Digital Detox #1: EdTech and Equity Issues

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Welcome to the first post of our TRU Digital Detox 2020. As I’ve been promising, it is my intention that you will finish out this month with a sense of hopefulness about the possibilities of a relationship to technology that is, at its core, deeply ethical. We’ll talk about some difficult stuff this month, but my goal in these twice-weekly missives is to inspire and empower you — to give you information you need so you can have a realistic approach to using technology and to help you make appropriate choices around tech in your life and work.

And I mean that. But sometimes it’s hard.

For example, today’s post is about equity and educational technologies. This conversation is not for the faint of heart, because at its core inequity is baked into many aspects of the way we traditionally approach both technology and education. Put them together, and it’s like… well, you know how KFC doesn’t suddenly become health food just because you chase it with tequila?

Stick with me. We’re going to earn that empowerment.

Housekeeping

This Digital Detox is open to everyone, and I know that not all of you are joining us from a university or college setting. If you’re approaching this conversation from a perspective of general interest in technology and our relationships to it, I hope you’ll still find the posts that are more EdTech (educational technologies) oriented — and this is definitely one — illuminating. If you are a parent or friend of a student or teacher, or if you want to spend some time thinking about how education uses technology as a way of thinking through larger social issues, this will be a space for you, too. And I hope you’ll feel welcome to join in the discussion and engage in the comment section.

(The next two instalments, on data privacy and algorithms, respectfully, certainly have a broader application to the way we all use technology. So stay tuned for that.)

And also a note on, shall we say, tone? before we get started. There’s a notion that is emergent in many circles lately, educational technology among them, of cruel optimism. I don’t love it, but I can see where it comes from. The idea of cruel optimism, originally conceived of by Lauren Berlant, is that sometimes the thing we want most is the thing that stops us from achieving what we need, and holding up the concept of hope can in fact be used to stifle or silence dissent or as a way of conceiving of how hoping for change or progress (and even working towards it!) within the confines of the institution is always ultimately fruitless. In one particularly bleak recent article, Falicitas Macgilchrist demonstrates how, in spite of honestly good intentions, people working within EdTech companies kid themselves about their ability operate equitably: the system, as we’ll see this month, is rigged. I fear this view is not wrong. But I’m also not sure it’s helpful.

There’s another way of thinking about resistance and institutional change, and it’s a way of thinking that will shape a lot of these posts this month: centring hope. In Naomi Hodgson, Joris Vlieghe, and Piotr Zamojski’s Manifesto for a Post-Critical Pedagogy, they assert that there is no point in resisting systems unless we hold at our centre the things we want to protect. To be less vague and to connect more concretely to today’s topic: we can’t just condemn the inequities inherent in technology and education, because if we don’t keep our focus on what the end result should be — what’s worth protecting — then there’s nothing to fight for. 

It’s the latter approach I want to take in these posts, not least because you can’t make change if you’ve given up in despair.

But whew, even I will admit that today’s post is kind of a bummer.

Education and Technologies: The Aforementioned KFC with a Tequila Chaser

I want to talk to you today about technology — especially educational technology — and equity. Technology was supposed to be something of a great equalizer when it came to education. I remember when we got encyclopedias on CD-ROMs at my elementary school, and the idea that we in rural Ontario could all get as close to the Mona Lisa as we wanted, 90s image resolution notwithstanding, felt like a revelation in equity and access. Some seed of those early experiences fording the Oregon Trail and programming my own Logo turtle buried themselves deeply in my psyche, and I think I’ve always had a romantic notion about the possibilities of educational technologies.

And there are many ways that a more open approach to technology can offer more equitable situations for learners. I’m not the first in the EdTech space to suggest, for example, that blanket policies like classroom laptop bans have unintended ableist outcomes (making it so students with documented disabilities are de facto self-identifying to classmates or skipping their accommodations, and limiting how students without documentation for their disabilities can manage their own learning). Allowing students space to tailor their own learning environment — which, indeed, sometimes involves the freedom to play World of Warcraft in class and the freedom to learn that that is a bad idea, which, full disclosure, is a lesson from personal experience — is one way that educational technologies can be leveraged to allow for more equitable learning experiences within a classroom.

