Author Archives: Janeen Clark

Digital Humanity… harder than Human-ing Humanity?

Ok, I think being a responsible digital citizen might legitimately be more difficult than being a real, human citizen. And, I’m only being a little bit facetious when I say that. Why? The anonymity of the internet brings out the worst in humanity. Those things that we don’t say out loud, the videos that we … Continue reading "Digital Humanity… harder than Human-ing Humanity?"

Wow. Just Wow.

My mind is blown. Those were my initial thoughts during and after last week’s class. Like, blown in a way that I haven’t experienced in a long time.  One thing my AP English students request is more multiple choice practice. The first part of their exam from the College Board is multiple choice, and typically … Continue reading "Wow. Just Wow."

Me, Myself, and My Tech

My name is Janeen, and I am currently teaching at Balfour Collegiate, as part of the Balfour Arts Collective. Tech plays a pretty significant role in my day to day life, though I would say it’s pretty “low tech” tech, if you will. My day starts, obviously, with a quick scroll through Instagram, followed by personal hygiene accompanied by some TikTok scrolling. Anything I find interesting I either a) send to my friends or co-workers, b) screenshot and email to myself at my work email (am I 90?), or screen record and download. I intend to follow up with these cool lesson plans, neat recipes, and funny memes later… but I rarely do, simply due to sheer mass of information. Well, except for the memes.

Memes are my love language.

My school day begins by checking my email (now with full body scan authentication, due to the RPS hack of 2022), followed by checking of messages on Edsby, our attendance /grading /messaging platform. I usually check our staff memo – a Google Doc, and then get on with classes. Usually every class involves some sort of Google usage — I use a doc as a lesson planning template, and that is shared with my students on Google Classroom. I use Classroom and Docs, Slides, Sheets to share most material and assignments. We – my students and I – often work on a shared Google Doc together. I do use communication tools as well, to connect with my students – beyond Edsby and email and GC, I use Remind to contact students. 

In terms of other tech use at work – I often post on our Arts Collective Instagram or FB stories, as part of our program. Multiple times I have found myself watching tutorials (“How to include captions” or “How to stitch a video with pictures and add music”) on how to use features of these platforms … or I just ask a kid. It’s not my favorite task, editing, but it’s not my least favorite, either. The process of learning various capabilities of these platforms is just time consuming, and the days are so busy I find myself struggling to figure out how much time I should really invest in sharing our students’ work online. It’s difficult to measure the impact of that on our students, parents, or on program visibility. Surely there is some platform that could help measure that…

What is my current level of comfort with technology? Um… fine? Average? I can figure things out and am familiar enough with a variety of platforms that I can troubleshoot issues. The pandemic obviously increased everyone’s tech-ability, and I now am more comfortable creating websites, using a variety of screen recording platforms, and making rudimentary movies using simple iMovie or Capcut technology. Would I like to be more “techy,” more proficient at using technology to better enhance my lessons, and my communication with students and parents? Absolutely. I get frustrated when I can envision an outcome but cannot create it, and I end up going to my more skilled colleagues to fix my problems – annoying for me, and them. In our arts program we have many creative students, and my lack of tech skills limits how I can support them, at times, in terms of what they create, and I again end up depending on our other BAC colleagues to manage that element of a particular project. I’m also curious – and maybe a bit concerned – about how AI will impact our classrooms. I feel like all I’ve read about this week is GPT, and I wonder how, and when, this will impact my ELA classrooms… if it hasn’t already?

My day ends much the same way it began — a solid scroll through Insta, TT, then Twitter for news (now my main source). This may be followed by an Audible book before bed, maybe some Netflix on my laptop. Oh, and obviously I will likely need to stop at my grandma’s house to fix whatever technology ailment is currently befuddling her (last week she “lost Google”). To be fair, she’s 93 so I suppose, relatively, she’s doing ok, technology wise. Maybe 90 isn’t so bad?

week 4: assistive technology

My experience with assistive technology early in my career was limited. This is for a couple of reasons: 1) when I started teaching there wasn’t the range of options available in terms of assistive technology, and 2) the culture surrounding learning disabilities was very different than it is now. 

