As a part of the LRNT526 group project, our team has chosen to explore the free education website, Khan Academy, a learning platform that delivers educational content primarily through engaging video modules. The platform has varied topical educational content for diverse users, from children to adults, as well as options for translations in many languages. In exploring this well designed and informative tool, I recognized numerous valuable aspects of the platform, though I was left with the question, who is left behind in accessing, and experiencing this tool? Through a critical reflection, I will explore why I am interested in the issue of digital equity and the key related considerations to further explore.
Our team chose the course Growth Mindset, an introduction to the topic for teachers, as well as information and activities for students in elementary, middle and high school. After spending time exploring Khan Academy and progressing though the course content, I found the material to be quite edifying. The mixture of high-quality video, animation and thoughtfully organized information, was well presented for the various age groups. Noteworthy in my exploration was the mission of the Khan Academy which strives “to provide a free, world‑class education for anyone, anywhere” (Khan Academy, 2018, para. 2). Though the Khan Academy and other similar platforms, have certainly demonstrated strengths in increasing access to educational content, there are limitations to the desired mission from a perspective of digital inequity, which are complex issues that stem far beyond a single educational platform to rectify. As video based platforms, MOOCS, and other common tools such as YouTube have gained in popularity as a resource to share educational content, it has remained in my mind, that these tools operate on a fundamental shared requirement, that continues to exclude specific students, while there remains a prevalent discourse of these as open, accessible and ubiquitously used platforms. The issues of exclusion and assumption of access are key interests of mine, as I believe that an effective education system is one where no student is left behind.
I am interested in further learning about digital equity within education, with a focus on how educational platforms online can facilitate access, as well as their limitations in addressing systemic inequities. Resta & Laferriere (2015) defined the goal of digital equity as “ensuring that everyone has equal access to technology tools, computers and the Internet, as well as the knowledge and skills to use these resources to enhance their personal lives” (p. 744). In delving further into the issue of access, it is important to understand the digital divide, which is the gap between those with access and those without to technology (Steele, 2019), that exists locally, nationally and globally. According to ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development (2019), 51% of the world are internet users, meaning there are over 3 billion people that do have the internet. In a North American context where access to high speed internet is needed to view a site like Khan Academy, though it is more readily available in comparison to global access as a whole, there still continues to be a significant digital divide. As an example, only 27.7% of First Nations reserves in Canada have access to high-speed internet (The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, 2019).
Thus, one must ask, who do we envision in the narrative of ‘everyone’? Who is excluded when we assume ubiquity of access to platforms, such as Khan Academy? As I reflect on how COVID-19 has unfolded over the past few weeks, the issue of digital equity has come to the forefront of my mind as someone working in education. With school closures, what happens to the learning outcomes of children lacking adequate technology at home or support in the home to use the technology? In the post-secondary context, I have seen first-hand that these inequities continue to exist, as many students relied on the College’s laptop loan program and publicly available internet.
Additionally, it is important to consider that when technology can be accessed, those that are versed in digital literacy are the ones that can take advantage of these platforms. Technology has not stopped moving forward, and Khan Academy is indicative of the of how far we have come with learning online. With Khan Academy increasing in use within classrooms across North America, the assumption is that young learners will simply know how to use, navigate and access both devices and platforms like Khan Academy. Unfortunately, not all learners have had the opportunity to progress along with technology due to socioeconomic, geographic location, ableism and systemic racism amongst other factors. As an example, inequities in education experienced by many Indigenous children have been well documented, from lack of funding to no access to basic high school in home communities. Furthermore, even the content itself may not necessarily be accessible for all learners, such as to students with particular learning needs or disabilities.
Selwyn (2010), emphasizes the use of the critical approach, which is a way to look at educational technology holistically and how it fits into the fabric of society, including all the facets that interact with it, such as politics, individuals, institutions, government and sociocultural realities. We have a responsibility to look at how technology in education affects society as a whole and to take a critical approach to further develop educational tools and systems that are truly designed for all. It is imperative to recognize the systemic and intersecting complexities that contribute to digital inequities, that certainly cannot be resolved by a single platform or stakeholder. As I move forward in exploring this topic with greater vigor, I hope to gain a stronger understanding of how educational technology, such as Khan Academy, can serve to be a greater equalizer, while still navigating how to work towards dismantling the systems that produce inequities to begin with.
How do you see free online platforms such as Khan Academy or YouTube supporting digital equity? What do you see as the limitations of these platforms in supporting equity for all learners?
ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development. (2019). The state of broadband 2019: Broadband as a Foundation for sustainable development. Retrieved from https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-s/opb/pol/S-POL-BROADBAND.20-2019-PDF-E.pdf
Khan Academy. (2018). Khan Academy Annual Report 2018. Retrieved from https://khanacademyannualreport.org
Resta, P. & Laferriere, T. (2015). Digital equity and intercultural education. Education and Information Technologies. 20(4), 743–756. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-015-9419-z
Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: Notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x
Steele, C. (2019, February 22). What is the digital divide? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.digitaldividecouncil.com/what-is-the-digital-divide/
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. (2019). Communications Monitoring Report (Catalogue No.: BC9-9E-PDF). Retrieved from https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/publications/reports/policymonitoring/2019/cmr1.htm#a4.1