Technology only levels the playing field if its accessible to everyone

This week’s first debate asked the question: is technology a force for equity in society? This is a rather tricky question, especially if you consider the bigger question of how accessible technology is in society (and who has access to it). In order for technology to “level the playing field” for students, shouldn’t everyone have access to it…at all times? And what’s all this talk about equity? What exactly is fair?

SOURCE: WWOnline

In a school setting, availability of technology for all students plays out in many different ways. All schools have different needs, and we need to address these needs accordingly. As my classmate Dean mentions in his blog, “fair isn’t always equal”, stating that being “fair” is more so a question of leveling the playing field, rather than giving everyone an allotted and equal amount of tools and resources for each school. Dean makes another great point by saying that you’re not going to give a school of 200, the same amount of computers you would give to a school with 600 students. In this sense, “fair” would mean allowing students between different schools (and to a bigger extent, communities) to have the same quality and access to these tools.

SOURCE: Giovanni Rufino—CW Network courtesy Everett Collection

During my brief year of subbing, I definitely noticed big differences between higher income schools and community schools. For one, students from “richer schools” have much easier access to technology inside and outside of school. Not only did I see more school IPads and laptop carts, I also noticed that many students in these schools brought their own laptops or tablets to class as well. I work at a community school now, and B.Y.O.D. definitely looks a lot different. For one, when students bring their devices to school, they aren’t bringing laptops or tablets. Most devices come in the form of a smartphone, and this is only if kids are even bringing anything at all.

SOURCE: GOOGLE IMAGES

Another important thing to consider is that although having access to any device is better than having no access at all, there’s a lot to say about the quality of work you can get done on a laptop rather than a small touch screen phone. Although my students get by with a cell phone if they have to get work done, it’s not ideal and it’s definitely not AS practical as having a laptop or a tablet. This is something I always consider, because I’ve made the mistake in the past of assuming that my students have a computer to work on at home. The truth is, this isn’t always the case. I can’t really expect my students to complete a homework assignment at home if their only way to access the internet is through a slow and flimsy data plan on an outdated phone. I’m sure it can get done, but this is where the whole question of “equality” comes into play. Sure, some kids have access to tech outside of school, but it’s not always “ideal” and it’s definitely not always of the best quality.

On another note, as my classmate Tayler mentions in her blog post in relation to this article: “’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.”

Interesting. Kind of makes you question the whole equality thing doesn’t it? This also reminds me of the old saying “the rich are getting richer”. Some food for thought for ya.

And then comes the question of what the actual schools have to offer. I work at one of the largest elementary schools in Regina, and I must admit, we definitely don’t have enough computers to go around for everyone. We have four computer carts for a school of almost 600 kids. Whenever I need to use computers with my class, I always need to make sure I have booked the laptop carts for my work periods. If I wasn’t on the ball on Monday morning to sign out my computer carts for the week, I basically missed the boat. Although I do have two classroom computers (one of which is almost too old to function at a practical level), we all know this isn’t enough.

Another thing I just started to notice is WHO is using the computers at school. Usually, it’s the older grades that are using the laptops, which is something I’m starting to question more and more. I’ve written about this issue already in my past blog posts (including this one), but I really do believe our kids need to start learning how to use technology at a younger age. How is this possible if they don’t have access to tools such as laptops?

SOURCE: Photograph by George Frey/Bloomberg

In the case for students with specific learning needs, these students are sometimes provided with a laptop with learning aide software to facilitate with reading, writing, and math (as long as they’ve been assessed of course). I’ve seen the positive effects of providing students with these tools first-hand with some of my own students. My biggest question here though is, why can’t we be providing this to all our students? Wouldn’t everyone benefit from these tools at some point in their learning? I can easily think of at least 15 other students that would greatly benefit from these tools today. Of course, in order for this to happen, we either need more assessments to be made (and as any teacher will tell you, these processes sometimes take years to actually happen), or the schools need to be providing more computers (ideally, one PER CHILD). Realistically speaking, both of these options are most likely out of the question, especially if we’re dealing with budget cuts, and in the case of my school, community school needs for almost 600 students.

I don’t stand alone on this topic either, as I was reading through some of my classmates’ blogs, I ran into Heidi’s response, where she states how:

“Technology should be taught to all students and therefore students are able to decide when technology can/should be used to benefit their own work. In order for students to benefit from technology as lifelong learners, they do need to be able to utilize it freely to support their learning.”

Heidi brings up an important point about how we should be offering all of our students these learning aid tools. Another great argument Heidi made was: “While technology has the ability to be used in the classroom to differentiate and support student learning, I do not think technology is going to create equity in society as a whole. Who is being left out once they leave the walls of our school?”

Good question, WHO is being left out? In some cases, entire schools and communities are being left in the gutters, and this isn’t alright.

In closing, my classmate Taylor made an interesting observation in her latest post:

“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.”

Technology has the potential to greatly change the way we learn inside and outside of the classroom, but if we don’t have access to these tools, technology isn’t going to be bridging any social gaps anytime soon.

Thanks for stopping by everyone!

Dre

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4 thoughts on “Technology only levels the playing field if its accessible to everyone”

  1. Interesting post Dre. Your question of WHO is being left out really makes me question things further. I teach at a middle-upper class school in Regina and yet I know I too frequently complain about available servers/wifi availability and availability of devices. I think I need to put things into perspective a little bit and realize all of the remote communities who would see what I have as a luxury. I agree with you, it’s not right that entire communities are left without these tools.

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    1. I know, it’s definitely something I don’t always think about, but it’s an important part of this debate question. Furthermore, if kids in our own school are being deprived of technology because other classes are “hogging” the tech, we’re going to start seeing similar issues. Ah… if only everyone could have a laptop, it would make a huge difference.

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  2. Just thinking about who gets to use the at school and your comment on it being a lot of the older grades. It is the same case for my school and I feel like it’s much more difficult for teachers in the primary grades to use the laptops with their students. When students need to sign in and go to a website it can take a long time for them to get signed in a get going (especially if those students don’t often use them computes). I know a grade 1/2 teacher who would use recess to stay in her classroom and get all the computers set up and ready to go for kids to use, but it still wasn’t enough time to get ready. I know some schools are doing “tech buddies” rather than “reading buddies” so the older students are working with younger grades to help them with using technology. I think this is a really great way to teach skills and digital citizenship. It’s a great way for the young students to learn and the older students to take on a leadership role and model proper technology use.

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    1. WOW! Tech buddies? What a good idea! I honestly am blown away by some of the things I’ve learned from my classmates this semester, but I never thought to do something like that. Maybe I’ll have to borrow that idea for next year! Also, your comment about how time consuming using tech is with younger grades is so true. In these cases, I wish we could have easier ways to log into computers, as this is often the biggest issue with tech and younger kids. If we’re going to be spending upwards of twenty minutes just trying to get everyone logged in, the impact this tech can potentially have on students is drastically lowered. Thanks for the awesome reply Ashley!

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