UC Digital Cultures Lab: High School Workshops Focus on Education, Technology, and Social Justice

IS Professor Ramesh Srinivasan directed a workshop on the possibilities of new technology in grassroots social change at South LA high school.

Last week, members of the UCLA Digital Cultures Lab, a UC-wide network of scholars, students, and staff, held a collaborative workshop in South Los Angeles at Augustus F. Hawkins High School in Los Angeles. The workshop explored the intersection of digital media and youth activism issues, such as re-claiming parks and spaces, police brutality, and #blacklivesmatter.

The first of several such workshops to be potentially held in South LA, the event was geared towards building partnerships between University of California scholars and researchers and LAUSD teachers and students who are interested in new media’s role in activism, education, and civic engagement. The UC Digital Cultures Lab workshop was sponsored by the Michelson 20MM Foundation, (formerly Twenty Million Minds).

The UCLA Digital Cultures Lab is a research center founded last spring by Ramesh Srinivasan (@rameshmedia), UCLA associate professor of information studies, involving scholars from across the UC system in examining how different cultures and communities use technology. Srinivasan is an expert on how new media technologies influence – and are influenced – by social, cultural, economic, and political dynamics. He has led collaborative research projects in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, rural India, in Bolivia, and with Native American communities, and is currently slated to release a book, “Whose Global Village?: Cross-Cultural Visions of the Future of the Internet” within the next year that explores the interactions between new technologies and diverse cultures across the world.

Associate professor of information studies Ramesh Srinivasan is a renowned authority on how world cultures interface with new technology.

Srinivasan says that bringing workshops by the UCLA Digital Cultures Lab enriches both student learning and the research experience for his UC colleagues in profound ways.

The vast majority of technologies are designed not necessarily for the global, cross-cultural populations that have come to collide with these technologies in recent years,” he says. “So, instead of assuming that technologies should be created or understood in a one-size-fits-all manner, we are all about a collaborative approach toward rethinking how technologies are created, who they serve, and how one would develop a project that is mutually beneficial and supportive of communities that are [unique] worlds in their own right.”

The half-day workshop included sessions on digital graphic art in many social contexts, led by an art teacher at Hawkins. Students’ work included a logo protesting the stringent anti-abortion laws in El Salvador that resulted in the incarceration of 17 women who had merely miscarried, and a visualization of data on the amount of scholarship monies given to various ethnic groups.

Ung-Sang Lee, a Ph.D. student in the UCLA Division of Urban Schooling, is the coordinator of the UCLA Digital Cultures Lab. He says that South Los Angeles high schools like Augustus F. Hawkins are ideal venues for the Lab’s work due to teachers’ expertise in utilizing digital tools in a social justice and educational context.

“My research is around how [underrepresented] students’ voices could be privileged around technology,” says Lee, who has established a Student Technology Action Research Group at a Los Angeles high school, with an aim to make school technology practices speak to student priorities.  “The research I want to do aligns with the goals of the UCLA Digital Cultures Lab. The people involved our lab really care about how broader trends in the world of technology play out in real life contexts.”

Srinivasan says that high school students, particularly in regions such as South Los Angeles that have been historically marginalized, are a key age group from which the UCLA Digital Cultures Lab can draw rich data on grassroots social change.

The workshops examined the meaning and contexts for various social media technologies that serve youth in South Los Angeles, which is an area that is not considered an area of early-adopter consumers of new technology,” Srinivasan says.

“Part of what was really powerful at our workshops was our realization that these youth are already incredibly empowered. They have a great amount of passion and ambition and creativity. The youth are trying to think of ways to use technology to organize themselves to make these incidents visible and develop a campaign for their community [to stop them].

A student at Augustus F. Hawkins High School presents her presenting her graphic design work. The work seeks to bring attention to 17 women in El Salvador who are incarcerated due to their miscarriages under strict anti-abortion laws. The student, who described herself as a feminist activist, connected her Salvadorian background with her activist goals to create this piece.
A student at Augustus F. Hawkins High School presents a logo she designed to honor 17 women in El Salvador who were incarcerated due to their miscarriages under strict anti-abortion laws. Courtesy of Ung-Sang Lee

“Youth have the tools and creativity. How they put it together, not just in collaboration with UC faculty but with their own teachers, provides a great amount of energy, hope, and inspiration,” says Srinivasan. “They really have the potential to take leadership over collaborations and technology projects we can develop within the UCLA Digital Cultures Lab.”

The UCLA Digital Cultures Lab is planning more workshops across California, capitalizing on the expertise of the Lab’s members from among UC faculty. Future events include a workshop exploring the economic, political and social meaning of drone technology across the world.

“With the UCLA Digital Cultures Lab, it’s no longer merely myself, or my UC colleagues who are individual researchers,” says Professor Srinivasan. “Collaboratively, we can develop the types of initiatives that have much more strength and potential to them than we can [develop] solely on our own.”

Srinvasan’s media appearances include several TEDx talks, National Public Radio, Al Jazeera, The Young Turks and Public Radio International.  He has also been a prolific contributor to Al Jazeera English, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post.


Above: Recent workshops presented by the UCLA Digital Cultures Lab at Augustus F. Hawkins High School illustrated the innovative use of 3D-Physical interfaces to create an interactive, community mural. Each student contributed parts to a mural that explored the possibilities and visions of their communities. Courtesy of Ung-Sang Lee