Summer '06
Summer '07



Action Research Report

Creating an Inclusive Elementary School Tech Club

Statement of the Problem

Gender inequality in technology use remains, despite the use of technology in the classroom for the past twenty years and attempts to improve the circumstances. Girls are not best served by the way technology is used and taught in schools. While girls value projects that allow for group work and collaboration, computer use is typically independent work in a computer lab and does not take advantage of the collaborative possibilities offered by technology nor allow it in many projects. Classroom assignments that utilize technology often limit the aesthetic choices students are allowed to make, valuing a typed report over photographs or video as an acceptable medium of communication, for example. Tech Clubs often emphasize technology and girls often attach a stigma to belonging to a "technology club." Girls participated in Tech Club in past years but were few in number, perhaps because Tech Club was perceived as being exclusively about learning to use computers. In a society where digital literacy is increasingly important, alienating fifty-one percent of the population and denying females digital literacy and technology skills is unfair.

Students on the Autism Spectrum are often unable to communicate their thoughts, imaginations, and emotions. These students might lack social skills or the ability to "read" a social situation and react accordingly or appropriately. They might be unable to communicate like a typical peer. Students on the Autism Spectrum are often constrained by these communication difficulties and unable to demonstrate their creativity, intelligence, and imagination. The increased diagnoses of children on the Autism Spectrum means we must adjust our education system to accommodate them and provide them varied and multiple means of communicating. Communication means dialogue between the student on the Autism Spectrum and a typical student in the school community, and current classroom assignments and projects might not take into consideration the communication limitations some students have. An Autism Spectrum program at my school gave student classroom support, but these students lacked social situations in which they could interact with typical peers and practice social interactions. Projects that encourage students on the Autism Spectrum to collaborate with their peers and to communicate through differentiated means are important components of an inclusive Tech Club

My past efforts with the Tech Club at the elementary school where I work made me want to improve the situation. I would transform Tech Club to be a more inclusive environment. Girls made valuable contributions to past Tech Club projects that emphasized creativity and artistic expression. Future Tech Club projects would value and reward collaboration and aesthetic choice in order to match the way girls wanted to use technology. Tech Club would be an equitable environment where girls and boys were allowed matching opportunities to use technology. Appropriate social interactions are extremely important lessons for students on the Autism Spectrum, and I intended to make Tech Club an inclusive social environment for these students to collaborate with their peers and explore new means of communicating (Lord & McGee, 2003). Additionally, students who participated in Tech Club would build important digital literacy skills. These are necessary life skills and building these digital literacies in these students is very important.

The school would be different if I made changes to Tech Club. The changes I made would affect more than just Tech Club: the larger school community would be affected by the girls' and Autistic students' increased voice. Tech Club would be inclusive, honoring the diversity of its participants through the collaborative and individual work the students produced. Girls and boys would develop important technology skills that increased their digital literacy. Students would collaborate to create multimedia projects that reflected aesthetic choice. Students on the Autism Spectrum would have additional chances for social interactions and communication. Students in Tech Club would be empowered through their digital literacy.

Literature Review

Early in my Action Research I conducted a Literature Review to better understand the issues surrounding gender and technology use, the Autism Spectrum, and how projects that built digital literacy might empower individuals. While my experience working with Tech Club over the past three years gave me insight into some of these issues, a close examination of other people's writings helped clarify and substantiate the issues I planned to work on this year.

As I conducted my Literature Review three broad themes emerged. First, there are gender differences in technology use. Second, technology helps people communicate. Third, digital literacy can be empowering and its use builds leadership potential. My readings helped me better understand these issues and framed my work within this larger body of knowledge. Conducting the Literature Review connected my work to a larger community of knowledge and practice.

Differences exist in the ways elementary school-age girls and boys use technology. Researchers such as Bhargava, Kirova-Petrova, and McNair find that females achieve academically as well as their male peers in technology courses but males spend more time outside of a school environment using computers, and male enrollment in college computer science courses is also higher (1999). Accessibility to technology remains a hurdle for many females. Societal prejudices often conspire to limit girls' opportunities to work with computers or technology. These limitations are communicated in both subtle and blatant ways by the actions of parents, adults, and the mass media; all suggest that computers are not for girls (Bhargava et al., 1999). According to Bhargava, Kirova-Petrova, and McNair "girls in general view computers and technology as being beyond their capabilities and realm of understanding" (1999). This lack of empowerment and inability for girls to make valuable technological contributions in the classroom is limiting to female students (Hanor, 1998). Oftentimes technology is not taught across the curriculum but rather in ways that interest only boys (Bhargava et al., 1999). Boys often dominate the use of technology and computers in the classroom, and girls tend to be nonassertive in their use of computers (Bhargava et al., 1999). Some, like Hartshorn (2000), a student who wrote about her experiences in an all-girl computer club, suggest that single-gender compositions to such clubs are beneficial to girls, while other researchers suggest that carefully monitoring students' computer use and scheduling for equitable use between girls and boys is a more realistic and achievable goal (Bhargava et al., 1999). Although females have made great strides towards equality in the classroom, issues persist that prevent females from reaching their fullest potential when it comes to their use of technology.

