Making a Civic Investment through Technology

By McDowell, Debra S. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Making a Civic Investment through Technology


McDowell, Debra S., Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

While more individuals and communities are becoming connected to technology and the Internet, a gap still remains. If communities intend to be competitive, they must develop and cultivate a well-trained workforce to stay viable. This research identified a working model that developed a strong partnership between the university and four community partners to help close the digital divide in a Midwestern metropolitan area. It was found that a high degree of communication and coordination between the university and the community partners is paramount for success.

Introduction

On 16 May 1999 the Making a Civic Investment program was launched. Funded by MCI WorldCom and coordinated by Campus Compact, this nationwide grant program was a three-year effort (Fall 2000 through Spring 2003) that provided monies to link schools and community based organizations with universities to implement educational technology projects to bridge the digital divide for children in grades K-12. The goal of the program was to increase the use of technology for educational attainment and civic engagement by preparing children and parents in underserved communities for success in a technology-based world (Campus Compact Making a Civic Investment website, p. 1). Research pertaining to service-learning and the digital divide indicates that service-learning engages students in meaningful service and provides learning experiences to enhance classroom teaching (Astin & Sax, 1998). Research on university student impact shows that service-learning enhances psychological and moral reasoning abilities of students (Boss, 1994; Kuh, Douglas, Lund, & Ramin-Gyurnek, 1994). Faculties have been found to benefit from involvement in service-learning through the application of theory and knowledge to local problem-solving (Lynton, 1995). Vernon and Ward (1999) found that communities overwhelmingly have positive perceptions if there is ample coordination and communication with those from the campus with whom they work. They further described the advantages of having properly trained college students who understand the purpose and expectations of the service initiatives at their agencies because of their enthusiasm, energy, new ideas/perspectives, and their ability to get work done (pp. 33-35).

Concerning technology and service-learning, Gerald Boerner (Campus Compact website) identified using technology as a means of providing the service to the community agency and as a product produced for the community agency. He emphasizes that these "high tech" services can be provided without decreasing the focus on the "high touch" traditions of service-learning. Faculties need to listen to agency personnel and identify what skills their students might apply to help define a solution.

Description and Procedures

The Project

Monies from the grant were awarded to Southwest Missouri State University (SMSU) for a project entitled Students as Citizens: Linking Families, Schools, Communities and Universities to Enhance Learning Through Technology. The University in coordination with the Springfield Public Schools (SPS) and three other community organizations (Founders Park, History Museum, and Public Library) formed a partnership to research the history of Springfield from 1829-1929. This supplemental study of Missouri history allowed 396 third and fourth graders in five Title I elementary schools over a three year period to pilot curriculum that accessed historical archives via a website and traditional resources in after-school computer clubs. A total of 130 university service-learning (SL) students assisted five elementary school site coordinators over the three years by their presence at the club locations. The computer clubs met one night a week for two hours at each school for eight weeks each semester, i.e., a total of sixteen sessions per academic year. The curriculum and prototype resource websites developed by history and computer science students, professors, and two curriculum writers helped expand the capabilities of the Internet by being a resource of information for elementary teachers, students and the larger community.

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