Empowering Cambridge youth through data activism – India Education | Latest Education News | World Education News

For more than 40 years, the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP, or Mayor’s Program) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been giving teens their first job experience, but 2022 has brought a new offering. In collaboration with MIT’s Personal Robot Research Group (PRG) and Responsible AI for Social Empowerment and Education (RAISE) this summer, MSYEP created a STEAM-focused learning site at the Institute. Eleven students joined the program to learn coding and programming skills through the lens of “data activism”.

MSYEP’s partnership with MIT offers Cambridge high school students the opportunity to be exposed to more pathways for their future careers and education. The mayor’s program aims to respect students’ time and show the value of their work, so participants are paid an hourly wage as they learn labor skills on MSYEP job sites. . Along with two ongoing research studies at MIT, PRG and RAISE developed the six-week Data Activism program to equip students with critical thinking skills so they feel prepared to use data science to fight against social injustice and empower their community.

Rohan Kundargi, K-12 Community Outreach Administrator for MIT’s Office of Government and Community Relations (OGCR), says: I see this as a model for a new kind of partnership between MIT and Cambridge MSYEP. Specifically, an MIT research project that involves Cambridge students being paid to learn, research and develop their own skills!

Collaboration between Cambridge

Cambridge’s Office of Workforce Development first approached MIT OGCR to host a potential MSYEP job site that taught Cambridge teenagers how to code. When Kundargi contacted the MIT pK-12 collaborators, MIT PRG graduate research assistant Raechel Walker suggested the Data Activism program. Walker defines “data activism” as the use of data, computing, and art to analyze how power works in the world, challenge power, and empathize with oppressed people.

Walker says, “I wanted the students to feel empowered to incorporate their own expertise, talents and interests into each activity. For students to fully embrace their academic abilities, they must remain comfortable engaging fully in data activism.

As Kundargi and Walker recruited students for the Data Activism learning site, they wanted to ensure that the cohort of students — the majority of whom are people of color — felt represented at MIT and felt they had the agency so that his voice is heard. “The pioneers in this field are like-minded people,” says Walker, speaking of well-known data activists Timnit Gebru, Rediet Abebe and Joy Buolamwini.

When the program started this summer, some of the students were unaware of how data science and artificial intelligence are exacerbating systemic oppression in society, or some of the tools currently being used to mitigate this societal harm. . As a result, says Walker, students wanted to learn more about discriminatory design in all aspects of life. They were also interested in creating responsible machine learning algorithms and AI fairness metrics.

Another side of STEAM

The development and execution of the Data Activism program contributed to the respective research of Walker and postdoc Xiaoxue Du at the PRG. Walker studies AI education, specifically creating and teaching data activism programs for minority communities. Du’s research explores processes, assessments, and program design that prepare educators to use, adapt, and integrate AI literacy programs. Additionally, his research aims to leverage more opportunities for students with diverse learning needs.

The data activism program uses a framework of “libertarian computing,” a term Walker coined in his position paper with Professor Cynthia Breazeal, director of MIT RAISE, dean of digital learning and head of PRG, and Eman Sherif, then an undergraduate researcher from the University of California, San Diego, titled “Liberty Computing for African American Students.” This framework ensures that students, especially minority students, gain a strong racial identity, critical awareness, collective obligation, liberation-centered academic/achievement identity, as well as the activism skills necessary to use the computing to transform a system of multi-layered barriers in which racism persists. Walker says, “We encouraged students to demonstrate their skills in each pillar, as all pillars are interconnected and build on each other.

Walker has developed a series of interactive coding activities and projects focused on understanding systemic racism, using data science to analyze systemic oppression, data drawing, responsible machine learning, how which racism can be integrated into AI and different AI equity measures.

It was the first time the students learned how to create data visualizations using the Python programming language and the Pandas data analysis tool. In a project to examine how different systems of oppression can affect different aspects of students’ own identities, students created datasets with data from their respective intersectional identities. Another activity highlighted the achievements of African Americans, where students analyzed two sets of data on African American scientists, activists, artists, scholars, and athletes. Using the data visualizations, students then created zines about African Americans who inspired them.

RAISE hired Olivia Dias, Sophia Brady, Lina Henriquez and Zeynep Yalcin through MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) and PRG hired freelancer Matt Taylor to work with Walker on program development and the design of interdisciplinary experience projects. Walker and the four undergraduate researchers built an intersectional data analysis activity on different examples of systemic oppression. PRG also hired three high school students to test the activities and offer ideas on how to make the program engaging for program participants. Throughout the program, the Data Activism team taught students in small groups, continually asked students how to improve each activity, and structured each lesson based on student interests. Walker says Dias, Brady, Henriquez and Yalcin have been invaluable in cultivating a supportive classroom environment and helping students complete their projects.

Student Nina says, “It opened my eyes to another side of STEM. I had no idea what ‘data’ meant before this program, or how intersectionality can affect AI and data. Prior to MSYEP, Nina had an introduction to computer science and AP computing, but has been coding since Girls Who Code sparked her interest in middle school. “The community was really nice. I could talk with other girls. I saw that more women were needed in STEM, especially in coding. Now, she wants to apply to colleges with strong computer science programs so she can pursue a career related to coding.

From MSYEP to the town hall

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui visited the data activism learning site on August 9, accompanied by Breazeal. An MSYEP graduate herself, Siddiqui says, “Through hands-on learning through computer programming, Cambridge high school students have the unique opportunity to think of themselves as data scientists. Students were able to learn ways to combat the discrimination that occurs through artificial intelligence. In an Instagram post, Siddiqui also said, “I had fun visiting the students and learning about their projects.”

Students worked on an activity that asked them to imagine how data science could be used to support marginalized communities. They turned their answers into block-printed T-shirt designs, carving images of their hopes into rubber stamps. Some students focused on the importance of data privacy, such as Jacob T., who drew a birdcage to represent data stored and locked by third-party apps. He says, “I want to open this cage and restore my data to myself and see what we can do with it.”

Many students wanted to see more representation in the media they consume and in various professional fields. Nina spoke about the importance of representation in the media and how it could contribute to greater representation in the tech industry, while Kiki spoke about encouraging more women to pursue STEM fields. . Jesmin said, “I wanted to show that data science is accessible to everyone, no matter where they come from or what language you speak. I wrote “hello” in Bengali, Arabic and English because I speak all three languages ​​and they all resonate with me. »

“Overall, I hope students will continue to use their data activism skills to reimagine a society that supports marginalized groups,” says Walker. “Furthermore, I hope they are empowered to become data scientists and understand how their race can be a positive part of their identity.”

Sam D. Gomez