The Great EdTech Debate – CHAPTER TWO – Is Technology a Force for Equity in Society?

Here I am, just a girl, standing in front of her computer asking it to PLEASE LOAD HER PROJECT ONTO THE INTERNET.

Rural connectivity issues aside, This Week’s first debate, “Is Technology a force for Equity in Society?” Happens to be my topic, and I am luck to be partnered with the wonderful (and multilingual) Jasmine! Whose ability to teach, parent, and function as a graduate student truly blew my mind. I was so lucky to be partnered with her.

Jasmine and I both decided to choose a topic for debate that not only interested us, but that we each also were not sure we believed in the argument we chose. We of course are representing the “disagreement” to the above statement.

Personally, I worry that in my tireless pursuit to not become a modern day Luddite I am developing a view that resembles Techno-Utopianism . I want to be reminded to be critical, of my own perceptions and biases, therefore I picked a topic that would force me to dig into research that might challenge my assumptions.

After last Tuesday’s incredible debate, I was pretty terrified to present tonight. Justine and I each read nearly 10-12 articles or research papers, created our own Wakelets and collaborated on a Google document to contain all of our information and game plan.

Therefore, it was not a lack of preparedness that worried me, rather a concern over our ability to really present with the same style that our colleagues prior did. Mostly- I just wanted our opponents, Kalyn and Nataly to be kind to us.

After Jasmine and I conducted our research we used our Zoom classroom to meet and decided that I would work on the video, and she would summarize our readings for me and draft a closing statement. I have a trial with VideoScribe that is coming to an end at the end of May and therefore I wanted to give the technology one last go before I started to have to truly pay for it. Our opening argument for the debate ended up with this:

I enjoy using this software, but when I examine the other free options I don’t know that I would pay to use it again.

Our overall arguments for why Technology is not a Force for Equity in Society were as follows:

·       The Digital Divide

·       Techno-Colonialism

·       Non-Neutrality of Technology

The Digital Divide

While the Digital divide was initially understood to recognize the inequities in physical access to information media and technologies, today we understand the digital divide to also refer to technology maintenance and the differences in skills among people.

For example the population of people who struggle not just to have access to devices but who struggle to connect those devices with reliable broadband – and keep them connected  in order to utilize the technology effectively and gain skills.

Reasons for the divide include:

Affordability – Many families can’t afford to buy devices to sufficiently accommodate their technological needs. This often results in families choosing to sacrifice basic needs in place of technology related costs.

Accessibility – Access to internet services aren’t available in many rural areas in Canada. To get these services, families have to pay extra for better broadband installations or supportive technology and still, the connection is unstable or inadequate for their needs. In fact, CIRA found that as little as 40% of rural Canadian homes have access to reliable internet.

Varying Ability – A study of Post-Secondary institutions in the state of Texas, revealed the lack of accessibility of the institutions web-pages and information pages for those with disabilities or English language learners – with the average reading level being grades 10-12. A similar study in the United Kingdom found that many web-pages were missing web readers that were adequately accessible for the blind, and often provided no access to free translation tools for English Language Learners.

Techno-Colonialism

Techno-colonialism is a term most likely coined by Randy Bush to describe the exploitation of poorer cultures by richer ones through technology.” (Bush, 2015)

Examples of this include Facebook’s 2017 Beta testing of a new algorithm in six test countries ― Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Serbia, Slovakia and Sri Lanka, that lead to NGO’s , and activists and other local companies seeing a sudden downtick in their traffic and engagement after Facebook split users feeds into two separate categories – without informing users or government agencies. While Facebook labelled this as an experiment in “encouraging meaningful conversations” Facebook did not beta test in other, wealthier nations.

Techno-colonialism can also be found in other well intended philanthropic endeavors such as One Laptop Per Child, which sought to arm children in developing countries with laptops that cost just $100 and could be powered by a turn crank. Which while well intended in nature, was also sharply criticized. At the conference in which founder Nicholas Negroponte unveiled the OLPC laptop, some delegates mentioned that their countries had higher priorities than laptops. “What is needed is clean water and real schools,” Cameroonian delegate Marthe Dansokho told CNN.

Our Technology is not Neutral

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Technology is just a tool”? It’s not an incorrect statement, and in fact I know that I have used this to justify the importance of quality teaching alongside technology. However, this way of thinking about technology tends to lead us to believe that our technologies are neutral instruments.

We should not ignore how technologies manifest within social contexts, and that social agendas, assumptions and typical ways of knowing and acting are not just reflected in their use but their very design.

As put in Technology for Equity and Social Justice in Education “Scissors are designed for right handed people, the keyboard on your laptop is likely to be English, the algorithmically driven news feed on your favourite social networking platform is designed to respond to your presumed interests, affinities and biases” (Papendieck, 2018, p. 4). 

Our opponents, had a wonderful video filled with points equally as difficult to argue. The point I found hardest to dispute (even though we did) was the importance of technology to those with different levels of ability, especially assistive technology and the opportunities it brings.

Additionally if you feel like some light, scholarly reading beyond the Wakelet linked above, check out our annotations of our most helpful article that we did not include in our weekly readings (out of love and compassion for our classmates).

The debate itself, was such an enlightening process. I was not at all expecting the discussion to be so in depth in terms of the ways in which technology in educational contexts may or may not become entangled with broader issues in society. I was so interested to hear the perspectives of others in similar classroom situations, and how these issues manifested completely differently for them.

Overall, I enjoyed this debate so so much more than I would have imagined. I highly recommend this format to ANY educators looking for a way to drive Online Engagement, and encourage constructive discourse. It’s fascinating to explore subjects that you and a group of likely like minded people may usually take for granted, through two opposing lenses.

7 thoughts on “The Great EdTech Debate – CHAPTER TWO – Is Technology a Force for Equity in Society?”

  1. Great post and debate Victoria! I really enjoyed both. I agree that there are some Techno-Colonialism, but Necessity is the mother of invention, there are open source tools that can be tweaked by countries or school boards for their own purposes. I kind of disagree with you that “some countries had higher priorities than Technology” simply because such needs do not preclude each other. Education is as essential and important as water and food.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also agree – I think that was more of our grasping at a quote from a diplomat more than a nuanced take on the actual topic. Your points especially around Technology’s capacity to be used for dissent was my favourite point – and pretty hard for us to argue. Last class when I was researching Social Justice based online activism I was amazed by all of the ways I learned that protesters used technology to organize and share their message.

      Like

  2. Victoria!
    Great job on the debate. It was fun to watch and listen to all the discussions brought up. It is definitely a big topic to cover and tricky to debate. The conversation got very deep into issues we face in the education system and our society. There were a lot of great points about equity and arguments that I felt just left more questions. This is not at all a black and white issue. Thank you for taking on such a complex topic and for sharing your research and thoughts around it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am not going to lie, after I choose the topic I was a little stressed about it’s complexity – but I think I forgot our class’s capacity to have a conversation about these big topics in a more natural way then all the journal articles presented it. I am so grateful for our community.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I just want to echo the comments about how much I am enjoying the format. I mentioned this in reflecting about the first debate, but I hope that I can adapt this format for my students. It would be fun to try to do it virtually, as well. There’s a lot of potential in the breakout room functionality. I will be sharing this format with the ELA teachers at our school.

    Liked by 1 person

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