Teaching With Tech Equity in Mind

An Oakland-based nonprofit empowers low-income youth of color with technology skills.

What do Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter all have in common? Aside from being some of the biggest tech companies in the world, they primarily employ white men. Criticism has been swift regarding the lack of racial and gender diversity in tech companies. Hack the Hood, a nonprofit in Oakland, California, has moved beyond criticism by working to make the future of tech more representative of the people who use it.

Youth of color are “already using platforms,” says Zakiya Harris, chief education officer at Hack the Hood. “They're already on social media. They're already techies. We're just empowering them with skills and expanding the lens, so they can really leverage it as creators and not assistants.”

Hack the Hood empowers youth with technology skills by having them act as tech consults to local nonprofits and teaching them coding and programing. These skills provide them with a knowledge base that increases access to careers in the tech industry. For its efforts in addressing digital and tech equity, Hack the Hood won Google’s 2014 Bay Area Impact Challenge.

“We empower our young people with the skills, as well as mentors, and we go on field trips and develop relationships with the tech industry so we can figure out: What learning do our young people need to have to really start engaging in different opportunities in tech more?” Harris says. “Also, what learning has to happen on behalf of the tech industry to really start opening up the door to reach a diverse audience? It's a two-way street.”

One of Hack the Hood’s chief goals is helping students see themselves as agents in the world of technology. Even the organization’s name reflects that goal, though Harris admits the name has been a bit “controversial.”

“At the same time, the word hack just means to make something better. In that sense, Hack the Hood really represents a holistic way of making our communities better, through the individual person as well as through local companies,” she explains.

This goal of community improvement through technology is something teachers can assist in, too. Schools and programs such as Hack the Hood can capitalize on students’ tech-savvy skills, teach them how to take ownership and build off their creativity.

“I think [teachers] need to understand that [technology] is a tool like any other tool,” Harris says. “They have to figure out how to leverage it for whatever subject matter they're teaching.”

Educators looking to follow suit by helping students navigate avenues to STEM careers can do so by finding opportunities in their classroom and lessons. For example, a school can introduce coding, website creation and programming into existing computer course curricula. But there are other ways that an early introduction to technology can facilitate increased engagement. Educators—even in the early grades—can make it a point to facilitate classroom conversations about technology in relation to their subjects—whether is it English or chemistry.

Looking for other ways to bring technology into the classroom? Read our article on using social media at school.

Williams is an intern at Teaching Tolerance.

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