Over the years that I’ve been involved with edtech, I’ve taken great pride in the fact that all of the international connections I’ve made has cost me little actual money in my classroom. I teach in a small school so (as with most places) budgets are tight. Ten years ago it was tough to get people to understand what I was doing in my classroom and the benefits of actually spending time on those projects. This made it difficult to get administrators to agree to commit money to some of the projects I wanted to work on in my classroom. This meant I had to spend my own money. That was fine. It was a choice I made, I was interested in seeing where these things would lead, so I was willing to put some of my money up. But I was also conscious of how much I was spending. I was willing to pay for a pro level flickr account, but not for wikis. I found free blogging services, but would pay for a few other basic pieces.
I used to enjoy telling people at conferences that I was able to connect the kids in my small town classroom with others around the globe for about $50 / year.
But these days I’m more conscious of the costs of connecting my classroom in lost privacy and in the data that we have been unknowingly sharing.
My $50 budget pushed me to use a lot of free cloud based services. This meant signing kids up each year for a host of free accounts at services scattered across the web. On one hand, this meant that we were constantly under threat of these services disappearing. This also meant email accounts filled with spam and putting up with advertising that followed us around the web as it tracked our activity from place to place. It also of course meant that we were unknowingly sharing everything we did online with governments around the world.
Free wasn’t free and these days those costs are more apparent.
I believe it’s time that we think beyond the simple financial costs of these services and put them into perspective against the moral costs of educating our kids using these tools. Google apps is the most obvious example, but it is by no means alone. A behemoth of a program that (according to this infographic) involves over 7 million K – 12 students in the US alone. The quality and breadth of the tools available in Google apps is undeniable. School districts save millions of dollars by signing up for this program. But what are the other costs of using this single suite of tools? What is the morality of enrolling our students in an advanced twenty first century surveillance program? By having our students sign up for a simple Google account, we enroll our students in the the world’s most advanced surveillance – corporate ecosystem. This isn’t a possibility or a vague theory. It’s a proven fact.
Is that worth it?
People will of course argue that it is. They will argue that we have nothing to fear if we aren’t doing anything wrong. People will argue that our students will find their own way into this system on their own since it is so persuasive in our society anyway. But I think that’s different. If individuals make their own informed choice to use these tools that is different then us enrolling them en masse.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not the post where I reveal that I want all of my students to wear tinfoil hats while we retreat out to cabins in the bush and avoid the reality of the world. But I do believe that as educators, just as we need to be about much more than content, we also need to be about much more than economics and the availability of tools. Schools and educators are supposed to be about the business of building a better world. A more informed, safer world where we help students to enhance the quality of their lives through the time that we spend with them and the opportunities that we explore together. Digital connections are part of that. I am not planning on turning my back on opportunities for my students and the skills they need. These things are vital for our students. But I am planning on exploring the tools we use in a more thought – full way, being more cognizant of the choices that I make in my classroom. Discussions and lessons surrounding online privacy will become just as important as ones about online safety. Just as we talk about the differences between copyright and creative commons, we will be taking the time to talk about the costs of software that we pay to use, software that is cloud based, and software that is open source.
We are a community of tech people who like stats and facts and figures to back up what we do. We like stories of connections about bringing kids and teachers together. The morality of what we do is something that hasn’t often intruded into our conversations. We like to believe that technology is morally agnostic. But this isn’t the case. We make choices about what we do and how we accomplish our goals every day.
Edtech is not new, but in the past few years our picture of it has become largely corporate controlled and has narrowed in focus. It has become shallow and in many cases, more immature as we have given up control of many of our tools. All you need to do is spend some time on the trade show floor of many conferences to see what I’m talking about. We’ve largely given up control over the design of our tools in a trade off over ease of use.
We’ve got work to do to make sure that we are not educating a generation of people who think using the internet is only typing into a box and pushing the share button.