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Education Through Technology

An Interview with Women in Tech Club Member Marlene Nunez

This article is the second installment of WGU’s Women in Tech series. You can read the first article here.  

Embarking on a professional journey that intertwines her passion for child development and the integration of technology in education, Marlene Nunez’s trajectory from psychology to elementary education is both inspiring and purpose driven. Originally hailing from The Bronx, Nunez initiated her career by delving into the intricacies of psychology at a local college. However, fueled by a desire for a more hands-on approach in shaping young minds and discovering that many psychology roles leaned towards clinical applications, Nunez sought a new direction. In February 2021, she immersed herself in a transformative program at Western Governors University (WGU), focusing on elementary education.

What sets Nunez apart is not just her academic pursuit but her keen interest in the intersection of education and technology. Motivated by her young son's engagement with educational tools like Khan Academy and PBS Kids, Nunez recognized the immense potential technology holds in enhancing the learning experience.

We had the privilege to engage in a conversation with Nunez about her journey, delving into her unique perspective on the crucial topic of equity within educational technology.

John Van Heest: How has your personal experience with educational technology shaped your perspective on equity in the educational system, particularly for disadvantaged populations?

Marlene Nunez: I grew up in the South Bronx, attending Tier 1 or low-income schools with limited resources. This personal experience has highlighted the disparities in educational opportunities and made me keenly aware of the challenges disadvantaged populations face, emphasizing the crucial need for equitable access to educational technology to bridge the gap and ensure fairer opportunities for all. Disadvantaged populations often face limited access to educational technology, hindering their ability to truly engage in the digital learning era we live in and acquire those crucial life skills.

Van Heest: Can you share examples from your own educational journey where technology played a crucial role in providing equal opportunities, especially for those who might face socio-economic challenges?

Nunez: Growing up in Title 1-STEM schools afforded me the opportunity to indulge in an educational environment that was enriched by technology. Regardless of socio-economic challenges, students had equal opportunities to engage with online materials, conduct research and develop digital skills. In the low-income communities of New York City, educational inequities often manifest in disparities, including limited access to resources like internet connectivity and modern technology. Amidst these challenges, institutions like WGU recognizes the importance of equitable access to education. The “online access scholarship” offered by WGU serves as a commendable initiative, providing crucial support to student facing financial or technological barriers. This scholarship not only addresses the digital divide but also underscores the institution’s commitment to empowering their students. I personally have experienced the impact of that support during my student teaching journey when my laptop encountered technical issues. The scholarship team at WGU stepped in, providing me with the necessary resources to overcome this obstacle and successfully complete my field experience.

Van Heest: In what ways do you believe technology can contribute to leveling the playing field for students from underprivileged backgrounds in terms of access to quality education?

Nunez: Technology has the potential to significantly bridge the educational disparities for students from underprivileged backgrounds. Technology facilitates personalized learning plans, allowing educators to address individual needs and foster a more inclusive learning environment. Virtual resources also offer opportunities for extended learning beyond the traditional classroom setting, encouraging to explore topics that interest them at their own pace. However, it’s important to integrate technology thoughtfully, ensuring that it compliments and enhances the overall educational experiences.

Van Heest: From your viewpoint, what specific challenges do you think students encounter in accessing and utilizing educational technology, and how can these challenges be addressed?

Nunez: From my viewpoint, students may face challenges in accessing and utilizing educational technology due to factors such as the digital divide, varying levels of technological literacy and limited access to devices or internet connectivity. To address these challenges, I believe that its crucial to implement initiatives that bridge the digital gap, providing equal access to technology for all students. Additionally, integrating digital literacy programs into the curriculum can enhance student’s skills in navigating educational technology. Schools can also explore partnerships with community organizations to ensure that students are offered devices and support with reliable internet.

Van Heest: In your opinion, how can schools and educational institutions better integrate technology to create an inclusive learning environment that caters to the diverse needs of students from various backgrounds?

Nunez: Schools and educational institutions can foster inclusivity through strategic integration of technology. Firstly, there should be a comprehensive assessment of students’ access to devices and the internet, followed by initiatives to bridge any digital barriers. Implementing a variety of digital tools and platforms that can be downloaded onto the student’s device will ensure engagement across the student spectrum of diverse learners. Hosting technology workshops for parents at the school, with the added convenience of recording sessions for later viewing, proves advantageous. This approach accommodates parents who might be unable to attend in person, allowing them to access the content at a time that suits their schedule. By providing this flexibility, schools empower parents to become effective learning coaches and better support their children in navigating technology. Ultimately, these workshops will ensure parents grasp the knowledge required to assist students with various technological aspects. It aims to strengthen the partnership between schools and families, fostering a collaborative environment that enhances the students’ learning experiences with technology.

Van Heest: As technology continues to advance, what do you think should be prioritized to ensure that innovations in educational technology are designed with equity in mind?

Nunez: In the rapidly evolving landscape of educational technology, prioritizing equity is paramount to ensure that innovations benefit all students. Designing user-friendly interfaces and applications that cater to the diverse learning styles and abilities of a student is crucial. Prioritizing inclusive content that represents various cultures and perspectives helps create a more equitable educational experience. Overall, a comprehensive and inclusive approach to technological advancements in education is key to fostering equitable opportunities for all learners.

Van Heest: Looking ahead, how do you envision the future of educational technology, and what steps should be taken to ensure that it remains a force for positive change in promoting equity in education?

Nunez: The future of educational technology holds tremendous potential for positive change in promoting equity in education. Envisioning this future involves continued advancements in personalized learning, adaptive technologies, and immersive experiences that cater to individual student needs. To ensure that educational technology remains a force for positive change, proactive steps are essential. Closing the digital divide should be prioritized through initiatives that provide access to devices and internet connectivity for all students. Policymakers and educators should collaborate to establish clear guidelines for ethical and inclusive technology use in classrooms. Ongoing professional development for teachers is crucial to enhance their technological proficiency and integration skills. Additionally, fostering partnerships between educational institutions and technology developers can lead to innovations that address specific equity challenges. Continuous evaluation and refinement of educational technology applications based on feedback from diverse student populations will be key to maintaining a positive trajectory toward equitable education for all.

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