• by Laurie Posner, M.P.A. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2013 •
Just as we rounded the corner into the 21st century, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam warned that our society might very well be falling apart. In Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000), Putnam drew on extensive data, including more than 500,000 interviews, to find that social ties among friends, family and democratic structures were breaking down, leaving us with far less social capital. Fewer people were taking part in the political process or taking up leadership in social and civic groups. We were still bowling, Putnam found – but not in leagues. We were bowling alone.
A World of New Information, but in a Read-Only Format
Bowling Alone suggested that television and computers were part of the problem, as the combination of late 20th century technologies tended to isolate and remove us from the public square. Television had reached near universal adoption in U.S. homes in the late 1990s. And this medium, from the late 1920s onward, had sharply distinguished broadcasters from viewers and relegated the latter to a generally passive role.
Expansive as it was, the early web typically followed suit. While Web 1.0 linked up (“hyperlinked”) large knowledge sets and brought the messages of broadcasters, webmasters and merchandisers to the public, it rarely caused publics to interact with webcasters or to one another. Whether mapping out human-machine contact (“user interfaces”) or ascribing new affiliations and identities (“usernames”), the early web would promote a “designer-user” relationship, much like the “broadcaster-viewer” dualism that preceded it. Not everyone was on board.
As scholar Don Norman said: “I am on a crusade to get rid of the word ‘users.’ I would rather call them ‘people’” (2008). Fortunately, the web would evolve. Darcy DiNucci observed in “Fragmented Future” (1999), “The Web we know now…is only an embryo of the Web to come… [Web 2.0] will be understood not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens.”
The Social Web
Web 2.0 – which came into focus around 1999 – signaled a move away from the static interface and toward more interaction and collaboration. As interactive online platforms, speed and mobility expanded, while the costs of desktop production fell, more and more people produced their own content, in real time. Portmanteaus like blog (web+log), coined around 1997, became commonplace fixtures of a version 2 web. And the Internet soon buzzed with social networks, bookmarking sites, media sharing, wikis, mashups and folksonomies. Expanding on web 2.0, we see the emergence of 3.0 possibilities, which capitalize on distributed databases, natural language processing, and machine learning to create a more “connected, open and intelligent” web (Spivak, 2006). In the realm of school reform, these new tools have opened up new possibilities for leadership and activism. Here are three examples.
The Call for College Readiness – Interactive Data. In the United States today, there is a 45 percent gap in the share of poor students earning bachelor’s degrees vs. their wealthy peers (Bailey & Dynarski, 2011). In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley – where about one in three families lives in poverty – IDRA and our partners are working to expand college-readiness and close this access gap. IDRA’s online OurSchool portal is a critical part of this work. The portal is organized around IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework, which allows for framing, benchmarking and tracking collaborative work to strengthen schools (Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010) and incorporates many components of the more data-rich, social web (Posner & Bojorquez, 2008; Grayson, 2011).
Educators and family leaders, like the members of the ARISE South Tower PTA Comunitario, are using the portal’s flexible, bilingual (English/Spanish) platform to examine how many high school students in the Rio Grande Valley are taking and scoring at or above criterion on college-readiness exams; how many are transferring to two- and four-year colleges or universities; and, once in college, how many must (re-)take developmental courses. They are using the portal’s “open surveys” feature to augment the portal with expanded local data (Montemayor, 2007; Montemayor & Goodman, 2011) to create “my schools” portfolios and to track and share progress.
One PTA Comunitario member noted: “Nos ayuda en comprender más como funciona el sistema en la educación, [incluyendo] los temas por ejemplo como HB3, financimiento justo, STAAR, derechos de padres, y también desarrolla el liderazgo en la educación. Nos organizamos para abogar en áreas que se necesita” (“It has helped us to understand how the educational system works – for example, HB3, fair funding, STAAR, and parents’ rights – to develop [our] leadership in education – and organize ourselves to advocate in needed areas”).
