Widening the Gap – Debate 5 Response

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This debate was an interesting one, since the question was much broader than most. Rather than focusing specifically on education, this question focused on a broader cross-section of society, and looked at whether or not technology help to create equity.

Let me put forward a situation: It’s time for you to get a new job for whatever reason. Let’s compare two people, Bill, and Ted, and go through their excellent adventures in job hunting.

Bill is from an upper-middle class family. He uses his laptop to go online through his consistent internet access, in order to look at job listings. He finds a job that he likes, and applies online. He fills out the application form, and attaches his resume, which he has been regularly updating since it is easy and convenient to do so.

Ted, on the other hand, comes from a low-income family. They don’t have the money for internet or a computer, and so Ted needs to go to his local library in order to access the internet. Unfortunately, he lives quite a ways from the nearest library, so he needs to take the bus (anyone who uses public transit in Regina knows how long that simple task takes.) He then needs to wait for a computer to come free, search for jobs, and fill out the application. Each of these tasks is likely to be more difficult for Ted, since he wouldn’t have the day-to-day digital fluency of someone who goes online every hour, let alone every day.

This same case exists in classrooms, for students who are asked to do tech-related tasks for school. Often, students will either have digital homework and have to come up with an adapted version, or simply won’t have the means or equipment to complete the task.

I found Wallace’s blog to be very interesting in this case, discussing our focus on techno-solutionism. We are putting more and more of lives in the hands of tech, and hoping that there’s simply some magical app that will teach our kids everything they need. Vigdor, Ladd, and Martinez’ article left me absolutely stunned by their finding that universal access widens the gap. While I believe that more research needs to be done in order to reach more conclusive results, it’s certainly an interesting finding.

When my group presented, we included an optional article which explored how removing tech in classrooms affected learning, and they found that less tech actually narrowed the achievement gap, further reinforcing my thoughts on this topic.

While it would be foolish and short-sighted to simply suggest that technology is the cause of all of our ills, it is imperative that we understand that “techno-solutionism” as Wallace calls it, is a trap of easy thinking. There’s an app for that ™ seems to be the chorus that rises up for almost any problem that comes up, but what happens when someone doesn’t have access? Tech widens gaps, rather than narrowing them, and until we do more research and study into how this can be resolved, we’re simply going to continue to widen that gap at a shocking pace.

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3 thoughts on “Widening the Gap – Debate 5 Response

  1. It’s such flawed thinking that schools can narrow a gap to a point of non-existence using technology, as if students never leave us. Of course they leave us: they leave us at 3:30, they leave us when they move, they leave us when they graduate.
    I think someone, somewhere, should conduct a longitudinal study about how the lack of technology once a student leaves school impacts them.

  2. I agree with you, Steve, about how interesting it is that technology has actually been shown to negatively impact students’ academic achievement. An article we used in our debate (#5 disagree) found at-home computer usage negatively impacted students’ reading and math skills. The result were greatest for students of lower socio-economic families and this was attributed to less parental modelling of how to effectively use technology to enhance learning.
    FYI – I posted a response to your question on my blog about the data usage cap with the PASS program if you want to check it out.

  3. I find it interesting that despite all the negativity technology is still so widely used! Maybe that alone speaks to its staying power and longevity? Great post!

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