Guest Post: Raising Expectations and Addressing Inequities in Edtech - Digital Promise

Guest Post: Raising Expectations and Addressing Inequities in Edtech

Elementary school student uses tablet

June 12, 2020 | By

Following nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd and others at the hands of police, I have received a slew of emails from edtech companies containing statements of solidarity and inclusion, explaining that the company supports diversity and does not tolerate racism. Sadly, many of these emails feel not unlike the emails sent at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that attempted to sell me their product to improve my remote teaching experience. These statements feel at times genuine, at other times sales-y or tone deaf. No matter the message, if companies haven’t done the hard work of helping mitigate racism and bias in the classroom, many of these statements are too little, too late.

Inequities in technology use in the classroom

As a white educator engaging in anti-racist efforts, one of the most frustrating things I have seen in my 15-year teaching career is schools and districts purchasing costly adaptive learning programs that require rapid, singular responses from students, and dedicating tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of devices to delivering these programs. By doing so, they are complicit in perpetuating inequities in the classroom. These repetitive programs do not allow for creativity or learner agency, and are mostly found in schools educating predominantly Black and brown students due to leaders’ rationale that students of color need to engage with a litany of multiple-choice items to perform well on racially biased standardized assessments. These programs also collect data on students to provide “individualized” instruction through machine learning. This means students in these schools have unwittingly consented to having their data stored with these companies, whose privacy policies and security measures may be unclear.

This is our chance to pause and reflect and raise our expectations for the edtech companies with which we work while also thinking critically about how we leverage technology in the classroom as it relates to our students of color.
Mary Beth Hertz

In schools with more resources that serve predominantly white learners, that money is largely spent to put technology in the hands of students for creating and building and collaborating, not consuming. These students have greater access to developing digital literacy skills. They learn how to leverage technology to amplify their voice, to access information, and to tell their own stories, while students of color, who are often only allowed to use technology to access “learning programs,” miss out on the power that technology has to make their voice heard.

Lastly, the lack of racial diversity in school-based edtech leadership is exemplified by the makeup of conferences like ISTE. In my nearly 10 years of attending the conference, I have always been disheartened by its lack of racial diversity in attendees and exhibitors. Last year, an all-white panel at the ISTE conference received backlash on social media due to its lack of racial diversity, and many participants in the conversation faulted ISTE’s vetting system for not seeing the problem in the first place. This lack of racial diversity can lead to biases in how technology is leveraged in the classroom, especially if that classroom is made up of mostly Black and brown students.

The big questions

As white educators sift through messages from edtech companies and consider tools to continue digital teaching in the fall, we should consider these questions:

  • Who are the CEOs/owners of the company? Are there Black leaders or other people of color on their leadership team?
  • How does the company address racial equity and social justice in their mission?
  • How does the company’s pricing structure limit access to their product for learners of color?
  • Is the product centered around the experiences of students of color and are their experiences reflected throughout the product?
  • How does the company work directly with educators in classrooms that serve predominantly students of color to better understand how to create, include, or integrate culturally relevant curriculum and materials?
  • How does the company handle student data?
  • Has the company tested its algorithms or other automated processes for racial biases?
  • How will the tool promote creativity, build digital literacy skills, and elevate student voices in the classroom? Specifically, how will the tool support learners of color in accessing creative opportunities that amplify their voices, stories, and experiences?
  • How could this tool negatively impact students of color in our school?

Fellow white educators: this is our edtech moment. This is our chance to pause and reflect and raise our expectations for the edtech companies with which we work while also thinking critically about how we leverage technology in the classroom as it relates to our students of color. This is our opportunity to start to hold edtech companies accountable and ask hard questions and demand answers in return for our business. This work requires intention and it means that we may need to make sacrifices and have hard conversations, but these conversations are a long time coming.

Explore the Edtech Marketplace Today blog series to hear other voices from the field share important perspectives on challenges and strategies around technology use for learning. Learn more about Digital Promise’s product certifications and sign the Research-Based Product Promise.

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