Community Capacity-Building – Social Networks. More than 80 community leaders are connected online through an online network that IDRA developed for Equal Voice – Rio Grande Valley, a powerful collaborative of grassroots community based-organizations, funded by the Marguerite Casey Foundation, that advocate for health, education, housing, employment, and immigration policies and practices that create equal opportunity for poor and working families. Members use the network to share research, data and analyses of issues impacting low-income families; collaborate on events; and capture and document progress and achievements. The Equal Voice – RGV network facilitates content creation, with a platform for discussions, blogs, photo- and video-sharing, news feeds, announcements and calendars, in a password-protected, ad-free environment. Facebook, for all its challenges, helped to bring online networking and real-time content production and content sharing to scale (Vance, 2012), enabling people to capture and communicate stories of impact as they are being written.
Advocating Funding Equity – Crowdmapping. Parents and educators are using IDRA’s School Funding Crowdmap to report how funding cuts to education, enacted by Texas’ legislature in 2011, impacted their schools. The map is part of a set of interactive tools – from searchable data on funding cuts by district and county; to the School Finance Trial dashboard; to RSS news feeds – developed as part of IDRA’s Fair Funding Now! initiative, a partnership of IDRA, LULAC, MALDEF, NAACP, MASBA, the Texas Center for Education Policy at UT Austin.
Using School Funding Crowdmap (https://schoolfunding.crowdmap.com/), a teacher from Schertz, reported how funding cuts have increased class sizes from 37 to 39 students. A family in San Antonio is struggling to keep their two sons in college, given cuts to means-based loans. A mother in Brownsville worries about her children’s long walk home now that so many school bus stops have been cut. And a teacher in Alief, even with a second job, is struggling to make ends meet. Her wages have been cut; she has to buy more school supplies out of pocket; and with the rise in lunch prices, she is helping more students with lunch money.
While being online is certainly not the same as being engaged, there is good reason to believe that Web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies can provide for more resources for local-, school- and community-based leadership, than their Web 1.0 progenitors. Ultimately, it is not the medium alone but we who shape, define and interact with it – and more crucially, with one another – that will determine whether these technologies deepen or weaken knowledge and our sense of connection and whether we translate this into action that benefits children. But if new strategies taken up by our partners are any guide, the potential for transparency and transformation is definitely in the air.
Bailey, M., & S. Dynarski. “Inequality in Postsecondary Education,” in Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality and the Uncertain Life Chances of Low-Income Children, edited by G.J. Duncan & R.J. Murnane (New York, N.Y.: Russell Sage Foundation, 2011).
DiNucci, D. “Fragmented Future,” Print (1999). 53 (4): 32.
Grayson, K. “Harnessing the Power of Web 3.0 with IDRA’s OurSchool Data Portal,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2011).
Montemayor, A.M. “This We Know – All of Our Children are Learning,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2007).
Montemayor, A.M., & C.L. Goodman. “Community PTAs Growing in South Texas,” IDRA Classnotes Podcast (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, December 22, 2011).
Norman, D. Don Norman at UX Week 2008 © Adaptive Path, video online (uploaded February 1, 2010).
Norman, D. “Words Matter. Talk About People: Not Customers, Not Consumers, Not Users,” online article (Don Norman: Designing For People website)
Posner, L., & H. Bojorquez. “Knowledge for Action – Organizing School-Community Partnerships Around Quality Data,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2008).
Putnam, R.D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).
Robledo Montecel, M., & C. Goodman. Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework™ (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).
Spivak, N. “The Third Generation Web is Coming” Lifeboat Foundation – Special Report (Minden, Nev.: Lifeboat Foundation Scientific Advisory Board, 2006).
Vance, A. “Facebook: The Making of 1 Billion Users” Bloomberg Businessweek (October 04, 2012).
Laurie Posner, M.P.A., is a senior education associate in IDRA Support Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2013, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2013 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]