The Law of Amplification: Why Digital Tools Do Not Solve Systemic Educational Problems

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 - 07:00 to 08:00

6137 McKeldin Library (Special Events Room)

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, emerged a few years ago with promises to provide affordable college education for everyone. Recent studies show, however, that MOOCs are typically completed by college-educated, employed professionals, not jobless high-school dropouts. In other words, in direct contradiction to earlier claims, MOOCs not only fail to close learning divides, their dissemination arguably contributes to greater educational inequality.

In this talk, I will show how a persistent misunderstanding about the real bottlenecks to quality education causes us to turn repeatedly to technological non-solutions to address challenges which are fundamentally social in nature. To counter the misguided hype, I describe technology’s “Law of Amplification,” whose direct corollaries should prevent us from looking to technology to fix broken institutions or to achieve educational equity.


Biography of Speaker:

Kentaro Toyama is W. K. Kellogg Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and the author of "Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology." Until 2010, Toyama was assistant managing director of Microsoft Research India, which he co-founded in 2005. At MSR India, he started the Technology for Emerging Markets research group, which conducts interdisciplinary research to understand how the world's poorest communities interact with electronic technology and to invent new ways for technology to support their socio-economic development. Toyama has conducted research in educational technologies in rural India, engaged elementary school children with robotics in inner-city Seattle, tutored students at private American high schools in science and math, and taught computer science majors calculus in Ghana. Toyama graduated from Yale with a PhD in Computer Science and from Harvard with a bachelors degree in Physics.

Please RSVP, and registration is free.