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Blue Unit: Computational Tinkering

3A: Valued, Inclusive Information and Computing Technology Experiences

Background Knowledge Probe

What do we especially value? How do we support others, and how are we supported by others, in achieving that which is valued?

Resource Functioning (something people value being or doing) Capability (the freedom to achieve the functioning) Utility (that sought to be maximized)
bicycle mobility ability to move around pleasure
  • Looking at the above table, how do “bicycle,” “mobility,” “ability to move around,” and “pleasure” relate to you personally?
  • How do these terms or statements relate to other people you know and who come to mind at the moment?
  • Why might these terms or statements be listed within the specified columns?

Examining “Development”

The information, communication, and computing technologies we use in our everyday lives — from home to play to profession — arise from complex histories, methodologies, cultures, knowledge, and philosophies of a just society. They strongly shape our daily experiences and well-being. Strong arguments are made regarding the societal benefits of information, communication, and computer sciences: from meeting individual needs by empowering people, to advancing essential social services such as healthcare and education, to facilitating urgent data collection in advance of or during natural disasters and human-induced climate change, and beyond. Yet the sciences, including computer science, shape and are shaped by sociotechnical artifacts.

It is important to consider an oft-used word embedded within many conversations regarding the societal benefits of information systems: development. This term is used to indicate material prosperity, liberation from oppression, a holistic project for personal progress, development of a child, of new software, of new countries, of natural resources, and still more. It is a term used both directly, and as a hidden assumption. But however it is used, it is not a neutral term; “development” is loaded with value judgments, trade-offs, and complexities.

Some scholars within the Community Informatics community argue for the adoption of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s capability approach to facilitate “human, rather than technical or sociotechnical, problem solving.”[1] Let’s explore community informatics and computational thinking as a means to advance agency for valued, inclusive information, communication, and computing technology experiences.

The Capability Approach

The capability approach is an alternative to normative approaches to international development policies and practices that focus exclusively on resource expansionism such as economic growth, or positive/predictive approaches for strategies and practices that emphasize empirical studies, data analysis, and hypothesis testing. The capability approach has been highly influential in guiding the United Nations to a more holistic human development paradigm with its four essential pillars: equality, sustainability, productivity, and empowerment.

Central to the capability approach are those things individuals value being and doing, their functionings. While it is important we do all we can to identify a person’s functionings, the focus for development stakeholders is on expanding the set of capabilities, that is, the freedoms for individuals to achieve their functionings. Capabilities are the real and actual possibilities from which individuals can choose so as to achieve those things they value being and value doing. Functionings are the aspirations that make up people’s well-being.

Martha Nussbaum has created a list of 10 central human capabilities as follows: Life; Bodily health; Bodily integrity; Senses, imagination, and thought; Emotions; Practical reason; Affiliation; Other species; Play; and Control over one’s environment.[2] However, Sen suggests each individual should be free to determine if any, all, more, or different capabilities are central to their personal functionings. While valuable food for thought as stakeholders gather to co-explore development paths, the essential determinant is to consider the possible range of capabilities needed to provide a sufficient capability set advancing individual freedom to choose, execute, and achieve their valued goals.

To expand the capability set, we also need to assure individuals have agency to pursue the goals they value. Agency is a combination of many individual resources from within a resource portfolio that includes: Material resources; Financial resources; Natural resources; Geographical resources; Human resources; Psychological resources; Information; Cultural resources; and Social resources.[3] Sen identifies choice, then, as the aim and the means for human development, recognizing that individual choice ultimately depends on their personal valued beings and doings. In the article “The capability approach and the ‘medium of choice’: steps towards conceptualizing information and communication technologies for development,” Dorothea Kleine notes that choice has four key components: existence of choice, sense of choice, exercise of choice, and achievement of choice. In many cases, Kleine has found the existence of choice in her works to advance an individual’s ability to exercise and achieve choice, but that this existence is hidden from the individual for a range of reasons. Advancing a person’s capability set, then, is more than that of agency and skills development for the exercising and achieving of choice, but also a broader work to advance the sense of choice.

Resource Functioning (something people value being or doing) Capability (the freedom to achieve the functioning) Utility (that sought to be maximized)
bicycle mobility ability to move around pleasure

If we review the table, we can see that the person aspires to be mobile. A bicycle can potentially then serve to provide agency to the person as a component within their capability set. However, as some of us may have considered up front, sometimes a bicycle is not the best resource, such as for those who do not have the technical abilities to ride a bicycle. This may be based on road or environmental conditions, because of balance problems, because of conflicts with the structure of the body, or still more reasons. Or it may be simply because it is not a capability a person values doing, even though mobility is a valued being.

