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Is There Service in Computing Service Learning?

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Is There Service in Computing Service Learning?

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Presentation for my talk at SIGCSE 2012.

Abstract is as follows: A variety of researchers have advocated for service learning projects in post-secondary computing programs. While these projects can achieve important disciplinary outcomes for the students, what has been under examined is the benefit that these projects have for the service recipients and their community. This paper argues that since service learning projects are meant to benefit both student donors and community recipients, we must examine much more carefully how computing service projects interact with all the social actors affected by the projects. Taking such an approach will require recognizing that ICT by itself will not improve or increase democracy, equality, social inclusion, or any other social good. Analogous to the experience of foreign aid recipients in the developing world, some service learning projects may actually do more harm than good. The paper concludes by providing some sample computer learning projects that are oriented more strongly towards achieving true service for the recipients.

Presentation for my talk at SIGCSE 2012.

Abstract is as follows: A variety of researchers have advocated for service learning projects in post-secondary computing programs. While these projects can achieve important disciplinary outcomes for the students, what has been under examined is the benefit that these projects have for the service recipients and their community. This paper argues that since service learning projects are meant to benefit both student donors and community recipients, we must examine much more carefully how computing service projects interact with all the social actors affected by the projects. Taking such an approach will require recognizing that ICT by itself will not improve or increase democracy, equality, social inclusion, or any other social good. Analogous to the experience of foreign aid recipients in the developing world, some service learning projects may actually do more harm than good. The paper concludes by providing some sample computer learning projects that are oriented more strongly towards achieving true service for the recipients.

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Is There Service in Computing Service Learning?

