Computing for all? Examining critical biases in computational tools for learning

Breanne K. Litts, Kristin A. Searle, Bryan M.J. Brayboy, Yasmin B. Kafai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Given the increased need for broadening participation in computing, there must be a focus not just on providing culturally relevant content but also on building accessible and inclusive computational tools. Most efforts to design culturally responsive computational tools redesign surface features, often through making nominal changes to add cultural meaning, yet the deeper structural design remains largely intact. We take a critical perspective towards novice programming environments to elucidate how the underlying structure privileges particular epistemologies and cultures. In this paper, we examine how the cultural practice of storytelling is supported and/or inhibited within novice programming tools. We draw upon the experiences of 38 Native American youth, who worked in teams to create place-based, interactive stories and games for their community. Findings offer insights to the embedded cultural biases that exist in the structures of computational tools. We discuss insights for how to address cultural biases and promote deeper integration of cultural practices in future designs of culturally responsive computational tools. Practitioner Notes What is already known about this topic? Culturally responsive computing connects computing content heritage and vernacular cultural practices. “Black boxing,” or lack of transparency in how it works, in computational tools makes it difficult for novices to enter computing cultures. Design tools are embedded with particular ways of being, knowing, valuing and doing. What this paper adds? Thirty-eight novice learners’ computational designs were shaped by the ways in which a computational tool privileged particular knowledge systems. Storytelling, as a critical cultural practice, especially in Indigenous cultures, is heavily constrained by the design structure of computational tools. Computational tools are cultural artifacts with deeply embedded epistemological, ontological and axiological biases, which directly frame what learners can do with these tools. Implications for practice Collaborative, community-based design processes could mitigate the cultural biases that persist in computational tools. Transparency in computation tools in critical to broadening participation in computing cultures. Culturally responsive design of computational tools at the structural level is required to build inclusive computing cultures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)842-857
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • computational justice
  • computing
  • culture
  • design
  • equity
  • learning technologies
  • storytelling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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