Author Archives: jana_wlock

Education for All: ‘Tech’quity in the 21st Century

I can’t believe I am writing my last blog post for The Great EdTech Debate in EC&I 830! Where did the time go?!

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This week, we focused on the topic, technology is a force for equity in society. Personally, I find any topic that examines equity to be particularly tricky. Perspective really is everything. For example, if you take a glass half empty approach, you could argue that attempts to bring technology/access to underprivileged communities (i.e. One Laptop Per Child) is simply a “white saviour” approach that is forcing western ideologies onto these societies. If you’re more of a glass half full kind of person, you might believe that bringing tech to these communities is actually helping them and allowing for more people to be connected worldwide. Of course, there are also technological inequities right here in our own communities when we consider things like technology allocations in schools, access to tech at home, and access to the internet. So how do we navigate this extremely challenging (but important) conversation?

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One thing I noticed during our debate was that both teams were ultimately advocating on behalf of marginalized groups, just from different perspectives. It truly does depend what lens you look through.

Rakan and Amy raised some important points that are worth discussing when we consider the ways in which technology might perpetuate issues such as racism, sexism, harassment, colonialism, and economic divide. However, I personally believe that technology is not to blame. Acts of discrimination, harassment, and colonialism have been around long before technology, and so I believe that we must use technology to overcome some of these issues that continue to impact society in negative ways rather than blame technology and focus solely on the ways in which it may divide us. Recent online movements such as #NeverAgain and #MeToo have sparked waves of social activism and demonstrate the positive power of technology when it comes to combating societal inequities and injustices of our time.

On the other hand, the agree team, Jen, Dawn, and Sapna made many strong arguments for why and how technology is in fact a force for equity in society. From their perspective, technology removes barriers for people, shifting the outlook from one of “digital divide” to one of “digital inclusion” (which I love)! Part of bridging this divide is the fact that education has become more affordable and accessible to people worldwide, and as an educator, I can’t help but see this as being the sole most important factor when considering ways in which technology increases equity in today’s world.

In her 2012 Ted Talk, Daphne Koller discusses the ways in which online education has opened so many doors for people who would not have had access to the same learning opportunities otherwise. She quotes Thomas Friedman when she says that “big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary”. I really love this quote and I think it speaks to the equity that technology can bring to learning in the 21st century. After recognizing what is “desperately necessary” (accessible, affordable education for all), Koller and a colleague created Coursera, a free online education site that consists of 43 courses from some of the best instructors and universities and is accessible for everyone around the world. What I found to be particularly amazing about this site is that these free, online courses have actually helped students get accepted into post-secondary institutions and land better job opportunities because it has given them the skills they need to be successful, sought after applicants.

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Personally, I fell on the agree side of this discussion, and I continually kept going back to my role as an educator when considering accessibility and affordability of technology. Although some may argue that technology has created a digital divide due to the high costs associated with buying the latest laptop or smartphone, the agree team proved that this is not actually the case. They noted that over half of those who earn $15,000 a year or less (ages 18-24) still own a smartphone. This means that wage or socio-economic status is not necessarily preventing people from accessing and/or being able to afford technology. It seems as though technology has become a priority for most people. And although many may still not have access to wifi at home, there are more and more free wifi zones popping up around many different cities (thanks, Sasktel!), along with free access to wifi at most public schools and libraries. Jodie made a great point in her recent blog when she compared the cost of a Google Chromebook to the cost of two textbooks and showed how they were roughly the same price. This just goes to show that having access to technology doesn’t necessarily mean having to spend thousands on the latest, greatest device. If school divisions take note of this, and allocate technology according to the socio-economic needs of their schools and communities, then I think we are well on our way to becoming more ‘tech’quitable institutions.

As a Learning Resource Teacher, I have seen firsthand the many ways in which assistive technology has made it possible for students with disabilities to read, write and communicate. Tools like Kurzweil or Google Read and Write allow students with learning disabilities in reading and writing to be able to access grade level text (audio) and communicate their ideas using tools like voice-to-text and word prediction. Communication devices such as the Dynavox allow students to use visual or audio prompts to help them understand or produce language. Additionally, technology allows for personalized learning which is so important given the diversity of our classrooms and the varying abilities and learning styles of our students.

