Last week, I attended the 2015 ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Annual Conference and led several events, including a workshop on diversity and technology in early childhood settings. The focus of this workshop was to help attendees make thoughtful choices about integrating technology to honor and empower diversity within their classroom or program. During this session, two streams of conversation emerged and seemed to be echoed in other conversations throughout the conference.
One conversation topic that developed from this session was initiating and facilitating constructive dialogues that address issues of cultural relevancy and cultural sensitivity in schools and early childhood programs. In the workshop and within conference discourse, there was an overall concern about bringing up conversations about diversity so that educators and administrators can create environments that honor children and families of different backgrounds, cultures, or abilities. This included addressing implicit and explicit biases, ways to work with diverse students, and how to get school staff and faculty who may not want to address this topic to be actively engaged in this conversation.
Some resolutions presented were creating discussion groups and utilizing resources for an anti-bias environment. Discussion groups can be centered on different readings focused on culture, diverse abilities, biases and stereotypes. Readings can help frame ideas and make connections between theory, research, practices, and beliefs. From my experience, readings can be add credible reference points for challenging topics and guide conversation. However, these readings won’t be constructive without careful facilitation and mindful preparation for designing a safe space for dialogue. If people don’t feel safe discussing sensitive issues like culture and diversity, then it will be hard to implement cultural relevancy and sensitivity in the school.
Along with discussion groups, being intentional about creating an anti-bias environment is crucial. It makes cultural relevancy and cultural sensitivity a part of the daily dialogue and the culture of the school and classroom. Using resources like Anti-Bias Education or Culturally Responsive Teaching can be helpful when framing thoughts around this topic. As educators are getting to know the children and families of the school community, these sources can give guidance to ensure all children are welcomed and acknowledged.
The other conversation topic that emerged during my workshop was identifying the types of technology tools that be used in the classroom to support diversity. Attendees at the workshop and ISTE conference utilized various types of technology. No matter the tools, they were all trying to figure out how to use them constructively.
Suggestions that I offered were thoroughly examining media content with peers, allowing children the opportunity to create, and finding a method of advocating diversity in children’s media and technology. In my workshop, participants and I played with different types of media, exploring components that we liked and disliked about them. Since we were an international group, we offered varying view points and opened each other’s perspectives about the media and its potential on students. Our conversation captured links between media depictions of various groups (or the lack of them) and the societal environment and current issues. This openness to play and sharing our thoughts created an opportunity for all is us to learn and shift our lens to see how these tools both empower and disempower children and families. As we played with these tools, I also encouraged atyendees to become active advocates for diverse media content. I provided with examples of things I have done including joining groups like #diversityinapps or #weneeddiversebooks to promote the increase of diverse content to so that all students and families feel represented.
While incorporating diverse media is important, ensuring children have ways of creating their own content and expressing themselves through technology is important for a number of developmental reasons. As I have stated in previous posts, media creation provides an authentic opportunity for children to showcase and share their learning and present their narrative, especially since all children and families are not represented.
ISTE provided a platform to have quality conversations about diversity, technology and young children with practitioners from all over the globe. Many of us wanted to have this conversation and were a bit relieved when we could speak to others that are having similar concerns. Our common interest of doing right by children guided us to solutions that will hopefully be effective in our work. Luckily, we can use technology to stay connected and design other ways of maintaining engagement in this topic so that we can find more ways to authentically honor diversity in early childhood.