Kafai, Y.B., Peppler, K.A., & Chiu, G. (2007, June). High Tech Programmers in Low Income Communities: Creating a Computer Culture in a Community Technology Center. In C. Steinfeld, B. Pentland, M. Ackermann, & N. Contractor (Eds.). Communities and Technologies 2007. Paper presented at the Third International Conference on Communities & Technologies, Michigan State University (pp. 545-562). New York: Springer.
For those unaware, Scratch is a programming language developed at MIT that:
makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web.
As young people create and share Scratch projects, they learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.
The authors of the article worked with members of the MIT Media Lab on this project. The goal was to introduce Scratch into an LA Computer Clubhouse, "a type of community technology center... developed to create opportunities for youth in low-income communities to become creators and designers of technologies" with the hopes of fostering a programming culture for marginalized youth.
There are currently over 2,000 community technology centers (CTCs) in the country, primarily in "economically disadvantaged communities," designed in part to bridge the digital divide. However, the authors note that the majority of these centers "support only the most basic computer activities" and "reinforce rote learning activities rather than cognitively demanding activities." This is due in large part to simply not having skilled volunteers/staff members on hand who can provide higher level instruction, which feeds back into the inherent problems with the digital divide.
The authors refer to Oakes’ (1992) paper stating "equity minded reform must go beyond the technical aspects and include changes in the normative and political dimensions of an academic institution" as well. They focus primarily on the technical and normative aspects, promoting a change in the attitude towards programming at the organizational level.
In observations of the Computer Clubhouse prior to the introduction of Scratch it was observed that students would often use Photoshop to manipulate media. Scratch was similarly designed to allow for media manipulation with an added programming component. The authors believe "youth require technological fluency of how to construct new media in order to become critical consumers and producers" and urban youth in particular "are often seen as pushing new adaptations and transformations of media, but are also perceived as standing on the sidelines of technology development and production." As the two become more closely intertwined, it is beneficial for them to have programming competencies.
Education students at UCLA were required to volunteer at the Computer Clubhouse as "mentors." These students had little to no programming experience, and were given a crash course in Scratch prior to their mentorships. When Scratch was finally introduced to the Clubhouse, students began creating projects and printing out finished projects to be hung around the Clubhouse. In time, Scratch became "a measure of membership" at the Clubhouse; new students were eager to create their first project and, for the first time, more skilled users of Scratch began to mentor newer students using the program. Additionally, some users become so adept with the product that they found themselves mentoring the UCLA students who had less exposure to Scratch.
It's interesting to note that follow-up interviews revealed students viewed Scratch as "something that allows you to use your imagination" or "a system that will allow you to do whatever you want" and that very few Clubhouse members considered Scratch computer programming. This may be why it integrated so quickly into Computer Clubhouse's culture.
Obviously not every community has a Computer Clubhouse. But as libraries are repurposed more and more into community centers, this provides a wide open opportunity for urban youth to be exposed to programming in a community setting, similar to the one described in this paper. The learning curve for Scratch seems to be low, so it wouldn't be an arduous task to learn, unlike other programming languages.
Oakes, J. (1992). Can Tracking Research Inform Practice? Technical, Normative, and Political Considerations. Educational Researcher, 21, 12-21.