Starting in July 2014, a small contingent of the Community STEM Badging Ecosystem group embarked on investigating the issues around equity in digital badging. Along the way, we’ve gained some key understandings that may be helpful to others looking to continue this work:
Knowing the landscape
Maybe the most important thing we discovered is the importance of knowing your neighborhood, especially when considering issues around equity and access. Chances are there are a number of groups attacking technology barriers in a variety of ways. Seeking them and figuring how to tap into existing resources are key steps to avoiding duplication of efforts and to effectively get information to families.
Ironically, we discovered that many of our approaches relied heavily on the Internet. We set up a Tech Resources page on the Hive Chicago website and worked to facilitate better connections to Internet Essentials from Comcast. We found neighborhood connections are critical to reaching students and families that do not have reliable access to technology or the Internet. These vital connections may come in the form of community-based organizations, such as Connect Chicago collaborators, who can work as an intermediary between community members and resource providers.
The collaborative process
Our group consisted of members from the Adler Planetarium, the Anti-Cruelty Society, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and Project Exploration. We all came with our own interests, priorities, and constraints and had to find our way in regards to the collaborative process that worked for us. However, in the end, we all found the ability to network and exchange ideas which proved to be valuable to our own professional development and the strength of our programs.
Logistically (and perhaps obviously) in-person meetings felt the most productive and fulfilling. Although it was more difficult to organize and follow through on, our face-to-face interactions enabled us to get through more information more quickly. We dabbled in Google Hangouts, which proved to have too many glitches to continue on most days. Due to the difficulty in getting together for face-to-face meetings, conference calls set up on freeconferencecall.com proved to be the most used method of holding meetings. We did keep all of our working documents on Google Drive, which – after the initial set up – was convenient and easy to use.
Figuring out our common goals and challenges took some time. Although most of us had all worked together in varying capacities the previous year, it took about three to four months to find a groove and establish trust. Once that happened, we were able to align and slightly shift our own priorities to forward the goals of the Equity working group. Ultimately, this process led to deeper relationships that will extend past the scope of the C-STEMBE project. Plans are currently in place for three team members to collaborate on a new project related to equity in badging and there have been instances of team members informally reaching out to each other for support in other areas.
Measuring success and next steps
The goals of our group looked dramatically different ten months ago than they do know. As we learned to work together, we also had to refine our process and goals. We also moved away from feeling action-oriented pressure to do everything at once. Initially we started off with a focus on lending and getting technology to students. However, over time we recognized a need to step back from solutions and refocus on root causes. An essential step in any process to find new solutions is to identify the current landscape through brainstorming and networking. This enabled us to feel comfortable spending time collecting information around existing resources and getting the lay of the land.
We hope that whoever takes over this work in the future is able to find better ways to disseminate information to the existing community and continue working towards reducing the isolation of organizations that are striving to integrate technology in programs.