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Broadening Indigenous Youth Participation in Computing Education

The problem of underrepresentation is a pressing concern in all computing disciplines. This problem has cultural underpinnings and connections to historical marginalization and social injustice patterns. Throughout my final project in ETEC 521, I conducted a narrative review to identify the emerging frameworks, teaching approaches, and tools of praxis in use to support Indigenous youth participation within K-12 computer science (CS) education. Below, you'll find three of these approaches.

[1] Ethnocomputing with Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Ethnocomputing is a framework that suggests that computing principles should be related to the local cultural systems at multiple levels, including algorithms, design models, interfaces, and educational practices (Tedre, Sutinen, Kahkonen & Kommers, 2006). This framework has led the way to culturally responsive computing (CRC), a field focusing on raising the achievement and interest of “underrepresented ethnic groups” in computing education (Eglash, Gilbert & Foster, 2013). One key goal of CRC is critiquing the structural conditions (e.g., colonialism) that caused students’ underrepresentation (Eglash et al., 2013). Another goal of CRC is connecting computing content with heritage and vernacular cultural practices and/or social justice issues that are familiar to students (Eglash et al., 2013; Sandoval, 2019). And thus, computing can be “part of the repertoire of healthy identity self-construction” (Eglash et al., 2013, p.36).

One of the best examples of CRC is the Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs) created in collaboration with and for “Native American” communities, where, for instance, Native American beadwork, is mapped into a Cartesian coordinate and learners design on Virtual Bead Loom (Eglash, 2007).

While experimenting with the tool, I thought that CRC, along with Native American CSDTs, is one of the most successful approaches rooted in Indigenous knowledge. However, more changes are required in the structural design of the CSDTs. Also, I believe more guidelines are needed in the teaching practice to ensure that the application is not merely “the sugar coating for the bad medicine of [computing]” (Eglash et al., 2020, p.1572).

[2] Storytelling Use in Computer Science Education

Storytelling is another strategy used to support Indigenous youth computer education. Most of the literature found was based on Archibald's (2008) "Indigenous storywork", which frames how storytelling has the power to educate and build on the seven principles of respect, responsibility, reciprocity, reverence, wholeness, interrelatedness, and synergy. Indigenous knowledge, storywork, and holistic learning practices have been used in the ANCESTOR (AborigiNal Computer Education through Storytelling) program that helps "Aboriginal" youth in British Columbia (Canada) explore computer science (Biin & Weston 2015). However, it hasn't been evident in this project if the Indigenous storytelling practice was or not impacted by the tools' specifications or not. The only publication that focused on the impact of educational tools when using Indigenous storytelling was “Computing for all? Examining critical biases in computational tools for learning” (Litts, Searle, Brayboy & Kafai, 2020). The researchers reported cultural biases in Augmented and Interactive Storytelling (ARIS) that prevented some Native American youth from turning their nonlinear narratives into game developments (Litts et al., 2020). They suggested incorporating Indigenous knowledge more deeply into the future designs of culturally responsive computational tools (Litts et al., 2020).

[3] Computing and Community Involvement

Recently, several researchers have suggested that local community involvement in computer education may increase the likelihood that the underrepresented student groups will perceive computing as an important field to join and learn about (Lachney & Yadav, 2020; Sandoval, 2019). For example, Lachney and Yadav (2020) proposed a framework representing a multidirectional flow between CS educators, technologists, and cultural experts, where they work together in an iterative process to develop culturally responsive and computationally rich programs and products. This view parallels the “community-based learning” that has shown to be beneficial for Indigenous students’ learning and participation in science education.

Pohawpatchoko, Colwell, Powell, and Lassos (2017) provide an excellent example of the impact of community involvement on Indigenous youth technological participation. The researchers found that repurposing technology into something meaningful (i.e., decolonizing the museum) not only for students, but also for local communities; the inclusion of elders and other knowledgeable tribal members; and the relationships between Indigenous staff and students, has offered the students “a sense of wholeness” (p.61), which helped bridging the divide between tradition and modernity in their lives. Indeed, the researchers who are themselves members of the community have contributed in the success of this particular case study. However, there might be instances where some cultural knowledges or practices wouldn’t be shared with outsiders (especially if they are sacred to a particular community). More publications/ guidelines are needed to orient our partnership with Indigenous communities in order to ensure a “respectful contextualization” (Eglash et al., 2020, p.1572). Also, more research is required on how to fold the community engagement back into formal education and technology design.

The approaches cited above show the possibility for Indigenous knowledge to work in concert rather than in conflict, within computing settings striving to support both views. Understanding the non-computational issues that led to Indigenous students’ disengagement in the first place, engaging Indigenous communities in the teaching processes, and helping students to see the relationships between computing and the applications and needs within their communities, are all important aspects required while integrating Indigenous ways of knowing in the classroom. Indeed, there are other requirements in the design of learning technologies such as escalating the Indigenous knowledges and languages into the roots of computing, which are the programming languages themselves or the indigenization the programming languages.


• Throughout this post, I use “Indigenous” to refer to some common characteristics among Indigenous peoples- this while acknowledging that the Indigenous experience is not the same. Other terms in use correspond the original references.

• I am an outsider (non-Indigenous Canadian computer engineer). My learning was only facilitated through ETEC 521 course material and the literature addressing the project topic.

About the Author

Marwa Kotb is a programmer and a strong advocate for equity-oriented computer science education. With the aim of inspiring youth in an engaging, diverse, and culturally responsive programming learning experience, she is currently working at the intersection of CS training programs, ed-tech integration, and project management with various educational environments.


Archibald, J. (2008). Indigenous storywork: Educating the heart, mind, body, and spirit. University of British Columbia Press.

CSDT. (n.d.). Applications. Retrieved from

Eglash, R. (2007). Ethnocomputing with Native American Design. In Dyson, L. E., Hendriks, M. A. N., & Grant, S. (eds). Information technology and indigenous people. (pp.210 - 219). Information Science Pub.

Eglash, R., Gilbert, J. E., & Foster, E. (2013). Broadening participation toward culturally responsive computing education. Communications of the ACM, 56(7), 33-36.

Eglash, R., Lachney, M., Babbitt, W., Bennett, A., Reinhardt, M., & Davis, J. (2020a). Decolonizing education with Anishinaabe arcs: Generative STEM as a path to Indigenous futurity. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(3), 1569-1593.

Lachney, M., & Yadav, A. (2020). Education: Computing and community in formal education. Communications of the ACM, 63(3), 18-21.

Litts, B. K., Searle, K. A., Brayboy, B. M. J., & Kafai, Y. B. (2021). Computing for all? Examining critical biases in computational tools for learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 52(2), 842-857.

Pohawpatchoko, C., Colwell, C., Powell, J., & Lassos, J. (2017). Developing a native digital voice: Technology and inclusivity in museums. Museum Anthropology, 40(1), 52-64.

Sandoval, C. D. M. (2019). Ancestral knowledge meets computer science education: Environmental change in community. Palgrave Macmillan US.

Tedre, M., Sutinen, E., Kähkönen, E., & Kommers, P. (2006). Ethnocomputing: ICT in cultural and social context. Communications of the ACM, 49(1), 126-130.


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