Category Archives: assistive technology

Debate #2 – Has Technology Made a More Equitable Society??

I have been struggling with this topic after the debate, as some very valid points were shed light on. I repeat the word equitable through my head. Equitable: dealing fairly and equally with all concerned. From one end of the spectrum people with disabilities are given a more equitable education, and then there is a social divide that limits certain students from accessing technology allowing for an unequal chance at education. So where do I sit?? The debaters did such a great job that I feel torn as I see negatives and the positives of both sides of the debate.

Positives Aspects

Individual Needs

From the agree side, teachers are able to help assist students with individual needs closing the gap and allowing every student inclusivity. The technologies mentioned in the debate was assistive technology such as hearing devices, screen readers, and even visual assistive technology. Through various assistive technology it allows people to function more independently and has created more opportunities to further their success.

  • Hearing Impairments: FM Transmitters have allowed students in classroom to hear all the content that is being addressed. We have all been in a noisy classroom, and feeling as though you cannot project your voice loud enough, but now think about students that are hard of hearing with the help of a personal FM station their world just got a little easier!
  • Screen readers: help students that have dyslexia be able to understand the text on the page without struggling for hours to read through the text and maybe then not even grasp the concepts. If there was not this assistive technology students could become discouraged and check out of learning for feeling that they are not the same as others. Technology such as screen readers has promoted equitability in the classroom to learn

Differentiated Instruction

There are various learners so it seems very obvious that we need differentiated instruction in the classroom. The Role of Technology in Reimagining School states, “Technology also makes it easier for teachers to share the work of developing differentiated lessons. If every teacher is teaching two-digit multiplication, one can develop games for skills practice while another creates word problems.”

Technology can assist in allowing all students succeed with various platforms like videos with captions and screen readers to name a few. The struggle lies when teachers do not see these as a learning platform to expand students understanding and knowledge, but use them as a babysitting tool so to speak, as mentioned in the debate. Technology in the classroom is equitable IF all students have equal opportunities to access computers, Ipads, and other platforms that are utilized as an educational tool.

Negative Aspects

Access Gaps

  • Cost of Devices

Technology may further the gap in education, as well as further outcast various students that come from a lower socioeconomic family. Not all technology is affordable for every student that is in our classrooms, and therefore do not have the background knowledge nor the capabilities of technology that we incorporate in our classrooms. Are we promoting a fair, inclusive and equal access to education when families cannot afford these platforms, and there is not enough technology to go around in our classrooms?

“Still many cultural and societal issues when it comes to a fair, inclusive and equal access to education.”

https://edtechnology.co.uk/comments/increasing-access-to-education-is-incremental/

Cost does not allow for equitability regarding access for all, therefore I argue does not lead to a more equitable society.

  • Digital Divide

Over the course of the last few years the digital divide has become more prominent in our educational systems. As schools shifted to an online learning format many students struggled with access to technology as well as internet. How does this affect students’ of lower socioeconomic backgrounds? The disagree side exclaimed that the digital divide promotes a social divide and creates gaps for students that do not have access at the ready for them to utilize. Furthermore, the digital divide is understood and coined in the 1990s by inequality between those that have access verses those that do not have access to technologies.

“Inequality of technological opportunities, in terms of the gap between ‘those who do and those who do not have access to new forms of information technology'”.

s. Ghobadi & z. Gobadi – Behaviour & INformation Technology

The disagree side laid out the inequity gap between high socioeconomic verses lower socioeconomic status regarding access to technology.

High Socioeconomic Status

  • Parental supports
  • More resources
  • Sufficient devices

Low Socioeconomic Status

  • Widening gaps
  • Technological inequity and pandemic
  • Insufficient access to devices

Socioeconomic status widens the gap between the use of technology in the classroom. The pandemic widened this gap further especially for families with multiple children as there were not enough devices for students to engage on. When I taught during the pandemic I heard multiple students exclaim that their sibling was using the computer, and they were on a phone therefore they could not fully engage in a lesson. Adversely, causing further problems when the said student went to work on their homework and realized they had no idea what to do. These students started to fall between the cracks.

Lack of WIFI and technologies affect minorities resulting in students not being able to freely participate in school, adversely being discriminated against and the feeling of defeat when trying to catch up in school work. The article by S. Ghobadi & Z. Gobadi addresses four major ideas when it comes to the digital divide; motivational access material access, skills access, and usage access. Motivational access is to wish to have access to a computer and to be connected to the ICT affected from low income, low levels of education, computer anxiety and lack of time. Ghobadi describes the other three factors with commonalities relating back to income, education, social class, and ethnicity. The word equity still buzzing in the back of my brain – this does not sound equitable in the least for students in our educational systems. I will leave the digital divide topic with the following quote for you to ponder over:

“Their results showed the relationship between digital access divide and digital capability divide (e.g. students without home computers had lower self-efficacy even when they had IT [information technology] access i schools) as well as the relationship between digital capability divide and digital outcome divide (e.g. students with lower self-efficacy had poorer learning outcomes”