Girls value interpersonal relationships that are created through computer use. Oftentimes traditional classroom assignments forbid collaboration and group work that builds such connections between students. Researchers like Hanor (1998) found that communication became the primary interest in a computer project she conducted with female students, and the computers became a secondary interest for these students. The computer is a means of social interaction with other students participating in similar activities. The computer becomes an "enabling" device that allows girls to transfer their computer use from the "realm of computer/human interaction to the realm of human/human interactions" (Hanor, 1998). Technology activities involving girls must be constructed with plenty of opportunities for students to interact and to use the computer as a go-between device to enhance collaboration. Limiting interaction and collaboration through technology use is counter-productive and limits the potential girls might find in creating through technology.

Additionally, aesthetics are an important and overlooked component of technology projects involving girls. Aesthetics are connected to interpersonal relationships as well: when girls use computers, "interpersonal relations were highly regarded as a factor contributing to their aesthetic enjoyment" (Hanor, 1998). In fact, Hanor emphasizes the need to use an "aesthetic framework" when considering girls' interactions with computers in regard to "girls' way of knowing," which might include "tacit, ambiguous, problematic, experiential, and intuitive" use of technology (1998). Unstructured time is important for girls to give them the opportunity to "mess around" with computers in a free-form manner (Hanor, 1998). Bhargava et al. (1999) claim that girls are oftentimes more interested in using computers to produce tangible results than knowing the technology itself. Choice, for girls, is important as it helps inform the aesthetic qualities of their projects: "color, shapes, tools, clip art, and animated sequences" were found to be elements in computer applications that engage girls (Hanor, 1998). Studies cited by Gordon (2000) suggest female students enjoy the multimedia possibilities offered by constructive use of technology. The multimedia capabilities of computers provide aesthetic experiences that "are integrated experiences that incorporate perceptual and cognitive pleasures derived from repetition, playfulness, daydreaming, and fantasy" (Hanor, 1998). An example of a project that engaged a girl's aesthetic sensibilities was Hartshorn's multimedia stack that included pictures she drew as well as a digital photo of herself on the biography page (2000). If a girl's "learnings are enabled through imaginative, creative and aesthetic experience" then it is necessary to create computer projects that challenge the imagination and desire to create (Hanor, 1998).

Technology can help students to find voice in the world and fosters collaboration and communication. While girls in particular are interested in the interpersonal relationships created and developed by technology and computer use, all students benefit from increased collaboration and communication possibilities.

Girls can use technology to make their voices heard. Hanor wrote about the importance of narrative in technology projects for girls, citing it as another aesthetic component important to girls (1998). The stories, drawings, and symbols that girls create when using computers are aesthetic forms revealing their knowledge (Hanor, 1998). These stories might be in words or in pictures, but either way, according to Hanor, girls are able to reflect upon their own and their classmates' experiences (1998). Technology and computers give girls voice and the ability to share their thoughts and feelings and construct meaning of their world in a public forum that in turn inspires more dialogue. 

Technology promotes collaboration, offering "opportunities for connections of unparalleled proportions" (Hanor, 1998). This collaborative use can be beneficial for students with lower computer skills; as Thomas and Keller (2002) report in their work with Girl Scout Brownie troops, girls with limited technology skills learned considerably when working with less literate peers while those with more digital literacy enjoyed working to help others. Girls' interests in collaboration make for a different computer experience than boys'. For girls, "relevant application appears to be more important" when using computers as girls are more interested in the collaborative, partner-based process (Bhargava et al., 1999). The collaborative process is beneficial to students with Autism as well. In Lewis, Trushell, and Woods' study where an Autistic student was paired with classmates to complete an adventure application on the computer, the Autistic student came to consider others' opinions when navigating through the game or solving puzzles (2005). Collaborative computer use in this case led to the Autistic student being able to better share with his peers as well as to cope better in structured group settings (Lewis et al., 2005). By encouraging students to participate in computer activities that emphasize "group learning, social interaction, and cooperative problem solving," instructors are doing students of both genders and all abilities a service (Bhargava et al., 1999). By emphasizing the collaborative aspects of computing and by encouraging students to participate in cooperative activities that foster collaboration, technology helps promote the free exchange of ideas.

Computers and the Internet make it possible for students to access information about issues that matter to them and assist them in making informed decisions that affect their lives. Hartshorn writes about how Internet research allowed her and other girls in a computer club to choose topics and conduct research that mattered to them personally as eighth grade girls, such as eating disorders, careers, grief and loss (2000). Technology empowers students to find information that is more relevant and personal, and allows students to create personal context for learning. Teachers should demonstrate computers are a way for students to gain new knowledge and that they can be used to accomplish tasks (Bhargava et al., 1999). Coupled with a collaborative computing culture, students might be empowered by the knowledge that they are able to create and the information they are able to retrieve.

