Project Spotlight: Digital East St. Louis

Project Spotlight: Digital East St. Louis

Friday, April 14, 2017

STELAR had the opportunity to catch up with Sharon Locke of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville for the Digital East St. Louis: An Urban Place-Based Learning Model to Promote Information Technology and Computer Science Career Interests of Minority Youth project. The Digital East St. Louis project is a longitudinal study of a cohort of 50 middle school students is examining the potential for digital humanities to increase interest in computing and IT careers among urban, minority students. The main goal of this Strategies project is to experiment with new content and methods for engaging students who are underrepresented in STEM fields in the computing sciences via a place-based curriculum that asks students critical questions about the environment and culture of their own region.

Can you share how your ITEST project impacts youth? 

We are using longitudinal mixed-methods research to understand project impacts. As part of the study we designed a survey to measure changes in student perceptions for four sub-scales: community, technology, education/career, and digital humanities. Analysis of the Summer 2016 student surveys showed an increase in the means of all four subscales, with a significant increase in the technology scale, t (13) = 4.88, p < 0.001. In interviews with our researchers, students described gaining competence with technology tools used in the program. Overall, participation is associated with students’ positive perceptions of their knowledge and skills with technology, which is a primary goal of the ITEST program.

What excites you most about the work you do every day?

The Digital East St. Louis project draws on expertise in STEM, youth development and learning, education research, digital humanities, African American studies, history, and political science. It is the most diverse team I have ever participated on, and there is great enthusiasm and commitment among all of us to facilitate students’ learning and interest in technology and computing careers. Observing students’ progress and deepening understanding of the practical applications of computing skills is very rewarding.

What do you think is the most important learning in this area based on your project work to-date?

We have learned about the importance of constant attention to recruitment and retention, especially in a community where out-of-school STEM learning opportunities historically have been very limited. We have developed a structured approach to reminding students and parents about upcoming events, working with the media to increase awareness of the project, and highlighting the accomplishments of participants.

What strategies have you found most effective for sharing your project’s work and findings with broader audiences?

We think it is very important to share the project’s work in the East St. Louis community. We have had three community showcases where students present the digital products they have created. As an example, last summer students produced oral history podcasts based on interviews with seniors in the community. Students then presented the podcasts to a large group at the senior center and provided CDs to all the people who were interviewed.

Learn more about Digital East St. Louis on the project's website: