Critical reflection involves questioning ourselves and courageously risking the stability of our social worlds (Hearn, 2013). One issue that troubles me, especially within the UX and LX design space, is the emphasis on designing learning environments with the persona of the typical student in mind. This is a shortcoming, and an issue that I will face when using NGL to design an intervention as a teacher.
In order to cater for the evolving university market, higher education in Australia is a digitalised affair. As educators, we tend to forget that access to education should be for everyone, not just those who can afford technology and internet access. In fact, technology might actually emphasise wealth disparity. Equity and accessibility to technology is problematic for incarcerated students, indigenous communities, and students who live in rural or low socioeconomic areas. I have briefly explored this in my previous post – “Pedagogy vs. Technology: It’s time to stop the debate!”
Ironically, connectivity is imperative for students undertaking tertiary study with academics designing courses on the assumption that students have reliable internet access (Hancock, 2010). This is not always the case. In fact, UNESCO’s Broadband Commission (2015) has revealed that 60% of the world is without internet, with Google (2015) stating that “even when online access is available, it can be spotty.” Cooper (2000) elaborates on this by explaining there are different levels of connectivity, including:
- The fully connected (those with an Internet Provider or high speed Internet)
- The partially connected (those with basic Internet and email service)
- The potentially connected (those without Internet but who are in possession of a digital device)
- The disconnected (those without Internet and a digital device)
These varying degrees of connectivity can have a profound impact on social capital with the accessibility and mobilisation of resources affecting the outcomes of people’s social action (Chen, 2013). Therefore, integrating technologies and NGL principles within learning environments is a paradox, when these social justice initiatives lie at the heart of the digital divide.
This flaw extends to blind and visually-impaired students, and other marginalised cohorts who do not fit the persona of the “typical” student. Selwyn (2014) addresses this issue by stating that even if a teacher uses technology in their classroom, this does not mean they are “harnessing the power of technology,” especially if their students are “atypical.” Universal design reinforces the need to utilise multi-modal learning in order to cater for the learning needs of all students – not merely those who have easy access to technology.
How do we ensure that courses are student-centred in relation to student diversity? How do we ensure library catalogues and websites are accessible to students with visual impairments? How do we teach digital literacy skills to students who do not have internet access?
These are questions we can’t really answer, at least not holistically.
According to Siemens (2013), “there has been growing creep of ‘rockstar-ism’ in education where we look for ‘the person’ to give us ‘the solution.’”
We do not need the answers, at least not right away. Critical thinking is about discovering the problems, not necessarily the solutions.
Siemens (2013) states “I’ve answered many questions from audience members [at conferences] with ‘I don’t know’ and ‘that depends’. People seem to find this unsatisfying. We like our so-called rock stars in the education and technology field. We like clear answers. And it’s not healthy for us or for our field.”
It’s crucial to admit our shortcomings.
It’s crucial to ask questions of ourselves and our learning communities.
And it’s crucial to be critical of the responses.
Chen, W. (2013). The Implications of Social Capital for the Digital Divides in America. The Information Society, 29(1), 13-25. doi: 10.1080/01972243.2012.739265
Cooper, M. (2000). Disconnected, Disadvantages, and Disenfranchised: Explorations in the Digital Divide. Retrieved 27 August, from http://consumersunion.org/pdf/disconnect.pdf
Google. (2015). Navigate and search the real world…online or off. Retrieved 27 August, 2017, from https://googleblog.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/navigate-and-search-real-world-online.html
Hancock, V. (2010). Essential, Desirable or Optional? Making distant e-learning courses available to those without internet access. European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 2(2). Retrieved from http://www.eurodl.org/materials/contrib/2010/Val_Hancock.pdf
Hearn, A. (2013). Situation critical. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 10(2-3), pp. 273-279.
Selwyn, N. Technology and education: why it’s crucial to be critical. Retrieved 27 August from, https://www.academia.edu/7771394/Technology_and_education_-_why_its_crucial_to_be_critical
Siemens, G. (2013). Done doing keynotes. Retrieved 27 August, from, www.elearnspace.org/blog/2013/09/07/done-doing-keynotes/
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2015). The State of Broadband 2015. Retrieved 27 August, 2017, from http://www.broadbandcommission.org/Documents/reports/bb-annualreport2015.pdf