Interrogating Educational Technology

This is a response to A Call to Interrogate Educational Development for Racism and Colonization, by Jamielle Brooks, Heather Dwyer, and Marisella Rodriguez, in Faculty Focus, April 25, 2022, responding from my professional situation in Instructional Technology.

    • “Is active learning always better; should we, as educational developers, even strive to “discover” a universal teaching strategy?”

No, active learning is usually, but not necessarily always better. The relationship between the instructor and the student should guide the approach and determine the teaching strategy.

My wife works in mental health, and each of her clients is different; she chooses treatment based on their own situation and challenges. Her treatment plan consists of one or more practices she has in her toolkit as a clinician. What works for one client may not work for another.

This goes along with moving from sage on the stage to guide on the side. I also think of coaches–the goal for each player may be the same, but what motivates each might be different. There may be practices and teaching strategies that appeal to all or most of our students, but we can’t neglect those who aren’t inspired in that way.

    • What are the foundational values and priorities of the field of educational development?

The field of instructional technology is relatively young, and professionals are entering it from a wide range of backgrounds. It sits at that dynamic space where learning happens, and focuses on how it can be aided by technological tools. Obviously, technology is of value, and educational software developers may hold their tools up as the highest value. A good instructional tech, on the other hand, knows that education always comes first.

Aside from the primary role of technology, the edtech field has grown atop the foundational values and priorities of education and educational development. Realizing this, I audited our Psychology of Education course soon after getting this position.

      • Who has been included in shaping these, who hasn’t, and why?

Technology, as an industry, has its own mixed bag–part sordid history of sexism, racism, and oppression, part marginalized and oppressed individuals making significant advancements, without getting credit for them at the time. Even now, abuses and built-in biases are discovered and documented. One glaring example, that I’ve had experience with, is the failure of facial recognition systems to identify faces of people of color. Fortunately, we can use a built-in camera app to take the picture, and then upload it, forcing the system to use it. Before I discovered the work-around, it was an awkward and embarrassing occasion to produce an ID card for a new student or employee of color.

    • What is the context in which we’ve gathered the research that is foundational to our field?

An obvious context in which instructional technicians work, and good for us to keep in mind, is the digital divide. Not everyone can afford computers and smartphones. First generation students and students of color are more likely to be on the ‘have-not’ side of that split. Similarly, websites and online systems are predominantly designed for able-bodied people. We must work to include those with disabilities.

Generally speaking, technology has grown from a white supremacy culture. The best illustration of this is IBM, who for a generation set the standard for computing, and the clean-cut workforce to support it.