Education in digital and greening transitions: the implications for EdTech

By Natalia Kucirkova, Professor of Early Childhood Education and Development, University of Stavanger; and Professor of Reading and Children’s Development, The Open University

The intersection of self and nature, a longstanding focus in sustainability studies, is increasingly becoming a prominent topic in discussions about digital education policy and practice. The shift means looking beyond just test scores and focusing on how education interacts with the wider environment. UNESCO refers to this as the ‘green and digital education connection’, embracing a more interconnected understanding of how education influences learners and our planet. Why is this important?

Connected impact indicators

Studies indicate that many of today’s societal problems stem from a sense of disconnection from ourselves, others and nature. Since technology is a big part of our daily lives, it is important to create good digital resources that help foster these connections. However, most of the discussions on technology quality have been on how well these tools handle data (especially with AI) or if they improve individual learning outcomes, rather than on how they support human connections.

The 5Es framework advocates for a holistic approach to understanding the quality of education. It emphasises examining impact along five verticals: efficacy, effectiveness, ethics, equity, and the environment. Efficacy considers the impact of education technology under controlled conditions, while effectiveness evaluates the practical performance of technology solutions amid various influencing factors. Ethics addresses the responsible use of data and equity explores who benefits from educational technology, aiming to serve all learners regardless of background or circumstances.

The fifth “E” underscores the importance of considering the environmental impact of education technology, promoting sustainability and eco-friendly practices in its development and implementation. By placing a spotlight on the environment, we can foreground the role that technology and education plan in the collective management of land, oceans, water, food, and other vital resources.

The micro, meso and macro perspective on environment and EdTech

The relationship between people, natural environments and resources can be viewed through different lenses, ranging from a micro focus on specific products to a broader macro understanding of the overall environment. When discussing EdTech and the environment at the micro level, attention is typically directed towards products that promote an understanding of ecological realities, such as stories within apps or platforms that aim to raise awareness of climate change or advocate for environmental stewardship.

Moving beyond EdTech content, the meso level discussions of EdTech and the environment often revolve around the transferability of EdTech use, with attention paid to the local conditions of target populations, including factors such as the socio-political environment that can influence the sustainability of an approach.

On the macro level, the concept of the environment extends beyond the immediate context of a product or how well its use fits into its surroundings by taking into account the interconnected systems and dynamics that shape the environment in which the product operates. Macro discussions about digital learning prioritise environmental justice and how technology and education can address climate resilience and the prevention of future climate crises.

Integrating environment with other impact indicators

Ensuring that environmental concerns are integrated into education initiatives means fostering a more holistic approach to digital education that not only enhances learning outcomes but also contributes to environmental sustainability and justice. Several efforts are dedicated to these intersections. For example, Teaching intersectionality and environmental justice in our classrooms by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights organization in the United States, provides practical ideas for how to integrate environmental and effectiveness concerns. Environment is closely related with EdTech ethics, as exemplified by the Ford Foundation’s initiative tackling the intersections of climate justice for digital rights.

By weaving together discussions on effectiveness, equity, ethics of social responsibility and environmental stewardship, we can develop high-quality criteria for the future of education that reflect a comprehensive understanding of the connection between technology and planetary health. This integrated approach ensures that EdTech initiatives not only prioritise academic excellence but also foster a sense of unity in caring for oneself, others, and the environment.

 

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