IT Infrastructure

African-American Teens Missing Out on Digital Innovation

By Benjamin Herold — November 15, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Young African-Americans embrace computers as integral to their futures, but they may be missing out on key opportunities to learn to code, develop apps and software, and innovate with technology, concludes a new national survey.

“This is a group of young people who are very confident about their technology use and very comfortable with its importance in their lives,” said Kevin A. Clark, a professor of learning technologies and the director of the Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity at George Mason University in Manassas, Va. “What I think happens sometimes is that educators and schools underestimate that.”

Clark, Arizona State University women and gender studies professor Kimberly A. Scott, and consultant Victoria J. Rideout are the authors behind “The Digital Lives of African American Tweens, Teens, and Parents: Innovating and Learning with Technology.” The study, released this month, is based on a national survey of more than 1,000 pairs of African-American teenagers and their parents, as well as focus groups. The emphasis was primarily on young people’s use of computers and the internet outside of school.

The Researchers


Professor, Division of Learning Technologies
Director, Center for Digital Media
Innovation and Diversity
George Mason University


Associate Professor, Women and Gender Studies
Founder/Executive Director, Center for Gender
Equity in Science and Technology
Arizona State University

The researchers found that young African-Americans are passionate about their smartphones. Eighty percent of survey respondents described them as “very important” to their everyday lives. “It’s their immediate connection to everyone and everything—always on, always with them, and easy to use,” the report says.

But when it comes to completing schoolwork or preparing college or job applications, young African-Americans reported strong preferences for computers over mobile devices, an important insight for school administrators weighing whether to buy laptops or tablets for their schools. And while more than three-fourths of survey respondents said they used a computer or mobile device to edit pictures and videos and watch online tutorials, fewer than 1 in 5 said the same about creating an app or website or writing computer code themselves.

The researchers attributed those disparities to a lack of exposure and opportunity, both inside and outside of school.

At home, they found, African-American children from low-income households, as well as those whose parents do not have a college degree, were less likely than their peers to report learning about computers from their friends or fathers. African-American parents also reported being far more likely to restrict computer and internet usage for girls compared with boys.

“What schools can take away from this is that African-American parents are very much engaged and concerned about their children,” said Scott of Arizona State.

“But we know that [African-American] girls are not provided the same opportunities to play, to innovate, and to use computational thinking skills, and that may cause a problem.”

Takeaway: Young African-Americans frequently use technology to learn and create content, but far fewer write their own code.

Takeaway: “Young people’s passion for their phones was obvious,” the researchers conclude.

Takeaway: The vast majority of young African-Americans prefer computers to mobile devices for tasks related to school and career preparation

Takeaway: African-American parents are substantially more likely to restrict girls’ than boys’ computer and internet use.

A version of this article appeared in the November 16, 2016 edition of Education Week as Eager to Innovate: African-American Teenagers and Technology


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Classroom Strategies for Building Equity and Student Confidence
Shape equity, confidence, and success for your middle school students. Join the discussion and Q&A for proven strategies.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Disrupting PD Day in Schools with Continuous Professional Learning Experiences
Hear how this NC School District achieved district-wide change by shifting from traditional PD days to year-long professional learning cycles
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

IT Infrastructure Ed. Dept. Outlines How Schools Can Use Federal Funds to Sustain Tech Programs
School districts can use federal funds to support digital learning programs started during the pandemic.
3 min read
Tight shot of diverse, elementary school children using a tablet in class
iStock/Getty Images Plus
IT Infrastructure A Change in Federal Funding May Make the 'Homework Gap' Worse
With the increase in tech use, it’s important that students have sufficient connectivity to access learning materials while at home.
3 min read
Photo of girl working at home on laptop.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
IT Infrastructure Students Are Viewing Porn at School. How Educators Can Stop Them
Nearly a quarter of teenagers said they have viewed pornography at school, new survey shows.
3 min read
Image of a phone and headphones sitting on a stack of books.