Is technology an equalizing force in our world?

Before our class debate #5, I thought that yes technology could be an educational tool that brings with it equity and opportunity. Both debate teams did a wonderful job and were very convincing but my perspective shifted to the disagree side. Technology has the potential to be an equalizing force, however, people design and implement it and with that brings flaws.

Jen, Dawn and Sapna were on the agree side of the debate. Through their arguments they stated that technology is bridging the digital divide and providing opportunities for people who were excluded in the past. They explained that open education in the form of virtual classrooms and online educational resources are providing fair and inclusive opportunities for all people.

Rakan and Amy S. were on the disagree side of the debate. They argued that technology is designed in ways to promote gender inequality, racial inequality, digital colonialism and economic inequality. I guess I never took the time to really think about how technology can actually promote inequality! Thank you for the eye-opening facts Rakan and Amy S.!

Daphne Koller is the co-founder of Coursera, a free online university level education site. She explains in her Ted talk that to provide free accessible education to people around the world, will help to make the world a better place. It is so true that technology has the ability to provide equitable opportunities for all, however, as Amy S. and Rakan explain, tech is designed by people who have bias and racism embedded within them. I have personally taken a course through Coursera and although it was very informative it is not completely accessible to all. Upon completing the required assignments and quizzes you are then prompted to pay a fee in order to receive your certificate of completion. Again there is evidence of economic inequality at play. Koller also states that this format of education can provide opportunity to anyone who is motivated to learn. This statement does not take into account the many people who may be motivated but have barriers to even accessing free online education. Oppressed and abused women come to mind here. These women may desperately want an education however, they are unable to access it.

Layla Bonnet explains the effectiveness of Open Education Resources in remote villages in Alaska in her article Analysis: How OER is Boosting School Performance and Equity From the Suburbs of Alaska. She states that OER is allowing teachers in remote parts of Alaska to access resources that in turn help to elevate test scores and reading levels of students. Although it is wonderful that resources are now accessible when in the past they were not, I worry that these Indigenous children are still being taught what mainstream society deams important. The article states that budgets are being cut and high quality education is hard to come by but what about the teachings of the Elders and of the land? So yes westernized education is more accessible, however, Indigenous education has always been there but under utilized in mainstream schools.

Lizzie O’Shea writes about unraveling the idea that technology is neutral in her article Tech has become another way for men to oppress women. O’Shea explains that in “…Melvin Kranzberg’s first law of technology tells us that technology is neither inherently good nor bad, nor is it neutral. As a black mirror it reflects the problems that exist in society – including the oppression of women.” Again the idea that technology is not the problem but that society’s ideologies are being perpetuated through its use. Word association algorithyms inherently pair words in ways that keep women in oppressive positions. Through Facebook etc. abuse victims can even be put in danger, as O’Shea explains.

Digital colonialism in the form of Facebook’s Free Basics was described by Olivia Solon in her article ‘It’s digital colonialism’: how Facebook’s free internet service has failed its users. Facebook developers state that the goal was to bring the internet to people who were not connected before but as Solon writes that perhaps there are more sinister underlying purposes to its implementation. Digital colonialism is a new term for me so I did some research and found this interesting talk…

 

It is quite a lengthy discussion on digital colonialism. At about 8:08 Nanjira Sambuli states that it feels like social media etc. is being created for us and not with us and that its developers feel that we should all be grateful. The panel speakers also discuss the idea that now colonizers have no boundaries, they can impose their ideologies on a much wider scale.

On the one hand technology provides education to a much wider population but on the other hand colonization is able to reach global proportions. Again, we as parents and educators must guide our children and students to be critical of content and to use their voice to speak out against oppressive ideologies. Through education, activism, and intentional use perhaps technology can begin to reflect a more just society.

Image result for social justice gifs

I would love to hear your thoughts around digital colonialism? Is this new to you? Have you experienced digital oppression? How would you as an educator breech this subject in your classroom?

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Is technology an equalizing force in our world?

  1. catherineready June 23, 2018 — 4:44 am

    Great comments, Esther! I am on the agree side so your shift to the disagree side was something I was curious to read about. Your experience with Coursera highlights the problems with digital technology affordability and bias towards certain economic groups. It’s great the information is available and easily accessible online, but paying for the certificate will limit who can use the service. Digital colonialism was also a new term for me and it’s a scary thought when you start realizing how technology is taking over. I had a conversation at dinner tonight about using Amazon’s ‘Alexa’, and how each time you use the device, you are just providing more information to shift your experience in a certain direction.

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  2. Oh my gosh Esther, your blog post this week is exactly why these conversations need to happen. I am feeling a bit guilty now. I wrote my whole blog post about how awesome programs like Coursera are, but obviously I had not done enough research. I can’t believe you had to pay for the certificate of completion. Aren’t they just going back on everything they say they’re working towards? I am frustrated. Thank you for shedding light on the other side of this topic… we should continue this convo on Monday night!

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    1. Yes it was frustrating to me also! I took a course on children and nutrition when I was running my own cooking class business. I wanted some education to back me up. I didn’t end up paying for the certificate because I thought it was distasteful to say the course was free and then charge a fee for the certificate. Can’t wait to hang out tonight!

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