Dear Edtech, You Still Have A Race Problem

When “diversity in edtech” is mentioned, the conversation almost always materializes as one about women. We talk about it often and there are plenty of initiatives created to “change the ratio”. I get it. There is a disparity and we certainly need it.

However, when it comes to race…people will barely even admit that there is a problem. Let me rephrase that. We refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem.

We still have non-diverse “thought groups” speaking on panels in rooms full of decision makers…also non-diverse. Have we really gotten so comfortable with our silos that all white rooms aren’t to be questioned? Do we honestly believe that there are zero people of color ready and willing to share their expertise and experiences?

Please…do join me on the side of questioning it because in case you missed it, Edtech has a race problem and it’s not just tech companies either.

Earlier today, I was looking through tweets about panels at ISTE…a ton of all white panels, including from my own publisher (Corwin Press). The irony…Really??? I thought about SXSW and it’s written rule that states that panels had to be diverse…intentional diversity that tech conferences like ISTE and its affiliates have yet to do.

I was then sent a link to a tech company’s all new “initiative to get their overpriced product into schools” and every single “educator advisor” was of the same non-diverse lineage that seems to be advising every other edtech company. They even created a contest centered on this group of people. I didn’t need a swivl before and I certainly do not now.

If you’re wondering why this is a problem, please do let me explain…

I happen to be connected to a group of technologist of color…a group created so that we could mentor each other on everything from matters of tools to career. It’s a safe place to have discussions that range from encouragement to the extremely necessary gripe when needed. (Voxer is amazing for this)

As much as these “panels and advisory groups” are mostly redundant, we have found that they matter in terms of access, visibility, opportunity and acknowledgement of our own expertise. We work with teachers in diverse schools that teach diverse populations and sometimes in situations that not one person on “the chosen list” could even fathom.

Yet…as much as each person’s expertise is articulated…their feedback is rarely utilized because most tech companies are blindly running behind the “appearance of influence” (twitter followers) for the sole purpose of selling product.

EdTech companies have yet to see how tapping into a collection of teachers who are teaching the kids that need innovative learning most…could bring greater credibility to the success of their product with diverse groups.

Dear Edtech companies using this “let’s only get these people with twitter followers on board” strategy…When I look at your list of advisors and fail to see a diverse collection of teachers, I do not trust you. Instead, I question your purpose.

More of us should.

I do not care that you have the teachers and bloggers with the greatest following using your product because the reality is that they are typically not really using it and are only using it to satisfy the visibility requirements of being featured on your site…you know, that agreement that earned them either free product or travel?

(Except for Canva. They too feature the same list of “influencers” but their product is basically like Chick-fil-A. It’s great so you use it anyway and believe me….I curse myself greatly each time that I do.)

I do need to acknowledge Remind because they have done a great job of intentionally working to change their ratio of educator thought and that matters.

I referenced SXSW’s “diversity rule” earlier. Here it is below and I encourage you to visit their resources.

On SXSW’s website reads

A Diverse Community is a Strong Community

Strength of community also comes from diversity of thought, gender, geography, and background. We strive to achieve this goal community-centric goal by utilizing a V-O-W-E-L scale of basic diversity principles:

Variety – SXSW always aims to bring in new speakers with new ideas (as opposed to simply showcasing the same speakers who make the tech conference rounds).

Opinion – SXSW highlights a variety of opinions on tech-related matters, even if we sometimes don’t agree with the given opinion.

Women – SXSW strongly believes in featuring the accomplishments of the many strong female voices in the tech industry.

Ethnicity – In addition to featuring more female speakers, SXSW also strongly believes in featuring speakers of various different ethnicities.

Location – SXSW is also committed to speakers and panels that raise awareness about tech innovation outside of the US.

These V-O-W-E-L principles are integral to decision-making in the PanelPicker and are visibly reflected during the March event where diversity is abundant.

One more thing…In case you needed to see an actively growing list of POC in School Edtech, do check here. (If I missed you, tweet me and I’ll add right away!)


Comments 3

  1. On point, as always. I appreciate you bringing this up. For the longest time, I was comfortable, surrounded by “people like me” in many of the things I was doing and setting out to do. It wasn’t until Twitter and, quite frankly, following you, that I began to question how white (and often male) companies really are. I’ll do what I can to help raise the questions and boost the volume of those who need to be heard, but don’t know what to do beyond that. Thank you for speaking up and speaking out, Rafranz.

    Can’t wait to meet up at ISTE.

  2. Every time you speak out and speak up regarding “the emperor’s clothes” in Ed tech and elsewhere in the industry, I feel both grateful and I usually have to let out a big sigh. So much begins with those who are among the insiders simply noticing that it could look very different. But that’s where we seem to remain stuck: in the active noticing and then realizing that the power to question belongs to each of us and acting on that recognition. And there seems to be a lack of incentive as long as the privileges remain in tact and all the pretty products find their takers. Thank you, too, for providing this awesome list. You’ve opened the door. Many still need to walk through and make use of the resources available.

  3. Pingback: The Injustice of Staying Quiet | : the readiness is all

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