Blog Post

Brazil, Higher Ed, and the Digital Divide?

In what ways do policy makers, educators, and activists think about technology in higher education and the digital divide in Brazil today? What solutions have they posed? These are questions that have been percolating in my mind over the last few months as I have thought about my next steps in learning and writing about the future of higher education.

Since working on the book chapter, “Open for Whom,” in Fieldnotes (2013), I’ve been thinking about the significance of discussing the digital divide in Higher Ed. In many ways, this is an old conversation that people have theorized and written about for decades. I’m not purporting to add to existing sociological research on the subject, but to think critically about the fact that such discussions often take place behind closed doors, or within closed-circles. To what extent do educators, policy-makers, business leaders and activists step across traditional social boundaries to discuss the multi-faceted matrix of inequality that exists in today’s digital world? Even more crucially, to what extent do these conversations take place across national boundaries?

As a historian of Latin America who dabbles in anthropological methods, I’m particularly curious about the possibilities of cross-border conversations on the digital divide in education—especially as they pertain to the growing relationship between the United States and Brazil. Over the past decades, people have turned their attention to Brazil in perhaps equal amounts of frenzy as they have discussed changes in Higher Ed. Besides increasing the number of Brazilian Studies programs across the nation, universities have particularly looked to develop opportunities for exchange between Brazilian and American academics. Duke is no different from its peer institutions. In 2014, Duke is offering grants to graduate students, professors, and undergrads to explore new venues for dialogue through the new Duke Brazil Initiative. The purpose of the Duke Brazil Initiative is to develop clusters of academic exchange in areas of excellence with selected Brazilian institutions. 

At Duke, as I’m sure is true of other universities, it often seems that we are all isolated in our various areas of expertise. The Franklin Humanities Institute, its humanities labs, and various leaders on campus (ie. Cathy Davidson, David Bell, Laurent Dubois, and others), however, have done much work to provide spaces where scholars from different areas of the Duke community can come together. The Duke Brazil Initiative is another source of exchange. What would it mean to combine the resources and conversations taking place in these various areas across campus? This is a fundamental question that is also a proposal. If we are thinking about reform in Higher Ed, the growth of the Brazil, and the challenges of the digital divide, along with the promises of technology in the twenty-first century, then we should have a focused, cross-border conversation on all of these things at once. The result will lead us to productive ways of rethinking the digital divide and to devising innovative solutions for today’s global world, or at least in the Americas.

For me, this proposal is my way of establishing the stakes of a very small project that I am interested in pursuing through the Duke Brazil Initiative’s graduate student grant program. In January, I will apply for funding to promote Duke-Brazilian exchange by examining how Brazilian teachers, policy-makers, and activists use technology (or propose to use technology) to increase access to education in the Brazil and the U.S. I am particularly interested in the ways that online courses, and online networks of scholars and students produce collaboration across borders and open access to information to underprivileged groups.For this project, I would like to meet with three different groups of people over a period of two weeks in Brazil: 1) educators who are thinking about technology and university education in new ways; 2) policy makers who are trying to promote new ways to open access to technology in Brazilian schools; 3) and activists who work in the area of education. These initial meetings would take place in the spring or summer of 2014. If I were awarded the grant, there would also be an opportunity to bring one of my potential Brazilian collaborators to Duke in the fall of 2014. During the campus visit, the scholar and I would promote discussion on education, technology, and the digital divide, with a focus on Brazil, through workshops and events.

I am currently at the initially stages of planning, and thought to write a blog about my proposal in case anyone in the HASTAC community would be interesting in collaborating with me, or knows of anyone in Brazil who would be interested in this project.  Please let me know what you think!

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