CAREER: Advancing Technological Fluency of Underrepresented Youth and their Teachers through Project-Based Learning Opportunities

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Examination of the “digital divide” has increasingly gone beyond the study of differences in physical access to computers to focus on individuals’ use of technological tools for empowered and generative uses. This research focuses on expanding what we know about students’ access, interest, and experiences with new technologies—with an emphasis on identifying barriers to equity as well as revealing learning resources. This project examines how levels of fluency are distributed in communities that differ with respect to economic and social capital. Survey and interview work has been carried out with a large and diverse group of students across socio-economic strata in California’s Silicon Valley region to investigate their access to, and interest in, various kinds of learning opportunities.


Data is collected in schools, homes, community centers, and summer camps.

Research Design: 

This research uses a combination of methods include ethnography, comparative studies, and design based research. For example, in a comparative study of more and less affluent communities I used a mixed method design. Surveys are used to collect data from large samples. Based on survey responses smaller samples of students are selected for further data collection. Interviews with students and their parents are carried out to provide qualitative data that inform the quantitative analysis. In a design based study the research was focused on the creation of a game design curriculum. Data were collected using personal observation, videography, paper and pencil survey, and structured and semi-structured face-to-face interviews. The researchers use analysis of variance and regression to analyze survey data and coding systems to analyze our interview data.


In one study, 160 eighth-grade learners from two public middle schools reported on their prior experience with technological fluency-building activities and their access to learning resources. The local communities represented by the two schools differed in parent education levels, proportion of recent immigrants, and average family income. Findings indicated substantial variability in history of fluency-building experiences within both communities. Three sets of analyses were completed. Three sets of analyses were completed. First, the two school populations were compared with respect to average levels of student experience, access to tools at home, use of learning resources, frequency of use, and access to computing outside of their home. Second, correlates of variability in the breadth of experience with fluency building activities were explored across both schools through a regression analysis which indicated that students’ experience is best predicted by the number of technology tools available at home, number of learning resources used, frequency of computer use at home, and non-home access network size. In a third analysis, profiles of experience were created based on both breadth and depth of experience and the resulting four groups of students were compared. More experienced students utilized a broader range of learning resources, had access to more tools at home, taught a wider range of people, and were more confident in their computing skills. The groups did not differ in their self-reports of engagement in learning about technology.

Publications & Presentations: 

Barron, B. (2004). Learning ecologies for technological fluency: Gender and experience differences. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 31(1), 1-36.

Barron. B. (2006). Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecologies perspective. Human Development, 49, 193-224.

Barron, B. (2006). Configurations of learning settings and networks: Implications of a learning ecology perspective. Human Development, 49, 229-231.

Barron, B., Martin, C., & Roberts, E. (2006). Sparking self-sustained learning: Lessons from a design experiment to build technological fluency and bridge divides. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 17, 1, 75-105.

Mercier, E., Barron, B., O’Conner, K. (2006). Images of self and others as computer users: the role of gender and experience. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22, 1-14.

Barron, B., Martin, C., Takeuchi, L., Fithian, R. (Accepted). Parents as learning partners in the development of technological fluency. To appear in the International Journal of Learning and Media.

Other Products: 

The researchers have survey instruments and coding systems that will be shared.