It is from this framing of the capability approach that Mario Toboso challenges us to rethink disability.[4] Disability is the accepted term used when considering treatment of those in society with physical or mental limitations outside the considered norms of a human. From within the “medical model,” it is understood that disabilities are medical in nature, that disability is a disease, and that a person can only contribute to society to the extent they can be rehabilitated or normalized. The “social model,” on the other hand, identifies disabilities as social in nature. Each individual is just as capable as anyone else of making contributions to society if an environment is designed taking specific requirements into account. More recently, a “diversity model” has been brought forward to overthrow old concepts of ability and instead looks for personal identities that are not perceived as negative.

It is within this new diversity model that Toboso articulates “functional diversity” in association with Sen’s concept of functionings, the valued beings and doings a person aspires to achieve to bring about well-being. In expanding the diversity model to incorporate “diversity of functionings,” we can consider mobility with a new lens. Agency to move around will require many different modes in acknowledgment of the diversity of people, and the ends they are seeking to achieve through the mobility. Participating in an information systems project, moving locations under challenging environmental conditions, or playing with others in dance or sports each would require different means of executing and achieving choice regarding ability to move around, given their agency to do so.

As community informatics seeks to advance the well-being of individuals and communities through effective use of information and communications technologies, the capability approach serves as a framework for participatory action and research within a community of inquiry to assure a respected person-orientation to achieve real freedoms of agency to achieve that which individuals and collectives value being and doing. It is a valuable complement to critical methodological paradigms, and especially those within information and communications technology, that provide situated agency as a means to provide a critical account of individual agency, that move beyond a simplistic notion of technology as goods and resources often seen within capability approach research and practice, a work that advances reflexivity and a critical lens so as to identify and address reification and hegemonic potential of technology science and research methods and practices.[5] This facilitates better design and development of digital technologies through an understanding and respect of the unique and rich community cultural wealth. It is to actively work to counter oppressive components of sociotechnical artifacts, something only achievable through decodification and recodification of the text and context of the technologies, so as to see the ways in which they are removing choice, the sense of choice, and the possibilities to execute and achieve choice.

Inclusive Computational Thinking

Computational thinking brings together 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking with digital technologies to advance collective problem-solving. Drawing on community informatics, the capability approach, functional diversity, and inclusive computational thinking, it is essential to develop inclusive computer science experiences for learners with disabilities. Doing so advances work within the sciences, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, computer science itself, and beyond.[6]

The Creative Technology Research Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has worked extensively to explore advancement of K-12 education based on frameworks and strategies valued within a broad range of information and communication technology spaces. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is one framework for innovative teaching and learning that combines explicit instruction with open inquiry and collaborative problem-solving to foster co-construction of expertise with peers. When combined with the capability approach, functional diversity, and community informatics, the Universal Design for Learning framework helps build bridges across the full diversity of stakeholders to better align design of information and communication technologies in ways that further facilitate innovation-in-use to achieve functionings. The three principles of UDL are engagement that stimulates interest and motivation for affective learning networks, representation that presents information and content in different ways building recognition learning networks, and action and expression that differentiate the ways co-explorers can express knowledge to build strategic learning networks.[7] These principles serve as a solid base for effective, inclusive community inquiry.

You know learning, it’s not a spectator sport.

Ava Wolf, eLearning Professional, Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning

Advancing our well-being through use of digital and non-digital technologies to realize our functionings requires active co-explorations within communities of inquiry. Explorations may occur in a second grade classroom, a school library, a university studio class, a public or academic library, a salon or barbershop, a community center, a community garden, a civic center, a religious institution, a safe space for people who are homeless, or the many other gathering spaces of communities. Inquiry happens when co-exploration is driven by community problems, in which questions are raised not only of the immediate possible technology under consideration, but also the nature of the community, membership within it, competing values, and beyond, so as to challenge and advance the nature of community itself. This, as much as anything else, is what it means to take a person-centered approach. It is the “radical revolution of values” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. calls us to. It is the problem-posing as opposed to banking system of education Paulo Freire calls us to as oppressed and oppressor come together in action-reflection praxis.

