CCK08: Connectivism, Equity, and Equality

In Groups Vs Networks: The Class Struggle Continues, Stephen Downes makes this statement about assessment:

I want to change the system of assessment in schools because right now we have tests and things like that that are scrupulously fair, particularly distance learning where we outline the objectives the performance metrics and the outcomes and all of that. I want to scrap that system. I want testing to be done by at random by comments from your peers and other people and strangers based on no criteria whatsoever and applied unequally and unfairly.

I found this a little jarring at first. Don’t we want things to be fair, to apply the same rules to everyone?

But applying the rules uniformly to everyone isn’t fair. The rules of baseball require that people run between the bases. Would you ask someone in a wheelchair to get up and run though, just because the rules say so? No, of course not. It’s absurd, not fair.

Most of the time, our educational system is set up with equality held up as the ideal. Everyone should be treated equally; we should hold everyone to the same standards. No exceptions should be made for individuals to bend the rules. In the US, NCLB is a prime example of this: every child is expected to meet the grade level goals, regardless of learning or other disabilities. We start from the assumption that everyone will learn and be assessed equally.

A better ideal for the system would be equity. We can move the emphasis away from applying the rules consistently across the board to giving people what they need as individuals to be successful. We should recognize that people do have obstacles to overcome and provide support for them to get around those obstacles. Being in a wheelchair means someone won’t run, but it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t participate in any sports.

The ALA article Equality and Equity of Access: What’s the Difference? describes equality as “fairness as uniform distribution” and equity as “fairness as justice.”

It occurred to me as I read Stephen’s ideas about assessment that connectivism may be a better way to get to the ideal of equity. It’s better for equity and accessibility when you don’t start from the assumption that everyone will learn and be assessed in the same way. If we start with the assumption that individuals will find their own path in learning, and that our job is to give them lots of opportunities and ways to participate, we’re more likely to help people get past their obstacles.

The CCK08 class is modeling that approach of letting people find their own path and giving them a chance for equity. Everything Stephen talks about with valuing diversity over uniformity reinforces that idea. The 2000 people can figure out what works best for them–lots of time in the Moodle forums or none, multiple blog posts or just reading and lurking, concept maps or word clouds, live sessions or only asynchronous. It’s what allows me to still be a participant in this class even though I knew I’d be out for a few weeks while I moved. I could take that break when I needed and step back in now.

I don’t know whether anyone in the course is visually or hearing impaired, but I can’t see any reason why they couldn’t find ways to actively participate and learn. Not everything is accessible to everyone, but you don’t need to see every image or hear the audio presentations to find value in the course.

I do wonder though–with the course so open and flexible, and with so many people participating, how much diversity is actually represented by the participants of the CCK08 class?

8 thoughts on “CCK08: Connectivism, Equity, and Equality”

  1. When you respond to a post about equity for people with disabilities by talking about how hard it is for equity to actually work, yes, you are talking about accommodations. Don’t think you’re fooling anyone by changing your story now.

    I talked about equity for people with disabilities, and you used Germain Greere as a cautionary tale to discourage me and any readers from even trying to provide equity.

    You held up Evelyn Glennie and the blind weaver as examples to say “Look, these people with disabilities were successful. Therefore, anyone with disabilities who is less successful than them is a lazy schmuck.” This is typical behavior in America for race relations. They’ll hold up someone like Obama and argue that any black man who is less successful than Obama is lazy and doesn’t deserve it. Linking to that comment didn’t help portray you as less prejudiced.

    The fact that when I mentioned alt text you clearly had no idea what it was (“for whatever purpose they may be employed”) tells me that you started your research after this discussion started. That’s probably also why you’re talking about braille interfaces (which are used by a minuscule number of visually impaired people–most of the blind do not read braille) and don’t know to call the more common tool “screen readers,” misnaming them “speaking web-readers.” You sound like someone who spent 10 minutes skimming a dated overview of accessibility in an attempt to sound less prejudiced here today by scattering a few buzz words in your comment.

