Corona virus and online higher education: the technology fallacy
The corona virus is causing education to move from offline to online. In the Netherlands, the government and higher education institutions announced last Thursday (12 March 2020) that all in-person education has to be replaced by online education. Online means more reliance on technology. So here comes technology to the rescue.
Or not? The introduction of the Video Assisted Referee (VAR) in soccer nicely illustrates that technology does not only solve issues, but that it also creates discussions (eg Why did the VAR (not) intervene?, Was it really offside?, Should the on-field referee overrule the VAR?). In this post, I share some examples of the Technology Fallacy in higher education, with the aim to make readers a bit more literate when it comes to the use of technology in higher education in times of corona.
1. You just need the proper technology
You do, but technology also introduces problems, not only solutions. Anyone who has used Skype, Hangouts, Teams etc. has experienced technical difficulties, ranging from download problems, installation issues, login difficulties, lack of audio, no video etc. Imagine now a population of 50, 100, 500 or 1000 students. Technical difficulties are not going to be likely - they are inevitable. So here some suggestions to those who have to transition from offline teaching to online teaching:
- Pre-record as much as possible. Audio and video will fail on students and possibly yourself.
- Minimize downloading, installation, and login.
- Test it.
- Have a Plan B that does not include live online interaction with students.
2. Use the technology highly regarded organizations have
'Harvard University uses X/Y/Z, they must have checked the security'. It probably did, but but not everything. Take Zoom, a widely used technology that "provides remote conferencing services that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat, and mobile collaboration". It offers a variety of nice features, but according to Mashable, they come at a cost, as recorded meetings stored in the cloud can be listened back at a later date, even by individuals who were not in the meeting, and although customers' personal data is not 'sold', some of is shared with third parties. Perhaps more worrisome are cybersecurity concerns. What if "any website to forcibly join a user to a Zoom call, with their video camera activated, without the user's permission"? Or what about having a feature "where you can just send anyone a meeting link (for example https://zoom.us/j/492468757) and when they open that link in their browser their Zoom client is magically opened on their local machine"? (both quotes from a Medium article; I couldn't check whether the vulnerabilities are still active today). Imagine the impact of a successful ransomware attack as a result of such a vulnerability.
3. Let's crisis-buy
If money is not an issue for your organization, crisis-buying a piece of software that will cost your institution hundreds of thousands of euros or dollars is fine. But even then not so much when it does more or less the same thing as something you already have and is integrated in your educational platform that your employees are familiar with.
Like in other domains, technology is not only going to solve problems, but also create problems. It will also change expecations, dynamics, and student - teacher interaction. The challenge for higher education institutions in corona times is therefore not so much to find new technology, but to re-imagine their education - fast - and to empower thousands of teachers who will be seeking guidance while possessing different levels of digital literacy.
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