  1. 1. Is There Service in Is There Service in Computing Service Learning? Randy Connolly Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada
  2. 2. My Theme? “Good intentions may do as much harm may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding ” lack understanding.
  3. 3. One of the most heartening developments in the educational pedagogy of the 1990s was the ( ) (re)discovery of service learning y g
  4. 4. service learning is a “ Teaching and learning strategy that g g gy integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, i h h l i i teach civic responsibility, p y, and strengthen communities.”
  5. 5. Service learning has been widely and enthusiastically adopted h i i ll d d in the United States.
  6. 6. More than half of all high schools and over 900 higher education institutions in the United States use service learning in their curriculum.
  7. 7. In the past decade, a wide variety of service-learning i f i l i experiments in computing education h d ti have b been reported. t d
  8. 8. Purported Benefits? Students are able to “experience a real IT environment,” that they are “able to add this experience to their resumes,” and …
  9. 9. that students can f l d b “feel good about … [their] contribution. contribution.”
  10. 10. What is often under argued under-argued is the benefit to the community in computing service learning.
  11. 11. It is typically assumed in bli h d i published accounts on computing service learning i i l i that by providing free labor for a non-profit organization, p g , service learning projects are by definition of benefit to the recipients.
  12. 12. This presentation will provide some critiques of thi stance. iti f this t
  13. 13. Will argue that, analogous to the experience encountered by foreign aid recipients in the developing world, p g some service-learning projects may, despite the best f i b of intentions, actually i ll be harmful for the recipients and/or their surrounding community.
  14. 14. Categorizing Categorizing Computing Computing Service Learning
  15. 15. A wide variety of practices have been grouped under the service-learning umbrella
  16. 16. Furco, A. 2002. “Is Service-Learning Really Better than Community Service?” Service-Learning: The Essence of the Pedagogy. g g gy
  17. 17. True service learning, according to Furco’s continuum, is the Furco s attempt to balance the approaches of the other two so that both the community recipient and the student provider receive roughly equal benefits.
  18. 18. So where do most reported computing service learning programs fall in this continuum?
  19. 19. It is this paper’s contention that there is a definite tendency toward adopting the internship approach with its emphasis on pp p student learning.
  20. 20. This type of service-learning is really not that different from traditional forms of experiential learning such as co-ops, work- g p, terms, and real-world capstone projects.
  21. 21. Of course there is nothing wrong with such a student driven student-driven purpose.
  22. 22. One of the key hopes motivating the adoption of service-learning is that the student will gain some type of civic-mindedness through his or her service l i learning experience. i i
  23. 23. Using the terminology of sociology and political science, many advocates of service learning have argued that it will increase the social capital of the participating students as well as broaden participation with, and deepen the commitment to the surrounding civil society.
  24. 24. Most computing service-learning service learning programs examined for this paper do attempt to satisfy the civic goals of service l f i learning b selecting i by l ti recipients within the non-profit sector.
  25. 25. Reported non-profit recipients in the computing service learning literature include: schools or other education organizations, governments, charitable organizations, and the developing world. Typical reported service projects are websites, databases and b it d t b d hardware or software support.
  26. 26. Where, then, do these types of free computer consulting projects for non- non profit organizations fall on the service continuum?
  27. 27. Finding the Finding the Service in Computing Service S i Learning
  28. 28. The existing computer service learning literature appears to have a very strong emphasis on the perceived student benefits.
  29. 29. This is not uncommon
  30. 30. Abes, Jackson, and James found in their review of the wider service learning literature that the main motivation for teachers and faculty in d i i adopting service l i learning i the i is h perception that it improves student learning.
  31. 31. Maybach observed that “in reality, the current paradigm of service learning is focused of service learning is focused almost exclusively on the growth of the individual student providers” id ” and that the “effects of the service provided, however, are very rarely however are very rarely researched.”
  32. 32. Butin in his evaluation of K-16 service programs more strongly claims that i id bl l “there is considerably less “th evidence that service learning has provided much benefit for the provided much benefit for the recipients.”
  33. 33. What about with computer service learning?
  34. 34. Almost without exception, all the computing papers examined in my paper assume (directly or indirectly) that by providing free computer consulting work f non-profit li k for fi organizations, they are, by definition providing a valuable community service. i
  35. 35. This is perhaps an unsurprising assumption
  36. 36. We computing professionals and professors often make the assumption that ICT is and hence providing ultimately a social good free ICT consulting is by definition a social good as well
  37. 37. This assumption lies at the heart of the computing service learning literature.
  38. 38. It substantially ignores the complexities involved in the interrelationship between computing technology and the social world in which i i embedded. hi h it is b dd d
  39. 39. In the messy real world, what might seem beneficial to a profit or non- profit organization might not be beneficial to all its employees or its clients.
  40. 40. For instance, what might seem beneficial to an organization at time0 might not be so at timeN after on-going support costs are factored i the cost-benefit f d into h b fi equation.
  41. 41. The real costs of a web site, like with any software , y development project lie not in its initial development but in its ongoing maintenance and support.
  42. 42. Student-created web sites can also shift the agencies limited resources agencies’ away from their main organizational purpose to instead support and upgrade the new technological d h h l i l system.
  43. 43. As Cameron noted, rather “than enhancing the shelter’s ability to service its constituency, the student placements actually th t d t l t t ll drain the organization’s resources. resources.”
  44. 44. Even when the provision of free software to a non-profit organization benefits the organization, it might not benefit its h b f employees or its clients.
  45. 45. Reisner describes a service learning project in which the students created a mobile application to be used by visitors to an arboretum. While this project may indeed have been beneficial to the arboretum and its clients, what was left clients unexamined was …
  46. 46. … the effect this student service project might have had on the arboretum’s employees or volunteers in that existing tour guides potentially may h i ll have bbeen made d redundant and unnecessary due to the new software.
  47. 47. Finally, providing free ICT work might benefit an organization but hurt the wider community.
  48. 48. Service learning projects that provide computing to less developed de eloped areas …
  49. 49. … may actually undermine local expertise by depressing local price conditions and thereby make it difficult for local startups to economically compete against the i ll i h free SL options.
  50. 50. Interestingly, this is a frequently observed effect of certain types of foreign aid aid.
  51. 51. In the 1950s and 1960s, so-called modernization theory was the dominant paradigm in international economics, comparative political science, as well as across a variety i ll i of international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank.
  52. 52. Modernization project supporters believed that countries in the less developed world could “catch up catch up” to those in the developed world through the injection of modern technology.
  53. 53. Unfortunately modernization theory ended up being a failed project project, both academically and in terms of real-world outcomes.
  54. 54. The typical technology injections of the 1950s and 1960s tended to reinforce existing power relations and thereby had little impact on improving the relative i b l i i h l i imbalance between the developed and non- developed world.