But there’s a distinction between the way individual instructors may choose to enable students to use technology to frame their own learning experiences, and the ways in which large-scale thinking about technology fails to account for difference. Indeed, we’re all probably aware of issues like the Digital Divide — the thankfully shrinking but still very present gap between who does and does not have access to technology, but importantly in an educational context, to enriched training involving technology — but I’m not sure when always see when we are making choices that underscore these differences. For example, 10% of Americans only have internet access via a smartphone data plan. What does that mean, as Audrey Watters asks us to consider, for that person when they find themselves in a flipped classroom where they are expected to watch or engage with rich digital content in order to prepare for class every week? We’re going to talk about these issues more next post, when we talk about ethics and privacy, and next week, when we tackle how algorithms function. Today, though, I want to introduce our thinking about equity by thinking about the big picture, and then drilling down on one example (the increasingly popular homework system) to think about how our individual choices can help or hinder student learning experiences.

Using Technology to Reify Existing Inequities

Here’s the hard truth: often, when introduced to a new tool, we just use it to do the old stuff over again. (That’s an old article, but there’s no data to support the idea that this trend has changed, unfortunately.) Did you become a more savvy investor because you could see your RRSP balance on a smartphone screen? I definitely didn’t. It’s a lesson that holds with technology, too. We switch from overheads to digital projectors without actually changing the handout we slap on it; we transfer the same content to a never-ending march of PowerPoint alternatives; we download our Blackboard content and upload it to Moodle. This isn’t the fault of individual instructors. Integrating technologies into classroom in pedagogically responsible and responsive ways takes well-designed professional development opportunities, and it takes time and resources that are woefully limited. The problem is that the institutions into which we are piping even the most equitably derived tools are not, themselves, equitable.

We know that the postsecondary education system is not an equal playing field. (This data comes from Ontario, but it mimics the numbers I’ve seen across Canada, and is on average on the more generous side of North American data.) If neither of your parents attended postsecondary, you’re 33% less likely to consider it for yourself. Indigenous people in Canada are 26% less likely to pursue postsecondary than their settler peers. And 1/3 of students whose families are in the bottom two socioeconomic quintiles complete only a high school credential. In all of these cases, students from these backgrounds who do attend higher education are far less likely to consider four-year credentials or graduate education than others in their age cohort. Technology does not erase these issues, but dangerously, it sometimes pretends to — Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), for example, were supposed to be a panacea for income-related access issues, because they were freely offered so that anyone could join and the barriers for entry were low. But so, too, were the supports. We know now that most students simply didn’t complete their MOOCs, and those who were successful by-and-large already had college degrees, suggesting that the missing ingredient was practical knowledge of how to navigate post-secondary. In other words, you cannot wave a technological wand to solve the deepest problems of inequity, and it’s dangerous to pretend otherwise.

Accessibility issues — beyond financial issues of access — can be rampant with emergent technologies, adding an additional layer of distress for students already trying to manage an institution that is, in its DNA, ableist. Does a new innovation play well with screen readers used by students with visual and cognitive impairments, for example? Does your campus push-to-video include robust support for captioning? We have also seen this play out when institutions do not have clear policies on student names, whether for transgender students in transition or students who use a non-legal name for all kinds of reasons including domestic violence. If the learning management system pulls data from a registration system that is not prepared for this difference, it can only reinforce harm. I am reminded of a few years back, when a somewhat austerity-minded Canadian government decided to close Veterans Affairs offices and put all the forms and information online instead, which had the impact (bug? or feature?) of fewer veterans being able to access the programs they were entitled to. Technology cannot fix what is already broken, and where inequities exist, they will persist and be magnified if the application of new tools doesn’t start from a position of equity and inclusion. 

