Innovations in EdTech are exciting, but the merit of a new product is intricately tied to its ethicality and accessibility. In recent years, an increasing number of young professionals have entered the EdTech industry. Their fresh perspectives on education and technological adeptness have pushed EdTech in a more progressive direction that better addresses questions of accessibility and equity.
Viinko had the opportunity to speak with Jasmine Sun, a recent graduate from Stanford currently working in Writer Partnerships at the newsletter platform Substack. The discussion focused on the opportunities Jasmine sees in EdTech and how EdTech companies can learn from Substack. At Stanford, Jasmine was a course instructor for the Stanford EdTech Society and directed a student-initiated computer science course on the EdTech industry and educational equity.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What are your broad beliefs on the role of EdTech, and how have they been shaped by your experience as a student and your focus on ethical tech?
In regards to EdTech and ethical tech broadly, tech must be analyzed in the context of the institutions and ideologies it is built within. Creating great EdTech requires an education in the sociology of education and understanding power and inequality in the classroom. For example, reading Paolo Freirer’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed helped me understand how EdTech could either reinforce or challenge the “banking model” of education, a form of passive learning in which teachers deposit knowledge into students.
A company I admire that challenges this model is Newsela, as it enables teachers to cater to students of various reading levels in the same classroom and engage everyone in discussion together. Rather than separating students into “tracks,” which can reinforce structural inequality and create classroom hierarchies, Newsela uses technology to support greater collaboration and discussion among students.
Based on your research and writing about online platforms, you’re a proponent of designing tech to enhance interactions and relationship-building. Drawing from Substack’s mission—which emphasizes relationships between writers and readers—and your specific role in Writer Partnerships, how do you think EdTech can enhance teacher-student relationships while also providing students the necessary autonomy to make learning meaningful/fulfilling?
I’m most excited about EdTech projects that either support students’ creativity over their work or those that relieve teachers of relatively mundane, administrative tasks so they can focus on more personalized relationships. “Creator economy” companies as well as consumer tech more broadly recognize that people want to define and own their personal brands. As a result, I’d love to see free platforms like Substack be used in the classroom to help students see writing not only as homework and skills-building, but an opportunity to express themselves and share it with their friends, family, and the world. After all, writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but so much of learning comes from the discussion that happens after you have the courage to put your opinions into the world and get feedback and new perspectives from others.
Is there anything you think EdTech can learn from social platforms and/or from Substack?
At Substack, we pay a lot of attention to ease of use. We think that writers do best when they can focus on writing—not coding a website, answering constant support tickets, etc.
Similarly, great EdTech products need to consider varying levels of technological literacy, especially as correlated with the digital divide and socioeconomic inequality. They need to be intuitive for students of different ages and familiarity with technology, and websites need to consider elements like load speeds for geographies with slower internet connections.
We’d like to thank Jasmine for taking the time to speak with us. You can find her on Twitter @jasminewsun or at Reboot, a publication and community reclaiming techno-optimism for a better collective future.