Technology—The Great Equalizer?


Usually, simply using the term “technology” makes us think of inequality, deficits.  It leads us to think of the huge gaps between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the possibilities and reality.  However, I would like to suggest that technology can also help promote equality in our classrooms.

As I was reading Dr. Richard Curwin‘s blog post “Reframing: Seeing Students in a New Way,” one phrase was particularly meaningful to me: “Fair is not equal.”

“Fair is Not Equal”

As students of the theory of Differentiated Instruction know, “fair” means “same,” but treating everyone the same does not always result in equality.  Instead, we may need to treat students very differently in order to get them each to reach the desired results.

In order to make this concept clear, I always think of an activity that one of my professors used in his classroom.

  1. Hand each student a slip of paper with a different ailment printed on it.  For example, they may say “papercut,” “headache,” “brain tumor,” etc.
  2. Have students write down the symptoms of their ailment.
  3. Claim that you are going to cure all of the students’ illnesses.
  4. Walk around the room and give each student two M&Ms, claiming that they are Tylenol.

As soon as he began handing out the M&Ms, the students began complaining that Tylenol would not cure them.  Those with the most severe illnesses were most upset.  My professor would then turn the discussion into a lesson on how giving everyone the same instruction or treatment may not result in everyone being equal.  Instead, students should be given as little or as much support as they need in order to reach the class’s learning goals.

Technology to the Rescue!

Technology can assist in our efforts to differentiate our lessons.  We can provide supplemental instructional tools, such as online educational games or explanatory websites.  By incorporating technology and multimodality in assessment, we can encourage students to demonstrate their learning in ways that they are most capable.

This can be especially valuable for those students who do not excel in reading or writing, or according to Howard Gardner, those who are not Linguistic learners.  By utilizing technology, we can reach other types of learners such as those described in Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  Using technology to provide examples, illustrations, or support collaborative activities in our lessons can be very valuable to many different types of students.

Everyone is different, and in order to recognize and value these differences, we may need to treat or teach students differently.  Technology is another resource that we can use to help all students reach our learning goals.  The important thing to remember is that our expectations do not change, only our methods.


6 responses »

  1. Kate,
    I read your blog while I had some down time at work and I really like how you connected the idea of reframing with using technology to address the inequalities that make us all individuals. I read Dr. Curwins blog as well and was especially impressed by the example of Rachel and how it was necessary for her teacher to reframe her thefts as a way to find security. I work with some kids who have similar problems, so the story was particularly relevant for me.
    You’re right when you point out that we aren’t all equal. We all have different wants, needs, abilities, etc. Changing our approach through reframing and using educational technologies to address the specific needs of our students is the only truly effective way to provide everyone with the same opportunity to reach our learning objectives.

  2. Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences suits the possibilities that technology has to share. Musical, linguistic, visual, spatial, inter and intra personal intelligences can all collaborate in a multimodal, tech-rich classroom. Computers now make the creation of media so easy that it would be ignorant to leave out other ways of thinking.

  3. Wow, I never thought about it in term’s of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences! It seems so obvious now, but than you for making the connection 🙂 I especially liked the way you phrased this: “we can encourage students to demonstrate their learning in ways that they are most capable.” That sums this up perfectly…It’s about helping the students learn in the best way they can, and we must continually remind ourselves that not all students learn the same!

  4. Kate, I’m enjoying your blog! I have am also in the emerging stages of one

    I used to share a similar example about the sick kids with my class to explain differentiation to them. I then attended a day-long session with Rick Wormeli based on his book Fair isn’t always Equal where he talked about taping a $5 bill high on the wall and calling on a tall student to get it down. Then calling on a shorter student who cannot reach it. When the shorter student gets a chair or asks for help, he would stop that person. The class chimes in stating that it isn’t fair. This always leads to a wonderful conversation about the differentiation that will occur in the classroom –about how our brains aren’t all created the same, about homework won’t all be the same, about how everyone isn’t always ready for the same assignments at the same time, etc. Then the student is allowed the assistance needed to get the money.

    • Thanks, Jodi! That is a terrific example as well. It is very straight forward, and I think possibly a better example! I like my professor’s example, but the example of the five dollar bill is quick and really visually illustrates the point (and I’m a big fan of visuals), especially the notion of scaffolding. It also takes away the danger of implying that those who may need more support are somehow “sick.” Thanks for sharing the example and your own blog!

  5. Kate, Thanks for this helpful post! I will use it when I address my undergrad preservice teachers about multiple intelligences and differentiation! I’m Diigo-ing it for now!

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