July 19, 2024


It's the Technology

Five Tech Areas Where IT In Education Should Take A Step Back


President Univention North America, making sure you stay in control of your data, your company and your future.

The past decade, and the last two years, have brought many changes to our IT landscape in general and to the IT we use in schools and businesses. To be sure, many of those changes have been for better and improved education. Yet, some are threatening our very fabric of teaching and learning for life.

Working with dozens of education departments and school districts has made me acutely aware of five key areas where we should focus our attention and efforts to do better, so teaching plus technology can deliver more than the sum of their parts.

1. Monitoring Behavior With AI

Standardized test providers use algorithms for their at-home testing to monitor whether someone is cheating or if the designated test taker is the person sitting in front of the computer. Some private schools use similar software to ensure students are paying attention during online classes, and businesses have started experimenting with monitoring “happiness” and productivity to protect their bottom line. From here, it is only a tiny step until we put cameras into the classroom and offices to predict performance and whether to provide support.

Combine that innocuous surveillance with productivity apps that can measure how fast employees and students type, how often and what words or sentences they correct, and we are building a data-driven dragnet disguised as online learning. We risk that nobody knows what information services harvest and put to other uses beyond our businesses and institutions.

Administrators seldomly consider the privacy implications of such settings. Revenues ride on results, whether it is productivity or tests. Not on passions for work and learning

We ought to do better. Instead of using AI and cameras to monitor behavior, we should train teachers and managers to instill passion. Dropping complex AI tools into their hands is counterproductive as it distracts them and makes them focus on technology instead.

2. Insecure And Unregulated Cloud Services

Using cloud services is convenient and fast for many businesses and school districts, as the big providers build these services so that clients can easily onboard users. That said, it can also be difficult to migrate to a different solution.

While many cloud services have robust data protection policies for the data uploaded, protections for the meta-data may be much weaker. Worse, using premium offerings—for instance, combining professional, educational and personal accounts—can result in moving metadata out of the protected realm into the commercial area, where providers can more freely use the data. Cloud services not explicitly designed for education fare much worse regarding acceptable data use.

Undoubtedly, cloud services can offer significant value at a reasonable cost, but we need to consider how providers use the data. That is especially true when providers are not strictly regulated, can aggregate data across multiple services and then sell it to colleges or employers. In that case, the ultimate cost for society and equality might be much higher than they ever imagined.

3. Always-On

“You can reach out to me with any questions regarding your child at any time.” While it is just a polite phrase, school districts increasingly regulate expected response times from their teachers, in my experience. Employees similarly expect workers to be available by phone outside of traditional hours. Even if not considering zero-hour contracts.

Highly trained professionals should know how to communicate, including self-managing reasonable response times for an e-mail. Work is not an always-on proposition but thrives on a cadence of active time together, digesting material and insights alone, augmented by some availability for follow-ups.

Once we start to regulate workflows, though, we change the dynamics from a professional or educational environment to a world of customer service. That is the wrong approach altogether. If management feels that people cannot handle their communication tasks, the goal should be fixed and more training should be offered instead of regulations that border on micromanaging.

4. Blindly Using Technology

We used to teach how to use technologies instead of just blindly using them. We should not simply hand over laptops in today’s world of daily password hacks and continuous threats to online privacy. If our schools and IT departments do not work hard to dispel the notion that technology happens to us, we will reinforce the assumption that everything online is safe and trustworthy, which could not be further from the truth.

Instead, we must start teaching about technology more holistically, highlighting its risks and its challenges. We need to educate everyone about privacy and managing information. Only if society understands that the wonders of technology come with their unique risks can we avoid a dystopian future of total acceptance of social credit scores and a transparent citizenry.

5. Virtual Experiences

Field trips and science labs provide valuable experiences. Yet, in a time of shrinking budgets, virtual trips and computer games have taken their place at many schools. That would not be a problem if these activities happened in addition to real-life experiences since they can indeed teach valuable skills. Sadly, they often are the only offering available.

Similarly, virtual conferences, networking events and sales opportunities, such as fitting rooms, are taking place in the business world. After multiple events, there just is no comparison between an in-person meeting and a virtual event.

Virtual events and games come with a severe downside. They rob everyone of valuable experiences in social settings—situations that have already suffered enough due to the pandemic. Business and teaching based on technology alone should never replace real-world experiences.

I would go even one step further: Technology needs to take the backseat when it comes to life.

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