  55. 55. They failed in short because supplying technology is not the solution to problems of inequality, poverty, i j ti etc. t injustice, t
  56. 56. It is this paper’s contention that when we blithely assume that providing free computer help to non-profit organizations is by definition a social and community good, we are i l d i d making an analogous error to the modernization planners of the 1950s and 1960s.
  57. 57. If we are interested in truly providing services that benefit the recipients, the first step towards that goal should be the jettisoning of this belief b li f …
  58. 58. …and replacing it with a more sophisticated and contemporary social theory, one that recognizes that technologies exist within an institutional d i l i i i l and social context and it is this context that determines how or if new technologies alter power relationships and social structures.
  59. 59. the method for creating true computing service projects is not to inject ICT into non-profit organizations, but instead to carefully study the social structures f ll d h i l and the relationships within and between the organization and its surrounding social actors beforehand.
  60. 60. That is, we need to see how ICT is might be used to make the organization, its employees, and its community more equitable, just, and socially inclusive.
  61. 61. This will require that those setting up computer service learning projects focus quite a bit less on student disciplinary learning outcomes andd focus quite a bit more on achieving true service for all the recipient social actors involved in the service project.
  62. 62. Adding True g Service
  63. 63. It has been this paper’s contention that many of the reported service learning projects may perhaps unwittingly not always be beneficial for i h h f either the service recipient or the i i i h broader community.
  64. 64. As well, by focusing almost exclusively on disciplinary student outcomes, these computing service learning projects have not realized the potential transformative effect h i l f i ff of service learning.
  65. 65. Robinson notes that service learning programs that are limited to short- short term work in non-profit organizations provides “poor training for critical citizenship, political reasoning, or citizenship political reasoning or social transformation.”
  66. 66. Niemi et al in their evaluation of the political and participatory impact of high school service learning found that the hoped-for long-term civic mindedness outcome was only i d d l achieved when service learning was prefaced with political and social contextualization and when the service work was explicitly tied to political or social justice goals. liti l i l j ti l
  67. 67. Various service learning researchers outside of computing have argued that successful service learning projects need to move beyond service l i learning as charity and i h i d instead embrace service learning as justice.
  68. 68. Such an advocacy orientation might, at first glance, seem too political for glance a computer science course.
  69. 69. Goldweber et al have argued that computing students are very much motivated by a desire to benefit society and that explicitly embracing that desire may in reality b i h d i i li be a key way to increase enrollments in computing disciplines.
  70. 70. Just because we are “only” computing professionals it doesn t professionals, doesn’t mean that such an explicit social justice approach cannot be added to our service l i learning projects. i j
  71. 71. Twenty years ago teaching ethics was considered the exclusive purview of philosophy d i f hil h departments t t and yet today almost 90% of computer science programs include computing ethics instruction and that instruction is l i t ti i almost always provided t l id d by computer science faculty.
  72. 72. Simply by prefacing computing service learning projects with instruction in the complexities between technology and society b t t h l d i t and
  73. 73. by showing how computing can s ow g ow co pu g ca improve or distort power relations between individuals, groups, and institutions there is a chance
  74. 74. that our students will gain more than just disciplinary computing outcomes from their service learning experience.
  75. 75. Similarly
  76. 76. if we are going to make use of service learning projects, we, as teachers need to pay closer attention to the social and political outcomes of such projects and
  77. 77. perhaps only approve of ones that are oriented more explicitly to maximizing social justice for a wider range of community actors.
  78. 78. One way that this can be accomplished is by reversing or integrating the recipient and provider roles, an approach that has been used successfully in some h b d f ll i innovative service programs.
  79. 79. Rather than treat non-profit organizations as clients for computing consulting, why not, for instance, have homeless individuals teach our students about the h d b h difficulties of finding vital government and charitable services in the new internet- and mobile-only environment when one doesn’t own a cell phone or a computer. ll h t
  80. 80. The students could then work with the homeless to show them how to find free internet-enabled computing and how to use web search for locating those services services. Alternately, the students could set up those services via an informational kiosk in a homeless shelter; the students would also work together with the shelter s shelter’s clients so that they could themselves operate the kiosk in the future.
  81. 81. In this type of so called so-called border-crossing service- learning project, the student is i lt i simultaneously l l learning i from as well as empowering the recipient.
  82. 82. Another type of justice-oriented yp j service project might be one in which the student works with people who have become unemployed due to ICT-enabled outsourcing.
  83. 83. The recipient can teach the student about the social reality of ICT advances, while the student can help the recipient by, for instance, together setting up an online h i li resume/portfolio and making use of online job boards.
  84. 84. Another example of a border- crossing service project would be one in which students collaborate with employees working within environments i which the employees i in hi h h l are being electronically monitored.
  85. 85. Once again, students could learn from the recipients about the potentially disciplinary nature of ICT advances and then help the recipients i setting up encryption i i in i i systems on their personal computer devices or how to make use of free online services that are less vulnerable to employee monitoring
  86. 86. This last example is of course potentially quite controversial since employers have legal, and often legitimate reasons for electronically monitoring their employees; i i h i l nonetheless, working with such a luminal case may provide the most important lessons in the civic implications of real-world computing
  87. 87. Setting up these types of computer service learning projects would be significantly more challenging than the usual ICT projects for non-profit organizations. i i
  88. 88. As Mitchell notes, involving students in social change projects is more difficult than traditional internship- style approaches and that professors f
  89. 89. “may need to work outside traditional non profits and traditional non‐profits and community‐based organizations to partner with groups actively working to change systems and ki t h t d structures.”
  90. 90. Conclusion
  91. 91. It is this paper’s contention that computing service learning has been too preoccupied with the students’ attainment of disciplinary outcomes.
  92. 92. One of the consequences of this p preoccupation has been a lack of p critical awareness of the effect that computing projects have on their recipients. recipients
  93. 93. By re-orienting computing service learning towards the community recipients in a social-justice manner, our students can actually make a positive diff i i difference to their h i community as well as transform their understanding of the social implications of computing.
  94. 94. Finally, without “an accountability for or an understanding of the for or an understanding of the needs of the individuals in the urban community, the effects of service‐learning projects may i l i j t indeed be viewed as malevolent by the very individuals whose by the very individuals whose lives the service was intended to enhance, despite the best of intentions. intentions ”
  95. 95. This is an outcome we must strive to avoid.
  96. 96. Randy Connolly Dept. Computer Science & Information Systems Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada rconnolly@mtroyal.ca @

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