S. GHOBADI & Z. GOBADI – BEHAVIOUR & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Concluding Thoughts

I see the divide for many students when it comes to technology in my classroom. Let me tell you why. We have students from all over the division, and some live in rural areas which either do not have internet or have very poor internet. The divide within the classroom for these students is very evident if they struggle with their work and cannot work on it at home, or if the student is sick for an extended time (especially during COVID). These said students started sliding behind with no means to catch up. That being said, this is only a small portion to consider within the realm of technology. I have also seen technology assist students with dyslexia in the classroom with mainly screen readers and speech to text. Furthermore, technology is constantly evolving creating difficulties for families to keep ahead of the everchanging ways of technology.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the debate I voted for disagree, although if I could neither agree nor disagree I would have chosen this option. There are positives and negatives to everything we incorporate into the classroom, and I believe it is important to keep in mind these discrepancies while we engage students in the classroom. This debate has opened my eyes to the gap in education from various socioeconomic status’ that disproportionately have access to technology (whether low end or high end quality), conversely creating a digital divide that questions whether technology has really made a more equitable society.

Keeping Up with the Edtech Joneses

Part 2: Debate 2:

Poster adaptation of the well-known meme by C. Froehle

Full disclaimer:

I’ve been delaying my response to this debate. More than delaying, I’ve been intentionally avoiding. Our prompt- Technology has led to a more equitable society– hit(s) me differently, on a heart rather than head level. And once the ol’ heart is engaged, emotions and memories pin down my customary objectivity.

Despite being thoroughly vocal (probably too vocal) throughout the debate, I just kept thinking: Should I even have a voice at this table? Having taught at a Following Their Voices, community school for over a decade, my experience with educational equity isn’t minimal, and my current reliance on edtech remains high as an online teacher for 2-plus years. But (and it’s a big one)…as a third-generation white settler, cisgender female who is educated, employed, and housed, how unbiased (or necessary) is my viewpoint on equity…even when well-researched?

Trying to use my voice…

Instagram post, with permission from @theindigenousfoundation

While avoiding this…

Instagram post (2), with permission from @theindigenousfoundation

So we’ll stick to the facts then…(mostly)

PRO Points to Ponder

Even though (spoiler alert!) I pre-voted CON, there’s no disputing the myriad of ways technology is attempting to level the playing field, as so eloquently outlined by Tracy, Nicole and Stephen:

Teacher insight into student individual needs: Whether in-person or online, Canadian classrooms are becoming vastly overcrowded (please tell me this isn’t up for debate). Shy Sandy’s dyscalculia or behaviour Billy’s dyslexia can be easily missed in our sardine-tight classes. In the shared article, The Role of Technology in Reimagining School, authors Amundson and Ko observe: “[T]echnology can give teachers a bird’s-eye view of how students are solving problems. If a student is missing a critical step—forgetting the order of operations in a math problem, for example—the teacher can focus on that content.”

I’m a firm believer that relationships and conferring trump data management, gamification, and standardized anything, but in increasingly busy and crowded classrooms, having further insight into student needs definitely feels like an equitable band-aid.

Image courtesy of educatorstechnology.com
These are a few of my favourite things (and if you sang that like The Sound of Music, we should be friends).

The necessity of differentiated instruction: Further in The Role of Technology in Reimagining School, the authors note that “[t]echnology also makes it easier for teachers to share the work of developing differentiated
lessons. If every teacher is teaching two-digit
multiplication, one can develop games for skills
practice while another creates word problems.”

If equity is making sure everyone gets what they need to succeed, then differentiated instruction seems like an obvious must. Reading programs like Raz Kids and Essential Skills provide Katlyn with boredom-free challenging readings, while Abi gets the extra comprehension assistance she needs. When I look back at my own experience receiving the same Grade 7 fraction drill sheets as my brother, despite a 14-year age gap, these differentiated programs seem like a godsend for students and teachers. Of course (as was mentioned during class discussion) the danger lies in teachers viewing these sites as separate sit-and-get “solutions” for students, rather than personally investing time in individual needs.

Inclusivity via assistive technology: One doesn’t have to look far or hard to learn about Canada’s murky past with classroom inclusivity (on a multitude of levels). According to the timeline outlined by BC Disability: “During the 1800s, young persons with special needs were simply excluded from the education system and deemed burdens, often confined to institutions where they festered away in isolation.” It wasn’t until the 1920’s that the idea of equity in education began to take root within Canadian classrooms.