As quoted in the agree team’s opening statement, “technology does not discriminate – it works the same for each and every one of us”. I would agree with this statement, however, as we have discussed through our weekly debates, technology is simply a tool, and it’s power is in how it’s used. Therefore, just having access to technology isn’t going to change the world – education and purposeful use are key. But I believe that in today’s day and age, technology and education go hand in hand, and with increased affordability and accessibility of education online, the opportunities for people worldwide will only continue to grow. This makes me really excited and hopeful for the future of global generations to come! #teamtechquity

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Summary of Learning: Another J. Wlock Original

Hi, everyone! I’m excited to share another Summary of Learning with all of you, this time for EC&I 830. Once again, I decided to write a song to summarize my key takeaways from this course. I thoroughly enjoy writing these songs and am so grateful that Alec allows us to share our learning in such creative, individualized ways.

The debate format of EC&I 830 was very engaging and student-centered which I really appreciated. It allowed us to be active participants in the learning process and encouraged us to collaborate with and learn from our peers. I came into the Master of Education program eager to gain new insight and consider different perspectives, and Alec’s classes definitely provided me with these opportunities.

I hope you enjoy this song as much as I enjoyed writing it! Thanks for taking the time to watch and listen!

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Social Media is a Collaborative Effort

This week in EC&I 830, our class tackled the hot debate topic, is social media ruining childhood? Now initially, I was on the agree side of this statement. Part of the reason for this is because I grew up on an acreage and spent a significant amount of time outdoors as a child with almost no access to technology whatsoever. We didn’t have a computer, the internet, cell phones, video games, or cable tv, and I’ve always been proud of this – like for some reason, I am “better off” now because of it.

Last fall, I took an Outdoor Education Master’s class through the University of Regina. This course focused primarily on the works of Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle) and opened my eyes to things I already knew deep down given my own upbringing in nature. The moral of the story is, there is so much value in outdoor experiences. Kids learn how to explore, be imaginative, build and create. It teaches problem-solving skills and fosters independence. Louv has coined the term “Vitamin N” (for nature) to represent all of the health benefits associated with time spent outdoors. What’s more, Louv has also come up with the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder” to explain what he believes is happening to our youth, in part due to increased exposure to technology.

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I guess you could say I “drank the Kool-Aid”, but all of this really had an impact on me. I left that course thinking, we need to disconnect! Get back to nature! Technology is ruining childhood for our youth! And all of these new found opinions ultimately shaped my views coming into this week’s debate topic. However, after listening to the opening statements from both the agree and disagree teams, my understanding of the topic began to shift. I started to realize that:

  1. Social media and technology in the broader sense are two very different things.
  2. My concern lies more with screen time and digital balance/wellness that social media use.
  3. When used appropriately, social media can positively benefit our kids in so many ways.

First, like any topic, I feel it’s important to address some of the concerns related to social media use among youth. I’m not oblivious to the fact that there are risks and downfalls associated with young people engaging inappropriately online through social media platforms. As outlined in this article, cyberbullying, sexting, “Facebook depression” and exposure to inappropriate content are just a few ways that social media can negatively impact kids today. But the way I look at it is, kids can experience these things in person, too. Social media is a tool, a platform, but not a risk solely on its own. If it’s used negatively in these ways, then yes, I can acknowledge that it can definitely take away from one’s childhood experiences. That’s why it’s so critical that we make it a priority to educate, educate, educate our kids! I’ve come to realize that just because childhood today is different, doesn’t make it bad. I value my childhood experiences and that’s great. But it doesn’t make today’s experiences for youth any less valuable.