Children on the Autism Spectrum are also empowered through technology use. Using computers to present information to Autistic students potentially presents the information in a way "that reduces potentially confusing and anxiety-inducing, multi-source inputs that characterize 'real-worls' interactions (Parsons et al., 2005 citing Moore, 1998; Moore et al. 2000). Providing Autistic children with opportunities to interact regularly with more socially competent peers is important; one effective way is to facilitate interactions between the Autistic child and a small group of her or his peers in an enjoyable and engaging activity (Lewis et al, 2005). Citing Colby, Tina Goldsmith and Linda LeBlanc assert that "children with autism are drawn to technological devices and researchers have noted the importance of devising treatments that take advantage of this fascination" (2004). People with Asperger's Syndrome are prone to obsession on particular subjects, including technology, according to Suzanne Carrington and Lorraine Graham (1999). This obsession, properly diagnosed as "perseveration," can be beneficial, as such special interests can continue into adulthood and form the basis of a successful career (Silberman, 2001; Carrington & Graham 1999). Opportunities to make use of a perseveration on technology might be beneficial to the student, and implementation into the students' curriculum of opportunities to explore technology should be explored (Carrington & Graham, 1999). Therefore, it is appropriate and beneficial to include students such as this who are interested in a setting like Tech Club because they stand to be empowered. Computers "provide a third party focus which may alleviate pressure on the child with ASD to interact directly with peers" (Lewis et al., 2005). Silberman, in his article on children with Asperger's Syndrome notes that computers are an good interest for people with Asperger's Syndrome because they are "logical, consistent, and not prone to moods" (2001). In their work with Ben, a student with Autism who was given the opportunity to work with peers on an adventure game on the computer, working in a small group was determined to be less anxiety producing for this Autistic student (Lewis et al., 2005). For children with Autism, "computer based instruction typically results in benefits such as increased motivation, decreased inappropriate behavior, and increased attention and sometimes results in increased learning compared to traditional methods" (Goldsmith & LeBlanc, 2004). This is very empowering for students on the Autism Spectrum and opens new means for them to communicate and interact with their peers and surroundings. The collaborative use of computers by children with Autism and their peers, as well as a means of engaging students with Asperger's Syndrome with a subject in which they are interested, offers interesting possibilities for empowering these students by increasing their communication and socialization skills.

Computers encourage leadership potential in all students. By scaffolding students as they learn to use computers and software until they become more competent, adults can increase students' computer literacy and help establish them as leaders in technology use (Bhargava et al., 1999). For Tracy Thomas and Julie Keller (2002) technology was an opportunity for Girl Scouts to earn technology badges and to attract young people to the Louisville Free Public Library facilities. Programs such as this allow girls to become more computer literate and more comfortable asking questions about and experimenting with technology (Thomas & Keller, 2002). Additionally, field trips to diverse settings where females model "competent computer use" are beneficial for all students as examples of leadership and empowerment (Bhargava et al., 1999). Teachers can encourage leadership in their students' computer use by demonstrating competence to inspire competence (Bhargava et al, 1999). Girls in particular can be inspired if the teacher asks girls to help assist them in introducing new software (Bhargava et al., 1999). By relating computer use to all subjects, students' strengths with the computer can be transferred to all aspects of their academic and social lives (Bhargava et al., 1999). 

My Literature Review clarified many issues for me while raising new questions. With an understanding of the existing literature I sought to apply the knowledge that I acquired through my Literature Review as I worked through my Action Research in order to add to the community of knowledge.

The Field of Action

I work at one of three elementary schools in a six square mile community of 22,000 residents. The district is one of 35 in this and a neighboring county affiliated with the Puget Sound Educational Service District, a regional support educational agency. It is an affluent community and it supported various maintenance and operation levies. The community paid $54 million in capital bonds to renovate all five schools in the district during the early 1990s. The district prides itself on student performance on the state's standardized achievement test, and claims high percentages of students meeting state standards in writing, math, and reading.

The elementary school where I work has students in Kindergarten through fifth grade. This year there were 540 students enrolled. There is one computer lab, with thirty computers, three portable carts with twenty laptop computers in each, and classrooms typically have two desktop computers. There are also LCD projectors, digital still cameras, digital video cameras, and speakers available for teachers and students to use. In addition to my responsibilities as a Technology Specialist, I am the advisor for Tech Club at the elementary. It is a supplementary contract limited to 72 hours per school year. There are no other Tech Clubs in the district.

