Electronic Devices Won’t Solve Injustice, Inequity, and Imbalance. Yet We Must. A Note on the Future of Integrating Educational Technology

One of the greatest things we as technology educators leave with students about computing is “in computing, you will surely only get out what you put in. It can only do what you tell it.”  It is in this lesson that we must understand today’s moment. Integrating technology in the classroom, no matter what educational sales reps promise, will not fix our local and national legacy of educational injustice, inequity, and imbalance. Disparities will persist. It is our foremost challenge with this era of technology integration as educators, administrators, and families to hack into this toxic code as we power-up our devices.

We like to start all our conversations around educational technology as ripe with possibility. The (mythical) ubiquity of electronic devices and broadband internet creates a widening potential for expanding quality learning experiences to more and more families and communities. I, too, stand as a believer of our present opportunity. But I’m not interested in this fantasy detached from our current social reality. For educators, administrators, and families, our dreams must acknowledge the full depth of the historic (yet man-made and therefore, alterable) social conditions that walk with all of us into Philadelphia classrooms. We are teaching and learning in times of extreme income inequality in the poorest big city in the US, notwithstanding the additional structural violence(s) that many will face due to their race, gender, and/or sexual orientation.

With this in mind, I hope to re-center some illusions of promise often highlighted in discussions of educational technology with some critical insights and questions.

  • Data-driven, they say.Who (or what) is driving the data? And where are we headed? Proponents of big data offer that what our teachers and administrators lack are simply more layers of “objective”  “data” measurement in the classroom. Are we responding to the data or are we corresponding with our students and families? My fear of data is that it reduces our experiences to only what has been (or can be) measured. Current policies encourage the objectification of our children for the sake of easy storytelling. We must opt out of this philosophy into more diversified, subjective, forward-moving assessments that can highlight the depths of our learning experiences.

  • Adaptive learning, they say. Adapting to what? Set by who? Be wary of limiting, closed-system computer algorithms disguised as personalized student learning paths. Is it better for a student to attempt to master a skill through an unlimited decontextualized question bank or through the search to realize their own unique, relevant, challenging inquiry? What does the research say here about pathways to mastery?

  • Gamification, they say. What games are we playing? Some educational games willfully play into the “race to the top” among classmates advocating rewards to those individuals with the highest scores. Less salient is who’s left behind in these practices. Other applications invite classic behaviorist gameplay with avatars and color-coding systems that detract from necessary student mindfulness and efficacy. Most of the approaches don’t seem like future forward shifts towards tomorrow but reminders of the ideals of the troubled past resurfacing with new UX.

  • Collaborative single sign-on data-sharing platforms, they say. Which systems are we interested in connecting? Simply computer-delivered learning application data to learning data management? Somehow structural, community-attacking systems of cyclical poverty, marginalization, and trauma always seem to be left out of the list of everyday systems that need to “talk to one another” in our collective approach to teaching and learning. Growing sectors of for-profit educational innovation will continue to keep our heads in front of screens and hands in our wallets. Nonetheless,  how are we reconnecting humanity, community, and culture into the classroom?

I don’t mean this to be an expansive list, but rather an entryway into a larger dialogue. What are truly the timeless practices that we must keep, the deflating practices that we must stop, and the hopeful opportunities that we must start? This is something that is not a question our CPU can process. We must continue to have intensive critical conversations about these issues.  This is our challenge as a society of interconnected people who truly are the greatest edition of the world wide web.