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Elena Quartararo, a 17 year old editorial contest winner with The New York Times, writes about her positive experiences growing up in a social media age. She discusses the ways in which social media helps young people become social activists, connect with people from various walks of life, gain new perspectives, and engage in powerful discussions around important political topics. She notes that Generation Z has become “the most tolerant and conscious generation to date, with 76 percent of Gen Zers concerned about humanity’s influence on the Earth and 60 percent hoping the job they choose impacts the world” (Quartararo, 2018). Are all youth utilizing social media in these ways? Of course not. But if this is the potential it has, why wouldn’t we want to foster that potential in any way that we can?

Ultimately, I don’t believe social media is ruining childhood. However, I think that parenting plays a huge role in how our kids use and interact on social media. Do parents have access to their children’s social media passwords? Do they check their kids’ devices from time to time to ensure they are engaging appropriately? I’m not saying parents should be monitoring their child’s every move, but as we attempt to teach these skills both at school and at home, we know that kids are going to make mistakes along the way. We must be prepared to turn these moments into teachable moments. Are regular conversations about social media taking place in the home? How are we as adults modelling appropriate social media use? We must remember we are mentors for our students and children when it comes to digital citizenship. But they aren’t going to learn through osmosis. We need to be explicit. We need to talk about it, show them our own social media accounts, explain why we make certain choices on social media and why we avoid posting/sharing/commenting in other scenarios. At the end of the day, parents still need to be the parents. I don’t see anything wrong with parents establishing boundaries when it comes to their child’s social media use. Adults need to make decisions about how much time spent on social media is too much for their child, whether or not their child should be sleeping with their phone, and at what age their child might be responsible enough to begin having some autonomy with social media. This article from my EC&I 832 class last semester looks at digital use from a perspective of “digital hygiene” and suggested that for young people, “freedom from parental involvement is a privilege that all children should earn through consistent, responsible behaviour” (Sklar, 2017). I completely agree with this notion and feel it reinforces how important the role of the parent is in teaching our kids responsible and appropriate use of social media.

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But who’s responsible for teaching parents about digital citizenship, social media, privacy, and online sharing? As noted in this article by O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, it’s clear that our parents need support when it comes to social media:

“Many parents today use technology incredibly well and feel comfortable and capable with the programs and online venues that their children and adolescents are using. Nevertheless, some parents may find it difficult to relate to their digitally savvy youngsters online for several reasons. Such parents may lack a basic understanding of these new forms of socialization, which are integral to their children’s lives. They frequently do not have the technical abilities or time needed to keep pace with their children in the ever-changing Internet landscape. In addition, these parents often lack a basic understanding that kids’ online lives are an extension of their offline lives. The end result is often a knowledge and technical skill gap between parents and youth, which creates a disconnect in how these parents and youth participate in the online world together.”  (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011)

I think a great starting point would be for schools to host information nights that focus on the various elements of digital citizenship. Students could be given the opportunity to facilitate sessions and share what they’ve learned about digital citizenship with their parents. Schools should also make resources available to families that they can take home – beginning of the year packages or parent conferences might be logical times to pass on this type of information.

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The point I’m getting at here is that in order for social media to enhance vs. ruin childhood for our youth today, it has to be a collaborative effort on the part of both teachers and parents, and it has to become a priority NOW – something we talk about on a daily basis, something we teach across grades and subject areas, and something we model and monitor as best we can. I’m hopeful that good parenting and quality instruction will bring out only the best in our kids when it comes to social media use in the 21st century.

Sharing Online: Welcome to Real Life!

It’s been another engaging week of debating in EC&I 830! This week, our class looked at the topic, openness and sharing in schools is unfair to our kids. I personally disagree with this statement, however, I did appreciate many of the points that were raised by the agree team, particularly around the importance of privacy and policies for online safety. Once again, both groups seemed to find some common ground when it came to the importance of digital citizenship education and thinking before you post. 

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Ultimately, I believe that the pros of sharing online for educational purposes far outweigh the cons, as long as there are clear policies in place to support teachers and protect the privacy of our students. In order for policies to work, school divisions must provide clarity and consistency so that all teachers and administrators are on the same page. In our class discussion this week, it became very evident that many of us have different understandings of how we are to be using social media, sharing images, and storing information and files at school. Different practices are taking place in different schools within the same division, and inconsistent messaging is being delivered. In many situations, it seems as though fear and a lack of knowledge are preventing educators and administration from seeking the clarity and answers needed in order to make online sharing a positive experience that enhances the learning process for our students.

