Classroom technology can widen the digital divide and strengthen language barriers and socio-economic inequality. This can happen if we expect all students to have smartphones to complete an assignment, if we expect the classrooms and students that we connect with abroad to speak English, if we assume everyone has internet access, and if we do not actively work to interrupt this cycle. In our College, in our home neighborhoods, in our country, and in our world today, information and communication technology becomes yet another mechanism that awards ever more privilege to the privileged at the expense of the rest, of the majorities.
The courses in the Pathway on Sustainability and Social Justice attempt to interrupt this cycle and to always remain aware of its presence pushing us to perpetuate systems of inequality almost without thinking. To make our Skype connections work optimally, we require extra equipment in speakers, microphones, and especially designed classrooms with screens, projectors, and overhead speakers. We absorb extra staff hours to set everything up and make sure that it works well. We rely on excellent Internet access and a whole team of staff people who keep it working and virus-free. To interrupt the cycle, our staff indicated simple steps and best practices that our “virtual guests” via Skype can take to optimize the communication link with us. To confront the language barrier, we push ourselves to learn Spanish and French, and we take turns translating.
Our library and IT staff dedicated time this year to travel to Chiapas to assess the Internet and computer capacity of our partner university—Universidad de la Tierra—and the MSN house that our students, MSN personnel, and we use as living and teaching space. Through some simple changes to how the Internet is accessed in both spaces, service was sped up. Back on campus, we found Cisco System Access points that possibly could be provided to expand Wifi coverage to the whole UniTierra campus. And we became involved in a project to extend internet access to five rural centers that serve many dozens of rural villages. Each center houses schools, cooperatives, medical facilities, and autonomous governments. There is usually not even cellphone service in these centers. $1,600 in equipment from the Tech Fellows/Mellon Global Initiative cooperation allowed Internet to reach two of these five centers this fall. And a similar amount may bring it to two more.
These changes are making it possible for communication among these two centers and UniTierra as well as making it possible for our students to be virtually present at weekly and monthly public events, forums, and debates at UniTierra and hopefully soon at some of the rural centers. Many more steps remain to be taken but these are the first ones.