Tech Club is composed of students in third through fifth grade. At this elementary school, the majority of students are Caucasian. Specifically, 78% percent of third grade students; 83% of fourth graders; and 76% of fifth graders are Caucasian. However, students identified as Asian also represent significant percentages of students: 16% of third graders, 15% of fourth graders, and 22% of fifth graders. Forty-seven different students participated in the three projects over the course of the year, though not all student participated in each project. There were twenty four boys who participated, three of whom were on the Autism Spectrum. Twenty three girls participated in the projects as well. Of the forty-seven students who participated, twenty seven participated in one Tech Club project, three in two projects, and seventeen in all three projects. Four of the seventeen students who participated in all three projects were girls, or twenty-three percent. Increasing the number of girls participating in Tech Club to nearly fifty percent of Tech Club membership, up from a single girl who participated last year, was a goal of mine. Additionally, the participation by students on the Autism Spectrum increased from a single student in prior years to three students this year.

Of the forty-seven students who participated in Tech Club this year I focused my research on five: three boys and two girls. While my Action Research Journal traced the progress of many more students in Tech Club, for the purpose of this final report I will explain the reactions of these five students.

"Paul" is a fifth grade student who participated in Tech Club from third grade through fifth grade. He worked on two stop-motion films prior to writing and directing this year's stop-motion film. Paul participated in all three Tech Club projects this year, though the focus of his efforts was the film that he directed. His work was notable in the inclusion of many different students in his projects.

"Beth" is a third grade student new to this school and Tech Club. She also participated in all three Tech Club projects. She made valuable contributions to the podcasts, hosting several episodes and creating several different segments in collaboration with her peers. Beth was particularly effective at recruiting her friends to participate in Tech Club through her creative contributions to the podcasting and digital video projects. She directed a live-action film this year for which she wrote the script.

"Rachel" is also a third grade student who participated in all three Tech Club projects. She was a very willing contributor to other students' projects and worked hard to help achieve the goals of each project. She had prior experience with some of the applications we used this year and was able to build these skills through her work on the digital photography, podcasting, and digital video projects. At the end of the school year she and another student devised a stop-motion film, for which she planned to compose the soundtrack.

"Henry" is a fifth grade student on the Autism Spectrum. This is the third year in which Henry participated in Tech Club, though his participation in the previous two years was limited. Henry's mother characterizes his Autism as high-functioning, and he is very verbal and communicative. Henry worked with me extensively outside of Tech Club as well, choosing to work on projects with me or independently in the computer lab during recesses.

"Larry" is a fourth grade student who is also on the Autism Spectrum. He is limited in his verbal communication, though the podcasting project proved he is a talented songwriter and singer. This is the first year Larry participated in Tech Club. His social interactions at school are limited, though he spends most recesses in the library with other students, working on a puzzle or playing a game sometimes independently and other times with his peers. He enjoys Lego and stop-motion films and came into my office in the past to look at the posters and pictures from the Lego stop-motion films Tech Club made over the past two years.

All forty-seven of the students who participated made valuable contributions to the culture of Tech Club and the quality of the projects. Seventeen students participated in all three projects and shaped Tech Club's projects. All students who participated in Tech Club built their digital literacy and learned more about technology and how they might use it to better communicate.

Action Research Questions

The three Action Research Cycles allowed me to examine questions about my actions in Tech Club this year, and how I might make Tech Club a more inclusive environment that allowed collaboration and aesthetic choice through technology use.

My Cycle One questions focused on transforming Tech Club into an inclusive environment. Students learned to use digital cameras during our first project. Collaboration was encouraged as students took photos that captured images of their school and its students. I experimented with scheduling as a means of ensuring equitable use of the limited equipment available. Girls were very receptive to the project, and five girls completed the project by taking photos, cropping and captioning them, then building web pages to display the photos. However, only one student on the Autism Spectrum participated. Students built valuable digital literacy skills during this project. My Cycle One questions reflected my interest in making Tech Club more inclusive.

How might Tech Club be modified to better consider the voice of girls, and what kinds of activities would better suit girls' interests?

How might students on the Autism Spectrum benefit from a program such as Tech Club?

Cycle Two of my Action Research concerned promoting the work Tech Club was doing through podcasts. Additionally, I wanted to explore Real Simple Syndication and whether it would facilitate the distribution of our work. Girls' participation in the first project built a core group that continued with the podcasting project. These girls brought their friends to Tech Club to help record and produce podcasts. Additionally, students on the Autism Spectrum participated with increased frequency. Boys continued to participate as well, working on podcast segments that encouraged collaboration and strengthened reading and writing skills in addition to building digital literacy. The number of students who participated in Tech Club increased during this cycle, too, and the podcast medium proved exceptionally empowering for these students.

Would podcasting inspire new student participation in Tech Club and inform parents about the benefits of constructivist, collaborative technology projects?

Could I leverage RSS technology to get the podcasts onto people's computers?

My Cycle Three Action Research project created a Tech Club project that encouraged students to take leadership positions. Students created digital video films that captured their imaginations. The projects were long-term and required collaboration with a diverse group of students. Some students emerged as leaders during this project, directing films and organizing students to realize their projects. This project built on the digital literacy skills the students learned during their work on the previous projects.

Can I empower students to assumed leadership roles through technology use in group projects?

Will video serve as a medium to help students on the Autism Spectrum increase their level of communication with other students?

