Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Technology: a Blessing with Responsibility

Technology: a Blessing with Responsibility
Each day, we see students as young as elementary school age weaving through schools with cell phones in their hands. They check text messages and social media more fluidly than many of their parents. Tweeting, snap chatting, instagramming…they do it all.
If we take only a quick look at the technology picture around us, we can be fooled by what it means. One perspective is that every student holds a cellular key to the world in his or her hand or pocket. Is it true though? Why is it important to even ask?
I was recently confronted by this question in a new way. Why? It’s partially due to the ongoing thrust of technology and the encouragement to use it across education.
Each week I stumble upon new apps or websites that could enhance learning or teaching in some way. Some offer promise in my classroom; others present solutions to students.
In as far as I appreciate this, I am forced to take pause for thought. Do the many hours of digital content creation benefit all students?  Do all students have equal access to the content? Am I somehow blocking out or marginalizing certain students as I increase the volume of digital content? Am I unwittingly supporting the creation of a culture of haves and have-nots?
I think that it is important to consider these questions for the benefit of my students. Quickly asking my classes about their access to technology one day, I learned that at least 2 students in each class have no cell phone and that another 2-4 lack smartphone access. Many of those who own phones have very limited data plans. Furthermore, each class is represented by at least one person who has no internet access at all, not even at home.
A quick and plausibly helpful response to this question is to point out the access to school and public library computers. Thoughtful as the thought may be, a challenge arises when we think this way. If I ask students to use their lunch time in the library, and their evening time at a local library, I am, in a manner of thinking, penalizing them. Not having internet access at home consigns them to study in a specific place and in a specific timeframe, which may not be possible. May I presume that my students’ lives match up with library hours? Do all students have transportation to a local library? Am I necessarily the only teacher asking students to work online? Will the 30 minutes of allowed internet computer time at the public library suffice for the work assigned? Do we unintentionally grant educational partiality to the students who have easy access to the electronic tools that we use or build? 
James 2:1 reminds us to, “…show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…”
These thoughts challenge me as a teacher and as a parent who fully supports the creation of digital learning materials. Access to quality learning can go a long way toward leveling the educational playing field and help slower learners. Giving students around-the-clock access to reviews and practice components is a beautiful gift that a teacher can offer. 
Nonetheless, I would challenge fellow teachers(and continue challenging myself) to spend some time considering how we can guarantee equal access to necessary learning and offer all of our students equal space for their education, all the while supporting each student in our classes and avoiding unintentional partiality.
I invite you to respond to this blogpost and join the conversation.
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