In terms of number one, there is not really a lot to say. When I started, we still did attendance on paper and sent it down to the office — this seems crazy to me now! If a student needed help — and there really were not that many, it seemed — they were sent to the Learning Resource Room. I can remember the names of most of the students from my first year of teaching, but I honestly am not sure I can name one student who needed any sort of academic intervention. 

 In reflection, the fact that so few students needed intervention I think speaks to the second reason: the culture surrounding learning needs. It wasn’t that there weren’t students who didn’t NEED extra help — it’s just that we did not recognize it, or we assumed it was a problem on the part of a student’s effort. As I write this, I realize I sound like a heartless teacher who just wasn’t sensitive to any student needs. I promise, this is not so! It just… was different. If a student didn’t have work done, it was not because they struggled, but because they were being lazy, or procrastinating. I’m not sure when our way of thinking about learning needs started to change — to be honest, I had not even thought about the way I used to view these issues until I started my research this week. But, it has changed — significantly! I am much more aware of student strengths and weaknesses, and work to give students choice in how they demonstrate their knowledge – certainly a much more constructivist perspective.

In the context of 1998, this seems to match the behaviorist teaching practices that reflected my early career. For as creative as I thought I was at the time, school was still just a space where ultimately, students needed to reflect the discrete learnings that I, and the government of Saskatchewan, decided were important. If someone could not do that, it was because they were not trying hard enough. 

I compare this perspective to the way in which I view education today, and I kind of want to go back and apologize to those kids in my early career who struggled. Yes there were probably many who were lazy and procrastinating, but if today’s numbers are average, there were many students who lacked the skills necessary to complete the outcomes, and who lacked the voice and knowledge to advocate for what they needed. 

Further, rather than looking at students from a deficit perspective, I now recognize the fact that the curriculum, and education in general, privileges certain ways of knowing over others. Instead of looking at students as problematic, I am much more critical of the space we are in and the outcomes we value, and how those spaces and outcomes may not align with the identity of my students. This perspective is much more in line with the principles of Universal Design for Learning, another concept that was new to me. CAST, the nonprofit education research and development organization that created the Universal Design for Learning framework, identifies the main goals of UDL:

“to support learners to become “expert learners” who are, each in their own way, purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal driven. UDL aims to change the design of the environment rather than to change the learner. When environments are intentionally designed to reduce barriers, all learners can engage in rigorous, meaningful learning.”

UDL is such an excellent example of growth mindset, as opposed to deficit thinking. As one of our readings identifies, the goal is to eliminate “barriers from the learning environment” (2), rather than focusing on a student’s disabilities. I think back to a conversation I had with a group of colleagues earlier this year. We were talking about a student that was unwilling to speak in public. The curriculum called for a formal multimedia presentation. Our discussion centered around how the ELA curriculum privileges (via the more extensive indicators) these formal speaking outcomes, as opposed to informal conversation and storytelling. This privileging is a reflection of the curriculum’s colonial structure, and the conversation certainly made me rethink the way I was asking students to respond. However, it’s such a fine line to tread. How can I value different ways of knowing and yet still prepare students to exist in the dominant discourse of our world?

This was a topic that came up in our assistive technology communication discussion. Jacquie asked a really important question: are we using assistive technology to force our students to fit into our curriculum? 

We need to ask ourselves, what is our purpose in using assistive technologies? What are we valuing?  Universal Design for Learning would suggest again that we go back and examine the curriculum, and see what the deficits are. This would be a better place to start, rather than focusing on our students’ deficits. However, this demands a significant shift in paradigm. Everything I do in the classroom starts with the curriculum, and the curricular outcomes. I work backwards from those curricular outcomes to plan my units and engage my students. However, I suppose a critical examination of the curriculum does not necessarily mean that it cannot still be my guide. What it does mean is that I need to spend more time examining the ways in which the curriculum privileges certain ways of knowing, and then deciding how to mitigate that privilege.

