Technology, Prestige, and Privilege

While browsing through the latest edtech news, I came across an interesting article: Why Audrey Watters Thinks Tech Is a Trojan Horse Set to ‘Dismantle’ the Academy. I can’t vouch for the entire piece (because I haven’t listened to the full podcast), but the transcribed portion features some #TeaTime talk that was too real not to comment on. Consider this statement:

“We can talk about badges, for example, we can talk about going to a coding boot camp for an eight-week program. But at the end of the day, do employers value that? Or does an employer still value a degree from a university that they recognize and respect? That’s a question of prestige, and no amount of technological innovation right now really gets at that prestige question.”

[insert ‘yas’ gif somewhere here]

First of all – Y E S. Second of all – let’s drill down into this further:

Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing discourse that treats technology like an equalizer, a utopian device that levels every playing field. Rarely do these conceptions converge with our understanding of -isms or macro and microaggressions that pervade society.

But this quote gets at the heart of a much needed message: technology, and this notion that we should all attain various tech skills, is still 1000% subject to (and often occurs within) the prestige model of higher education. And, stepping back even further, the idea that we can all attain the same skills, in the same fashion, without barriers, is pretty unbelievable. I understand see the appeal of coding retreats and similar programs, but we can’t have conversations about their necessity without first remembering: the contexts in which these are performed, the systems of prestige and privilege that dominate the landscapes they’re performed in, and the ways in which marginalized students will absolutely be forced to navigate oppressive structures that affect how their abilities read in the classroom or on the job market.

Published by Jen

Emerging Technologies Coordinator, Columbia University's Science and Engineering Libraries.

2 thoughts on “Technology, Prestige, and Privilege

  1. So much yes (and yaaaasssss). I can’t tell you the number of tech professional development opps I’ve had to pass up because of 1) geography (Baltimore may be close, but not that close); 2) childcare (who will pick up my child when I am gone); 3) cost (I’m looking at you Educause); and 4) LIFE.

    I say all of this as an academic librarian in a comfortable tenure-track job that allows me a fair degree of freedom. I can’t imagine how difficult things must be for a student, an un/underemployed job seeker, someone with even more taxing family situations, or more strict financial constraints.

    Thanks for posting this!

  2. Yes. Yes. YES. Whenever anyone talks about the “democratizing effect” of technology and social media and such, I roll my eyes so hard. You have to have money/access/knowledge/time to have access to tech & social media. How the heck is that “democratizing” (which, incidentally, is one of my least favorite words).

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