Inclusivity for students with special needs remains imperfect today but assistive technologies can help level the field:

  • Hearing impairments: Technology like personal FM Systems have been game-changers. At the start of my career, I was instructed, “If you have a deaf student in your classroom, try to speak loudly and face them as much as possible.” That was it – that was the strategy! As a partially deaf person for the past 3 years, my advocacy for FM (frequency modulation) systems has increased tenfold. In crowded, noisy classrooms, nothing can feel more isolating and overwhelming than not understanding the “where, what, and who” of every conversation. Something as simple as closed captioning during in-class learning or Zoom meetings makes all the difference for deaf or hard-of-hearing students (like myself).
Closed captioning sign
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack closed captioning
  • Visual Impairments: Classrooms are visually rich places, and visual aids can provide inclusive solutions for students with visual impairments. Something as simple as enlarged text to more advanced tech like video magnifiers and digital text programs. Four years ago I taught a student designated legally blind. With proper funding, he gained access to a video magnifier. It was all he needed to transform from disengaged and “behavioural” to one of the most creative, innovative students I have ever taught!
  • The list goes on…
digital transformation concept in business, disruption
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack

CON Points to Ponder

When our classrooms shut down 2.5 years ago, technology was used to keep educators and students connected. 1:1 laptops sent home and various online platforms were meant to lessen the learning strain; however, as Christina, Amaya, and Matt outlined, technology did not prove to be the great equalizer.

This is the section I’ve been dreading. To remain impartial; stick to the data and studies and avoid soap-boxes and white saviourism.

So if I stick to the facts and the issues proposed, these problematic concerns with equitable technology remain:

Disproportionate access and support: Even the article highlighted on the PRO side, The Role of Technology in Reimagining School, outlines the problematic nature of viewing technology as an equitable solution for all students in all classrooms and homes. Participants in the research group noted that “[h]alf of all respondents rated learning disparities as a significant challenge . . . Disparities that existed before the pandemic were in many cases exacerbated. The shift to remote learning was a blow to many students who were already vulnerable, particularly students of color and low income children and youth.”

While this data has been collected from the States, and we do not yet have any longitudinal studies, I can only speak to what I have experienced – much greater disparities than those highlighted in the aforementioned reading.

When the pandemic hit, my (biological) children’s very well-funded (see: parent committees and fundraisers) school shifted seamlessly online. 98% of students already had access to WIFI, 1:1 laptops/smart devices, printers, and parental support. In comparison, my community school (same town, same school division), bled our laptop supply dry…and then we begged for more. My children’s school had a 96% end-of-year completion rate, with almost 100% daily online presence in all classrooms. Amazing! My community school experienced an 80% drop in online presence; we lost families whose locations remain unknown today. As mentioned in our debate, my school (and others like it) shifted our focus to family mental health and food assistance. It became more important for little Johnny to eat than it was for him to finish Grade 4 math. As an aside: All statistics above are courtesy of the weekly 2020 email updates we received from our school division (not just numbers I randomly cite in my head).

North Battleford Food Bank
Photo Credit: News Optimist

The debate question was raised: Was this a Covid learning gap, which happened in all classrooms and countries? My answer is: This was an inequitable learning situation before, during, and certainly after our pandemic lockdowns. In the aftermath, we now know that technology- at least in our Saskatchewan schools- did not provide equal access to the same learning opportunities. Based on the experiences of EC&I classmates from other parts of the world, equitable access is certainly not a Saskatchewan-based problem either. But I digress…

Global digital divide: My teaching experience and email statistics aside, when looking on a global scale, the disparities remain alarming. In The Global Digital Divide, Khan Academy author, Pamela Fox uses interactive maps and statistics to highlight the remaining inequitable global data. The reasons listed by the author for this broadening gap? Infrastructure (largely based on government funding), geography (some places are more remote than others), difficult terrain, gender identity, and government restrictions (internet black holes, shutdowns, kill switches). Politics alone make it difficult to term technology as equity-driven.

Cost of data (2021) Statistics courtesy of Cable UK, World Bank / Photo credit: Orion Wilcox

Issues with “Big Tech” Companies: A major issue, and one I will be elaborating on in my own debate topic (just felt it was definitely worth noting).

 If not everyone has a seat at the table, can the table be equitable?

My final takeaways? The topic – Technology has led to a more equitable society– is exhaustive! Technology has created equalizing opportunities for a variety of learning styles, needs, and (dis)abilities. I’ve cried listening to a student communicate with me for the first time via assistive tech and basked in the sound of my noisy classroom, courtesy of my new hearing aids. These technological wonders; however, do not come without an (inequitable) price tag; one not everyone can afford. Any assistive tech in my school has required hours of teacher/parent/programming teamwork and advocacy (writing countless grant letters to places like Jordan’s Principle). Without that advocacy, and those “dollah-bills”? No tech to create equal access to learning opportunities. As stated by authors Kelly and Weeden in The Digital Divide Has Become a Chasm: Here’s How We Bridge the Gap: “[D]igital injustices are layered and complex, and reflect the systemic and structural barriers to full participation that have Canada’s disconnected digital policies. 

In short (or actually long…I know this is soooo long), there is work to be done. We cannot be distracted by flashy technology (though I do love it) or small gains in equal access (though some exist). If even one student goes without equitable learning solutions, then the system as a whole is not equitable. Not yet; not without continued awareness and advocacy.

Photo credit: Reader’s Digest