Saturday, 30 June 2007

Social Equality and ICT developments

In the discussions taking place about current and projected ICT developments I haven’t seen much (if anything) about social equality and the effects on social mobility for example.

The distribution of technology follows a familiar pattern – at first it can be very expensive and only the very rich or organisations can access it. If a technology is useful then technical and manufacturing developments bring down costs and we find that individuals can increasingly buy access. The motor car is a good example, once our roads were empty and only the wealthy had their own car – everyone else used a shared version – the bus. These days access to a motor car is a lot easier. Telephones through to mobile phones are a similar example.

ICT and the Internet is following a similar pattern. Once, only organisations like colleges could provide access to computers and “the information superhighway”. Today many individuals have their own access to computers and the Internet but many don’t.

I do have a concern about the unanswered questions regarding social equality issues in our assumptions of ICT access.

Who is disadvantaged?

Who is advantaged?

Who are we thinking of?

In many of the discussions around e-learning there are many stories about senior executives and their children using home computers. Are these the users we are thinking of when we are designing our e-learning strategies? We don’t hear very much for example about the poor family living in a flat in a “difficult” estate who cannot afford a home computer let alone Internet access. It seems inevitable that e-learning will advantage the already advantaged.

Much of this is outside our control but there are things colleges can do. We do need to provide sufficient e-learning opportunity at our colleges so that the less privileged have access. We should be careful if we replace traditional homework with e-work as this may introduce unfair advantage. Instead of operating e-learning through a standard curriculum we should operate e-learning through new organisational methods (e-curriculum for want of a better word) more on this in a future blog. In these days of participation it would also be interesting to hear the voice of the student regarding learning and “e-learning” .

This all seems a bit gloomy but there are things we can do (the e-curriculum). The stresses are inevitable at this period of change. As technology develops and prices come down and personal computing really does become personal in the years ahead the issue of social exclusion in ICT access will be less tangible and the developments in teaching and learning we are starting now will bear fruit. The issue of social exclusion will no doubt have moved on to some other technology or application not yet thought of.

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