Coronavirus pushes universities to switch to online classes — but are they ready?

In light of rising concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and calls to contain the virus, a growing number of post-secondary institutions have shut down in-person classes. The virus has revealed vulnerabilities in post-secondary systems around the world. It is now clear that society needs flexible and resilient education systems as we face unpredictable futures.

People in the educational technology industry, which produces everything from online learning software to tools that track the productivity of students, believe they’re poised to help tackle challenges.

But many educators have doubts given what some see as problems evolving from the use of technology in teaching and learning — everything from using technology for student surveillance to the impact of using it to bundle pricey textbooks with software. Ethical concerns are especially troublesome.

Saving higher education?

As our scholarship has documented, technologies meant to make education, and especially teaching, more flexible or more responsive don’t always deliver in a straightforward way. This is because educational technology is not simply a tool that does a wholly predictable or singular job like a hammer or a screwdriver.

Even so, the educational technology industry, backed by huge companies like Microsoft and Amazon, continues to position itself as a solution to today’s education problems. Some people even go so far as to suggest technology can save higher education.

In this back and forth between proponents and skeptics, the impacts of COVID-19 on educational institutions and students offers a chance to carefully examine educational technology in acute, crisis-driven contexts.

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