Homework Systems and Stacked Costs for Students

The open education movement has done a phenomenal job of encouraging students and faculty to challenge the use of high-cost textbooks; unfortunately, the same companies that once developed proprietary textbooks and the predatory practice of “updating” their texts frequently to limit the resale value of older texts now have a new arrow in their quivers: the homework system (sometimes called CourseWare). You’re probably familiar with some iteration of this idea, where students buy a code to access an online system of practice questions, assignment banks, or other interactive learning material. Instructors can then build assignments (which are then submitted through the homework system) and quizzes and extract data from these systems. There are good arguments for their utility, and many instructors with heavy course loads find they make managing huge amounts of student interaction possible. But they also amplify costs for students and exacerbate inequities.

For one thing, you cannot reuse or resell these codes, so there is no used market for homework systems; they’re also unique to individual students. I was lucky enough to have help with my textbook costs, so while I had access to my astonishingly expensive (even used!) Art History 1000 textbook, none of my study mates did; instead, for the low cost of buying my study snacks, they all shared mine. You can’t do that with homework systems, and thoughtful instructors can’t place a homework system on reserve at the library. Because they are so integrated into the learning experience of the classroom, you also end up in a situation where students are effectively paying money over and above their tuition costs to be allowed the opportunity to turn in their assignments. A delayed loan payment might mean a student foregoes submission of assignments until they can purchase a code. For already-disadvantaged students these unavoidable costs — $80 – $155 a pop, on average, with some courses requiring multiple homework systems — can be crippling. And there’s some question about where all that student data ends up, anyway, but that’s a post for another day.

It’s big money, and this is what I mean when I say inequity is baked in to these tools: access is not top-of-mind for most for-profit companies working in the EdTech sector. In 2015, McGraw-Hill (which controls 21% of the textbook market) reported that 45% of its $140 million in profits came from digital-only products like homework systems, alongside an admission that “the era of the textbook is over.” And the pressures that drive faculty to choose these corporate homework systems over more manually managed systems — large classes, and lots of them — aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon.  But perhaps awareness about how the most vulnerable students are the most harmed, either because the added cost makes it impossible to take a class, or because they forfeit grades because they cannot submit assignments, will encourage faculty to look elsewhere, or perhaps encourage robust discussions in departments that mandate their use. Some hope on the horizon: BCCampus is in the process of investigating an open homework system alternative, and if you’re joining the detox from TRU know that your friendly neighbourhood Learning Technology folks (that’s me and the rest of the team!) can help you build some interesting alternatives directly into Moodle using technologies like H5P (hey, there’s a workshop for that!).

But it won’t be as robust or as slick as what Pearson offers you. And that’s the trade.

What’s Next?

So perhaps the question we’re left with, if we circle back to the idea of a post-critical pedagogy that keeps its focus on what we want to protect, is this: how do we use technologies in a way that centres equity and inclusion? Issues like cost and access need to be top-of-mind for anyone in a decision-making position, from individual courses to programs to the institution as a whole. When we introduce a new technology at any level, we’re responsible for understanding the equity impacts of the tool, and we’re responsible for asking questions and pushing back when we don’t like the answers.

Each post this month, I’m going to leave you with some questions to think about — you can share your thoughts in the comments and engage with other detoxers, or if you prefer you can email me your response and I’ll anonymize it and share it in comment round-ups as needed.

  • In your experience, where have you seen technology have an impact (positive or negative) on equity and access?
  • How do we address the problems tools like homework systems purport to solve — lots of large classrooms with lots of content to manage and not enough time for teaching faculty — without downloading these costs on to students?
  • Think about the tools you use in your own work. Is there something you can change in your practice to make the classroom a more equitable space?

And of course, if something else in this post got you thinking, share that in the comments, too.

39 Responses

  • Very interesting perspective. Addressing inequities in technological environment. I have not integrated technology as much as i would have liked to in teaching. But i find in research technology is helping to improve access to knowledge, relationships and even health care specifically for isolated populations. My 2020 goal will be to look at alternate ways of integrating in classroom. So I look forward to this robust discussion on best practices and their application to student learning.

