Once again, the Great EdTech debate didn’t disappoint. The statement: Technology is a force for equity in society led me to numerous paths of thought before even considering my own personal position. Coming into the debate, I had not settled on my own point of view and I was ready to be enlightened by either Jen, Dawn and Sapna or Amy S. and Rakan. Both teams provided excellent arguments which resulted in making the analysis of this debate even more difficult and complicated. As I have learned since the beginning of this class over the last few months, no issue related to technology or its application in society is black or white. There are always nuances related to how technology influences people and society.
In the particular context of education, I firmly believe that I, as teacher, am a force for equity in society. As education has become more and more prevalent over the past centuries, society has evolved into what we know today. In parallel with education, technology has been in lockstep with education in shaping our world.
Having attended a small rural school, I can attest that technology has afforded me opportunities that would have otherwise not been available to me. As a high school student, not having access to qualified mathematics and science teachers, the internet and distance education allowed me to receive the same level of teaching as my urban counterparts. Although there were many difficulties at the time such as poor bandwidth (remember 56k modems and 128kbps ISDN lines?) unreliable computers (remember Windows XP and CRT monitors?) and poor communications technologies (remember analog phones and fax machines?), we as students were able to navigate these sources of friction and achieve excellent results. As Layla Bonnot explains in her analysis on open educational resources, technology is enabling quality education access to even the remotes places on earth. In my situation, technology was a force for equity.
Speaking to a colleague that immigrated from a remote African village some 10 years ago, he mentioned that over the past few years, access to the Internet and computers has changed the lives of his family that is still living in that part of the world. Given that the economic situation in many areas of the developing world is improving, many people are now able to dedicate time to expanding their knowledge of the world as opposed to spending 100% of their time on tasks related to survival. A few years ago, I was able to meet physicist Neil Turok. He talked about how technology is at the center of his efforts in supporting and developing science and mathematics education on the African continent though the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences which he founded in 2003. Where it not for the internet, he would have never been able to progress in developing this institute.
To me, this once again demonstrates how technology can be used as a vehicle to expand the possibilities of education and making it accessible to a wider portion of the population.
Just like in every other debate we have had; no situation is perfect and purely beneficial to all parties involved. Annie Murphy Paul highlights the digital divide that is seemingly happening between affluent kids using technology and low-income kids using similar technology. It is no surprise that socio-economic standing greatly influences learning opportunities as this has been researched extensively at many levels. That being said, money remains a factor that determines in many cases the level of access to technologies at home and in schools. Some affluent people thus think by simply dumping the highest tech in the poorest places in society, inequality will be solved. This train of thought can lead to dangerous traps, that are underlined again by Annie Murphy Paul. In addition Facebook’s free internet initiative is another example of applying technology to a problem that needs other solutions.
At times, I feel like many teachers view technology as an interesting means to teach and often get caught up in the technology itself while forgetting the educational outcome they are trying to achieve. On many occasions, I have witnessed teachers praising a students’ AMAZING project involving a high level of complex technology use while not realizing this particular student didn’t achieve the desired learning outcome. The initial shock and awe of the project often creates bias in certain teacher’s assessments.
I often discuss with my colleagues the trap of attacking challenges with technology when simple proven solutions can be just as effective. A pencil and a paper can be a powerful and simple technology that can accomplish great things and must not be ignored. I find simple low-tech solutions can produce some of the best learning situations for teachers and learners. Last summer, while participating at the Einstein Plus teachers’ conference at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, myself and the other conference attendees participated in an activity where teams were given 10$ to spend at a dollar store. Our objective was to maximize the money by creating an activity that can be used to teach a concept related to science. The results of the exercise were nothing short of amazing. I have used many of these ideas developed during this activity quite frequently in my own pedagogy. Once again, low tech, but very effective. Here is an example of our exploits, you might even recognise yours truly.
Technology in this case, although inexpensive and simple is providing new opportunities for education thus once again, providing equity despite cost.
With technology creeping into every nook and cranny of our society, companies are seeing opportunities that seem fantastic on the surface but can be quite disconcerting when properly analyzed. It’s hard to argue cost when things are free. Many resources we use online are sold as free tools that will change the world. Services provided by Google or Youtube and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook all commercialise our personal information for profit. We as users effectively become the product of these tools. The information harvested through our use of these services can then be sold to entities such as advertisers and insurance companies. This information can then be used to target segments of populations for very specific commercial gain. Who has ever searched for something on Google only to see, within a few minutes, Amazon ads for this product everywhere on the internet? Although this example is perhaps benign as it is simply a form of advertising, much more serious consequences can result in the manipulation of data. A more worrisome example of this might data manipulation is how Russia used social media through firms such as Cambridge Analytica to manipulate and influence the 2016 Presidential Election.
As our world adapts to these technologies, we will suffer many setbacks and see many bad consequences. That being said, I stay optimistic for the future in that humans are at the center of society and its evolution. Technology will play a key part in allowing humanity to become healthier though providing access to better opportunities to those less fortunate. As teachers, we must be the vehicle by which we drive this technology to improve education. I believe that education can become a force for equity in society by properly harnessing the appropriate technologies. Dan Meyer proposes four interesting questions he always asks about new Technology in Education:
- What does it do?
- Is that a good thing to do?
- What does it cost?
- What do people think about this?
I don’t have all the answers, but these represent an excellent place to start.