Technology for Education: This Year Proves We're Ready

Fiona Waters

December 20, 2020

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Before remote learning, technology was used to make educational institutions more inclusive. For students who have trouble attending class and are graded lower than they deserve due to unconscious bias, and for teachers trying to identify plagiarism, virtual tools leveled the playing field.

Now that learning is primarily happening remotely, technology facilitates every aspect of education. To dive into the extent of its influence, WITI hosted the session "Women in Education and Technology: Now and Into the Future." Jennifer Rosko, Director of Student Involvement and Programs at UC San Francisco moderated. Susan Morrow, Vice President of Product Management for the Education Cloud at Salesforce, and Valerie Schreiner, Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Turnitin, joined as panelists.

A Great Equilizer, or Divider?

Technology adoption is a game-changer for those with a stable Internet connection. Not everyone can afford an Internet connection, however, or a device with which to use it. The panel mentions how school districts that serve a large number of children without Internet connections opt for in-person learning right now.

On a positive note, Susan Morrow celebrates the effects the pandemic and virtual learning have had on "late adopters" of technology. As a recent college graduate, I can tell you that even in early 2020, certain professors refused to use our online grading system. They took a paper-only approach. That changed after March.

Technology also has the power to reduce unconscious bias, for example, by hiding the names of an assignment's author. Schreiner explains that the UK and Australia have been practicing anonymous grading at a legislative level "for years." When you implement the practice, "essay grades for your students of color go up by half a grade."

While issues of "policy, technology," and demand for "solutions," in Morrow's words, contribute to the current state of education, she's right when she says "There's a huge amount of work that really needs to happen, and a number of those things can happen only through technology."

The Core Problem

Education level is strongly linked to your future earnings. Even just delaying it costs money. Ensuring high schoolers get to college is one of education's most significant challenges. With the Black Lives Matter movement and the effects of the pandemic hitting their peaks, the factors involved in this transition are being openly discussed. "Society is… being elevated into these new conversations that I've never seen happen," says Rosko.

As so many factors outside of school affect a student's grades, she also adds, "A student's success is not just about their academics and graduating. It's ‘How do we support the whole student?'" This can include mental health, financial limitations, and other barriers.

Susan Morrow is hopeful about the ability of technology to assist with mental health. Predictive software that analyzes search terms can help educators intervene before "wait[ing] for [students] to fail."

Guaranteeing that a teacher is grading the student's original work is another important aspect of education - one that technology can help with. Schreiner emphasizes that grades should reflect a student's effort and not simply that they're "smart enough to break out a credit card on a cheat site."

Finally, she explains that coding needs to be taught as a "foundational skill" like writing. Just as a general education in standard writing practices transfers to any career, so does coding. Teaching it as a skill up through high school would make a college career more attainable.

Accessibility and Beyond

It has its pros and its cons, but generally, technology is enabling accessibility in education. Schreiner and Rosko offer the example of closed captions. On services like Zoom, they are making meetings much more accessible to those who are hard of hearing. Tools like Microsoft Word's "Immersive Reader" make everything from news articles to Gutenberg classics easier to consume.

Morrow also gives the example of a woman who was shunned from her physics study groups, which were made up of men. She created her own online network to match together women in physics. "There is a gender divide… in terms of the benefits of flexibility."

Though this period of "digitization" has affected everyone differently, the accessibility features on many sites have revolutionized education for a number of students, both young and old. Jennifer Rosko lays out the future of technology in education as a "hybrid" between virtual and in-person. The advancements in digital accessibility, the technology that enables anonymous grading, and virtual teaching aren't just going to be "taken away." We can integrate them into education, and we will continue to use them in the future.

Watch a recording of the event at https://summit.witi.com/agenda/session/?session_id=1532

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