Q&A  | 

Xavier Carrera, educational technology and digital responsibility

"Does technology favor a commercial vision of education, especially at a university level?"

Tags: 'Tecnologías de la educación' 'Universitat de Lleida' 'Xavier Carrera Farràn'


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Xavier Carrera Farràn is an expert in educational responsibility and in the development of digital teacher competence. He has a degree in Education, a BA in Philosophy and Education, and a PhD in Psicopedagogy. He is a professor at Universitat de Lleida and coordinates COMPETECS, one of Spain's most important research groups in the field of education and technology.

Can you give us an overview of your work?

I am a specialist in educational technology, active learning methodologies and skill-based training. I’m also a university researcher and professor of Digital Teacher Competence (undergraduate studies) specialized in training educators, teachers and other professionals in the adoption of digital technologies. In addition, I coordinate the research group COMPETECS Official Master in Educational Technology by the University of Lleida. 

What are the main technologies used today in classrooms, and why?

The current use of digital technologies in classrooms within the education system is very unequal, and even though it is increasing, we cannot say it’s widespread nor appropriate.

In fact, professors persist who never make use of technologies whereas other teachers fully base their methodologies in technology. This happens across all the educational levels (from early childhood to university studies).

Computers along with multimedia projectors and digital whiteboards are common equipment in classrooms. So are more and more digital tablets and laptops, especially well-suited for the development of skills and not only in the acquisition of content. As for the applications, the use of apps (both educational and generalist) is common , together with network applications and multimedia products created by companies or teachers themselves. Virtual platforms (LMS-Learning management system) are becoming more important too, although in many cases they are used almost exclusively as a file repository.

In contrast, videogames, augmented and virtual reality – all of them technologies with great educational potential – are rare in the classroom. On the contrary, the interest and presence of robotics in schools and institutes continues to increase year after year.

Does the statement 'technology is progress' also apply to the field of education?

In part yes, although the changes that technological innovations bring into education are not immediate and in some cases the results have been poor.

In any case, internet and social media are leading to important and in some cases profound changes in education. Some of them disruptive, such as massive and free online training through MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) courses that give millions of people access to quality content. Virtual universities are also facilitating access to higher education to very diverse profiles of students. Social media together with collaborative networking applications are also increasingly present in learning activities. This allows for joint projects between students of the same or different institutions.

But perhaps the greatest change of all is the universalization of and immediate access to information. Thus the curricula focused on conceptual content has lost relevance to the development of skills – with the drive of UNESCO, OECD, European Commission and other international organizations -.

What are the main ethical issues related to the use of technology in education?

My main concerns are: To what extent does technology improve the quality of education? Do digital technologies help us advance in the homogenization of culture? Does technology favor a commercial vision of education, especially at a university level? Do new training scenarios generated by technologies really transform the teaching and learning processes? To what extent can the incorporation of robots in educational processes lead to the depersonalization of education? Should limits be established on the incorporation of digital technologies in education? What should they be and why?

How is technology affecting the notion of privacy, responsibility for one's actions and the vulnerability of others?

Privacy in a connected society is increasingly complex to manage and preserve by oneself. Therefore, agile and permanent intervention by governments and states through regulation to protect citizens from corporate abuse and criminal acts is essential.

Another very different issue is the responsibility of the user. This is a question of values, responsibility and respect in particular. Both must be part of the axiological experience of the digital user as a person. The challenge is to transfer this to the acts we perform on the network, whether in personal or group interactions, or in open publications.

What other problems do these ethical issues cause in the life and training of students?

Selective and critical access to information is maybe the most important one. Not everything is valid and what the search engine shows us in the first place is not always relevant and truthful.

A second problem regards the content created by students, how they do it and the means used for its publication and sharing. Here I’m not just talking about academic content, but also about the enormous amount of content – with great profusion of images and videos – that any young person, teenager or child generates at the end of the day.

There is also concern about plagiarism within the academic or other contexts. Plagiarism highlights the values that one really possesses or is acquiring, and sometimes certain permissiveness toward this practice is perceived. This harms values such as honesty and respect for intellectual property.

Particularly worrisome is cyberbullying, which amplifies bullying in the sense that it happens anywhere and at any time of the day.

How can we encourage digital responsibility?

I fully share Hans Jonas vision of forty years ago when he said that the principle of responsibility should govern technological actions in the sense that: a) responsibility goes beyond formal and legal liability, since it has to do with other moral values and principles. b) every person is liable for their own actions and its consequences and c) one should always consider the impact of one’s actions.

Encouraging responsibility-as a human value, and not only technology related- requires teaching children to be critical and reflective about their own actions, and encouraging the habit of asking themselves why they do something.

Also, working in anticipating the impact of one’s actions for one self and for the others, as well as on planet earth. Technological responsibility can only come from respect towards oneself, the others and nature.


Which steps should governments take in order to secure access to technology for all students?

The European e-competence Framework is the starting point as to define the digital competence a student must have achieved at the end of compulsory education and further degrees. In the case of teachers, the reference is the Digital Competence Framework for Educators also established by the European Union. But adhering to them is not enough. Government funding is necessary for the education departments to be able to properly train and update teachers. Programs should also address the digital gap, not only intergenerational, but intragenerational.