Collaborative Research: Technology Education for Women in Transition
This project aims to broaden participation in STEM education among underserved populations through innovative and inclusive approaches to technology education. The project is designed to enhance knowledge and comfort with technology and develop computational thinking among women who were formerly incarcerated and are now seeking to reenter the workforce or adjust to their lives outside the criminal justice system ("women in transition") in the Midwest. While women have become the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population, prison education and reentry programs are not well prepared to respond to this influx. Women in transition are rarely exposed to STEM education and they are generally isolated from the digital world while in prison. Consequently, they face post-incarceration challenges in accessing and using rapidly changing digital technologies. Against this backdrop, this three-year technology education project will aim to help women in transition in Kansas and Missouri develop STEM skills relevant to job applications and post-incarceration adjustments. The project may serve as a template for building evidence-based workforce preparation efforts in informal settings, and the concurrent online peer networking and app development may also facilitate adaptation for and scaling to other regions and other similarly digitally disadvantaged populations. This project is funded by the AISL program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.
The project design is informed by the research team's past experiences offering technology education to women in transition and other underserved populations in the Midwest. The design includes three interrelated aspects: (1) technology education, (2) web/mobile app development, and (3) original empirical research. The research team will offer hybrid (online and offline) technology training programs to 300 women in transition in Kansas and Missouri. Learners will attend weekly face-to-face technology classes at different levels (introductory, intermediate, and advanced) at public libraries. A member-only online site and an accompanying mobile application for online tutorials and virtual meet-ups will enhance exposure to different types of technologies. Starting with interest-based technology topics including online resume building, information verification, and identity protection, the team will introduce women to deeper STEM topics including elementary coding skills and computational thinking. Empirical research will examine how different modalities of offering technology education are associated with learning outcomes for women participating in the program and the association of increasing knowledge and skills in digital technologies with self-efficacy, perceived social support, employment, and reduced recidivism.
This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.
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