn’t and who is considered a community historian and who isn’t. These questions prompt deeper discussion about social justice issues. Since the teens have mostly been sitting throughout the workshop, asking them to add key words and ideas from their quick write to a web on the board gives them a chance to move around and represent their ideas visually in a collaborative space. Through the quick write and the following discussion, teens are introduced to the social justice issues associated with history and should begin to recognize problems with how history is traditionally written. They may even begin to form inquiry based questions that could result in additional workshops.
5. Preserving and Sharing Local History (Create/Discuss/Reflect)
This section is meant to help teens begin to see how the issues associated with history can be overcome. They are encouraged to take action and create Google Maps that can easily be shared and that reflect their experiences. However, as Virginia Eubanks stresses in her book, popular technology is not about teaching technology. While Google Maps is presented as a tool that could potentially allow more voices to share their experiences with a community, the workshop ends by asking participants to reflect on the benefits and limitations of technology for solving the problem and to create a list of other tools that could be used instead of or in conjunction with technological tools like Google Maps.
The final section encourages teens to take action beyond the workshop by giving them handouts with information about how to get involved in preserving local history. This is a small but important part of the workshop since this workshop is meant to be an introduction to a large issue that the teens could continue pursuing in future workshops if there is enough interest.
Combining Dewey’s popular education framework, the inquiry cycle, and Virginia Eubanks’ social justice and popular technology framework allowed me to create a structured workshop with a clear purpose and goals that still values teen’s experiences and gives them the freedom to share their knowledge and experiences in order to explore a problem that they might not have considered before.
Dewey, John. Experience & Education. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.
Eubanks, Virginia. Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age. Cambridge: MIT P, 2011. Print.
Lenstra, Noah. “What Digital Community History Means: Cyberorganizing and Commercial Culture in Three Small Cities.” Draft Prepared for LIS Community Informatics Seminar (Dec. 2012). Electronic.
Youth Community Informatics Project. “Community as Curriculum: Youth Community Informatics Curriculum, Integrating Inquiry and Social Action with Technology.” (2010). Electronic.