Continuing the Equity Working Group’s series of blog posts about each participating organization’s own issues with technology access and equity in more general sense, here is the entry for The Anti-Cruelty Society:
We haven’t had too many issues with ensuring that our students and participants have access to technology here at The Anti-Cruelty Society. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that we were awarded a grant from The Humana Foundation in 2009 that provided us with 30 laptops (a combination of MacBooks and Dell notebooks) to be used in our various on-site educational programs. In addition to that, we’ve collected a handful of useful donations from various groups in the years since then.
The second reason is because the aforementioned grant provided us with enough hardware to cover our needs in most cases. Until recently, those computers were primarily used in our anti-violence After School Program, “Exploring The Link.” By providing each participant with a computer (the program maxes out at 30 students), we were able to circumvent any potential issues regarding access to tech (the program does not do anything that would require students to have access to this kind of hardware at home).
However, this year we have started new programs and updated existing ones, and so technology started to become a more important issue. The biggest reason for this was a new program in the summer of 2014 called “Paw and Order: Furry Victims Unit.” During this 8-week-long summer camp, we had 10 8th graders from Chicago Quest come in and help us develop a video game based on our “Paw and Order” humane education program, which focuses on the work of our humane investigators here at the Society. A lot of the work in this program was completed on computers, specifically using the open source software Twine to create the game’s narrative.
Like the Adler Planetarium, the leaders of the “Paw and Order” program made it a point to train the participants on how to use Twine before they really dug into it. For as long as I’ve been working here, this has been the norm for us when working with technology in our various educational programs, and even in the After School Program, where the tech isn’t used for anything particularly advanced, students are almost always given some quick training to make sure everyone is up-to-speed regarding the work they will be doing.
This is because of a trend that our humane education specialists noticed, which Jennifer from Adler also referenced in her blog post: Despite providing many of our students with access to technology, there was no guarantee that they would all be able to use it intuitively, and more often than not, there would occasionally be a small sample of students that needed help getting started before comfortable using the technology. The makeup of our program participants (including their backgrounds and competency with technology) tends to vary wildly, especially in the After School Program and “Paw and Order.” Thus, in order to both keep things moving smoothly and refrain from singling out those students who may not be as technologically literate as the rest of the group, we now just do a general overview for everyone before getting started.
Like pretty much any organization that is going to run an educational program for students in Chicago, we see that each individual in the group comes in with a very different background with regards to his or her access to and ability to use technology. And this is in addition to other issues of equity, such as how much science training a student has received in school, and how much of that is relevant to the work we do here. On top of all that, the things that drive students to enroll in our programs often vary from student-to-student, especially in “Exploring The Link,” which approaches a broad topic and thus brings in students with a range of interests, some of whom just come because of their love for animals, some who feel strongly about raising awareness for domestic violence issues, and virtually everything in between.
This is the biggest way that equity plays a part in our programs, because our Humane Education Department’s ultimate goal is to help students see the patterns and connections between how our relationships with pets and animals, as well as the science behind them, can have a much larger impact on our society and the way that we work with one another. To do this, we need to make sure that every participant understands the way that his or her knowledge and interests are able to add to that discussion in a meaningful way.
–Michael Garrity, The Anti-Cruelty Society