In doing this work, some of the assistive technologies may no longer be needed in the same way. However, if they are needed, Sue Cramner discusses the important role teachers play in how they implement technology in the classroom. She notes that AT has been used as an after the fact fix, and this practice has led to “the reproduction of exclusionary practices” (327). She talks about the importance of “develop[ing] inclusive digital pedagogy” (327).  This, I would say, is my biggest takeaway from my learnings regarding assistive technology. Rather than using AT as an afterthought, I need to first critically examine the curriculum for what I’m asking my students to do, then anticipate the needs of a range of learners, and finally, implement technology that will allow students to demonstrate their learning in a manner that best reflects their skills.

week 3, part 2: what’s my mark??

When I started teaching I gave very little thought to my assessment practices. I gave exams and my students wrote papers, and occasionally I assigned a project of some sort. I DID lots of projects and creative things in class, but I evaluated the traditional tasks. That was just what you did. In hindsight, it reflected a highly behaviourist theory of knowledge, an instructivist centred practice. I did focus my assessment on the outcomes, but students needed to reflect the knowledge that I transmitted to them. If their knowledge was different from the knowledge I was expecting, the answer was wrong. Again, my initial practice was so simple, and lacked thought and reflection. With the guidance of mentoring colleagues and further education, my pedagogy quickly changed. The choice I made at the time suggested that the teacher was the sole holder of knowledge. 

My assessment practices now mirror the change in my instructional strategies. I would consider myself now much more of a constructivist in my instructional design and so my assessments  mirror this. For example, I use learning contracts, which I wrote about in my last post. I have noticed that they do focus the students on assessments for learning rather than looking ahead to that all important summative mark. And because students have so much more choice in a learning contract, they have choice in their assessment tools as well. Learning contracts do pose some challenges for the practical elements of reporting, however, as they are designed for formative assessment over a long period of time, and then one final summative mark. So, it becomes a little onerous for the teacher to report regularly via the LMS so parents can see how students are doing before that final mark is entered. Our school and division asks that we update marks every two weeks, with a specific number of assessments over the course of the semester. However, inputting formative assessments into the LMS doesn’t impact the mark and so parents are sometimes unaware of how their student is actually doing because they don’t read the comments in the formative column — they only look for numbers.  I do assess so much more formatively than I used to, and unfortunately, parents don’t always appreciate that feedback as much as the summative assessment. In terms of my formative assessments, I did appreciate that the assessment group offered some tools that I had not heard of, and it was also reassuring to see the study conducted on effectiveness of these tools: “Plickers is an effective tool in aiding
the learning process.” As a classroom teacher I can see the effectiveness of these tech tools in formative assessment, but it is comforting to have the credibility of a study to back up what you think you know.

In the past three years as I’ve become a part of a teaching team that integrates ELA and the arts, I have been challenged multiple times to rethink the way students can demonstrate English outcomes. While some of the writing outcomes still need to be fairly prescriptive – after all there are a limited number of ways you can interpret “compose a 1500 word inquiry paper using external sources” – my team has definitely forced me to think about the way I design and assess other ELA outcomes, especially ones that are not necessarily written. 

Take, for example, one ELA A30 outcome: “Identify the various elements of style used in First Nations, Métis, Saskatchewan, and Canadian texts, and explain how the elements help communicate meaning and enhance the effectiveness of the texts.” I would typically interpret this outcome by reading a poem or short story or novel and breaking down the literary elements that work together to suggest the meaning of the work as a whole. So, we might look at narrative voice, author’s style, etc. and then discuss how these elements impact the whole work. My arts team suggested that we view “text” in a broader context, and do the same process for a dance or a work of art. The skills are parallel – you look at a piece of art, you examine the techniques and elements that work together to create a specific effect. Honestly, at first this was hard for me as it felt like I was somehow slacking, or not being rigorous enough in reading “real” texts – the written word. But as I started to work through these same formative assessments using fine art texts I noticed that we were using the exact same critical thinking skills that we use in analysing written texts. In fact, the two styles of text very much complement each other in terms of the analysis they engender. 

