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New Investigator Research Grant

Page history last edited by ShareRiff 10 years, 10 months ago

Our proposed study will systematically explore the technological, civic, pedagogical, and rhetorical dimensions that adhere in the implementation of Linux-based networks at USF St. Petersburg and in Pinellas County public schools. The purpose of this project is to provide an open-source alternative to existing computing technologies, create a transferable knowledge base and learning module for this alternative at USFSP, and then duplicate the program at local secondary and elementary schools. This network of laboratories will be integrated with a new Writing Major at USFSP. Our collaborative effort will provide USF faculty and students with resources and opportunities to directly investigate digital culture, foster experience and guide inquiry into trends and policies in educational technology, and help build a commitment to community outreach in our program.

In Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century, Cynthia Selfe implores her readers to become responsibly aware of the increasing omnipresence of technologies resulting from the top-down initiatives stemming from Clinton and Gore’s Technology Literacy Challenge. Citing Harvey Graff, Brian Street, and other literacy scholars, Selfe’s case study places the Technology Literacy Challenge in a sorry history of large-scale literacy agendas that manifest the values of dominant and privileged socioeconomic sectors in particular ways in hopes of stimulating certain markets, agendas that also “reproduce stereotypical patterns of responding or failing to respond to individuals from nondominant groups” (19). Selfe demonstrates how “technology” has become synonymous with the “personal computer” in the United States, and how, via a trope of “personal investment,” technology has become politically, economically, and ideologically linked with literacy, and one’s potential for personal success. At the same time, “computers continue to be distributed differentially along the related axes of race and socioeconomic status,” because the Technology Literacy Challenge relies heavily on private sector investment and expansion. Selfe’s arguments and many others like it resonate strongly research in writing instruction, a discipline with a long history but one that has only recently grappled with its place in political struggle over policies that affect whether participation in democratic processes—including those processes that drive our technological future—will be extended to all or withheld for a few.

The benefits of an inexpensive data processing network that can run a modern graphic user interface and perform the vast majority of academic computing functions using antiquated hardware are difficult to overstate in the political climate described by Selfe, especially now, as this year's budget cuts reverberate throughout the state school system, at all levels. Any technology that can sidestep the expensive site licenses and constant hardware upgrades that dominate IT budgets ought to be explored. In select cases, Linux Terminal Server projects and similar open-source solutions have recently enfranchised a technologically underprivileged demographic of students in districts and schools that simply cannot afford new equipment every time Microsoft or Intel releases a new toy.

Most of these success stories are on a small scale, but the case of the Atlanta Public School system demonstrates tremendous scalability. APS, an urban school system with nearly 100 school campuses, took its cue from two parents of students at Morris Brandon Elementary who installed a small Linux Terminal Server lab with little effort. At the gmane.org.user-groups listsrev, Daniel Howard, who instigated the Linux migration at Brandon, makes claims for the immediate, measurable impact technologies can have for young learners. According to Howard, Brandon Elementary's standardized test scores improved dramatically “compared to 3 other similar schools (in demographics, parent income/education level, and PTA funding) in the APS district, Brandon's math scores were the highest in every grade except 4th, and sometimes significantly so...in grades 1-3, Brandon was the top scorer in all subjects except 3rd Grade Reading, and was only 1 point behind the top scorer there. Adding the total number of points above the Exceeds Expectations level on the mean scaled score for all subject scores and all grades” furthermore demonstrates that “Brandon surpassed the other high performing schools in the district by about 50% in how much they exceeded expectations” ((http://article.gmane.org/gmane.org.user-groups.ale/44438/ ). Noticing this, APS implemented a large scale pilot K12LTSP for use by K12 students for the 2006-2007 school year. Even though this project reached 4400 students using 2200 thin clients across 233 classrooms, only 31 dual core, dual processor AMD Opteron servers were required—each school utilized between 1 and 5 of these servers, which can maintain between 70-120 computers. Significantly reduced desktop maintenance will cut costs, and the culture of learning will improve as teachers wrest hardware and software options from the major vendors, and students are introduced to an operating system closely articulated with a community of active and supportive users committed to open source, instead of operating systems tethered to legal and business agreements and expensive “bloat ware.”


However, this appeal to economic rationality, standardized test results, and immediate outreach is not the whole basis of this proposal. Indeed, in the long run, by removing the need for expensive commercial software and turning back the clock on the hardware arms race, functional computing solutions can be placed into the hands of people that would otherwise lack the means to stay abreast of the tech curve. Anita Chan (2004) documents the the Law for the Use of Free Software in Government Agencies, or Proposition 1609, a bill that “added Peru to a growing list of countries pursuing legal measures for the adoption of free software by government,” a list that includes Brazil, Argentina, France, Mexico, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Vietnam. Proposition 1609 attracted global attention when it's proponents resisted Microsoft's efforts to maintain a monopoly on Peru's technology by making a case propelled, as Chan notes, “less by ideals of users' technological freedoms, than by notions of citizens' political rights. Such an interpretation of the imperatives for free software was indeed distinct from that within the general free software movement, where discourse focused explicitly on software users' rights to access, understand, and rework code.” Likewise, delivering a similar computing alternatives to students in their elementary and secondary educational settings at an early enough age to generate a thorough understanding of what's at stake in questions concerning technology will inculcate functional skills and cultivate the vision required for leadership, both being essential prerequisites for economic empowerment in an environment where both are desperately needed.

