I was interested in doing my blog post for this week because over the last few years at my various jobs, I had access to the curriculum of K-12 schools and how the students, their teachers, and parents react and interact with the educational system today. Living in this age when we find the big, solve-all solutions to our inquiries and problems through tech, one question that often pops up in my head is at what point does technology cease to be helpful and becomes harmful to its creators?
I often think back to my time working as a tutor for the NYPL and one of my students asked me how to spell a word and what is its definition. I pointed out to him the stack of dictionaries that was sitting in the middle of the room collecting dust. He told me he never learned how to use a dictionary, and it was the same with the other students in our tutoring groups. He quickly picked up a laptop and said “Why can’t I just type in what I think it is spelled like, the laptop will tell me everything I need to know.” This interaction is still so clear to me years later, because in the effort of not trying to fall into the rabbit hole of believing that we currently exist in the start of the prequel film of Pixar’s Wall-E, this kid completely blew my mind. The thought that the skills of how to use a dictionary was ingrained in me before I was his age because it was part of the learning skills necessary. And now he just taught me how life skills have changed drastically and concepts can become obsolete in a short period of time.
What really struck me is historian Melvin Kranzberg’s Six Laws of Technology. The first law states, “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” This was referenced at the beginning of Zheng, Binbin, Mark Warschauer, Chin-Hsi Lin and Chi Chang’s “Learning in One-to-One Laptop Environments: A Meta-Analysis and Research Synthesis,” and I felt that this reference of Kranzberg’s laws could be helpful to synthesize the various arguments flowing through all the readings. You need humans to work, create, and program the technology, but at what point does technology, especially ed-tech, stop being an input for humans’ intellectual, cultural capital, and the biases that can unfortunately come along with it and become the mechanical void of the neither good nor bad nor neutral?
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a tool in the technological sense is something used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a profession, and a platform is a vehicle used for a particular purpose to carry a usually specified kind of equipment. The tools and platforms highlighted in this week’s readings highlight the fine balance in educational technologies being positive tool for human learning or impartial for educational needs. Gaggle, according to Caroline Haskins, gloats that it not only provides data structure in a school system by providing tools and a platform for student-teacher work and communication, as well as saves lives from suicide at the cost of constant surveillance and lack of student privacy. While other algorithms such as AI grading programs that, as Lauren Katz explains, are designed and trained by humans to optimistically be as useful as possible to the purpose of assisting students, teachers, and writers . But that comes with the risks of biases steeping into the system because the technology can only work with what it’s given. We also have situations such as Pearson’s move to a Digital-First strategy. As Lindsay McKenzie explained, the plan is to slowly limit the production of print textbooks on a time schedule as the company focuses on its digital platform and course materials. With the implementation of this tool, not only will the digital platform and its course materials will be more frequently updated include newer research developments, technologies, and breakthroughs, it will also to be set at a less expensive renting rate opposed to buying expensive textbooks.
After doing each of the readings for this week, the words “tools” and “platforms” that title this week’s sections was uncanny to me in referring back to the Kranzberg law. In all the readings this week, there is a main situation or problem dealing with technology as an educational component and I was left grappling with questions of what makes this technology neither good nor bad nor neutral. There were examples in the readings that showed how technologies can positively uplift some, negatively impact others, or not make a difference. I believe Audrey Watters asked some of the important questions for us to discuss together when it comes to educational technology: “What do we need out of educational technology? Are we only interested in rousing test scores or learning efficiencies?” These tools and platforms in their own right can make great impact on our learning processes, which should be the main reason why there is a major boom in educational technology that does not seem to be dying down any time soon. But human reasoning needs to be analyzed and at the focal point on how we proceed with educational technology because it does not exist on a moral basis of being good, bad, or neutral.