Digital technology is an unlevel playing field. In my opinion, it is the most unlevel playing field we have ever faced in education. Looking back at the history of education, there has been no other time when something has had such an effect on people yet the level of knowledge and expertise of users of technology is so difficult to determine. A bold statement you might suggest but let’s investigate this and look at the evidence.
Firstly, it is very important to look at digital technology as an umbrella term. I like this definition of it:
“the branch of scientific or engineering knowledge that deals with the creation and practical use of digital or computerized devices, methods, systems, etc” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/digital+technology)
We commonly associate digital technology with use of devices, consumer devices, such as phones, tablets, laptops. Yet, as this definition shows, digital technology is also about creation not to mention the involvement of systems and methods. Highly significant in the unlevel playing field argument is an understanding of the breadth of the definition and the ‘creations and practical uses’ that can be seen as digital technology. To better comprehend this, let’s consider some examples, realistic scenarios, that are likely to be happening right now in schools anywhere in the developed world:
- Young people who are highly proficient users of a particularly area of social media eg Tumblr. They know how to navigate and manipulate the space. They post and connect as they see fit. Some are very skilled at using this space to market their interests, to network
- Teachers who have self-taught (or Youtube taught) network skills. They have experience as they have set up and maintained a small wired/wireless network
- Young people who have used online interactive platforms eg Codecademy or MOOCs to teach themselves how to code in a particular language. They program their own robots or build apps and network with like-minded individuals worldwide via user groups and forums
- Teachers who regularly use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They rely on these social media spaces to for friendship, sharing practice and socialisation. They are highly competent and active users who have developed know-how over years of use.
Of course I could go on and the list of examples demonstrating involvement in digital technology is vast.
Yet, the list above should not just be looked at in terms of what technology is being used for, what the involvement is. I listed sets of people, teachers/young people, and in any of the examples given they could be interchanged with ease. This is the second point in understanding this unlevel playing field: we rarely have any idea who has expertise let alone in what area of digital technology that expertise lies.
There is, however, a third point when we consider the people involved, namely, that formal education or schooling, qualifications, age, what is commonly referred to as experience have no bearing on who is involved in digital technology. The plethora of learning opportunities freely and readily available online are a conduit to expertise in areas of digital technology not to mention the expertise that can come from immersion, involvement and use.
So, all in all, when we look at digital technology, we look at an area of our lives that has many subsections, lots of specialisms. There are few factors we can point to that provide reliable evidence to enable easy identification of who has expertise and where that expertise lies. Hence, we have a huge unlevel playing field.
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