    • Thanks for this, Lisa — I think you’re totally right that technology and research go hand-in-hand and that those relationships tend to be much more equitable. We have a workshop coming up on knowledge mobilization and podcasting that will address some of these ideas!

  • After reading this post, I went to sign up for the Top Hat course tied to the language class I’m enrolled in. For the third semester in a row, it’s demanding I buy the course before I can access the content, even though I know from my prof that we are only using the free tools. I told my classmates last semester that Top Hat counts on students being too stressed and busy to use the help function or get in touch with profs and Top Hat staff, so they will pay for something that should be free. They laughed, but I genuinely believe that companies capitalize on our stress, and that the screen demanding payment for a free resource is a feature, not a bug. Do I sound like a conspiracy theorist? Isn’t capitalism like legitimately a conspiracy, though?

    • Capitalism as conspiracy — extra yes. And I have a lot of Things To Say about TopHat, but in short I think your perspective on this is exactly accurate. Many of these tools behave in an incredibly predatory way, which I worry about for classroom applications.

  • Change fatigue, if that’s an official term, is a big thing. As a parent, my kid has only been in public school for seven years. And I think during that time we have been asked to use no less than 5 different parent/kid/school tech portal to communicate. Not a single educator has done it well, and now when I get notifications that there’s a really wonderful new system where we can track assignments! And communicate! And access report cards! Blah blah blah I tune out. The educators aren’t using them in a way that’s meaningful partly because they aren’t required to due to collective agreements – they’re optional tools. And so they’re not reliable. But here’s the thing: when I did finally manage to download his report card – the only thing the educator is required to use the new portal for – I printed it out. Both the educator and the family (student and parent) are tired of tech change when there hasn’t been a good reason for change. Your post resonated with me with the PowerPoint-Blackboard-Moodle but no change to the handouts comment.

    • Oh my gosh, Jen — those tools are so surveillance-minded that they freak me right out. I saw one that alerts parents when students use the bathroom. How does that not just become noise?

    • Jen, that sounds exhausting! I am *dreading* navigating an elementary school system that will bear little resemblance to the one I attended in the 90s once my kid ages into it. Hoping for a lot of older teachers who lean toward analog tools, but I know that’s a lot to ask, and administrations/districts are the entity that tend to enforce techno-adoption. Sigh…

      Thank you so much for this post and all the issues of access it brings up, Brenna.

      • So far we’ve also had teachers try a Facebook group and group emails and then the district offered tool. The group emails has by far been the most useful and easy to access – but then they’ve wanted to make PDFs and send those rather than just write text and occasionally they forget to BCC and get admonished for not “protecting privacy”. My email address is everywhere online – it’s probably the thing I care the least about these days when I comes to access. I have spam flags and rules I can set up. Just send me the info in it’s most basic form. And Rachel, the old school teacher we have this year is not well suited to the new school curriculum And just opts out of communicating entirely. So there’s trade offs. So far I’ve learned no one does it well and I need to manage my expectations and my reactions because public K-12 education has a long way to go when it relates to technology. (But hey my kid can navigate google docs, sheets, and slides!)

        • Brenna – Agreed. Start toward the beginning, and hopefully everyone will take as a given that accessibility is part and parcel of technology adoption and use.

          Jen – Good point about potential pitfalls/tradeoffs with teachers who aren’t as keen to try techno-communications. “Managing expectations” seems to be a big part of navigating life, and a lesson to learn over and over. Thanks for the window into your present world and my future one. And that’s great that your kid is already savvy with those tools! Not easy…

  • In a class I designed a few years ago, I decided not to have a textbook or any sort of homework system. I made the decision to use articles and resources from the library and to embed them all in the LMS. The students already have access to the materials and how they were presented and used in the course was where the pedagogy is vital.

    The activities and assignments were all based on the freely available resources and forced the students to navigate the library websites and software. The students told me they appreciated not having to pay extra money.

