Unfortunately, the problems with educational technology run much deeper than too much hype followed by too little impact.

I’ve recently learned of Roy Amara and his ‘law’.

Roy Amara

PRINTED FROM OXFORD REFERENCE (www.oxfordreference.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2013. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single entry from a reference work in OR for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

I think it is fair to say that we tend to get pretty hyped about new technologies that promise to make our lives better, but actually don’t, while at the same time, we are somewhat blind to the negative effects of technology over longer periods of time. Feel free to push back against this idea in a post this week (or not, it’s up to you).

I’m not arguing that all technology is bad and that we need to return to ‘simpler’ times. I hope it is obvious to you that there are distinct advantages to using technology in education. There are many people who have a hard time learning and for them, technology can enable many activities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. For example, if someone has difficulty processing written words, being able to have a screen-reader translate written words into spoken words can be extremely helpful. Or people who have difficulty writing or spelling can use a word processor to type and provide a spell-check. Or people who are learning a foreign language can use translators to help them understand complex ideas.

What I will argue against, and I encourage you to disagree with me, is the idea that technology is neutral. The simple fact that so much technology is built by rich white males who live in California, and who only want to make money should be a clue that the underlying philosophy behind the code that powers technology is fundamentally skewed towards benefitting those same people.

One example of this in education technology is the use of Turnitin (TII). You may have encountered this requirement in one of your courses. TII is a web service sold to schools (for tens of thousands of dollars) that they claim will help learners write better and will save faculty time in assessing learners’ work. They may be right, but what are the other messages sent when faculty rely on a black-box algorithm to determine which student has copied from another source legitimately and which student hasn’t?

What Turnitin tells learners.

  • Learners are not trustworthy.
  • Learners must prove they are innocent before their work will be graded.
  • Learners’ work can be given away to for-profit companies for free.
  • We can trust an invisible and inscrutable algorithm to accurately detect the difference between legitimate and illegitimate usage of other’s ideas.
  • It is more important to write so that you get a low TII number than it is to think deeply and carefully and write clearly.
  • The most important work that teaching faculty do, assessing student work and providing formative feedback, can be outsourced to the company with the lowest bid.

So on the surface, a service like TII seems like a benefit to both students and faculty, but if you look just a little closer, it is much less positive.

It is interesting to note that TII itself says specifically that their software cannot ever detect plagiarism, but that is how many faculty use it, to detect plagiarism.

If you want to read more about resisting TII, have a look at this article.

A Guide for Resisting Edtech: the Case against Turnitin

Every day, we participate in a digital culture owned and operated by others – designers, engineers, technologists, CEOs – who have come to understand how easily they can harvest our intellectual property, data, and the minute details of our lives.

Another edtech platform that has been a major concern is Proctorio and their test-taking surveillance software.