However, these fears should not be the reason we shy away. We know that technology and the internet are here to stay, so we must learn to work with it, not against it. The disagree team outlined 3 main reasons why openness and sharing in schools is actually good for our kids:

  1. It is the reality of today’s childhood experiences
  2. It promotes connectivity
  3. It promotes the development of a positive digital footprint

For many of our kids today, there is no longer a clear distinction between online and offline worlds. They’ve grown up in an age where they’ve had technology in their hands from birth, and where sharing online is a part of everyday life. Therefore, I believe it is our job as educators to guide students in the development of their digital footprints. Modelling smart, intentional sharing at school and addressing issues of privacy and online safety in a classroom setting will teach students responsible digital citizenship skills that they will need when they are using technology outside of school. Like Shelly stated during the debate, “if we don’t do it at school…they’re still doing it out of school!” And this is so true! When we talk about teaching life skills, this is it! This is real life for our kids, and it is our responsibility as teachers (and parents) to set them up for success.

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So what do you do when something involves risk? Be proactive! Plan ahead! Attempt to foresee possible problems and plan around them. School divisions need to ensure clear policies are in place, before it’s too late. This means providing teachers with proper professional development so that all teachers understand the ins and outs of posting and sharing information online. Not all educators enter the classroom with the same level of skill and knowledge when it comes to digital citizenship. We aren’t all tech savvy, and let’s face it, the internet is a complex world that’s constantly changing and evolving. Maybe this means schools should have technology coaches to help guide staff and students in developing a deeper understanding of online sharing. Many schools already make use of media release forms, but how clear are these documents for families, and how much do they understand? Educating parents is equally important, but who’s responsible for teaching them? I think these are important questions that need to be considered so that teachers feel safe, confident, and supported as they attempt to guide their students in developing positive digital identities.

As Esther, Kari, and Shelly also pointed out, online sharing increases connectivity and encourages students to become more active participants in their learning and communities. It increases interactions between teachers, students, and parents through the sharing of school photos, projects, information, and events. Tools like Seesaw are a great way for kids and families to learn about appropriate online sharing and interaction in a safe, closed space. Classroom social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are also beneficial because students can go beyond the four walls of the classroom and connect with other students and classrooms from around the world. Doing so is empowering because it gives students a voice and promotes social activism.

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This article shared by the agree team outlines some of the dangers involved with posting pictures online and provides parents with some suggestions to help minimize the risk. There is no doubt reason to be concerned when we see statistics like “50% of the images posted on paedophile sites were sourced from parents’ social media profiles”; however, I truly believe that these are the types of statistics we need to be open about with our kids, not in an attempt to scare them away from social media use, but to make them more aware so that they can make better, safer choices (when we know better, we do better). We also need to encourage our students and parents to talk openly about these realities at home so that parents can make better, more informed decisions as well when it comes to “sharenting” and posting photos online without their child’s consent.

While I am all for taking precautions to ensure our kids are safe and responsible in an online world that inevitably poses many risks, I also believe that we need to be honest with them so that they are equipped with the skills necessary to be mindful digital citizens. Our kids are smart and digitally savvy and we need to give them some credit instead of always assuming the worst in them. This study out of Australia looked at children’s understanding of their digital footprints and concluded that kids are actually “very aware of their digital footprints and cyber safety but had little awareness of the positive potential of digital footprints” (Buchanan et al., 2017). This just goes to show that kids do have knowledge and strategies when it comes to navigating their online worlds, and its now our job as teachers to help foster the development of their digital identities in positive ways. Ultimately, a discourse of risk and fear “portrays children as powerless victims rather than resourceful participants” (Staksrud & Livingstone, 2009), and I know our kids are more than capable of being resourceful participants in their digital worlds.

