It may not be the tech that’s broken, it might be our moral compass

Watching that video, it’s hard not to be hopeful. Things should be awesome, right? There should still be possibility for technology to fix what is broken. If the tech right now isn’t doing it, we just need better tech. Right? If you’re a technological optimist, sure. And if we are going with Cory Doctorow’s definition, I’d be on board. Mostly because he is aware that there are problems and that it is only in acknowledging the problems that we can find solutions.

But some days, I’m not sure even that is correct. Some days I’m not sure finding a better technology is the answer.

Actually, that’s most days now. As much as I think we can fix this, we can make the internet better, I also worry a whole lot about where our technology comes from, who drives it, what we adopt, and what that is really meaning. Do you know where your technology dollars go when they leave your pocket? If you have purchased Apple products (and I have), you might want to think about that.

flickr photo shared by hine under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Now let’s think about education. It’s one thing for a person to make choices about their purchases. It’s another for educational institutions. Have our technology purchases and adoptions fixed things in education? According to Audrey Watters’ talk EdTech’s Inequalities, not so much. Educational technology has not solved problems of inequality but has continued many of the civil rights issues, in some cases making inequalities worse. She highlights the ethical and moral issues with the assumption that technology will solve the problems we see in education; rather, it has made these problems even more apparent. She discusses the digital divide and computer usage, that just having access to technology is not the solution but knowing how to use it is becoming more and more of an issue. For an example of that, all we need to do is look to an Australian study. Watters argues more, however, that those who are already priviledged are more likely to be guided in how they use technology, taught how to do productive things. Then there is the issue of using technology to program children rather than children to program technology. You guessed it, those being programmed are more likely to be those who are disadvantaged. Why? Because it’s cheaper. (There’s that business issue again.) She also gets into issues of surveillance and just who and how we use technology to watch and surveille youth. Should we be doing that? Is it really in their best interest? At what point do we have a problem? All of these issues are ethical and moral ones (and some have even become legal issues) around how we use technology in education. “The architecture of education technology is not neutral” was probably the most important statement to me. It brings me to issues like “who profits?” or “whose educational goals?” Because it is companies making these technologies. They want to make money. Bear with me, this may be a common diatribe for a bit. But when we are in education, is it not our responsibility to think beyond convenience to really think about why these companies are doing what they do? Do they really know what is best for our students? Watters has something to say about that too. Here’s a hint: those companies aren’t neutral and neither are the ideologies under which they operate.

So here is my challenge, my call to action, and my question: Are ethics and morality involved when you make your tech decisions? Do your tech choices match your pedagogical ones? Or are you just making do, getting along with the tools you can find because it’s expected?

Are we risking it all on the wrong questions? Questions like “which product is the best?” or “which is the cheapest?” or “what’s close enough to what I want?”

If we’re going to get to the optimism of the first video, I think we need to ask better questions. I think we need to ask if it’s good pedagogy. We need to ask who profits. We need to ask who is left behind, who is being damaged, who needs support. We need to ask ourselves if it is moral and ethical, not just legal.

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