This week, my colleagues and I were tasked with debate whether or not technology has led to a more equitable society. I found myself on the side I didn’t initially want to argue, which I’m sure won’t be unique to me. Interestingly, once we had put our argument together, I believed in our points and really wanted the class to see it our way. Christina, Amaya, and Matt argued that technology has not created equity, while Stephen, Tracy and myself argued that it has. Both teams presented thoughtful points, and I didn’t sleep a wink on Monday night as I stressed over the few students we won over and what I wished I had said differently.
My team highlighted that assistive technology (AT) has created more equitable opportunities for differently-abled people to access and participate in education, the workforce, and society (watch Kymberly DeLoatche’s TED Talk on AT here). We also highlighted that global education and literacy rates have exponentially increased over the past two decades thanks to increased access, led by technology. We shared the ways that technology can improve access to education in rural locations, provide educators improved access to up-to-date resources, and that not all technology relies on the internet. Lastly, we shared evidence that significant gaps in student achievement existed before the introduction of technology in education, and emphasized that technology is not to blame for the digital divide, but that societal inequities, money, and internet accessibility challenges need to be addressed to allow equal access to technology because it can promote increased personalized learning, effectively reduce disparities in student learning, and improve overall quality of life.
The disagree side noted that access to technology and internet is not equal, with marginalized populations being less likely to have access in their homes. This is well established in literature to widen the achievement gap, and has been coined the ‘digital divide.’ They observed that the pandemic exacerbated this issue. They also highlighted that schools lack the funding to solve this problem; providing access to all students would be financially unsustainable (not to mention the administrative hassle). The group also strongly opposed social media, citing that personal data is constantly being harvested, that algorithmic informational control creates biases, that social media is addictive, and that it is creating reduced attention spans in learners. They also remarked that not all technologies are accessible to people with disabilities, and that overuse of technology can be detrimental for students, such as those with ADHD.
Whew! Do you see the valid points on both sides? Now do you get why I couldn’t sleep Monday night?
After a sleepless night, and some self-reflection about why the debate was so difficult, I’m choosing to look at the valuable learning from both sides of the argument. While I don’t believe that technology has created a fair and just world, I do believe that it creates equity where enabled to. There is no denying that societal inequities exist, and that we have inadequate internet infrastructure and public policy surrounding technology access that has allowed the digital divide to endure. We all have responsibility to influence progress towards a world where technology is accessible to all and can empower everyone with improved equity in education, and improved quality of life.
Now that I’ve got this off my chest, I think I’ll try to catch up from my sleepless night by taking a nap.