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Letter: Will online learning reduce inequity?

Technology has transformed education. Both in the classroom and walking around campus, I see more students with smartphones and tablets than books. Digital documents, online classes and a menagerie of mobile applications have radicalized how students learn. However, have they changed who is learning?

ASU aims to have 20,000 online students by 2020. As an ASU student, I wonder if my university’s online expansion will actually 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 plethora of existing free online resources, it’s easy to see how educational opportunities could be accessed by anyone with an internet connection. EdX is one notable nonprofit (organization) that provides MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) free to the public.



EdX's MOOCs, sponsored by universities such as Harvard and MIT, are high-caliber, college-level classes available to anyone, regardless of age or income. Currently, most MOOCs do not qualify for transferable college credit, but many do grant a completion certificate to passing students. A similar organization is Quanta, an ASU initiative that creates free online research experiences for high school students across the state.

Opportunities such as those of EdX and Quanta could be monumental in bringing quality education to students in remote or underserved areas.

However, free does not mean effective. Online learning does very little for those without adequate hardware or an internet connection. If developments in education technology are not accompanied by increased efforts in internet access and technology funding, inequity could grow rather than decrease.

I believe that education technology merits the attention of tech specialists and education advocates alike. Nevertheless, these actors must not ignore the financial and logistical requirements that make education technology effective for positive social change.

Cary Kelly



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