Exploring Maker Technologies in Creating a Sense of Belonging With American Indian College Students

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


American Educational Research Association


New York, NY

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American Indian college students are not academically successful for four primary reasons: financial barriers, K-12 academic barriers, few role models with college degrees, and cultural incongruities between their home culture and that of institutions of higher education (Brayboy, Fann, Castagno, & Solyom, 2012). Following a series of focus groups with 1,109 American Indian students at a University in the Western United States, we found that while there were financial and academic barriers, students also had strong feelings of being invisible, not belonging to the institution, and being unable to access both academic and social resources. Working with these focus groups, we created a series of responses to address the students’ concerns. First, we created a course that made American Indians and American Indian students more visible to the entire institution. Second, we co-created a magazine for and by students to assist them in navigating the academic, financial, and social components of college. Third, we co-created a collection of mobile apps that serve as resources for American Indian students. In this poster, we share the story of this latter response aimed to create a sense of belonging for American Indian university students by enabling them to become makers and creators of resources for their peers. We engaged American Indian students in a two-day workshop emphasizing making with mobile technologies to create relationships between students and the institution. Using Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling (ARIS; Holden, Gagnon, Litts, & Smith, 2013), a narrative-based programming platform for non-programmers, American Indian students built prototype ideas around two key themes: (1) building a sense of belonging, and (2) “I wish I knew…” (resources senior students wish they knew about earlier). Students expressed high interest in integrating resources that were specific to the Native Students on campus. For example, one student designed a game to encourage storytelling about cultural spots on campus recognizing the local Native community and their homeland by allowing players to share their stories and geo-locate them on campus. Another group created an interactive story that shared the historical narrative of how Indigenous People’s Day became a recognized holiday at their university. Two other groups built tour-like experiences that guided players across campus highlighting resources particularly relevant to Native students including both official university resources and unofficial social resources. As incentives to engage peers in their games, students proposed trading in-game points for real-world rewards (textbook, parking, food, gift cards, etc.). The majority of students expressed interest in further developing their prototype designs for more widespread use among their Native peers. Our project offers insights to the ways that the creation of technology served to build relationships between people and place. Specifically, technology, particularly using a platform that is both story- and place-based, can mediate and facilitate relationships between marginalized students and institutions. Additionally, by utilizing student voices and ideas we can create tools to support retention and success for marginalized student populations. Most importantly, our project demonstrates how willing students are to take ownership of their academic success by becoming creators of technology.

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