    I strongly recommend that you do some serious reading and reflecting before you comment publicly about accessibility issues in the future. I don’t doubt that you are unaware of your prejudice–most people with that kind of deep bias aren’t conscious of it. Your repeated comments on this thread reveal a side of you I would not have guessed was there. I think that side of you would be better hidden away for the future.

    Discussion closed. This level of bias will not be accepted on my blog.

  2. Kia ora Christy!

    Let me clarify as simply as I can:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you when you say “I would argue that research is often misinterpreted or not understood, and therefore we should work to do something about it.” I have not suggested in this post that we should not do anything about it. That being a double negative, I restate it more firmly as ‘I think we should do something about it’.

    I do not fundamentally disagree with equity as a goal. That is to say I think we should strive to achieve equity. In my last comment, the point that I obviously did not make clear is that I honestly feel that attempts at trying to attain true equity can be fraught with difficulties.

    More importantly, understanding that it is difficult to achieve true equity can help us (you, me and others) to find more successful pathways to achieve equity. My analogy of the cats and dogs in my last comment was meant to convey exactly that.

    Affirmative action is one method that has been used (I cited girls in Science in a previous comment on this post). Unfortunately as Germaine Greer found out, it does not always yield the outcome that is expected.

    Risks and benefits of attempts to redress the differences brought about through disability is another issue you have raised. I have to admit there are risks. There are also benefits. But to ignore the risks in favour of simply accepting what benefits may be yielded in some cases could well lead to problems.

    Accommodation for disabilities is a matter I have neither discussed nor broached. What I did bring to the forum was that my experience with people with disabilities is that they can sometimes achieve greater things than those without the disabilities. I gave you a link to a comment I wrote on TracyOteacher’s post. The deaf musician Evelyn Glennie and blind Stevie Wonder are two such iconic people.

    I have recently been researching what has to be done with posts on a blog so that the blind, who use Braille keyboards and speaking web-readers, are not further disadvantaged. I learnt such things as not putting links that open the browser in a new window, and using ‘alt’ tags with appropriate words on images, right aligning certain links on the page etc.

    Does this sound like the sort of thing someone who does not think that ‘providing reasonable accommodation for disabilities is valuable’? I can assure you that this assumption is quite awry, Christy.

    To avoid the possibility of more uncertainty, through misinterpretation of what I attempt to convey, or otherwise, I will apologise for the past confusion and close this conversation.

    Ka kite anō

  3. I would argue that research is often misinterpreted or not understood, and therefore we should work to do something about it.

    In terms of equity, is there anything you would consider to be an appropriate response? So far what you’ve said implies that no steps are reasonable; we shouldn’t provide reasonable accommodation or do anything to work towards equity because sometimes it goes wrong. I’m primarily talking about accessibility here, not gender issues, as that’s the primary focus of my post. Alt text and audio transcripts are the first steps in accessibility and providing reasonable accommodation.

    So is there anything you would recommend? Or do you fundamentally disagree with equity as a goal, and therefore think we should do nothing? I haven’t heard any positive recommendations from you yet, just complaints about how hard it is.

    I question whether you actually think that providing reasonable accommodation for disabilities is valuable. Nothing you’ve said here tells me that you see any benefit in doing so, and several things tell me you think the perceived risks outweigh the benefits. Every time I bring up an accommodation, you counter with a complaint about how it could go wrong–I don’t think you want us to help people with disabilities. If that’s actually the case and you’ve accurately represented yourself here, then I don’t think we have common ground on this issue. I don’t think I can have a civil discussion with someone with that level of personal bias against people with disabilities. It isn’t a matter of simply disagreeing on particular points; it’s a matter of fundamentally valuing other human beings even if they are different.

  4. Ka pai Christy!

    I could say, that I suppose you think that all research is interpreted correctly by all educators. But that would be as extreme.

    I didn’t say anything about alt text for images (for whatever purpose they may be employed) or transcripts for audio.

    Neither does ‘common ground’ mean that we have to agree on everything. My feeling on the issues here is that we could, perhaps, be misinterpreting one another.

