Short Talk Panel 21C: There is an App for That: Learning Civic Engagement through Creating Mobile Apps

Lessons from South Bronx bodegas: A beginner’s guide to place-based civic engagement
Presenter: Jeremiah Holden
Teams of high school students, mobile devices in hand, have walked into bodegas across the South Bronx.  Text messages soon sent to others read: “@el tepeyac, 149st & 3av, major soda.” Photographs are geotagged.  Interviews with patrons inquire about the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Field-notes become blog posts about food quality and access, and are posted to an online social network.  This informal evaluation of New York City’s “Healthy Bodegas Initiative” is paired with weeks of legislative research, and culminates in a presentation of youth-generated food security policy recommendations to City Council Members at New York City Hall. One participant notes: “We researched in Mott Haven, which just happens to be the community I live in. I conducted food retail audits, which take quantitative and qualitative measurements of the availability or unavailability of healthy and affordable food. The average amount of fast food establishments compared to the supermarkets was 6 to 1. It reminded me of how underprivileged these neighborhoods are.”

This presentation is a beginners’ guide intended for educators interested in enacting learning at the intersection of place-based education and civic engagement.  While classroom practices can inform students’ civic and political engagement (Kahne & Midaugh, 2008), participation in action-oriented projects outside the classroom has been shown to increase levels of civic knowledge (Billig et al., 2005).  Mobile devices and participatory culture practices are increasingly leveraged to facilitate such experiences (Dikkers & Martin, 2012), broadening how educators imagine and enact civic education and engagement (Squire, 2011).  As mobile devices “remediate” our relationship to place (Squire, 2009) and mobile media cultivate community-based learning and inquiry (Mathews & Wagler, 2009), digital technologies are enabling new forms of democratic participation by students in civic life (Squire, 2010).  Yet few “worked examples” demonstrate the teaching and learning practices that support youth participatory and mobile media use integrated alongside place-based education and civic engagement.  

This presentation seeks to address this limitation by providing a practical guide for those interested in initiating similar work, and begins with the question: “Where and how do I start?”  Four complementary strategies will be highlighted, including:
1. Check your pockets: Leverage students’ familiarity with mobile devices, and pencils and paper too.  Educators can pair pedagogical practices with the varied affordances of multiple tools carried inside students’ pockets, whether high or low tech.
2. Walk the block: Educators will strengthen the efficacy of teaching and learning activities through increased knowledge of local challenges and circumstances.  Asking, “What is the teaching and learning potential of this place?” is central to facilitating place-based civic engagement.
3. Reach out: Contacting local elected officials, community-based organizations, and civic leaders is necessary, but not enough; educators must also reach across disciplinary traditions and inquiry practices.  The opening vignette highlights one possible synthesis of high school mathematics with social studies.
4. Design for difference: Students’ knowledge and experience with mobile and participatory media can be amplified as they design and lead efforts that can make difference in their schools and communities.

Technovation Challenge: High School Girls Create Apps to Solve Problems
Presenters: Jenna Blanton, Dara Olmsted
“I want every girl and every woman to have that confidence that they can lead, that they can create something out of nothing.” - Dr. Anu Tewary, Technovation Challenge Founder

How can we combine technology and entrepreneurship to help high school girls become active citizens and solve big problems in their communities? Technovation helps them identify problems in their lives and community, create and design phone apps to solve those problems, and create businesses around those apps. Over 800 girls have created 163 apps over the past three years.

The free program, available to girls around the world, has helped girls to use technology to fully engage in their communities. Technovation aims to inspire girls to see themselves not just as users of technology, but as inventors, designers, builders, entrepreneurs, and problem solvers. The program also allows us to benefit from the unique perspectives and insights that these girls bring to app development. The app that a high school girl from the Bronx creates may look very different than one a 30-year-old male in Silicon Valley designs.

Over the past three years, girls have built a range of apps to deal with teenage pregnancy, environmentally-friendly purchasing, teenage drinking, and more.
This year, the theme will be to solves a problem in their local community (past themes included science and the environment) and we expect to have 1,000 girls participating in teams of five- so we’ll have a lot of cool apps to showcase.

The Technovation Challenge consists of a 12-week course in which high school girls learn to code by developing a phone app. Each team of girls is supported by a classroom teacher and a professional woman in tech who serves as their mentor. At the end of the 12 weeks, teams pitch to a panel of venture capitalists for $10,000 to bring their app to market.

Our goal is for 200,000 girls to annually enroll in the program by 2017. Any school or community group can host a Technovation team- the curriculum is free and online, and teams only need a laptop and smartphone to participate.

Technovation Challenge is run by Iridescent, an engineering education non-profit, and is funded by the Office of Naval Research and by technology companies such as Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Adobe, and LinkedIn.
Digital media technology to facilitate youth-led educated action on green energy issues
Presenters: Takumi Sato, Daniel Birmingham, Angela Calabrese-Barton
Green Energy Technology in the City (GET City) speaks to theme of Envisioning 21st Century Civic Education through the innovative ways middle school youth take educated action on green energy issues as community science experts. GET City is an informal after school science program that engages in authentic science investigations on issues that affect the local community and have global implications. GET City collaborates with scientists to strengthen energy content learning and professional filmmakers to enhance digital media skills of youth participants. The videos are examples of how youth use digital media technology as a tool to gain access to and to take action on environmental narratives from which their community is often excluded based on racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic status. Video is used to mediate the language of science and communicate complex scientific ideas to different audiences in culturally sustaining ways.

The youth, self-described as ‘make difference experts’, will lead the presentation. A viewing of their award winning public service announcement videos (PSAs) will be followed by a descriptions of the youth organized Green Carnivals, presentations in school classrooms and appearances on local television. Digital media provided tools for youth led educated action and a medium for sharing important green energy information with their community by redefining who can be and what is meant by science expert. Youth work has led to changes including the addition of a green roof at the local youth center and receiving a donation of 1,000 energy efficient light bulbs from the local power utility for distribution in their community.

Sample PSAs:

Jeremiah Holden
Jenna Blanton
Dara Olmsted
Takumi Sato
Daniel Birmingham
Angela Calabrase-Barton