Arizona State University aims to have 20,000 online students by 2020. As an ASU student, I wonder if my university’s online expansion will extend higher education to those for whom it was previously a distant dream. Will online learning reduce inequity in education?
The obvious answer seems to be yes. With the existing free online resources, it’s easy to see how educational opportunities could be accessed with just an Internet connection. Edx is one notable non-profit that champions MOOCs (massive open online courses). Their MOOCs, sponsored by universities such as Harvard and MIT, are college-level classes available to anyone, regardless of age or income. A similar organization is Quanta, an ASU initiative that creates free online research experiences for high school students across the state. Such opportunities could be monumental in bringing quality education to students in remote or underserved areas.
However, “free” does not mean effective. Online learning does little for those without adequate hardware or an Internet connection. If developments in education technology are not accompanied by increased efforts in Internet access or technology funding, inequity could grow rather than decrease. I believe education technology (edtech) merits the attention of tech specialists and education advocates alike. Nevertheless, these actors must not ignore the financial and logistical requirements that make edtech effective for positive social change.