How might student-directed projects like this one encourage students to assume leadership positions within Tech Club?

Action Research Scenario

My actions this year were intended to create an equitable, inclusive environment where students could better communicate through their use of various technologies. Technology use would develop the students' digital literacy, which might empower them and allow them differentiated means of communicating with their peers and the world.

I encouraged girls to participate by creating equitable working conditions. Tech Club's first project, digital photography, revealed that I needed to schedule the use of the digital cameras and laptops because of the limited availability of equipment. Scheduling equipment use created equitable amounts of time for students to use the equipment. Additionally, some students, like Beth, took advantage of the scheduling and gained additional time with the equipment by using other students' time when they missed their scheduled sessions. The podcasting and digital video projects similarly allowed girls equitable use of equipment and opportunities to create segments or films. Delegating equipment and scheduling space, time and access to my skills were important considerations I made this year.

I de-emphasized technology in favor of collaborative projects that honored aesthetic choice to try to make Tech Club more appealing to girls and to allow students on the Autism Spectrum to develop new communication skills. The digital photography, podcasting, and digital video projects all allowed students to express themselves individually while working collaboratively on the projects. Projects like the digital photograph web pages students constructed allowed for the multimedia choices that girls value in technology projects. Podcasting allowed students to demonstrate their knowledge on subjects that they found interesting and created a context for learning that was personal and relevant to the individual student. The movie-making project also allowed students to make creative choices and present artistic visions of imaginary worlds. Oftentimes the work that Tech Club engaged in looked more like play than serious effort. The students were very engaged in the process as they learned new skills that built digital literacy, like digital photography or stop-motion animation.

I also wanted to make Tech Club a place where students on the Autism Spectrum might interact with their peers and build digital literacy that would allow them to better communicate. I tried to leverage several Autistic students' interests in technology in projects like podcasting that used technology to improve individuals' abilities to communicate with a larger audience. Two Autistic students used the digital literacy skills they built working with other Tech Club students to create stop-motion films of their own. Digital literacy brings differentiated means of communicating, and these Autistic students used technology to better communicate their imaginations and emotions through their participation in Tech Club projects like podcasting and stop-motion movie-making.

I also sought to encourage leadership through technology use in group projects. Both Henry and Beth directed films and collaborated with other Tech Club members on complex projects that demanded existing digital literacy and built additional skills like editing digital video and audio. Rachel and another third grade girl, Vanessa, worked with other students on Tech Club projects before making a stop-motion film of their own. Vanessa's projects were mostly collaborative: she built a web page with another girl, helped produce props for Beth's film, and acted in Henry's film. Tech Club projects this year allowed for such collaboration. However, she also created her own podcast segment and worked with Rachel to create a stop-motion film, wrote the film's script on her own and built the sets with her friends. This student used collaborative projects to build the skills necessary to lead a project of her own.

These deliberate actions combined to form an intentional transformative process that I hoped would make Tech Club more inclusive and involve more girls and students on the Autism Spectrum.

I expected that I would be able to transform Tech Club this year into a more inclusive and equitable learning community in which students could build digital literacy. These expectations were based on the actions I took over the course of the year and the adjustments I made to my actions based on the students' reactions.

I expected that I could create equity through scheduling the use of equipment like laptops, digital cameras, and digital video equipment. Early in the digital photography assignment, when it was clear that boys were dominating the use of the digital cameras, I created sign-up sheets to make sure everyone received fifteen minutes of hands-on time with the cameras. Similarly, the students had scheduled time to use the laptops to crop and title their images before building web pages with them. The same project also encouraged equitable use of technology by girls and boys because the project honored aesthetic choice and allowed students to collaborate. This group work created and nurtured relationships between the students as they helped one another learn to use the equipment and the software.

There were few artistic outlets outside classroom activities for students during school hours at this school. Tech Club projects were very multimedia-oriented. Students used technology to create photos, music, and films. They also used technology to facilitate the writing and editing process and to capture their performances. I expected that the transformation of Tech Club into a group where students could be creative and playful would provide students opportunities for self-expression.

I also expected I would be able to transform Tech Club because I was committed to stepping back this year and letting the students guide the projects and their outcomes. As my Action Research progressed I examined a servant leadership style in which my foremost responsibility was to meet the needs of the students so they could complete their projects. Instead of being an instructor this year, I tried to be a facilitator, somebody Tech Club students could use as a resource as they worked on their projects. Instead of guiding every outcome, I tried to let the students determine the content they produced.

I encountered a few problems and difficulties in my Action Research. Group work confirmed that boys tend to dominate the use of computers or other equipment. I tried to make access to the equipment equitable by scheduling the use of five digital cameras and four laptop computers among seventeen students. It could be difficult at times to get the Autistic students to collaborate and work together on a project: Henry, for example, was unable to work on the soundtrack for Paul's film with Rachel because she had a lesser understanding of the software and Henry was unable to explain it to her. To provide Rachel an equitable experience I suggested she compose the soundtrack for the movie she and Vanessa planned to make.

