Use, student voice, and edtech equity

Differences in how students use technology are often obscured by “clichéd representations” of “millennials” or “digital natives.”26 For example, many widely used technologies are designed to increase “efficien[cy] at accomplishing current goals with conventional methods.”27 Yet in order to empower students from low-income households to confront poverty, edtech must help them overcome fears related to participation in “the technology-driven evolution of a knowledge-based economy.”28 This aspiration requires technology use that supports the development of “high premium” skills like “abstraction, systems thinking, experimentation, and collaboration.”29

Encouraging voice is also an essential component of building students’ “ability to dream and set goals for the future while being inspired in the present to reach those dreams.”30 To overcome “fears typically associated with failure of success,” students must feel engaged through “opportunities to be creative and act upon their curiosities, while taking healthy risks.”31 Students can also be invited to “co-construct the classroom space,” yet this requires a balance between educators and technology developers – who are “charged with delivering the content” – and students – who hold ideas and values that can help to determine “how best to teach that content.”32 Analogously, edtech must do more than “provide exercises,” “provide feedback,” and “dispose information.”33 Technology holds the potential to create new opportunities for students to create and share “intellectual movements and cultures [that can] define themselves and grow.”34

Each day students interact with information through a variety of digital media, often via mobile devices. Much of this information is presented in order to advance goals held by those with economic and political power, and is “targeted at children, including infants, often based on highly sophisticated and manipulative psychology.”35 To the extent that technology facilitates a more efficient and targeted one-way transmission of ideas, it acts as a channel for propaganda presenting only a single perspective. By contrast, mobile and social technologies hold the potential to enable “co-generative dialogue”, in which “all participants co-generate […] the discussions and rules of conducting the discussions, as well as the outcomes.”36

In the context of edtech, the extent to which a student experiences propaganda or co-generative dialogue is mediated by a combination of access and use, along with affordances and limitations represented by the school environment. Nonetheless, educators and technology developers are often more comfortable using edtech to deliver instruction than to provide students with opportunities to create and build knowledge.37 Even if students from low-income households are offered enhanced access to mobile devices and the internet, there exists the possibility that experiences of school-owned technology will be limited by decreased social potential due to restrictions on activities deemed unfit to “legitimately cross the institutional boundaries of the classroom.”38 In addition, many students express “a valid concern that the school’s appropriation of mobile devices might infringe on how [they] negotiate their public and private digital selves.”39

Like student voice, an orientation toward knowledge building “calls for a cultural shift that opens up spaces and minds not only to the sound but also to the presence and power of students.”40 This approach is also aligned with supporting the acceptance of each student “as a unique individual […] valued for the contributions he or she makes to the collective school community.”41 When knowledge is framed as a community resource to which all students can contribute, they are inspired to engage in

work that does not merely emulate […] mature scholars or designers but that substantively advances the state of knowledge in the classroom community and situates it within the larger societal knowledge building effort.42

By “primarily valu[ing]” students’ contributions for their impact on “the community” and “secondarily” for their relationship to “individual[s],” learning can also become more explicitly linked to authentic social goals.43

Implications for educators and technology developers

26. Philip & Garcia, 2015, p. 694
27. Dede, 2000, pp. 282-283
28. ibid
29. Warschauer & Matuchniak 2010, p. 180
30. Quaglia, 2016, p. 9
31. ibid
32. Emdin, 2016, p. 27
33. Papert, 1980, p. 19
34. ibid, p. 9
35. Piachaud, 2008, p. 448
36. Emdin, 2010, p. 117
37. O’Dwyer et al, 2005
38. Philip & Garcia, 2015, p. 689
39. ibid, p. 691
40. Cook-Sather, 2006, p. 363
41. Quaglia, 2016, p. 9
42. Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2015, p. 399
43. ibid, p. 398