Debate #2: Technology a Force for Equity

Yesterday’s topic on the Great EdTech Debate was Technology is a force for equity in society. Nataly and Kalyn on the agree side, and Victoria and Jasmine on the disagree side.  Coming into the debate I voted in favour of the topic, however, I was unsure how I would feel by the end of this debate.  I was truly on the fence on this one.

Nataly and Kalyn highlighted three main reasons why technology is a force for equity in society.

  1. Greater access to information
  2. Personalized learning
  3. Helps people with disabilities

Victoria and Jasmine took on the opposing side, also made many excellent points on the other side. Their main arguments focus on

  1. The Digital Divide
  2. Techno-Colonialism
  3. The Non-Neutrality of Technology
The Main Take-Aways:

Being on the fence before the debate, after watching the debate left me even more stuck in the middle.  Both duos provided excellent points that highlighted the pros and cons of the topic.

Open Educational Resources (OERs)

Kalyn and Nataly discussed OERs.  OERs are a way to provide high-quality educational resources will no cost.  This would be invaluable to students and educators.  According to RMIT University, OERs provide opportunities for self-learning, and also include literacy skills such as searching, reusing, dissemination, branding, and networking.  All important skills we would want society to have.

Furthermore, in our group discussion we brought up the website Coursera, Coursera is a platform that offers many different university courses for free.  This on the surface appears to be a great equitable idea and service.  However, our discussion pointed out that it was often the most privileged in society that would use these courses.  My thought is that many of the courses still use academic language, and require skills that many people have not had the opportunities to acquire.

Assistive Technology

Kalyn and Nataly also brought up the excellent point of assistive technology.   Assistive Technology provides many for our students to learn.  Tools such as Google Read and Write, and Microsoft’s Immersive Reader provide opportunities to try to “Level the playing field” for students.

In the discussion, we discussed the importance of Universal Design for Learning.  I believe for technology to be truly equitable within Assistive Technology we need to approach if from a UDL perspective.  This means teaching the whole class how to use a program such as Microsoft’s Immersive Reader.  This is because many students would benefit from the tool regardless of ability.  This also allows students to not feel singled out.  Students pieces that they need to be successful.

The Digital Divide

We need to acknowledge the digital divide.

Affordability, the fact is that many cannot afford the technology needed to be successful. However, I do believe that this is becoming more and more realistic in the future as technology costs continue to be driven down.

Accessibility, as Victoria and Jasmine note, many rural areas do not have access to technology.  In our discussion in class we discussed that although we classify high-speed internet at 5mbps, the reality is that we often need a lot more than 5mbps for us to be effective online.  The reality is that often those with the least amount of accessibility are the people who are considered the most vulnerable. This includes northern Saskatchewan and many reserves.

Varying ability,  many people do not have the technical skills required to be efficient users of technology.  This could be due to previous issues with affordability, or accessibility of technology, or could be due to not having the skills taught. Jennifer Casa-Todd explains that there is an intergenerational divide, parents are not fully understanding the tools that their kids are using.

Last semester I also look into the digital divide, another form of inequity is the idea of empowerment divide.  According to the Nielsen Norman Group, when people participate online 90% of people do not contribute, 9% contribute sporadically, and 1% of users contribute often.

In Conclusion,

Overall, I swayed a bit to the disagree side.  I think that often that I become blinded by the fact that I am privileged enough to not recognize the impacts of the digital divide because I have never had to worry about not having access to technology.  I believe for us to truly become equitable these issues need to be addressed.  In the Hechinger Report Should Schools Teach Anyone Who Can Get Online of No One At All that Jasmine and Victoria highlight, “We should be thinking about internet connectivity as a utility right now,” he said. “We  would be horrified if 30 percent of our families didn’t have electricity or water in their homes.”  We need to ensure that our students have internet access outside of school.  Kalyn and Nataly shared an article called How Access to Technology Can Create Equity in Schools, it compares having access to physical technology and having no internet to having a car with no road.  The car is still useful, but it is a lot easier if a road is built.  In the end, I believe that technology can provide equity in many situations, but as a society, we are not there yet.