Time was a constraint for me this year, an issue I noted in my Action Research Plan Force Field Map at the beginning of the program. There was not enough continuous time available during the school day during which Tech Club could meet. I modified the meeting schedule so students could work during all three recesses if they wanted, not just lunch recess. During the stop-motion film project and the podcasting unit, this flexibility allowed the projects to occur because of the number of participants and the complexity of the projects. The supplemental contract for Tech Club allows for seventy-two hours of work during the course of the school year. This amount of time was too short to adequately meet the needs of the students and to build digital literacy, so I worked beyond the contract.

I solved the space issue, also noted in the Action Research Plan Force Field Map, by moving Tech Club from the Occupational Therapy room to the Library, which was a much more public space. This change in location might have positively affected Tech Club participation by making our activities more public. During the podcasting and moving-making units students used my office so they could record their voices with little background noise or leave models set up mid-scene when they returned to their classrooms. Students also worked to solve the space issue. Beth realized when she filmed her movie that the on-site before and after school-care room was unused during the school day, and used the room for some of the scenes of her movie where she needed a kitchen and a bedroom, for example.

I was surprised by the success of the students in Tech Club this year as a result of my actions. The students who participated in the projects learned valuable digital literacy skills that they applied in their classrooms and at home. Their collaborative efforts allowed them to accomplish large projects in less time than they had in the past because of some students fluency in aspects of digital literacy. I did not try to guide every action this year and acted as a facilitator rather than an instructor. The students responded by leading the projects and working together to build digital literacy and relationships.

The reactions to my actions this year were extremely positive. There was better participation by girls: twenty-three girls participated in Tech Club projects this year, including four who participated in all three projects. Participation by students on the Autism Spectrum also increased, from one last year to three students participating in projects and creating their own. Tracking the number of times the RSS file was accessed suggested that parents and community members were listening to Tech Club's podcasts: in one month there was over one thousand "hits" on the RSS file used to subscribe to the podcast. Tech Club was mentioned as a student activity in a brochure distributed to every elementary school in the state during a principal recruitment search for the school. Finally, I believe that the students who emerged as leaders and directed films or hosted podcast episodes are encouraging reactions. These students built digital literacy skills as well as leadership skills through their collaborative work.

Analysis and Interpretation

My work this year utilized Action Research. The Pepperdine OMET Cadre Revolution 9 developed a working definition of Action Research. Action research is a recognized form of experimental research that focuses on the effects of the researcher's direct actions of practice within a participatory community with the goal of improving the performance quality of the community or an area of concern (Dick, 2002; Reason & Bradbury, 2001; Hult & Lennung, 1980; McNiff, 2002). Action research involves utilizing a systematic cyclical method of planning, taking action, observing, evaluating (including self-evaluation) and critical reflecting prior to planning the next cycle (O'Brien, 2001; McNiff, 2002). The actions have a set goal of addressing an identified problem in the workplace, for example, reducing the illiteracy of students through use of new strategies (Quigley, 2000). It is a collaborative method to test new ideas and implement action for change. It involves direct participation in a dynamic research process, while monitoring and evaluating the effects of the researcher's actions with the aim of improving practice (Dick, 2002; Checkland & Holwell, 1998; Hult & Lennung, 1980). At its core, action research is a way to increase understanding of how change in one's actions or practices can mutually benefit a community of practitioners (McNiff, 2002; Reason & Bradburym, 2001; Carr & Kremmis 1986; Masters, 1995).

Projects in which students directed the outcomes were more successful and encouraged longer-term participation than projects in which I directed the outcomes. Comparing the commitment and dedication students exhibited in the movie-making project versus the digital photography project, for example, shows that when students were directing the projects and outcomes they were more committed. The digital photography project allowed for individual choice, but I guided the process. Seven students who took photos never completed the cropping, titling, or web page construction part of the project. Perhaps one reason is that part of the process did not interest them. All the students who worked on Paul's film participated through the duration of the project. There were exceptions in student-directed projects, however. Beth's film was for a time plagued with defecting cast members and students who decided they would rather go to recess than rehearse for her film. Perhaps she placed too many demands on the other students, causing them to quit the production. The podcasting project was another example of a project that generated interest initially, but once students tired of the process and exhausted the topics in which they were interested it was difficult to get anyone to host an episode or generate any new material. Rather than trying to re-generate interest, I transitioned the students to the next project. Leadership of Tech Club, whether by me or by students, needed to strike a balance between facilitating others in the group to accomplish projects and overtly leading students to a pre-conceived conclusion, like building a web page or finishing a film.

