Monday, May 14, 2018

Digital Humanities, side-by-side learning environments for black boys

Undergraduate team leader, Tiara Perkins sitting side-by-side East St. Louis DH club members

This semester, one significant takeaway for me while working with the East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club was the value of creating side-by-side learning environments. So often, students sit in rows as teachers stand up front and impart information and instructions. For our club though, the undergraduates and I spent the majority of our time sitting side-by-side with the high school participants.

About ten years ago, I was at a discussion session with a group of black men, some of whom were fathers. At one point in the discussion, those fathers talked about a realization that they had. Although people frequently point out the importance of "looking people in the eye" when you talk to them, experiences with their sons had made them aware of additional approaches.

Team leader Gaige Crowell and DH club member discuss project

As it turns out, their sons were often most revealing while sitting "side-by-side" with their fathers as they rode together in the car, as they sat together at an event, or as they walked somewhere together. Sitting side-by-side opened modes of communication for those sons -- those black boys -- that were not available to them otherwise. There are, I'm definitely aware, reasons when direct eye contact and face-to-face communication are appropriate and imperative. That conversation with that group of black men, and especially those fathers, however, was an important reminder of the need for multiple kinds of setups.

Before and after that conversation, I had thought about ways to incorporate side-by-side moments in my classes. After all, throughout my career, I've coordinated a number of exhibits each semester and developed other activities that allow me to stand or sit side-by-side with students in classroom settings. Still, hearing those fathers was a vital confirmation of what works particularly well for black boys and young black men.

DH Club member works on design project beside team leader

When you think about it, many students spend a considerable amount of classroom time being talked at by teachers, other school officials, and guests at the school. A break from that typical routine, I suppose, is part of what made our DH club enjoyable for the participants. We were regularly working with computers, and always sitting side-by-side with the guys.

There's been considerable coverage and commentary on the struggles of black boys and collegiate black men in schools. My experiences with the DH club this semester had me wondering about whether increased side-by-side activities and more one-on-one guidance from slightly older students might assist in alleviating some of the problems. I certainly think we should give more thought to creating alternative learning setups and environments.

The East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club Spring 2018

No comments: