A Consequence of Design – Considering Social Inequality in Educational Technology Research

Tawfik, A. A., Reeves, T., & Stich, A. (2016). Intended and Unintended Consequences of Educational Technology on Social Inequality. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning60(6), 598-605

Technology has often been considered a potential route for addressing inequalities of access and quality within education.  However, Tawfik et. al. (2016) consider such a perspective to be premature. In examining the educational system, the authors argue that the significant inequalities present among populations, based on aspects of socio-economic status, location, race and ethnicity, have not been addressed much in educational technology research and, in cases where it has been considered, differences in outcomes are exhibited by these populations. Denoting that student’s racial, ethnic and socioeconomic background have influence on educational attainment and achievement, Tawfik et. al (2016) examine how this inequality, with regards to technology, is present in some form at all levels of education – from early education (through access to media and apps associated with learning) to construction of college applications, to in-class and online learning, and through lifelong education.  Their review of the literature offers that not only is inequality evidenced in issues of access, interpretation and application of technology by students but also in the ability for teachers to access technology and the professional development related to learning technologies. The authors come to the conclusion that, while there is evidence of success of educational technologies to address gaps, there is also evidence that they can exacerbate them,  inadvertently increasing educational inequality.  Tawfik and colleagues (2016) argue that greater consideration of the consequences of educational technology on societal inequalities needs to be considered as part of the design, development and implementation of educational technology research

In reflection, Tawfik et. al (2016) offer a broad examination of the intended and unintended consequences of educational technology and offer food-for-thought on what good educational technology research needs to consider. While not a complete review of all literature as it relates to technology and educational inequality, the authors supplement their points of issue with cited examples to support their conclusions.  They see a failing within research design and appropriately make a reasoned argument that greater reflection on issues of social inequality – as it related to educational technology among both students and educators – needs to be considered. Perhaps intended to spur the conversation and not so much to guide it, their recommendations for specific ways to implement this within research design are not forthcoming; making one to wonder just how they see this induction of greater consideration of social inequality into educational research being implemented.

In consideration of research design, the argument can been made that, for research to have application and impact policy, understanding the populational structures under which an assessment is done and to which it can be applied, is critical to the generalizability of the results. If educational technology has both the ability to lessen and widen the gaps in educational achievement in ways often not predicted in research design, consideration of aspects of socio-economic status, race and ethnicity should be examined.  This is especially true if one wants to move into strategizing  implementation since proper determination of situational generalizability is necessary. Moreover, given that educational technology can influence the potential outcomes of groups with regards to attainment and achievement, a reflection on its role in both decreasing and increasing educational inequality is essential towards a critical understanding of what we do in this field.


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