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How Free and Open Technologies Benefit the Affluent

By Justin Reich — June 01, 2012 1 min read

My friends at the Berkman Center finished editing the recording of a talk I gave in March at the Hewlett Grantee Meeting. The talk, “When Open Encounters Different Classrooms,” is built around a simple premise: in places with profoundly inequitable school systems, our conceptual models of technology-enhanced education systems always need to account for these inequalities.

Many folks, when imagining the world of education technology, have a conceptual framework including three archetypal actors: designers, educators and learners. Designers build stuff (resources, tools, games, platforms, videos, etc.) and put them on the Internet. This stuff then makes its way into learner brains, either directly or via educators as intermediaries.

What I recommend, is that we envision two sets of educators and learners on the far side of the Internet: one set in affluent schools and one set in low-income schools. Then, we should think about how our stuff—our resources, our games, our designs, and our research—impact learners differently in these different settings. I think there is a tremendous risk right now that most of our efforts around technology-enhanced learning, even things which are freely accessible, will disproportionately benefit the already advantaged. I explain that risk more fully in the presentation. I’ve been trying to share this message in a number of forums over the last year, and I’m starting to feel like it’s gaining some traction among foundations and policymakers.

Here’s the full talk, after about 2 minutes of introduction, the talk goes for about 15 minutes. Enjoy, and comments always welcome.

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