At the same time, far from resting on the premise that technology itself is panacea for social imbalance, this proposal is motivated by the belief that free software will open doors to already thriving knowledge practices in our communities and schools. In Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday L,ife Alondra Nelson, Thuy Linh N. Tu and Alicia Headlam Hines explain that "when we limit our discussions of technology simply to computer hardware and software, we see only a 'digital divide' that leave people of color behind" (5). Many people falling through the rift of the so-called "digital divide" already have valuable skills, technological and otherwise, but no resources for developing them into life-long learning practices in technological contexts. Therefore, this grant proposes to systematically examine the role of distributed technology and emergent rhetorical strategies of community-building already percolating in Pinellas schools. In other words, the local exigencies of each lab context and culture will be of primary interest to USFSP students of digital culture.

Of course, the project director and CO-PIs must first investigate feasibility of design, implementation, and maintenance of small wireless networks, including the negotiation of the precise long-term relationships between USFSP faculty and students and the students and teachers learning everyday at community lab sites. By the end of Spring semester 2008. with the the connections of this social and rhetorical “software” in place, the spectrum of potential outcomes broadens considerably. Each faculty co-PI will design, an, in Fall 2008, teach outcomes-based, writing-intensive multimedia composition courses that will provide students with the opportunity to directly investigate the capacities of connected computers as a technology of community-formation and communicative performance. Students enrolled in these writing courses will learn how to initialize small thin-client labs at local schools, where they will then collaborate with students, teachers, and administrators, host workshops, organize colloquia, and design research methodologies that address the political, technological, and pedagogical dimensions of the cultural shift, now underway, from vendor-supplied to open-source software. Indeed, in order to participate in and help generate such a paradigm shift in the way K-12 institutions handle IT, a generation of educators must be trained to be conversant with the relevant technologies and their implementation. This proposal is a step towards USFSP's role in that larger goal. This project accompanies a shift in pedagogical values from consumption to production. In such an environment, educators and English majors will learn the necessary skills to effectively be their own network administrator, allowing them to take the lead in introducing similar programs in their own environments as they begin their careers.

In summary, a brief a review of the methods and outcomes described in this narrative:


Building on existing research and implementation already conducted by Conner and Havasi, all CO-PIs will orchestrate assignments and exercises enjoining USF students in an effort to pilot a model lab at USF, with technical documentation and proposals for duplication. Havasi will present findings at the Undergraduate Research Symposium here at USFSP and help Conner, Gresham, and McCracken select qualified research assistants before he leaves the project in August of 2008.

These pilot experiments and user-tests will provide a space for CO-PIs Conner, Gresham, and McCracken to share and revise plans and data concerning the revision of the Writing Major at USFSP. Three aspects of this larger project will come under consideration by means of this lab work:

1. the potential role and specific potentials/constraints of community outreach and civic engagement

in the new curriculum.

2. the potential role and specific potentials/constraints of open source technology on the USFSP campus.

3. the potential for scaling the pilot lab up into a larger multi-platform and multi-purpose communications laboratory which would be opened to the College of Arts and Sciences and other interested Colleges on our campus.

In May 2008, CO-PIs Conner, Gresham, and McCracken will share narratives and data pertaining to this project at the Computers & Writing Conference in Athens, Georgia, “Open Source as a Technology and a Concept” (http://www.cw2008.uga.edu/cw2008/). Because the conference is attended by writing professors and will take open source as it's theme, the CO-PIs expect to garner feedback of immediate value to the outreach phase of the project (Fall semester 2008).

In the Fall semester of 2008, CO-PIs Conner, Gresham, and McCracken will teach courses on a client-based model: students in these courses will establish duplicate laboratories at 3 local Pinellas County schools, and produce research instruments and narratives documenting the specifics of each case.

By this conclusion of this final phase in the funding period, we will

*know more about how technology factors in the communicative performances of the next generation of students, and submit our findings to flagship journals in our field.

*work with liaisons and focus groups to collate data concerning computer literacy and the multimedia practices of teachers and administrators in the school system.

*create technical documentation and learning modules for the maintenance of Linux Terminal server projects.

*incorporate feedback and research in efforts to pilot and culture open source technology for a planned college-wide communications laboratory.

*use collected data to develop community-based writing courses focused on teaching with technology.

*open up avenues for further community outreach and continuity in the culture of student-researcher assistantships in our program.



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