This also brought me to a place of self reflection where I needed to analyze why I privilege the written word over other types of texts. This privilege is certainly reflected in my assessment weighting. Of course, much of the English curriculum directs what we privilege in our assessment, and I’m not trying to devalue the written word. What I am trying to do is trouble how I view the colonialist structure of the curriculum. Why does a formal spoken presentation generate so much more page space than the informal narrative style of storytelling, and thus demand more marks attached to it? These are the questions that I now consider as a result of being a part of a team, and expanding my own pedagogical view. I would say that now, as a result of this class, I have the words to attach to some of these changing beliefs. In 20+ years of teaching, I haven’t studied the theories of knowledge. I’m sure I probably did in my first ed degree, but I was young and stupid and didn’t care about such things. I just wanted to talk to kids. To have the vocabulary to attach to the changes in my pedagogy over the years causes me to think again about my current practice.

week 3, part 1: education 1.0, 2.0, 3.0

In her article “Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0” (2014),  Jackie Gerstein compares the different iterations of the web to the pedagogical practices of “Essentialism/Instructivism through Andragogy/ Constructivism towards Heutagogy/ Connectivism” ( p. 83). So if Web 1.0 is the dissemination of information, the education metaphor would imply that students are merely the “receptacles of knowledge” (p. 83). Education 2.0 is a much more collaborative view of education, a constructivist approach where learners and teachers are partners together. However, as Gerstein notes, interestingly, that while Education 2.0 is much more student centred, “the technologies … used are still largely embedded within the framework of Education 1.0” (p. 87). So, while sometimes the intention is there to give students choice, the teacher perhaps still highly directs the learning path. The move to Education 3.0 is a highly individualised experience, where “problem-solving, innovation, and creativity drive education” (p. 90). 

What might this look like in the classroom?  Student choice and student-driven projects would be the norm. Learning might be inquiry-based, such as genius hour. Or, perhaps this might take the form of a learning contract. In a typical learning contract, such as the one below, students would be given a menu of options that would reflect the desired outcome. They would then choose the assessments that appeal to them. However, in true Education 3.0, students would not choose from a menu of options but would rather design their own assessment and their own menu option from scratch, according to their interest and skills and abilities. In this way the learner would completely be driving their own education.

In this heutagogical approach, a concept I was unfamiliar with before Katherine, Chris, Arkin, and Rae introduced it in their presentation, “learners are highly autonomous and self-determined and emphasis is placed on development of learner capacity and capability” (p. 93). It is interesting to see the examples Gerstein uses as technology changes so fast. Platforms that Education 3.0 students use, she shares, could be Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram. Six years later, students are still using YouTube and Instagram, but Facebook and Twitter (in the world of my students, at least) have become adult platforms, and students have made their way through a variety of quickly trending and sometimes dying platforms – Vine, SnapChat, now TikTok. In their “Comparative Study of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0,” (2009) Dr. Naik and Dr.  Shivalingaiah suggest that in Web 3.0, “companies build platforms that let people publish services by leveraging the associations between people or special content.” Ironically, though touted as groundbreaking at the time, this has such negative implications and connotations now. We have a love-hate relationship with the tailored suggestions of our platform ads. They suggest media that I do like, but then I am disturbed by the lack of privacy, and I inevitably wonder how much of my data does someone else have? And, as the Canadian Encyclopedia article notes, “the pursuit of “likes,” the “infinite scroll,” and customized content (geared to the individual) can addict users.” So, the very element that defines Web 3.0 can serve to hinder students as well. It is this tailored, interactive experience that dominates Web 3.0, and the corresponding choice that dominates Education 3.0. 

