Monday, November 02, 2015

Diversity in Tech via profits, political activism, new technologies, and philanthropy ,Part 4 -- Do our current strategies scale???)

Last update: Thursday 3/3/16

The subtitle of this fourth and final part of my discussion asks the crucial question: Do our current diversity-in-tech strategies scale??? Here are a few statistics from the U.S. Department of Education that suggest how high we will have to scale up from where we are now.   

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 Part 4

A. Scope of the challenge
  • According to one of the U.S. Department of Education's Fast Facts -- Back to school statistics page, 7.7 million Black students were enrolled in public K-12 schools in the Fall 2015 semester. This page also states that 4.9 million students of all races were enrolled in private K-12 schools.  
  • The Fast Facts -- Public and private school comparison page informs us that in 2012 only 9 percent of the students enrolled in private K-12 schools were Black; so it's reasonable to assume that about 9 percent of the 4.9 million K-12 students were also Black in 2015, i.e., 441,000. In other words, well over 90 percent of America's Black children attend public K-12 schools.
  • The Fast Facts -- Back to school statistics page states that 14.7 percent of the nation's 20.2 million college students, i.e., 3.0 million, were Black.
  • The Fast Facts -- HBCUs page states that in 2011, HBCUs enrolled only 9 percent of the nation's 3.0 million Black college students, i.e, 270,000; the other 2.7 million Black students attended non-HBCUs
In summary, over 90 percent of the nation's Black K-12 students attend public schools and over 90 percent of the nation's Black college students attend non-HBCUs. So my general question about scalability requires more specific formulations: 
  • First, can the overlapping networks of peers, tutors, mentors, and role models (identified in Part 3 of this discussion) that enable the nation's 106 HBCUs to remain the most productive providers of undergraduate training  in STEM for their 270,000 Black students be implemented by the thousands of non-HBCUs that enroll the other 2.7 million Black collegians, and thereby enable the non-HBCUs to provide their Black students with more effective learning opportunities in STEM?
  • Second, can similar supportive networks be implemented by the emerging grass roots organizations -- e.g., Black Girls Code, Luma LabBLUE1647, weareci, YesWeCode, and Qeyno Labs --  that are attempting to provide alternative venues for the 7.7 million Black students enrolled in the nation's public K-12 schools to acquire coding and computational thinking skills? 
My short answer to both questions is: No. 
  • Most non-HBCUs have shown little or no inclination to establish HBCU-style support networks for their Black students. On the other hand, HBCUs have little or no chance of expanding their traditional face-to-face networks for their 270,000 on-campus students to support the additional 2.7 million Black students enrolled in non-HBCUs in the next ten or twenty years, nor have they shown interest in assuming this additional responsibility.
  • As for the grass roots organizations, their Websites, tweets, and articles written about them indicate that they are developing the same kinds of face-to-face support networks of peers, tutors, mentors, and role models as HBCUs. In the next 25 years, two cohorts of 7.7 million Black students will have been passed through the nation's public K-12 systems, i.e., 7.7 X 2 = 15.4 million Black students. And a third cohort of 7.7 million will be in place. Hence the grass roots organizations are confronting an even greater challenge than the HBCUs ... which makes their success all the more unlikely.
In Part 3 of this discussion I noted that Black students at HBCUs are "enmeshed" in their support networks, meaning: they are involved with supportive peers, tutors, mentors, and role models every day of their lives, not just in a few inspirational classes or workshops that meet every so often. Given the overbearing legacy of racism and discrimination that still weighs heavily on the shoulders of every Black student in this country, there is no reason to be optimistic that such an evil legacy can be overcome by most Black students with anything less than HBCU-style 7 by 24 by 365 involvement.

B. Leave No Black Students Behind

Let's be clear. Most of the Black Community's best and brightest collegians are doing OK in STEM programs at non-HBCUs, a/k/a "PWIs" -- especially those who are fortunate enough to be enrolled in programs offered by the nation's wealthiest and most prestigious colleges and universities. 

