Welcome to this month’s theme on ethnography in education research! From the promise of radio learning nearly a century ago, to the recent hype around One Laptop Per Child, to the current excitement around massive open online courses (MOOCs), education has been a site of constant reform efforts – or, as education researcher Larry Cuban puts it, “tinkering.” While using “big data” to evaluate these reforms has its allure (and can be useful in ethnographic research, as Jenna and Ayman have shown us in previous posts), ethnography is unique in being able to dig below the surface and uncover the complicated processes and contingent effects of education and education reform.
This month’s authors highlight how ethnography can uncover unexpected results or answer difficult questions about some of the thorniest problems in education reform, especially the persistence of various kinds of inequality. Our first article, by Christo Sims (@christosims), tackled this question head-on in an ethnography of a technology-focused public school in New York that inexplicably had many of its less advantaged students transfer out. With his research, Christo was able to say why this was happening and what it means for other efforts for digital inclusion.
Coming up next, we will hear from Ricarose Roque (@ricarose), who is working to break down some of the stubborn gender, racial, and socioeconomic divides in computer science and bring the programming environment Scratch to a more diverse community. She will talk about some of the unexpected benefits parents experienced in the qualitative focus groups she has been conducting as part of her research.
Later in the month, Sheila Frye (@sheila_frye) will tell us about her research on interactive eBooks, which promote active reading habits – a crucial part of literacy – to children who may not learn this skill otherwise. Sheila uses ethnography to take a close look at both the benefits and the potential drawbacks of interactive eBooks. Her enthusiasm for ethnographic methods is infectious; she is one of the few graduate students we know who LOVES her dissertation work!
Aaminah Norris (@aaminahm) examines the links between ‘critical literacies’ and ‘design thinking’ in the classroom, and how teachers and students use both to negotiate their transnational, racialized and gender identities. Here, she will discuss a particular professional training session that teachers participated in, focused on diversity. Aaminah also takes a reflexive look at diversity in education based on her own experiences as a qualitative researcher of color.
Then, Alexander Cho (@alexcho47) will explore the lived experience of economically disadvantaged and minority high school students who are attending a low-income high school, sandwiched between freeways and strip malls, in the midst of a wealthy suburb of Texas. His group’s ethnographic exploration brings home the importance of experiences of place – both school and neighborhood – to what it means to be “suburban poor,” a phenomenon that is quickly becoming a defining feature of American cities.
As our final guest author, Chelsey Hauge (@chelseyhauge) provides a perspective on ethnography in education outside of the United States with her fascinating account of doing ethnographic research on a youth radio organization in Nicaragua – while also running the program. She shows us that her deep entanglements with the program were an asset, not a liability, and invites us to reflect on the entanglements that any ethnographic research necessarily creates.
We’ll finish off a month with an interview of education, ethnography, and digital inclusion with Mizuko ‘Mimi’ Ito (@mizuko). Mimi has some impressive experience with the topics covered this month: she is the Research Director at the Digital Media and Learning Hub, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning, and a Professor in Anthropology and Informatics at UC Irvine (after getting two PhDs from Stanford). And she is as kind and generous as she is brilliant. We look forward to sharing her insights with you to round out this month’s special edition on ethnography in education.
So as you can see, we have a stellar lineup to explore just how important an ethnographic approach is in education research, especially for really understanding and overcoming issues of inequality. Stay tuned!