    It took a lot of extra time in the beginning but it saved so much time and money in the end that I felt it was worth it.

    • I love hearing this. It makes me feel so hopeful.

      When I was still teaching, I had gone entirely paid-resource-free in my Academic Writing class. An easy place to do it, for sure. And you’re right: more initial work but big pay-off. This makes me think a workshop on building courses like this might make for a great summer intensive?

      • That would be a cool initiative that I would love to be a part of. It can initially be frightening but the payoff can be worth it for people to take that first leap into thinking differently about their classes.

        • Let’s plan to touch base about this soon! I think having some models for faculty to see can be really inspiring, and I’d love to have your voice as part of such a session.

    • I’m responding to this full conversation…and it’s a great conversation – here at Camosun we are beginning a BCcampus Open Sustainability Grant project giving faculty release time to create, remix, reuse, open resources to reduce (or eliminate) resource costs for their students. I like the idea of collecting the stories from faculty who have already done this, and I will be sending out a call to faculty to try and identify them. In addition, the idea of a workshop is also intriguing – we will be doing an intensive with the faculty chosen for the grant projects, but I should also consider doing one for faculty just wanting to find out more about how they could do this on their own. Perhaps creating some kind of open online workshop that could be created and run inter-institutionally? That is one of the equity issues I find – some institutions don’t have the capacity to run workshops or support faculty in these initiatives…perhaps we could do more collaboratively…

      I’ll stop rambling now. Thanks for this post and these comments!

      • Oh yes yes yes yes please. Somewhat selfishly, I feel like with this Detox project I’m introducing myself and my capacity in this role to the edtech/open community, so your comment here has made my day. 🙂 Let’s definitely plan to talk more about what this might look like.

  • Thank you Brenna, that was an inspring read. To your questions:

    Negative and positive impact, I think, often comes from the user; BUT there are some technologies that seem more dangerous than others. For example if software is promoted as a time saver with caveats that it should be used carefully, to staff who are time-pressed and under-trained in insecure and under-paid employment, then no one should be surprised if the users aren’t always careful and bad things happen. So, I think some technology is poison because it requires more care than is realistic to expect; other technology will be more neutral, it can be for good or ill; I struggle to think of any failsafe technology that cannot be misused. An organization committed to equity and access can use technology in a positive way if it is careful.

    I would like to think that we can address the problems tools like homework systems purport to solve by looking more at how institutions acting together can develop systems and perhaps even operate systems for their mutual benefit. I mean proper co-creation rather than the benevolent dictatorship of a rich philanthropic institution. I treat open source communities with caution (you know they have participation issues) but I think there is something about open development practices and open governance that open education might learn from the better examples. What, for example, is the best way to develop and share the best H5P resources?

    • Love these questions, Phil. I agree there is probably no EdTech that can’t be misused —- the institutional pressures are too great. We’re working here in BC to improve the capacity for H5P among faculty and educational technologists, but it takes a lot of buy-in to win the day over a packaged solution.

    • Lots of great points, Phil, but to address just one…

      “What, for example, is the best way to develop and share the best H5P resources?”

      I’ve been wondering this for a while… and was sketching out a WordPress-oriented approach that would build in support for H5P authoring into a clone-able WP space, with built in categories and tags, and syndication to a “mother blog” that would promote sharing.

      At this year’s Moodle Moot, I learned that soon there is going to be an “H5P Hub” that will collect, organize and allow for re-use of H5P objects. Hopefully that will allow for sharing H5P objects created inside Moodle and WP installs, and not just something like H5P.com.

      • Thats sounds neat Brian, thanks for the heads up. The new MoodleNet that is being developed might also be relevant in building communities that collect, share, discuss
        , improve resources in any format

  • Excellent and thought provoking article Brenna. I have oddly had a reaction to this apologetically delivered sentence, “But it won’t be as robust or as slick as what Pearson offers you. And that’s the trade.”

