I want to talk a little bit about Explora’s core value of learning. I know, I know, I’ve done a blog post earlier about this, but it’s one of the core pillars that makes my host institution what it is, and it also happens to be my favorite, so here it is as it appears on our website:
We champion experiential, open-ended learning as a foundation for innovation, creativity, and critical thinking.
– Everyone has something to learn and something to teach.
– Learning is inherently valuable and essential for growth.
– The best answer is often a question, unless it’s “where is the bathroom?”
– Parents and family are essential partners in learning.
Let me tell you how this value is working in ExploraConnect.
In my early needs assessment I often had my interviews with stakeholders derailed by a simple question: “Yes, but why do you expect people to adopt this technology”. I never had a good answer. The reality is, adopting digital and information technology in the Navajo Nation is hard. It’s expensive, it takes so much time and dedication that families often don’t have, and sometimes even folks who know the benefits of being connected to a world of ideas and knowledge don’t see all the obstacles in the way of digital inclusion as a fair tradeoff for those benefits, and decide to remain offline.
I don’t have THE answer to this question, but I may have an answer, and it has to do with parents and families being essential partners in learning. If you ask any of the Explora staff they will tell you that a magical moment that can happen during our programs and on the museum floor is when a parent or caretaker sees their child as a learner, and when a child sees the wonder and excitement in learning from their caretaker as well. This mutual observation between caretaker and child can make a family into a learning unit, because everyone has something to learn and something to teach.
During our trial outreaches I have observed that parents are so much more willing to take the immediate steps to educate themselves on low cost internet options in their area, and make a point of asking good questions about those options after they see their child as a digital learner. A caretaker seeing a child play with simple code, like they would play with a soccer ball seems to make something click, and can turn an uninterested and overwhelmed parent into an advocate, willing to go that one extra step to get their child what they need to continue learning.
Does this mean that internet and internet enabled devices are more affordable? No. Does this mean it’s suddenly easy to get connected in rural New Mexico. Definitely not. It means that where there was once a blank space there is now a dot, and where there was once silence there is now an advocate. It means that those parents who have had that switch turned to “on” are now partners working with us to access the internet for themselves and for their future, and that makes our work so, so much easier.