Technology. It can create opportunities we would perhaps never had access to before its existence. It opens us up to a world of possibilities – if we choose to utilize it in positive and purposeful ways.It can certainly provide a wealth of information as a source of access to education which in turn can completely increase one’s opportunities for future growth and development. Technology is incredibly powerful – but is it powerful enough to create equity in society?
This was the hot topic surrounding this week’s Great Debate and one in which had me a bit perplexed. There are arguments from both side of the debate in which I agree and although I would like to believe technology creates equity in society, I don’t entirely buy it. If only the solution for the divide within society was this simple, but unfortunately there is no simple answer and the situation is much more complicated. Technology can create opportunities for equity but unfortunately will not create equity across the board. Technology can solve a lot of problems and provide support for many but it’s not the single cure to the worlds societal divides. I believe technology has the potential to level the playing field for many people, but to suggest it can create equity for all leaves me picturing a “One size fits all” mindset where handing laptops out to everyone is supposed to suddenly fix everything. Giving everyone the same thing and expecting diverse changes is unrealistic.
Close your eyes an imagine if everyone in the entire world was given a computer. Would the world’s problems disappear? Would everyone be able to have access to the same opportunities? Would everyone even know how to use it as a productive tool for education and be able to lift themselves out of pverty and abolish heirarchies within society? Unfortunately, giving everyone one computer may sound fantastic at first glance, but as the disagree video mentions “Putting a laptop in the hands of a child doesn’t magically eliminate the power structures in society.” Kelsie says it best in her latest
Photo Credit: leighblackall via Compfight cc blog post “Technology and Band-aids” when she says “Technology is a tool. It does not solve problems by itself. It’s like expecting a hammer to build a house by itself and being dumbfounded when it does not. A hammer is only part of what is required to build a house.”
“Fair is not always equal” – 5 words my students know all too well. Walk into my classroom at any time of the day and you will see a variety of tools being used to give children what they need to improve success. This might look different for every child – whether it’s a hoki stool for a busy body, fidgets to increase focus, headphones to eliminate distractions, FM systems to ensure everyone can hear the teacher, bean bag chairs for students in wheelchairs to join us at carpet time and increase the level of inclusion, speech to text technology for the reluctant writers and computers so students can finally share a full paragraph of writing as opposed to a few words written by hand. Distributing all of these supports equally would not serve as beneficial to all. Rather, each tool is given deep thought and consideration before being assigned to a student.Research and expertise are often required to learn more about how to properly support each child. Most importantly, I’ve had to learn what tools help which students and how the goal or student outcome can be achieved for the individual (not as a collective group). Without knowing how to properly use the technology itself, it’s not yet effective. Training is critical in whether technology is being utilizing for the maximum benefit of the student, or if it’s simply just existing. The article What Works: Research Into Practice warns us, “Assistive technology tools are only helpful if efforts are made to implement them effectively for student use. There are numerous barriers to this, including limited training for students and teachers, and limited access to technical support. Doing the same thing for everyone (being equal) is not helpful, and in my mind stating “technology” itself is the answer to creating equity is the equivalent of providing everyone a hoki stool and a calculator and expecting everyone to achieve grade level expectations on tomorrows math test because of it.
The tools in my classroom have been made available to provide an opportunity to do something the student previously otherwise couldn’t do. Technology is the same way – it’s not going to benefit everyone the same way, but depending on the situation, it can offer support that has the potential to substantially improve one’s circumstances. Technology is powerful and it can provide a variety of ways to support students in the classroom, as well as people in all kinds of occupations, especially for those who benefit from assistive technology. Although it has the potential to benefit everyone, not everyone has access to it. It’s a great thought of if everyone had a computer, just as I wish every child had access to books and arrived to school ready to learn. It’s not this simple and simply owning the tools alone is not enough to create equitable opportunities.
In the article Ed-Tech’s Inequalities, Justin Reich suggests “open educational resources might actually expand educational inequalities”, referring to the Matthew Effect and widening the achievement gap. I’ve understood the Matthew Effect in relation to reading instruction, but it also applies to technology. Students from less affluent households use technology in different ways then those in affluent households. The article refers to Research that suggests “students in affluent schools are more likely to use computers for creative and experimental projects; students in low income schools are more likely to use computers for drill-and-kill exercises.” Wealthier students are using the technology differently and widening this gap. Not only is there a gap, but the gap continues to widen. Just as its’s important that people have access to technology, one must question how they are actually using their devices. Simply owning technology does not level the playing field.
Technology is a tool that can benefit many who use it, but there are many barriers to break through aside from technology alone to close the achievement gap and create equity in education, and in our society.