Tech Club and the digital literacy skills students built this year provided alternative means for Autistic students to communicate. Lord and McGee (2003) note that without adults deliberately planning and structuring a social environment, many Autistic students will not exhibit ordinary social exchanges with their peers. Projects like podcasting and movie-making encouraged students on the Autism Spectrum to participate by building on their interests and skills they already possessed. Involving Autistic students in others students' projects allowed them to build social skills as well as digital literacy, which empowered them to create their own projects. Podcasting allowed Larry to share a song he wrote, a skill very few of his peers knew he possessed. Henry's musical abilities were showcased in the soundtrack he composed. The stop-motion film that Larry produced also allowed him to communicate a narrative that would have otherwise been trapped in his mind. I believe I was successful in encouraging these students to participate because the differentiated means of communicating appealed to these students and appeared to provide the necessary context for learning digital literacy skills.

Encouraging all the students who participated in Tech Club projects to create their knowledge through hands-on constructivist projects was effective. Unlike past years, I did not set out to overtly teach students to use technology. Rather, they built digital literacy by using technology to accomplish projects based on aesthetic choice, collaboration, and artistic license. This shift from instructor to facilitator was an important action I took this year.

I believe that the transformation of Tech Club into a more inclusive environment was possible for a number of reasons. Constructivism, an educational theory that "describes how people construct their reality and make sense of their world," guided much of my work this year (Lambert et al., 2002). By treating the learner as a constructor of knowledge I encouraged students to construct their own meanings through their experiences and activities. Tech Club projects built on the experiences and understandings the students brought to Tech Club, and gave them new experiences in order to build and refine their digital literacy skills. Working as a group provided a social activity that was enhanced by the shared inquiry of the group and the contributions each student made to the projects. Building on Vygotsky's notion of the Zone of Proximal Development, "the space or field among learners and teachers in which individuals negotiate meaning and create knowledge and intelligence," I tried to make Tech Club a place where students of different ages, with different skills and abilities, might meet to construct knowledge and build digital literacy skills in the process (Lambert et al., 2002). I also tried to take a constructivist leadership approach, enabling Tech Club students to construct meanings through their work and to develop a shared purpose in our work.

Modeling a leadership style that emphasized the importance of meeting others' needs influenced the students and in some cases allowed students to assume leadership positions, too. The servant leadership model that I demonstrated through my Cycle Three actions, in which the leader works to meet other people's highest priority needs, influenced the students (Gosling et al., 2003, citing Greenleaf 1970). Servant leadership promotes "collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment" (Gosling et al., 2003, citing Center for Servant Leadership web site, 2003). Using this model was particularly effective for the movie-making project because of the amount of work required to complete the project. I worked hard to meet the needs of the student directors, and they in turn worked hard to meet the needs of their casts and crews.

Projects that encouraged differentiated communication helped transform Tech Club into a more inclusive environment. Digital photography, podcasting, and movie-making were all projects that allowed individual voices to emerge and be heard. Students on the Autism Spectrum had new opportunities to share their imaginations and to showcase their singing skills in the podcasting project. Tech Club projects this year allowed students to explore various types of media and to capture their voices and imaginations in myriad ways. Everyone found a voice through their work in Tech Club.

The apprenticeship model scaffolds student development and helps students develop within a framework of proximal development. Tasks are slightly beyond the students' current abilities at the beginning of a project. The support of the community allows the individual student to further develop her or his skills and make the stretch of skills necessary to achieve and build new literacies. Papert (1993) believed that becoming literate "means thinking differently than one did previously, seeing the world differently," and I believe that Tech Club projects had this effect on the students. Not only were the students building digital literacy, but they build social literacy, leadership literacy, and collaborative literacy as well, supporting Papert's contention that there are different literacies (1993). Providing students authentic learning experiences, where knowledge was built through hands-on projects, helped these students acquire new technology skills.

Finally, I believe that interactive media encouraged participation by allowing individual voices to emerge and be heard. The students' projects took advantage of many new technologies, from digital photography and web page building to podcasting and movie making. All the projects encouraged students to actively participate in the creation of a product, which in turn helped create knowledge. The success of Tech Club rested in the ability for so many different students' voices to be heard through their projects.


Early in the OMET program I developed my Action Research Project Plan. I decided transforming Tech Club into a more inclusive group would be the goal of my Action Research. Of the issues facing elementary education, why was inclusion so important for me and the focus of my actions during the past year? Past Tech Club projects in which boys were the only participants had been successful, so why was it important that girls participate in Tech Club? Would student on the Autism Spectrum benefit from being included in Tech Club? How would the boys already in Tech Club grow by being part of a more inclusive learning community?

