I can’t believe I am writing my last blog post for The Great EdTech Debate in EC&I 830! Where did the time go?!
This week, we focused on the topic, technology is a force for equity in society. Personally, I find any topic that examines equity to be particularly tricky. Perspective really is everything. For example, if you take a glass half empty approach, you could argue that attempts to bring technology/access to underprivileged communities (i.e. One Laptop Per Child) is simply a “white saviour” approach that is forcing western ideologies onto these societies. If you’re more of a glass half full kind of person, you might believe that bringing tech to these communities is actually helping them and allowing for more people to be connected worldwide. Of course, there are also technological inequities right here in our own communities when we consider things like technology allocations in schools, access to tech at home, and access to the internet. So how do we navigate this extremely challenging (but important) conversation?
One thing I noticed during our debate was that both teams were ultimately advocating on behalf of marginalized groups, just from different perspectives. It truly does depend what lens you look through.
Rakan and Amy raised some important points that are worth discussing when we consider the ways in which technology might perpetuate issues such as racism, sexism, harassment, colonialism, and economic divide. However, I personally believe that technology is not to blame. Acts of discrimination, harassment, and colonialism have been around long before technology, and so I believe that we must use technology to overcome some of these issues that continue to impact society in negative ways rather than blame technology and focus solely on the ways in which it may divide us. Recent online movements such as #NeverAgain and #MeToo have sparked waves of social activism and demonstrate the positive power of technology when it comes to combating societal inequities and injustices of our time.
On the other hand, the agree team, Jen, Dawn, and Sapna made many strong arguments for why and how technology is in fact a force for equity in society. From their perspective, technology removes barriers for people, shifting the outlook from one of “digital divide” to one of “digital inclusion” (which I love)! Part of bridging this divide is the fact that education has become more affordable and accessible to people worldwide, and as an educator, I can’t help but see this as being the sole most important factor when considering ways in which technology increases equity in today’s world.
In her 2012 Ted Talk, Daphne Koller discusses the ways in which online education has opened so many doors for people who would not have had access to the same learning opportunities otherwise. She quotes Thomas Friedman when she says that “big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary”. I really love this quote and I think it speaks to the equity that technology can bring to learning in the 21st century. After recognizing what is “desperately necessary” (accessible, affordable education for all), Koller and a colleague created Coursera, a free online education site that consists of 43 courses from some of the best instructors and universities and is accessible for everyone around the world. What I found to be particularly amazing about this site is that these free, online courses have actually helped students get accepted into post-secondary institutions and land better job opportunities because it has given them the skills they need to be successful, sought after applicants.
Personally, I fell on the agree side of this discussion, and I continually kept going back to my role as an educator when considering accessibility and affordability of technology. Although some may argue that technology has created a digital divide due to the high costs associated with buying the latest laptop or smartphone, the agree team proved that this is not actually the case. They noted that over half of those who earn $15,000 a year or less (ages 18-24) still own a smartphone. This means that wage or socio-economic status is not necessarily preventing people from accessing and/or being able to afford technology. It seems as though technology has become a priority for most people. And although many may still not have access to wifi at home, there are more and more free wifi zones popping up around many different cities (thanks, Sasktel!), along with free access to wifi at most public schools and libraries. Jodie made a great point in her recent blog when she compared the cost of a Google Chromebook to the cost of two textbooks and showed how they were roughly the same price. This just goes to show that having access to technology doesn’t necessarily mean having to spend thousands on the latest, greatest device. If school divisions take note of this, and allocate technology according to the socio-economic needs of their schools and communities, then I think we are well on our way to becoming more ‘tech’quitable institutions.
As a Learning Resource Teacher, I have seen firsthand the many ways in which assistive technology has made it possible for students with disabilities to read, write and communicate. Tools like Kurzweil or Google Read and Write allow students with learning disabilities in reading and writing to be able to access grade level text (audio) and communicate their ideas using tools like voice-to-text and word prediction. Communication devices such as the Dynavox allow students to use visual or audio prompts to help them understand or produce language. Additionally, technology allows for personalized learning which is so important given the diversity of our classrooms and the varying abilities and learning styles of our students.
As quoted in the agree team’s opening statement, “technology does not discriminate – it works the same for each and every one of us”. I would agree with this statement, however, as we have discussed through our weekly debates, technology is simply a tool, and it’s power is in how it’s used. Therefore, just having access to technology isn’t going to change the world – education and purposeful use are key. But I believe that in today’s day and age, technology and education go hand in hand, and with increased affordability and accessibility of education online, the opportunities for people worldwide will only continue to grow. This makes me really excited and hopeful for the future of global generations to come! #teamtechquity