Abstract

Information and communication technologies (ICT) have profoundly impacted professional workplaces. In today’s fast-paced technology pervasive workplaces, employers demand that college graduates are prepared with key ICT knowledge and skills as they enter the workforce. Underserved students, such as students of color and first-generation college students, are at a risk of being left behind, as they are more likely to come from communities that have been historically marginalized and under-resourced. Therefore, universities are faced with the need to invest resources to provide training and experiences that advance knowledge and skills in using ICT. Research indicates individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to have trouble interpreting which skills might be needed in different fields and are less likely to ask questions when they don’t know (Goldsmith & Coleman, 2022). Moreover, underserved students faced more learning barriers than their peers in ICT use (Deng & Sun, 2022). In this study, we examine technology use by underserved students through the lens of psychological safety (Edmondson, 1999) and learner empowerment (Frymier et al., 1996). We analyzed the relationships between safety, empowerment, and student perception of technology use for learning. We consider contextual factors (e.g., service-learning course project) and individual background (e.g., employment status) in exploring individual differences. Psychological safety refers to student comfort and inclusion in a college learning environment. It is defined as ‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking’ (Edmondson, 1999; p.350). We measure it by adapting four questions on a 7-point Likert scale including “Classmates of this class are able to bring up problems and touch issues” and “It is safe to take a risk in this class.” The Cronbach's Alpha is 0.718. Learner empowerment is a psychological construct of three dimensions (meaningfulness, competence, impact) that captures a student’s motivation to succeed in a particular course (Frymier et al., 1996; Gonsalves et al., 2019). We measured it by the responses to eight questions, including “I worked hard for class because I wanted to, not because I had to” and “I can perform the necessary activities to succeed in my class.” The Cronbach's Alpha is 0.936. Finally, technology use is measured by student perception about technology use for learning. Participants answered six questions adapted from Loague et al. (2018), including “I enjoy using technology” and “I think that my learning can be enhanced by using tech tools and resources” on a 7-point Likert scale. The Cronbach's Alpha is 0.682. In our pilot study, we collected survey responses of 41 students in December 2023 at a minority-serving U.S. university. Among the 41 respondents, 30 (73%) participated in a community-based organization (CBO) project and 24 (58.5%) were employed full-time or part-time. On average, students who participated in CBO project provided a higher rating than those who did not on their psychological safety and learner empowerment, at 5.72 (max. 7) and 4.6 (max. 5) respectively. Meanwhile, students employed full-time rated those two measures higher than other groups (e.g., employed part-time, unemployed) did, at 5.73 and 4.63 respectively. Regression analysis show that psychological safety significantly predicted empowerment (0.289; p-value<0.002), which in turn positively impacted student technology use (0.664; p-value<0.006). These findings are extremely preliminary, given the small sample (n=41) in the pilot study. The next step in this research is to conduct a large-scale survey in spring 2024 and continue with the quantitative analysis. This research (when completed) has potential implications for IS/IT education, digital divide and equity research, and community digital upskilling initiatives.

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