    Sometimes it is the “robust” and almost always it is the “slick” that provide obstacles to what we want to accomplish. I moved quickly from considering this to remembering a great book that found its way into my collection decades ago:

    Gall, John. SYSTEMANTICS: How Systems Really Work and How They Fail (First Edition), Pocket, 1978. ISBN 0-671-81910-0

    There is an excellent synopsis of this book and its principles, which was out of print last I checked, on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systemantics.

    Back to the topic at hand, the offerings of the publishers are designed to generate revenue and only need to be just functional enough to sell. I strongly expect that the levels of disfunction experienced by students is dramatically greater than those of the faculty. It is the faculty after all who are the primary consumers of such systems.

    As for the friendly, neighbourhood Ed. Tech. teams, while they may not achieve the same level of robustness and complexity as the publishers, the often deliver solid solutions for the very small number of things that most faculty really need anyway.

    The other thing that concerns me (in a growing plethora of areas) is the intrusion of profit motive into areas with some other primary purpose, such as learning. I recently read an article, I can’t find it in the airport waiting lounge at the moment, but I’ll try and dig it up, critiquing the fundamental premise at the heart of most business schools: shareholder equity must be maximized. This is quite often to the detriment of the other aspects of the endeavour.

    We seem to be on a cyclical spiral (downward) where a homework system (or LMS for that matter) does a great job of helping faculty reduce the labour and stress of managing large classes. However, should the stress of managing their class loads disappear class sizes will increase, I’ll bet.

    • I don’t disagree with anything you say, Troy — but I do think the slickness sells, and that’s it’s hard to compete with the maintenance-free option. Faculty are asked to do so much, and if you don’t care about or like tech, it feels like downloaded labour. Of course, the homework system solution downloads cost —- and more —- to students. That’s the part we need to make more explicit, I think, so people see the cost.

      • Of course you are right Brenna. Slickness does sell and faculty do often feel that tech usage is downloaded labour. I still fondly remember the cheery tone of a faculty member who was told to use the LMS and called for some advice. After listening to his specific needs I suggested he continuing doing things by hand with only an excel gradebook as he currently was. Nothing like happy campers and tech suited for purpose.

        Also I remember a tale of yours regarding podcasted lectures and a long-haul trucker who would listen to them on the road. There is a certainly comfort for students to have everything they need in hand and not be dependent on a live internet connection that may not be there at the worst possible time.

        And, of course, the costs.

  • This was a great introduction to the issues at play, Brenna. I teach hybrid, use Blackboard and make my own videos to flip the classroom…so a lot of what I’m doing touches on the things that you mention. Here are some of the benefits and burdens I’ve noted:

    Students sometimes can’t access the content because of the hardware/software they are using. I let them know that there are computer labs around and they can sign out laptops at the library, but often they don’t want to bother. It’s more work, which is fair enough.

    Accessibility can be an issue. Luckily, our IT department got a grant so that I was able to close caption all my videos for a course where students were hard of hearing, and we have gotten special funding so that we can do that with all videos, not just when there is an accessibility request. We also got transcripts of the videos and so many students appreciated having that as well (Universal design for the win?)

    Cost: I’ve structured my classes so much around the idea of reducing cost, choosing texts that are under forty dollars (which is my hard cut off amount), using Open Access, creating my own content. I don’t use publisher created tests or materials unless they don’t require more fees. But its a lot of work to create test banks on your own on top of everything else.

    A guiding principle for me with technology has always been: what value does using the technology bring to the class? Is it about efficiency? Flexibility? Reduction on classroom space demands? Organization? Cost Reduction? I never adopt a new technology just for the sake of adopting it. There has to be a fit between the use of the technology and the goals I have in the learning environment.

    • I have so much respect for the work you do around accessibility, Kira! I’m working hard to get to the place where we don’t need extra funds for captioning — where building captions is an established component of workflow. But the tools cost money, as you well know. I’m so glad to have your voice in this space.

  • Great post. Lots of good points to consider here.

