Sunday, 30 January 2005

Comment to "Permanent Injustice: Rawls' Theory of Justice and the Digital Divide"

In the recently published Educational Technology & Society Journal (Vol 8 Issue 1), Elizabeth Hendrix argues that

Rawls’ theory of justice does not work in practice with regard to technology, or as a way to solve the digital divide and the inequalities in school funding. She argues that another ethical theory should guide technological funding and policies in schools, embracing theories by Levinas, Noddings, Davis, Freire, Nkrumah, and Buber, in order to open scholarly discussion on the issues of injustice and technological funding inequities.

I have no previous reading of any papers on "justice" and I declare total ignorance in this area. However, I do feel that whatever a funding policy may be designed, digital divide, or different levels of technology access by different population groups, is an unavoidable fact in life. Again, I am not arguing designing a "fairer" funding policy, I just want to remind ourselves that we should not take technology access as a given. For many, it is far from the true. See my previous post, The Fallacy of Digital Equality.


Bill Williams said...

(Comment also posted on the IFETS forum)
Albert, I think I agree with the spirit of your comments although I ‘m not sure if I have entirely grasped your point.

I remember very clearly my visits to the busy cybercafe when I was in Bissau, West Africa, (arguably one of the least endowed capital cities in the world – it’s the only one I know that only has one branch of a single bank. Also most of the city did not have electricity or running water most of the time). Although very expensive by local standards the cybercafé was usually packed with people using the internet.

Judging from the sites people were accessing, this certainly wasn’t elearning in the formal sense but people were avidly using it because it was their only, or most reliable, source of information about the outside world. Information about world and West African events, and about football teams and music stars seemed the most popular in addition to keeping up to date with the diaspora through webmail. Formal elearning wasn’t an option for the public in general or for students there but even so the cybercafé had an important role in their informal learning.

I think it is extremely important to work towards creating realistic projects to provide appropriate resources so that both formal and informal learning are more widely available in places like Bissau. However, having seen many apparently worthy development projects produce very little because they didn’t take into account the complexity of the local context, it does need careful planning and implementation both in terms of learning system design, as you say, and also resource allocation

What I’m not so clear about, Albert, is where you refer in your blog to “The Fallacy of Digital Equality”. Has someone said there is digital equality or even that we would see something like it in our lifetime?

Surely the point is that we need to recognise and work towards reducing digital inequality.

Bill Williams
Setubal Polytechnic,

Albert Ip said...

Elizabeth Hendrix responded to this comment in her blog. Please see I have put my comment on her blog too.

Bill, thank you for your comment. I don't see any disagreement here. As I have agreed with Elizabeth, we should not take the unachievable ideal of "digital equality" as an excuse NOT to fight for better allocation of resources, but we should also be pragmatic in the sense that we, developers, design with an understanding of the large differences of technological capability of our target users.

One of the project which takes up the majority of my time (actually my life) is Fablusi, online role play simulation platform. Our clients are mostly universities in the developed countries (and BTW the US Army) and we may, but should not, assume that the players will be accessing our service with fast connection and fast machines. I keep on rejecting the push for more media to add eye candies. I am rejecting the use of any audio, video and other gimmicks if they do not contribute to the learning objectives. (see Learning Context: Do we need to render it?) As online role playing is a collaborative learning activity, we do require the players to access the service in regular intervals. To cater for different capability to access, we can run our simulations in different worlds with vastly different pace. We code against Firefox, a standard compliant and much more light-weight browser (compared to IE at least) and recommend our users to use Firefox to access the service. The communication protocol between the client and the server is designed to be as light-weight as possible, including developing alternatives to JSON (which is already much better than XML-based data transfers) see JSON and its implementation gotcha. These represent greater effort on our parts to achieve the same "marketable product" from a pure immediate commercial point of view, but I believe that such investment will have some pay-off in the long term.

I am glad this issue attractive so much interest. Just to repeat myself again, we should try to contribute our effort in ways we can to help reduce or avoid the impact of the unavoidable digital divide.