    Equity is an extremely difficult thing to achieve, no matter how we go about attempting to achieve it. And I am not condemning the attempts. But sometimes, in helping the dogs tolerate the cats, we end up alienating the cats – not what we wanted.

    Bias based on personal opinion is often difficult to avoid when equity issues are supposed to prevail. When equity moves clash with personal preferences, it’s a strong person who can ignore the preferences.

    Ka kite

  5. So because sometimes it goes wrong, we shouldn’t even try?

    Let’s apply that logic to another educational issue. In many cases, educators don’t understand how to interpret research correctly. It’s “done wrong in many cases.” I guess we should give up trying to understand research too, huh?

    If you really, truly believe that providing alt text for images and transcripts for audio is “moving the goal posts,” then I don’t believe that you and I have any common ground for further civil discussion on this issue.

  6. Tēnā koe Christy!

    The problem with “do(ing) something that makes a difference” is that it’s done the wrong way in many cases. To be truly equitable, we shouldn’t have to move the goal posts to catch the ball for some kickers who can’t kick straight. Girls (in New Zealand or any other country)can be just as disadvantaged as boys can.

    The issue of your post is to do with equity, not moving the goal posts. You said it in your comment that the expectation is that there should be no difference in ability in Maths and Science due to gender. I agree, for I’ve proved it, having taught in all-boys schools and also all-girls schools.

    Funny you should mention helping the blind. This is a mind-set. In some things, the blind don’t need any help – but we do. Check out TracyOTeacher. My comment gives at least two examples – one of a deaf musician and the other of a blind weaver.

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

  7. You’re right that there isn’t much new here; other than the connection to connectivism, this isn’t a new idea.

    I haven’t been able to find the citation again, but I read something a few months back that compared math scores for girls and boys across multiple different cultures. There was a strong correlation between the overall gender equality/equity in the culture and how well girls did in math. It wasn’t a perfect predictor, but in cultures where women are independent and viewed more as equal partners, they generally do better in math.

    Your example of New Zealand shows that we can actually do something that makes a difference. Certainly in the US we still have progress to make; we still have teachers telling girls they don’t need to learn math, and it’s culturally very acceptable for adult women to profess complete ignorance of math and science. Obviously, the system in NZ went too far, and there needs to be some balance. There’s no pendulum here in the US though. Women have been behind and are slowly catching up, but they’ve never in 200 years been ahead.

    I’m not sure that the pendulum model really applies to accessibility either. Can you do so much to help the blind that somehow they’ll be ahead of the sighted? It seems unlikely. That’s because that’s more than just a cultural artifact like girls and math. We know that biologically girls are capable of doing math and science; it’s mostly culture that holds them back. But visual impairment is both physical/biological and cultural. We can hopefully address the cultural issues and redefine “normal” to be more inclusive. We can make reasonable accommodations for the physical/biological. But there won’t be a time when the pendulum swings so far that we stop making reasonable accommodations for physical challenges and start making them for people without disabilities.

  8. Kia ora Christy!

    An interesting idea in your post. One that’s now exactly new, but not often discussed either.

    I used to believe that striving for equity and equality were common human principles – ones learnt, understood and practiced by everyone. How naive I was.

    Some decades ago, Germaine Greer strove for women’s equality. She now regrets some of what happened because of the processes that she took part in initiating.

    During these years, education in New Zealand took what was called affirmative action to encourage girls to do better in Science and in Mathematics. Boy’s were taking all the top scholarship prizes. It’s now in crisis. Boys no longer excel in these areas for the girls now take all the prizes. Affirmative action was obviously too successful if that’s at all possible :-).

    The pendulum swing is an analogy many use for things that change capriciously in education. The strange thing is that the equitable position for the pendulum is the spot that it always tries to move towards.

    Funny thing is, it spends most of its time at the extreme positions. It moves through the balance position at its fastest speed. So it spends the least amount of its time in the one position it’s always trying to get to!

    There are many things that do this. Examples in politics are legion.

    I often wonder, for instance, if people really want the democracy we heard so much talk about. My hunch is that people are all for democracy – as long as the vote goes their way 🙂

    Ka kite

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