Turns Out, I’m a Fence Sitter

Those who know me well know that I have very strong opinions about a wide range of topics, and I like to passionately “discuss” (okay, maybe sometimes argue) these topics in an attempt to alter viewpoints and hopefully learn more from opposing sides as well.

However, this week’s debate topic, schools should not focus on teaching things that can be Googled, has been somewhat problematic for me. I can’t decide if I agree or disagree! Both teams raised some great points and made very convincing arguments, and my opinion has flip flopped back and forth several times. Dare I say I have become…a fence sitter?!

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My classmates Nicole, Channing and Jodie agreed with this week’s topic, and I can’t help but side with their point of view when considering the future of education and the workforce for our students. As Pavan Arora points out, knowledge is growing and changing at a rapid pace. Technology allows us to have access to knowledge anytime, anywhere, and thus, any and all information is available to us at our fingertips. Arora also makes an interesting point when he considers how quickly jobs are evolving as knowledge evolves. He says that 65% of school children will have jobs that don’t exist today. How, then, do we know what jobs to prepare our kids for? Are teaching practices, resources, and curricula staying current enough to prepare our kids for said jobs? I’m thinking not, and so folks…we have a predicament.

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I agree wholeheartedly with Arora when he says that we need to be teaching kids how to access, assess, and apply knowledge. He states that “the how is what’s important, not the what.” Being able to understand the how shows deeper levels of thinking which in turn, extends learning. Students who engage in content creation rather than simply the reproduction of information are able to make more meaning from the content they’re engaged with. As Ackoff & Greenberg state, “the objective of education is learning, not teaching”. They go on to discuss the notion of “learning through explanation” and conclude that “those who explain learn the most”. Therefore, students who understand the how of something and are able to explain and teach it to others will ultimately reach deeper levels of understanding.

The point was raised during our class discussion that perhaps it is more critical in today’s day and age for students to be learning skills as opposed to knowledge. This would mean focusing on teaching students how to Google things properly in order to acquire the knowledge they are seeking. Is it accurate? Is it current? Is it biased? It has become a recurring topic of discussion in this class, and was also the focal point of my EC&I course last semester: digital citizenship, digital literacy, and media literacy are the “it” skills of the future that we must foster in our students in order for them to become critical thinkers and consumers of media and information. Being able to fact-check information and identify reliable sources is key. If we can teach these skills, learning will become more student-centered and critical thinking will become a more natural part of the learning process. As Nicole writes in her recent blog post, “when we give students the skills they need, to learn about the things they are passionate about, they will internalize (I like that word better than memorize) the information they need to be able to share their knowledge and passions.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Fostering the development of skills in today’s technological age is so crucial if we want our kids to acquire and apply knowledge in meaningful ways.

On the other hand, Catherine, Amanda, and Shelby presented worthy arguments as well that are important to consider. For example, many students rely on class or student-teacher discussions in order to make sense of information. Although they may be able to find answers using Google, it does not always mean they are able to comprehend and apply that information. I know for me personally, I am a talker, and I need to discuss ideas and information with my classmates and instructors so that I can make more meaning from it and solidify my understanding of the concepts. Students who struggle academically rely on their teachers to break down and re-explain information for them in ways that they are able to understand. Students who have cognitive delays or reading disabilities would not be able to make sense of all the information that is out there online. Just as my group argued last week, the role of the teacher is key and technology should be used as a tool to enhance learning, not to replace the role of the teacher altogether.

While memorization may seem like a skill of the past, it still serves a purpose in many capacities when it comes to the learning process. For example, early literacy and numeracy skills are built on a foundation that requires students to memorize letters, sounds, sight words, and basic math facts. Bloom’s Taxonomy shows how memorization is the foundation for higher level thinking skills. My brother is a paramedic and I can remember how big a role memorization played in his post-secondary program – information had to be memorized before they could apply it in emergency situations.

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Since not all information online is accurate or credible, I believe teachers are still needed to model for their students how to properly research and evaluate the information they find online. Fake news and unreliable sources are everywhere, so leaving students to learn everything from Google is somewhat of a frightening notion. Furthermore, I believe we still need teachers to push students to think for themselves before relying on Google to give them the (not always correct) answers. Part of thinking critically and making meaning from information includes considering different perspectives, taking into account personal experiences, and formulating individual opinions and new ideas on a given topic. This is how we develop creativity, and it is not something the internet can do for us (nor should we want it to!)

