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14 Equity Considerations for Ed Tech

Is the education technology in your online course equitable and inclusive of all learners? Here are key equity questions to ask when considering the pedagogical experience of an e-learning tool.

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I love hearing educators gush over the latest clickable, shiny whirl of e-learning technology. Sometimes, they even glow with a new sense of the possible — perhaps witnessing what designer Roberto Verganti calls an "innovation of meaning." While I celebrate the exuberance in their screen-shared reviews, as an ed tech teacher I often pivot back to less commonly asked, but still critical, questions — which, often enough, are all about equity. 

In considering a particular ed tech tool, faculty typically examine one key question: Does the chosen app address their unique pedagogical needs? In design terms, this begins with the learning experience (LX) of students — but often extends toward the teaching experience (TX), and even the user experience of technologists, instructional designers and administrators. Collectively, I call these the "pedagogical experience" (PX) of an e-learning tool. To help add an equity component to that equation, I present TAXI, a shortlist of PX questions about equity which I hope will resonate both with educators and product designers alike. 


TAXI is a vehicle to drive us toward four kinds of equity considerations: 1) tech equity; 2) accessibility equity; 3) experiential equity; and, 4) identity equity. TAXI is not an attempt at anything definitive. Instead, TAXI provides questions to help us arrive at new destinations for inquiry, focusing on how our K-20 technologies may broaden access, or what we might call the "e-learning capital," of all students — especially those that have been historically marginalized.

T: Tech Equity 

Equitable ed tech discussions often begin, rightly so, with a portrait of our modern digital divide. This section offers four PX design inquiry questions that might help us better navigate online disparities and advance what I refer to as "tech equity." Let's TAXI our way toward four considerations that are increasingly important — especially as we examine the pedagogical use of emerging technologies like extended reality (XR).

  1. Broadband equity. Can the tool broaden access to all students, regardless of their WiFi or wireless broadband speed?
  2. Device equity. Can students engage with this ed tech through a broad range of computers or handheld devices?
  3. Usability equity. Is the platform hyper-intuitive to ensure the broadest range of usability? Furthermore, is user-friendly guidance provided within the tool — and through a front-facing knowledge base — for all potential PX roles, to support its effective use, allay "tech anxiety" and ameliorate the gap between tech-savvy and tech-averse PX users?
  4. Pocketbook equity. Does the technology or e-learning resource ensure zero out-of-pocket costs for all students? 

A: Accessibility Equity

A second point commonly raised regarding equity considerations for ed tech is accessibility. To what degree are our tools, individually or collectively, able to address ADA accommodations requests and also promote Universal Design for Learning (UDL)? Let's TAXI our way toward two of the many questions that might be considered.

  1. Ability spectrum equity. Does the technology expand equitable access for users across the ability spectrum? 
  2. Neurodiversity equity. Does it support a broad range of student variation and neurodiversity, including those students who might be seen as non-neurotypical? 

X: Experiential Equity

A less commonly addressed PX domain for equity has to do with what I'm calling "experiential equity." While ed tech design processes often benefit from the consideration of hypothetical learner personas, it is helpful to extend our considerations toward a broader range of experiential variation among learners. Let's TAXI our way toward four experience-based considerations.

  1. Communicative equity. Does the technology provide equitable choices to students in how they express themselves and how they demonstrate their knowledge? 
  2. Processing equity. Does it provide students with multiple learning pathways? Does it advantage students who are more likely to succeed from direct instruction?
  3. Assessment equity. Are assessment and feedback mechanisms likely to encourage all students, and advance learning, regardless of a student's prior knowledge or online learning identity?  
  4. Relevance equity. Does the tool help expand digital literacy or academic cultural capital in ways that are clearly relevant to all students? 

I: Identity Equity

A fourth PX domain that may be the least commonly considered addresses questions connected with what I'm calling "Identity Equity." How can we ensure that students with non-dominant and often marginalized identities have equal footing in the online environment? While UX designers benefit from a degree of human-centered design, how often does the hypothetical learning journey envisioned by design teams move beyond stereotypes and essentialism toward the complex and often intersectional identities of today's "non-traditional" students? Let's TAXI our way toward four identity-based considerations.

  1. Language equity. Does the technology help students with any language background engage with the social and cognitive work required of the class?  
  2. Representational equity. Are the images and language used reflective of a broad range of possible students in your course, as it relates to race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, age, etc?  
  3. Identity equity. Does the technology address the self-identification needs of all students — especially those with non-dominant sexual, racial, gender or class identities?
  4. Belonging equity. Does the tool provide the equitable sense of belonging, connectivity and safety that all students need to engage in collaborative inquiry and social learning? Does the technology expand cultural literacy for all students to support problem solving, collaborative work or civic engagement?

Moving Toward Digitally Transformative Tech

While these 14 equity questions in TAXI are just a short sonnet of considerations, I hope they might carry us to a place far beyond our immediate concerns — toward online educational equity. True digital transformation in online learning product design may require a mindset shift for designers, from "user journeys" or "learner journeys" toward a much broader range of pedagogical experience. My hope is that TAXI can help us remember to pause in our ed tech excitement — and consider every possible student. "Shiny object syndrome" is something perhaps we are all guilty of when it comes to the latest technologies, but as I often say to our faculty, our goal is not tech-driven pedagogy; it is pedagogy-driven tech.

My fear is mainly this: that we may inadvertently reproduce our worst teaching practices in the online environment. It is not hard to imagine a shinier, video-based version of the high-stakes test or the hour-long lecture. As we celebrate the possible within emerging e-learning technologies, I hope we can TAXI over to that place where we can pause and imagine more deeply what educational equity might look like online. Are we potentially reinforcing the sage-on-the-stage "banking" models of instruction that Paulo Freire lamented, or might we be seeking out what I call "unbanking" technologies: those designed to give all students and educators an equitable sense of voice and agency? If TAXI turns out to be a helpful vehicle to advance a transformation in equitable ed tech design, I am happy to share it. 

If any of these questions seem particularly relevant to you, please share in the comments section below.

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