    Accessibility is something I think about a lot in my work. Your point about videos and transcripts is spot on. From what I’ve seen (please correct me if something is out there), no technology accurately transcribes videos so we have needed to have a team member go through videos and hand transcribe. Accuracy is important and even if the technology is “90%” there that’s not good enough!

    Conversely, I have seen some technology help with accessibility. As an example, being able to do virtual exams in Moodle has been very helpful for students with accessibility needs where travelling to a traditional center is too difficult.

    It’s a delicate balance, and I think it is all of our responsibility to think about these needs, whenever we are considering any technology I the classroom (virtual or otherwise)

    • Hi, Matt — you’re right that the big issue around transcription is the accuracy. Right now, we don’t have the workflow to edit captions for faculty. We can get them 90% of the way there, but they need to be edited by hand still (or rely on a company like Rev, which, hoo boy, I have a post in me on the ethics of the gig economy and how it intersects with education, but that’ll be for a future detox).

  • In my role of guiding people in the creation of university courses for online delivery, I’ve found an increasing acceptance amongst faculty members to consider “open” technologies in the design and delivery of courses. The key feature in this acceptance, and partially my role, is to make the course developer aware that the “open” resources actually exist. In most cases, they simply do not know what is available.

    In our world today, the marketing department rules. Publisher’s like all other companies, push messages out which hit their mark based on knowing who searches for what in their browser (I don’t know why I still get aggravated when I get a pop-up message to buy something I just looked at or bought. It’s been happening for years). Then, they follow-up with on-site visits to university departments getting F2F time with faculty who ultimately have the academic freedom to choose whatever content they see fit. The dog and pony show is honed. The problems faculty have are all neatly laid out and solved. And as we know, the cost of the solution is not even paid by people who order the service. I’ll have a large pizza with everything and you get to pay for it!

    The open movement doesn’t have the same capacity or structure as the corporations to market their wares. There are some groups like BC Campus whose staff are undoubtedly working hard and leading the charge, but they’re up against publishing machines that have more resources and years of strategy and structures in place. It’s a touch battle for sure.

    The positive trend I see is that there are more resources flowing in. Our provincial government has come to the table with funds. And at Thompson Rivers University, our administration is providing more grants than ever for the creation of OER. So, it’s up to us as committed passionate people who call for the development of equitable technologies to demonstrate that we can deliver. I know here at TRU, the people involved are committed and passionate about creating quality resources and sharing it with others under the principle of the 5 R’s of OER design.

    What we need is more inter-institutional collaboration to reduce redundant use of funds, more ease of sharing resources other than text books and better marketing of the value open resources create for faculty. That is the end result I want to hold and protect.

    Looking forward to future discussions, Ken

    • Thanks for the thoughts, Ken — and you’re right, of course. The dog and pony show is powerful. I think at least part of what the open movement needs to do is to help faculty develop their own capacities (and confidence) with non-publisher-derived content, and to recognize how much power there is in doing it yourself and being in the driving seat of your content. But yes, that needs cooperation! And cash. And time. As resources get squeezed and other work is downloaded onto teaching faculty, those slick publisher products look ever more attractive, I fear.

  • Thanks for this. As someone working in an educational institution (not TRU) I really hold the debate of tech access and equity on the forefront of my work. I like the prompts and reminders from your post to think on equity in homework, even though my lens is different.
    Thanks, I hope it is okay that I share this to have others join?

    • Please do! I think we need to be thinking about these issues at all stages of the learning journey, and I hope you’ll feel welcome to contribute to the discussion.

  • Hi guys: speaking as a tutor (math and science) at a community college, I would say the main beneficiary of homework systems is the instructor, because they don’t need to write or grade homework. Some don’t bother to see if the digital system is at all allied with the material as presented in the classroom, and of course that just creates another obstacle for the students. The cost is not inconsequential either, as you have pointed out–like $150 US for a single class.

    • I think this is exactly how homework systems get a foothold, and otherwise overworked faculty will be unlikely to switch to an open method if we can’t mimic some of the time optimization. (But I get what you’re saying, and I agree with the subtext, too.)

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