Study Explores Tech Impact on African-American Families
George Mason University professor Kevin Clark is certain that African-American youth in low- and middle-income communities can enhance their education and even change their lives through the use of technology.
That belief was the basis for his groundbreaking study that examines how such youth and parents use technology to learn outside of normal educational environments.
The study — The Digital Lives of African American Tweens, Teens, and Parents: Innovation and Learning with Technology — conducted with Kimberly Scott of Arizona State University and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been reported on by Politico, Education Week, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, and Ebony magazine.
“The reason we came up with this grant was to paint a picture of how African American families are using technology, and not just how much,” says Clark, a professor in Mason’s Division of Learning Technologies in the College of Education and Human Development and director of Mason’s Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity.
“A lot of research says, oh, the kids spend a certain number of hours on media, or they watch TV five hours a day,” says Clark, who presented his findings at an event sponsored by Common Sense Media on Capitol Hill. “We wanted to dig deeper and get a sense of what they were doing during that time. What’s the interaction between members of the family and the household? What role does the community as a whole play?”
The study surveyed more than 1,000 African Americans, ages 11 to 17. Its most revealing finding was that while 87 percent said they were confident in their basic computer knowledge, and many wanted to learn advanced technology skills, they were less likely to learn from their peers and parents. That might be because they don’t have the knowledge and must learn from people outside the community or, perhaps, not learn at all.
“It illustrates the significance of a proximal, supportive learning ecosystem comprising parents, teachers, community members, the creators of technology and its users,” Clark says. “It also makes evident that focusing on teens as end-users is insufficient. Families and communities should be provided with the educational and technology resources that enable them to play a role.”