In my life, it has been the small difficulties and hardships that have helped me become aware of others' difficulties. In order to facilitate an understanding of my purpose, it is helpful to understand that there is a single uniting element for seemingly diverse threads. Namely, I am interested in researching and implementing Free and Open Source technologies in schools and facilitating cognition and learning in second language learners through the use of cognitive tools and algorithmic thinking.
My first personal computer was an IBM 8088 with a black and white display outdated by ten years. I explored its limits. I wanted to tinker with the installed programs and learn how they worked; however, I could not - they were pre-compiled binaries. Sadly, I was limited in the programs I could use, because so few could be found or afforded for my computer. Later, in my first year at the University of Texas, I gained access to the internet and was able to access storehouses of knowledge and many Free and Open Source programs.
After teaching abroad for several years, I returned to the US and taught in a small rural school. The school had a very limited budget. As a result, the information technology resources were limited. More disappointing, they were unnecessarily limited. The school had a Mac lab with modern hardware; however, Mac support licenses required for updates could not be afforded. As a result, a school with limited funds had 30 computers that could not be used due to exorbitant licensing fees. Fortunately, I was able to return functionality to the computers through the installation of the Free and Open Source operating system Ubuntu.
Soon, I began working in a larger district which could provide more technology to its students. Indeed, it was common for teachers to require students to use PowerPoint or Publisher to complete assignments outside of class, programs which many students could not afford. My students were all English language learners and the majority came from low-income backgrounds. Many of them had been provided computers from the school; however, they were unable to use them meaningfully, as they were unable to connect to the internet or afford software. The students struggled as a result, were unable to complete assignments, and their grades suffered.
Seeing the impact of the digital divide motivated me to take action. I founded a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to refurbish older computers and applied for a grant to establish a wireless mesh network in a low-income neighborhood where many of my students lived. I worked together with my students, who are primarily recent immigrants, to create and manage the mesh network. The students created patch cables, wireless antennae, and learned some basics of Linux and networking.
With additional grant funding, we built a 'freedom toaster' to provide CDs with Free and Open Source software in the school library. Working with the students, I saw them respond very positively to engaging with technology at a deeper level. This encouraged me to provide basic instruction in the Python programming language to recent immigrants during the summer and instruction in the visual programming language Alice during the school year.
Collaborating with students in using Linux and working with the GNU/Linux community inspired me to conduct research. I and a fellow educational technology graduate student conducted quantitative and qualitative research investigating the role of legitimate peripheral participation in learning within the context of the GNU/Linux community. The research consisted of an online survey completed by 4603 respondents and semi-structured interviews with ten respondents. Through the process I have learned more about research. I have learned how to better craft questions to facilitate parsing data, how to organize data to make it more conducive to analysis, and the basics of SPSS and the R statistical programming language.
My experiences with students, technology, my own research, and my school's implementation of technology has influenced my goals. I will work to provide students with meaningful and affordable access to technology that will improve their learning. In narrowing my goals, I consider three important criteria which schools rely on for implementing curricula or technology: 1) Is it research based? 2) Is it affordable/sustainable? And 3) How difficult will it be to implement?
Therefore, I would like to research effective uses of Free and Open Source technology in education. The research will provide schools with a knowledge base for considering FOSS alternatives. Developing pedagogy and technology with a Free and Open Source license will allow schools to adapt the programs to their needs and share with schools that are most in need of affordable technology. Further, developing curricula and materials in the context of a research study will provide schools a easier path to recommendation and implementation of FOSS solutions.
One specific example is related to STEM research. Recently, I read research regarding the positive impact of Lego Mindstorms robotics in sheltered English classrooms. Unfortunately, Lego Mindstorms are not economically feasible for many ESL programs. I researched but did not find comparable Free and Open Source materials. I did discover the NetLogo programming environment. NetLogoLab provides a user friendly interface to work with the Free and Open Source GoGo board robotics hardware. I believe working to research and develop STEM instruction utilizing the GoGo board will benefit many students.
Additionally, I would like to examine the use of regular expressions to develop cognition, examine the scaffolding of algorithmic thinking in recent immigrants, or research the use of altered reality simulations to improve learning. Developing cognition and scaffolding algorithmic thinking in recent immigrants (especially those at the high school level) will help them better face the challenges of acquiring a second language while learning content area concepts. The use of altered reality simulations with GPS enabled mobile computing devices may prove very helpful in scaffolding learning for a great variety of students with diverse needs.
I look forward to researching, implementing, and providing affordable, sustainable Free and Open Source technology to school districts.