Second Life Unplugged: A Design for Fostering At-risk Students' STEM Agency

Sneha Veeragoudar Harrell, Dor Abrahamson

Abstract


At an alternative high school serving predominantly at-risk underrepresented students evicted from mainstream education, we designed and implemented Fractal Village, a critical-constructionist computational and mathematical pedagogy learning environment. Fractal Village, instantiated in the virtual world "Second Life," constituted an empirical environment to research our emergent model of mathematical/computational agency (m/c) as well as an intervention
aiming to foster such agency. Key research objectives were to: (1) study relations amongst cognitive, affective, material, technological, and social factors that would contribute to individual development of m/c agency; and (2) delineate design principles for fostering m/c agency. The student cohort engaged collaboratively in virtual world imaginative construction activities each manifesting generative themes (Freire, 1968), to which the designers-as-teachers tailored mathematical and computer-science concepts, such that students appropriated the STEM content apropos of tackling their own emergent construction problems. We argue that to build agency, students must develop both skills and dispositions—a spiraling inter-constructive growth—and articulate a developing methodology for fostering agency development. We conclude that we
can, and must, engage at-risk youth by helping them to build STEM-oriented identities, engaging their a priori m/c agency, and customizing skills and dispositions-related classroom discursive supports.

Keywords


youth; virtual worlds; pedagogy; STEM

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