To achieve this, inquiry must be facilitated by the community itself. Innovation-in-use, as with all co-exploration learning processes, is a doing accomplished in community, with community, and for community. Inclusive computational thinking, then, becomes inclusive community tinkering with an emphasis on persons first and last, and in which technical teaching, learning, hypothesizing, and testing occur as infill. And even more importantly, this work is a process of reading of word and world so as to understand the codifications of the central tenets of the technology, to decodify these words, to discover the mutual shaping of those technologies, and a recodification of these to strategically advance individual and community valued beings and doings.

Through its integration of social and technical components, generative themes, and shared strategies, frameworks, and paradigms, in what ways might this book be advancing a life-long pattern for community inquiry and community informatics practice? In what ways is it shaped to hinder such advancement?

Lesson Plan

Together, we’ve worked to use a person- and social-first focus to reconsider our everyday technologies as both positive and oppressive, disruptive technologies. We have worked to advance our skill sets to serve as facilitators and co-explorers in person-centered demystification and innovation-in-use of our technologies. How can we assure a fully inclusive approach to these works?

As we now move to “Build Functions for Remixable Code,” we add functions into the Toolbox Trumpet to create a four octave scale before concluding with an LED pixel counter challenge. What ways, if any, could this be used as a test space for assuring fully inclusive approaches?

Essential Resources:

  • Toboso, Mario. “Rethinking Disability in Amartya Sen’s Approach: ICT and Equality of Opportunity.” Ethics and Information Technology 13, no. 2 (June 1, 2011): 107–18. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-010-9254-2.
  • Zheng, Yingqin, and Bernd Carsten Stahl. “Technology, Capabilities and Critical Perspectives: What Can Critical Theory Contribute to Sen’s Capability Approach?” Ethics and Information Technology 13, no. 2 (June 1, 2011): 69–80. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-011-9264-8.
  • Kleine, Dorothea. “The Capability Approach and the ‘Medium of Choice’: Steps towards Conceptualising Information and Communication Technologies for Development.” Ethics and Information Technology 13, no. 2 (June 1, 2011): 119–30. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-010-9251-5.
  • Creative Technology Research Lab | College of Education. “Project TACTIC.” Accessed February 16, 2020. https://ctrl.education.illinois.edu/TACTICal.

Additional Resources:

Professional Journal Reflections:

Use this reflection to bring our activities to date into conversation with the capability approach and inclusive computational thinking frameworks brought forward in this session.

  1. In what ways might the toolbox trumpet and Raspberry Pi counterstories serve as a resource advancing agency? A capability?
  2. In what ways might the toolbox trumpet and Raspberry Pi counterstories serve as an information system problematically disrupting valued beings and doings of individuals and communities?
  3. In what ways might the toolbox trumpet and Raspberry Pi counterstories be designed for designers, that is, for the innovators-in-use who adapt this to their own functionings? In what ways might it have been designed differently leading to this point?

  1. Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999). See also: Larry Stillman and Tom Denison, "The Capability Approach Community Informatics," The Information Society 30, no. 3 (May 27, 2014): 209. https://doi.org/10.1080/01972243.2014.896687.
  2. Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 78-80.
  3. Dorothea Kleine, "The Capability Approach and the 'Medium of Choice': Steps towards Conceptualising Information and Communication Technologies for Development," Ethics and Information Technology 13, no. 2 (June 1, 2011): 119–30. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-010-9251-5.
  4. Mario Toboso, "Rethinking Disability in Amartya Sen’s Approach: ICT and Equality of Opportunity," Ethics and Information Technology 13, no. 2 (June 1, 2011): 107–18. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-010-9254-2.
  5. Yingqin Zheng and Bernd Carsten Stahl, "Technology, Capabilities and Critical Perspectives: What Can Critical Theory Contribute to Sen's Capability Approach?" Ethics and Information Technology, 77.
  6. For more information, see: Creative Technology Research Lab, "Project TACTIC," accessed February 16, 2020, https://ctrl.education.illinois.edu/TACTICal.
  7. CAST, "About Universal Design for Learning," accessed June 2, 2020, http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html.

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A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology by Copyright © 2020 Martin Wolske. Copyright “Ideating and Iterating Code: Scratch Example” © 2020 Betty Bayer and Stephanie Shallcross. Copyright “Introducing the Unix Command Line” © 2020 Martin Wolske, Dinesh Rathi, Henry Grob, and Vandana Singh. Copyright “Security and Privacy” © 2020 Sara Rasmussen. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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