Technological learning after school : astudy of the communication dimensions of technological literacy in three informal education programs for female and minority youth
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This dissertation asks how the communication dimensions of technological literacy are understood in three informal education programs in Texas that aim to bridge the digital divide for female and low-income minority youth. Technological literacy is a prerequisite for economic, political, and cultural equality, yet different rationales for technological literacy highlight the economic, democratic, and social benefits for marginalized youth. Economically, technological literacy prepares youth to enter the workforce and positions the U.S. as competitive in the global market. Democratically, technological literacy allows citizens to participate in political discussions. Socially, technological literacy helps citizens make decisions in their everyday lives. Drawing from developmental democratic theory, I argue for an expanded definition of technological literacy that highlights the importance of communication and cultural production to democratic societies. Developmental democratic theory stresses the importance of individual development, including self-expression and creativity, to fostering democracy. I argue for an analysis of the digital divide that looks at capabilities, or the freedoms individuals have to pursue their own desires. These capabilities include self-representation, accessing information that is relevant to one’s life, learning to communicate about technology, and the freedom to achieve what one values. My research questions are grounded not only in the processes through which youth engage in technological learning through their participation in these informal educational programs, but also how the programs’ missions and activities envision technological literacy. Thus, I ask how is technological literacy conceptualized in three informal education programs? How is technological literacy implemented in program activities? How do youth themselves respond to technology and technological learning? I investigate these research questions through participant-observation, interviews, self-administered questionnaires, and analysis of program documents and students’ projects. I analyze these research questions in light of the economic, political, and social rationales for technological literacy.