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Digital Equity – Diverse Learners and Technology

This week, I am learning alongside some doctoral classmates about digital equity, diverse learners, and technology. This topic is near and dear to my heart for a few reasons. 1) I am not an auditory learner so most lectures are painful learning environments for me. I personally am a hands-on learner. 2) My research has taught me about collectivist cultures where the majority of people from collectivist cultures also do not learn best in a sit and get (aka lecture) type of environment. 3) I took over Disability Services about three years ago. I have done some research on services and tools for students who are deaf and hard of hearing and how critical their learning environments are. Have you ever watched someone in a Zoom meeting forget to unmute their microphone? Could you imagine sitting there watching them for three hours a week with their microphone muted? You can see their lips moving and may even be able to read some of their lip motions to understand a few things they might be saying. However, for deaf or hard of hearing, this is their reality. They learn differently because they do not have 100% of their hearing. Of course, this is an entire service or department in itself in regard to diverse learners.

Digital equity is simply so important! For example, at my campus, where I teach, over 80% of our students are over 40 years old. If I wrote a grant to get 100% of our students a Google Chromebook, can you guess how many of them would know how to even turn it on, much more use it? Also, do not assume that all the other students under 40 years old will automatically know how to turn it on and use it either. I've been surprised to learn there are some traditional-aged students that are not as tech-savvy as I would assume them to be. The module shared a 2012 blog Digital Native vs Digital Citizen? Examining a Dangerous Stereotype. The blog argues my point about not assuming traditional-aged students or younger are all digital natives. However, the author claims it is a dangerous assumption and I disagree with that claim. There is no evidence to back that claim.

If you would like to learn alongside my classmates and I, feel free to check out her module on Digital Equity - Diverse Learners and Technology. For now, I want to answer the questions she poses starting with:

1) How important is it to integrate technology within the classroom?

My answer: It depends. As I mentioned before if some students do not know how to use the technology, it can become a hurdle in a learning environment. Not all learners, learn the same way. I have a director that works for me who is an auditory learner. One day we were in a training together. The trainer was asking someone to "drive" while we were learning for a hands-on learning opportunity. I told this specific director to "drive." Little did I know, I was setting her up for failure because I took away the opportunity for her to sit and listen to just the auditory portion of the training. I also forced myself to fill that portion by sitting and listening which is not the best way for me to learn. She and I both ended up having to get retrained or watch a recording because neither of us were able to learn in our preferred method. Lesson learned. Now I make it a point to ask my team members their learning styles and do my best not to set them up for failure, but for success. Some learning environments may not need technology but music to motivate learners to move, dance, and sing in a particular learning environment. Other learning environments definitely need to integrate technology in order to achieve a student learning outcome. My advice to a moderator, professor, or teacher is to make sure you know HOW to integrate technology for the most effective learning environment. And, please learn your students' learning styles.

2) Do you feel that technology has cultivated a whole new way of learning? If so, how?

Yes! Absolutely! Learning at one point required going to the library, looking through a card catalog to find a topic or subject you were interested in. Today, any topic in the world is available at our fingertips in our smartphones or mobile devices, including our own vehicles! Refrigerators, doors, washing machines, self-serve kiosks, and more integrate technology for not just a whole new way of learning, but a whole new way of living. You can simply ask Alexa to turn off or on the lights or set the air conditioning for you without even being home. Anyone can repair their own car, build a computer, learn to play the guitar by finding a youtube video. And, let's not forget that now, millionaires can venture to space for bragging rights. Life and learning are definitely different today than they were 20 years ago.

Final Thoughts: The most important piece from this module is the portion on universal design from the chapter 37 review of Resier & Dempsey (2018). I personally believe if instructors aimed to focus on the types of representation, engagement, and expression aspects of instructional design, then the learning environment will be as close to optimally inclusive for diverse learners.

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