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How Losing Net Neutrality Will Change Teaching and Learning

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net neutrality geralt pixabay.jpg

Technology can be found at the center of nearly all the curricula, learning goals and objectives we use in schools today. Technology is no longer separate from learning. Yet, many still talk as if it were outside. Learning is often simply defined as the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, and practice. Today, we know that learning is more dynamic than that definition. How information is acquired now includes far more than transmission from teacher to student. Do any of you remember filmstrips or ditto masters? Learning is now understood as an active process that can be a mental, physical, and emotional activity. But, the threads of tradition still tug at our words and thoughts. Many still speak and think of learning as a transmission activity. How do we receive and use information, how we discover and decide?

The initial inclusion of technology into learning environments brought with it computer labs, word processing and games that reinforced skills.  Of course, who could forget Oregon Trail?  As technology, internet service and associated resources exploded on the web, the pressure and interest in its use grew. Computers were brought into classrooms and interactive white boards were installed. Some were used well but, in some rooms, they remained dormant.  During this evolution, technology has become a central force in defining how students and professionals, both, are now learning. Educators cannot allow some classrooms to remain technology free or even technology sparse while others technology have abundance. Policy makers and leaders locally will decide who qualifies and who does not.

SingularityHub recently published an article entitled "How Technology is Transforming How we Teach and Learn." In it they said,

Technology is already transforming the way we teach and learn. Digital classrooms, global online collaborations, and personalized learning are just the beginning. What will these technological trends in EdTech lead to? What will the word "education" even mean 30 years from now?

Certainly, this is true, yet it continues to lean on the idea that technology is leading the learning. We think the inconsistent implementation of technology as a learning vehicle across classrooms has to do with how technology is viewed. We have not developed a research-based agreement about how technology fits into the human act of thinking and learning. Without that agreement, we cannot expect schools and districts to implement a system-wide approach. Technology use should increase because the collective minds of the teachers and leaders, parents, business partners and students agree that the use of these innovations will increase the engagement and achievement of all students.

When educators analyze the standards to be met in each subject, they examine content and skills, right?  But how often are the ISTE standards (for students, teachers, coaches, and administrators) part of the equation?  In order to analyze curriculum and make an educated decision about how technology fits system-wide, following these standards is essential. Studying those helps inform decisions about how technology will be utilized in one area, or one unit, or one lesson, and used differently in others.  Informed educators can make defensible decisions that will garner community support.

The Loss of Net Neutrality Threatens Academic Freedom

While all of this is true, there is a new challenge to our use of technology as an embedded part of the learning process. Net neutrality is potentially in harm's way.  Educators cannot ignore this. If we are working hard to understand how to best embed the use of technology and the Internet into the learning environment of schools, and net neutrality goes by the wayside, we will not be in control of the information to which we have access.  Essentially, net neutrality grantees us as consumers that we have access to all content regardless of perspective or source. Without it providers will decide what customers receive and/or what is free and what is not. What information comes quickly and which will be slowed. Content will be offered to the highest bidder. Internet providers will make decisions for us (Politico). 

This is an important issue to include as schools struggle to understand how best to create technology inclusive learning environments. We cannot remain silent on this issue. The internet as we know it today will change, quickly and perhaps subtly. We will no longer know what is "out there" that might open worlds for our students and bring relevance to academics. Sometimes, each of us thinks there is way too much on the Internet for anyone to digest and much of it is not factually based. But, that complaint gets silenced when we think of others controlling what is available to hear and see. Our democracy finds its strength in information and transparency. Our future citizens, those who are our students today need to learn how to differentiate between factual and researched sources and opinions and arguments. Net neutrality keeps opposing points of view in front of us. We think that has positive value. We cannot remain silent on this issue. Our continuing struggle to view technology as part of curriculum across the subjects, to learn and understand the information that comes from and can be placed on the Internet will be threatened. Our work to prepare students to understand this valuable and dangerous place called the Internet is important. If the information available is now accessible based upon the amount of money the provider is willing to pay, then the Internet will separate from being a place of democracy and become a place where money controls information.Our information, our schools, our country will be threatened. The loss of Net Neutrality threatens the very academic freedom we have fought for. We must pay attention and speak out. 

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools.  Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo by geralt courtesy of Pixabay

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