Last year a single fourth grade girl participated in Tech Club but did not complete the project that she started. I knew that I wanted more girls to participate in Tech Club. I earned a minor in education in the 1990s, when remedying girls exclusion in education was a primary focus of educational reform. Considering the lack of participation by girls in Tech Club, I wondered if schools failed to teach girls digital literacy. Was the way I attempted to teach digital literacy non-engaging for girls? Were the projects not the type in which a girl would be interested? Some of the best projects in past years involved girls' important contributions: one wrote the script for the first stop-motion film, another designed the sets. What made these girls want to participate in these particular projects? My Literature Review made me reconsider the way in which I taught digital literacy to girls. Successful transformation of Tech Club required listening to the voices of girls, letting them collaborate and be given choice in how their project was created and concluded. Transformation required changing most of the way Tech Club worked, from collaborating more on projects to encouraging students to form new working relationships

I was interested in including students on the Autism Spectrum in Tech Club because the elementary school started an Autism Spectrum program three years ago in response to the increasing number of students in the district who were on the Autism Spectrum. The program placed importance on inclusion of the student in the classroom, with additional services available in the Spectrum classroom. The students' primary social interactions and opportunities were very insular. There were structured social situations, which are extremely important for Autistic students, but they existed within the Spectrum classroom. There were few opportunities for Autistic students to interact with typical students and for each to discover what the others are as people. One student from the program had already sought me out early in the school year after the previous male teacher who headed the Spectrum program moved to a different state. I realized the important growth this student had made in socializing and wanted to provide him additional opportunities to interact with his peers while giving him the support of an adult that he craved. I also saw technology as a means by which these students could better communicate and share their imaginations and emotions. Henry made stop-motion films in the past, and composed music in GarageBand last year. I saw the potential of Henry becoming a leader in Tech Club because of his existing digital literacy, and opportunities for Henry to help his peers build their digital literacy through collaborative work. I also saw the possibility of including other students from the Spectrum program in Tech Club. There they could interact socially with their peers in structured, supportive environments. Their communication differences might be mitigated by their use of technology to create digital projects. Digital literacy might level the playing field for these students.

While inclusion was important for me, I worried that changes to Tech Club's projects might affect boys' participation. Was I going to drive away the existing members in my efforts to recruit more girls and students on the Autism Spectrum? Or was I transforming Tech Club into a learning environment that would be beneficial to boys, too? Tech Club could change the way boys worked with other and technology. Instead of dominating, boys could learn to share and collaborate. Tech Club might offer boys a place where they could explore aesthetic choice. Importantly, Tech Club might offer boys chances to create collaborative working relationships. The benefits of an inclusive Tech Club would help boys to become more collaborative in their digital literacy.

I spent time pondering my role in Tech Club. Was I an instructor or a facilitator? In the past I acted as an instructor, directing the stop-motion film, leading students through worksheets that taught them how to use a computer application. Where was I for my efforts? No girls were participating. The projects the boys created were excellent, but did they feel they had ownership of the projects? If I ceded control of running Tech Club and let the students dictate the flow, content, and destination of a particular project, would the projects be more authentic? Were girls looking for authenticity and ownership in their technology projects? Would scaffolding the students allow them to make the choices they deemed important in creating their work but allow them support and guidance in order to develop and refine their digital literacy?

The role of technology in Tech Club was too central and affected girls' participation. Yet Autistic students who were interested in technology might be more inclined to participate knowing they would get to use computers and other technologies. My views on how technology should be taught changed as a result of my Action Research. Technology was not the focus of our projects, but it was used in every step of the process. Tech Club projects were focused on working independently and collaboratively to produce works of knowledge that demonstrated the students' digital literacy. Students captured their photos using digital cameras, edited and titled them using shared laptops, built web pages to display them on the internet also using laptops, and shared them at a public exhibition and on the schools intranet. Technology played a role in each step of the process, but the choices and the products the students created were the focus of everyone's efforts. The role of technology in Tech Club became more transparent this year.

I came into the OMET program digitally literate. During the application process I expressed concern that I might not be challenged because I already knew how to build a web site, record a podcast, or make a digital film. I was assured that I would face many new challenges that promoted personal growth and would develop me as a leader. The program allowed me to build additional digital literacy and refine my skills. However, the most important personal transformation I underwent as a result of the program and my work was how I changed my views about why technology was important and how these views affected my actions.

I learned this year to understand that technology is an empowering way of providing students with different means of communicating. The work that students produced this year caught the disparate voices of all the students who participated, both literally through the podcasts they created to the figurative narrative that Larry captured using stop-motion film and Lego. Students like Paul were given leadership positions and scaffolded in order to work collaboratively and create a stunning work of student film. Students like Larry literally developed his voice through the songs he sang or stories he read and used technology to capture and perform. Girls could capture their imaginations through their creative use of film, they could transform themselves into queens or dragons. Technology gave these students myriad communication possibilities because they were allowed to make choices about how they wanted to capture their imaginations and because the technology and their digital literacy provided them differentiated and powerful means of communicating.

I conclude the OMET program with a different view of how I should facilitate students to build digital literacy and with a new reason for placing such importance on these skills. Students of tomorrow must have the digital literacy necessary to make their voices heard in the modern world. They must be equipped with the means to affect change in their lives and communities. Tech Club started these students on this path. The skills they built this year would be taken back to their classrooms and applied to different lessons. Their digital literacy would affect their actions in their lives and would allow them to be effective communicators in the modern world. My future work with students will value collaboration, technology as a means of communication, and inclusion. I feel my work has affected myself and others; this is the purpose of Action Research.


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