Education has been seen as the great equalizer when it comes to social and economic inequality, yet the disparities in schools along with ever-rising costs in higher education make it seem more of a promise than a reality.
Meanwhile, democratization, participatory culture, and accessibility have been one of the impacts of the internet and the digital age. Connected learning explores how these digital age developments can be leveraged to address issues of equity in learning.
One area of inequity is the underrepresentation of minorities and females in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). FUSE, a project developed by researchers at Northwestern University, is an interest-driven learning experience designed to engage young people in STEAM (STEM plus Art & Design) topics while also developing 21st century skills.
FUSE addresses equity by reaching out to individual interests rather than providing the same solution for everyone. By using a leveling up model similar to gaming, learners will progress as far as the challenges they complete. So a sixth-grade student might be at the same level as a high-school student. It also offers a mobile studio that can be used anywhere from schools and community centers to pop-up spaces and events.
“Equity doesn’t mean the same thing for all kids, it means taking all kid’s interests equally seriously”
What makes FUSE different is their view that equity is a part of the learning design process. In education, equity is usually talked about in terms of achieving equality of inputs and outcomes, and providing equity in funding, facilities, and tools. Or it might be about equity through scholarships or affirmative action programs. For FUSE, equity is about designing learning experiences that engage audiences in different ways in order to achieve an equity of engagement.
Data collected from the website allows FUSE designers to see how young people engage with their challenges. They are then able to identify gaps within the learning process. They might see that females are not engaging with a number of challenges, for example, or are not moving beyond an introductory level of a challenge. FUSE designers are then able to redesign their challenges or design new challenges that do engage girls.
FUSE offers a wide variety of challenges that range from programming a robot or building a solar power car to 3D Jewelry design and electronic Fashion challenges.
“Equity doesn’t mean the same thing for all kids, it means taking all kid’s individual interests equally seriously”, says Dr. Kemi Jona, the Director of the Office of STEM Partnerships at Northwestern University.