But what about the other 90 percent? Why should we leave them behind? How can we we pat ourselves on the backs if we help our best 10 percent, but ignore the needs of the other 90 percent? This kind of elitism is all the more unacceptable now because affordable technologies are within our grasp that could convert traditional face-to-face networks into scalable, online and blended networks that could support all of our students from K through college.

C. Social Media + Online and Blended Support Networks

I suspect that some, perhaps most of my readers have already anticipated where I'm heading. So I will ask them to be patient while I catch up and spell out the remaining details of this Big Picture.
  • The sudden emergence of MOOCs a few years ago -- Massive Open Online Courses -- made it possible for a few gifted teachers to reach large numbers of students anywhere and at anytime that was convenient for the students to learn
  • However, previous experience had already shown that courses that were 100 percent online required a greater capacity for studying for long periods of time in isolation than possessed by most students. Online courses also required stronger time management skills and higher motivation than the average student possessed
  • Fortunately, other studies have repeatedly found that "blended" courses -- courses wherein students spend part of their time learning online and part of their time in face-to-face contact with their instructors and other students -- were as effective and sometimes more effective than traditional face-to-face courses
  • Indeed, the resounding success of Khan Academy's vast array of online courses, the "original" MOOCs, was largely due to their use as supplements to traditional courses. Khan's short courses became places where students could go to clarify their understanding of materials covered by their traditional, face-to-face courses -- thereby converting their traditional courses into more effective blended formats.
  • Finally, in Part 1 of this discussion I noted that Facebook's triumphant announcement that 1 out 7 seven people on the planet had logged onto their Facebook account one day in August 2015 confirmed that social media was now capable of reaching "everyone". So why not use this powerful new medium, not just for amusement or news, but also for providing round-the-clock interactions and emotional support for students that could be more timely than traditional HBCU-style, face-to-face networks? Why not use Skype, Periscope, and other video components of social media as close substitutes for face-to-face encounters between students and their peers, tutors, mentors, and role models?
In summary, all of the pieces are in place to develop scalable, online and blended support networks that could be as effective as traditional, HBCU-style, face-to-face networks -- online for the most disciplined and motivated students, and blended for the rest. Now we just need to persuade a few "enlightened" philanthropists to invest the funds required to pull these pieces together into reliable, inexpensive, easy-to-use apps for smartphones and tablets. The good news is that innovative startups have already developed services that show "proof of concept" for some of these ideas. (For examples, see the Black Enterprise article, "6 Online Tutoring Sites You Should Know About")

We also need reliable primary nodes on the new support networks, i.e., the organizations that will implement the new technologies to connect Black students with their peers and with qualified tutors, mentors, and role models. In my opinion two choices are obvious:

  • Grass roots organizations for Black students in K-12
    The grass roots organizations are moving in the right direction. I just don't think they can reach their goals without scalable technologies.
  • HBCU support networks for Black college students enrolled in non-HBCUs
    With 50 to 150 years of experience under their belts, HBCUs know how to teach Black students better than anyone else. Quoting the United Negro College Fund, "The proof is in the productivity." Although most HBCUs are located in Southern states, they have alumni chapters all over the country that would enable their alums to support the on-site components of blended support programs. What most HBCUs lack is (a) sufficient technical expertise in the use of social media and online/blended delivery, and (b) commitment to extend their historic support for students on their own campuses to support for Black students at non-HBCUs. 

    Technical expertise could be acquired through training programs -- financed by "enlightened" philanthropists.

    The vast majority of HBCUs are small institutions that enroll less than 8,000 students. Hence the same debilitating downward pressures on all small U.S. institutions of higher learning nowadays -- especially rising costs and declining enrollments -- afflict most HBCUs. These general pressures are compounded by discriminatory forces that uniquely afflict Black institutions. Extending their historic missions to support Black students at non-HBCUs could therefore be a timely solution for HBCUs to an increasingly desperate situation. Substantial grants from "enlightened" philanthropists would facilitate this transformation.