Bridging the Digital Divide
Since 2007, the New Learning Institute has worked in partnership with departments of Fordham University to bring training in 21st century learning to educators and, at the same time, bring enhanced educational opportunities to young people served by Fordham and schools in the surrounding community. Through this partnership, the NLI has been able to help Fordham extend the reach and scope of its efforts to bridge the digital divide and introduce the latest in mobile and digital technologies to teachers and students in the Bronx, New York City.
Fordham’s RETC — Center for Professional Development was established in 1997 with a $9 million grant from New York State's Higher Education Applied Technology Act. The center's mission is to make professional development, technology training, resources, and employment skills accessible to educators, parents, students, and community-based organizations. It partners with Bronx middle schools and high schools, providing a range of services including training in 21st century learning
RETC works closely with another Fordham program, STEP (Science and Technology Entry Program). This rigorous academic enrichment program is designed to help prepare junior high and high school students for scientific, technical, and health-related careers. One of STEP’s goals is to increase the representation of historically underrepresented minorities and economically disadvantaged people in these fields.
Both RETC and STEP seek to address the unique challenges young people face in today’s rapidly changing world. By teaming together, the NLI and Fordham have been able to develop innovative educational programs to help meet this goal.
Partners in Professional Development
The NLI first approached Fordham’s RETC Center with a proposal to offer a professional development workshop in the summer of 2007. This workshop, hosted by RETC and run by the NLI team, drew on RETC’s extensive contacts among educators in the Bronx. It drew participants from the staff of several area schools, including the Bronx High School of Visual Arts and the Bronx Writing Academy. For some of the teachers, it was their first exposure to digital arts and their first experience in producing media with mobile technology.
This successful three-day workshop motivated participating educators to bring NLI residencies to their classrooms. In the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2008, the NLI team visited classrooms in five Bronx schools, including P.S. 101, P.S. 107, and P.S. 121. There, students worked in teams to create digital stories on wide-ranging themes such as poetic imagery and self-awareness. One particularly successful effort created a story called “The Lonely Fraction,” which illustrated a difficult math concept by giving life to a fraction and showing its use in the real world.
In March 2009, the NLI and the RETC again teamed up to offer a professional development workshop of Bronx teachers and educators. Building on their experience from the previous year, RETC staff took a more active role in running the workshop, and RETC director Steven D'Agustino co-presented the curriculum to the attendees.
In the spring of 2009, the NLI also continued to offer classroom residencies in partnership with Fordham University's Graduate School of Education, which serves as a Partnership Support Organization (PSO) to New York City public schools. The NLI was able to work with the Graduate School in its role as a PSO and offer classroom digital arts residencies in two Bronx middle schools.
For the summer of 2008, the NLI proposed that the RETC host an Earth Day Challenge summer camp as part of their STEP program. The NLI’s Earth Day Challenge is an international filmmaking competition that asks young people create a powerful video message about the earth’s future and their role in it.
More than twenty-five students took part in the two-week camp held at Fordham University’s Rose Hill Campus. With the help of the NLI media professionals, they created heartfelt and effective videos on the subject of the climate crisis and the environment. All of the student-produced videos were submitted to the Challenge, and four of them were selected as runners up in the competition. You can see the winning videos here.
The 2008 summer camp was such a success that the NLI, the RETC, and STEP partnered to offer a second camp the following summer. This one was based on a new, innovative curriculum developed under the guidance of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) using the latest in New Learning technology. The Wildlife Conservation Society, one of the SSRC’s partner organizations, allowed the camp to be held at the Bronx Zoo, also near Fordham University.
The camp, held in August 2009, taught students to use the GPS navigational capacities of Nokia mobile phones to create interactive guides to the zoo. Working in teams, they produced virtual tours that combined still and video images along with narration, and the finished tour was embedded in an interactive map of the zoo. These guides then became available to zoo visitors, who could access them online.
The Bronx Zoo summer camp added "geospatial" literacy to the list of skills STEP is able to offer its students. It proved to be a groundbreaking success in bringing essential 21st century skills to underserved students with relatively little investment.
The New Learning Institute has also been able to assist Fordham with its goal of bringing advanced professional development and technology training to the broader community. In October 2008, the NLI participated in the Bronx Technology Collaborative Conference, a one-day event organized by the RETC to advance access to technology and 21st century skills among teachers, parents, community-based organizations, and local businesses. The conference had to serve the needs of a broad range of attendees, including parents who wanted to better understand the opportunities available for their children and educators who wanted to exchange best practices.
During the conference, the NLI offered a workshop that explained the concept of 21st century learning and outlined the Institute’s approach to bringing those skills to young people. Parents were able to come away with a new understanding of both the challenges and the opportunities available to their children while educators and teachers were given a brief outline of the work NLI does during a classroom residency.
The partnership between Fordham University and NLI has been a successful one because of the matching goals of the two organizations. Both organizations are working to help young people face the challenges of our changing world by bringing them rich, innovative learning experiences using the latest in mobile technology. The New Learning Institute continues to work with Fordham to find new ways to bring this essential curriculum to students and educators across the region.