Overall, both groups did an amazing job of presenting two sides of a difficult argument. When it comes down to it, it seems that whether you agree or disagree with this topic, critical thinking and research skills are viewed by both teams as being crucial for the success of our students, both now and in the future.

So that’s it – I’m still on the fence with this one! Now here’s a GIF of a cat on a fence…

Thanks for reading!

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Teachers + Technology = Transformation

The Great EdTech Debate has officially begun in EC&I 830! For the first debate, I, along with my stellar teammates Katie Rosenkranz & Kristen Piercy, had the opportunity to explore the topic, does technology in the classroom enhance student learning? We agreed that it most definitely does, and thus, our research began! Check out our rather convincing opening statement video here!

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As stated in our video, we are very aware of the fact that technology presents some limitations in the classroom environment when not used appropriately or effectively. Our first article even addresses some of these pitfalls so that teachers are made aware of them and can work to combat these issues in their classrooms. Technology needs to be implemented with purpose and should be used as a tool rather than as a teacher replacement. It should increase student-teacher interactions, foster collaboration, increase social interaction, and ultimately transform student learning. All of these benefits are possible but require the support of schools, divisions, and administration to ensure teachers are equipped with the skills and resources necessary to integrate technology in meaningful ways. The SAMR Model shown below is just one way to help guide teachers as they look to enhance and transform learning using technology:

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To summarize our key points from the video, we believe that technology in the classroom enhances student learning because it increases engagement and deepens student learning. This study out of the United States really helped guide and shape our argument, as it outlines key strategies that the educators in the study found successful with regards to using technology, and five roles technology plays in enhancing learning. The following visual outlines these five ways, and our opening statement video provides a more in-depth explanation of each:

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While these five reasons served as the foundation of our argument, many other topics arose throughout our class discussion and rebuttal period that are worthy of noting. Firstly, it became very evident that many of our classmates believe technology enhances learning because it helps students develop skills that are necessary for higher education and the future workforce. This includes the ability to think critically, multi-task, and be media literate, all of which are crucial in today’s technological age.

While some studies have shown that phone bans result in increased student achievement, our team (and many of our classmates) would argue that this is not teaching students how to be responsible digital citizens, nor is it preparing them for the real world (is their future boss or employer going to ban phones in the workplace?!) The reality is, cellphones are here to stay, and just as you or I likely have our phones out next to us at this very moment, students are going to have their phones by their side at all times, too. They need to learn how to manage this constant access to technology in appropriate ways so that it does not become a distraction to their work or learning. Multi-tasking is the way of the future, and our kids need to practice this skill with the help of mentors and models (a.k.a their teachers) to show them what that looks like. As stated during our class discussion, students will always find ways around a phone ban, which creates more classroom management and discipline issues for teachers and administration. Instead, teachers need to model and scaffold digital citizenship skills and provide opportunities for students to practice these skills. Just as we wouldn’t expect students to master a math outcome without time and practice, we also can’t expect kids to master appropriate tech use without opportunities to practice, practice, practice!

As a Learning Resource Teacher, I have witnessed so many ways in which technology can enhance learning for students with diverse needs. Specifically, intensive needs students who struggle with communication or literacy skills benefit immensely from having access to technology. For example, Google Read and Write features such as voice-to-text, word prediction, and audio playback assist students who have difficulty with reading and writing. For students who are non-verbal, communication devices such as the Dynavox allow students to use visual or audio prompts to help them understand or produce language. 

Ultimately, I believe that balance is the approach that needs to be taken when looking to implement any new technology, strategy, or idea into our schools and classrooms. I agree that hands-on, experiential learning is valuable and helps promote problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking, however, technology can do this too. I think there’s a time and place for both to be incorporated into the classroom so that students can learn in various ways and become more well-rounded individuals.