Problematically, however, Education 3.0 certainly privileges the independent learner who has no special needs, who does not need scaffolding, and who has the technological and educational background to know what questions to ask and who knows how to go about finding answers. This speaks to Siemens’s argument that the “know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed).” As teachers in this connectivist world, we need to prepare our students to be able to ask the right questions that will get them where they want to go, and to know where to find answers they need. However, when I think of the practical realities of this highly independent, student driven approach, I can imagine that certainly at least half of my students would struggle, if not more. So many need scaffolding and chunking to guide them to the next steps. It’s hard to know if that’s because they have just never learned in this way, or if this is because they cannot process so much choice and information. Students who are not used to advocating for themselves, or articulating their own learning desires will struggle, and students who need deadlines and structure will falter as well. These are some of our most at risk students, and to exacerbate the education divide via instructional design is counterproductive. 

However, surely there is a compromise – surely teachers can structure their learning to give students choice and opportunity if they can handle it, and work to increase capacity for independence for those students who are not there now. But, in order for this student-driven learning to take place, “institutional arrangements, including policies and strategies, change to meet the challenges of opportunities presented” (Gerstein, 2014, p. 90).  This is not a thing.

Institutional structure and policy doesn’t seem to want to keep up with educational theory and it certainly cannot hope to keep up with rapidly changing technology.

Institutional structure and policy doesn’t seem to want to keep up with educational theory and it certainly cannot hope to keep up with rapidly changing technology. With the change in educational infrastructure instigated by the pandemic we have the opportunity to make some real changes to the 100 year old structure of school. By and large students at our school favoured the quint system over a return to a five class school day. There are certainly problems with the quint system — as an English teacher I struggled to have students keep up with readings,  and frankly three hours of math at a time seems akin to torture for me — the credit attainment data for the 2020-2021 school year was higher. Why would we not continue in this structure? Why would we return to the status quo? Why wouldn’t we take this opportunity to see how we can do school different and potentially increase student success? 

week 2, part 2: remote teaching and Google, my best friend

Until this class, the only experience I have had with online and blended learning was when we went online last March when the pandemic hit. So, prior to COVID I had never done any online learning or teaching at all. As remote teaching continued and I became more familiar with this style of teaching, the tools that were most relevant to me and my students were primarily Google based. 

Google Classroom – We had already been using Google classroom as our main organizational platform and it served us well to help keep my students and myself organized. We had already been using Google classroom so this part of online learning was an easy transition as it was previously built into our regular class framework.

Google Sites –  when we first went online in March and this was all brand new for us I took Easter break to turn some units into a website using Google sites. Because remote learning was completely optional I tried to create assignments with as much choice as possible in order to try and engage students, and the website structure initially worked very well in that context.

Google Docs – I tried using Google Calendar to help keep track of the daily time table but it proved to be too complicated for students to manage. Instead, I ended up using a Google Doc with a table in it. On the table I would write out the plans for the week that included Meet times, deadlines, and a general overview of what we were covering, as well as links to any resources students needed. This was probably the best decision I made as our mantra became “Check the calendar.”  I pinned the calendar to the top of Google Classroom, I emailed the calendar doc to parents, I included the link to the calendar on our website, I sent it to kids via Remind. In short, I put the calendar in any possible place students could find it. I still use this type of calendar today, even in a face to face learning environment. 

Google Meet – Initially we were not allowed to use Zoom because of security and privacy issues. We were all mandated to use Meet. In many ways Meet was easier because as long as students were logged in to their school account they could simply type my name in as a class code and join the online class – no need to follow links, or find invitations. There were some things about Meet that I did not enjoy. For example, when I was sharing my screen I could not see my students so I could not engage with them in the same way. However, as a work around I simply set up my iPad and joined the Meet with that camera as well so I could see my whole class. 

Mote –  Another colleague recommended Mote, which is a Chrome extension that allows for voice notes and feedback.  This allowed students to still hear my voice and connect to me even if they were not joining us on a synchronous platform.  Even back in class face-to-face I still continue to use this tool all the time. 

Remind – Initially I would send out messages to instantaneously remind kids that we were meeting online.  This was super helpful as they had no sense of routine in the early days of remote learning. 

Screencastify –  this was the initial platform I used for recording lessons for non-synchronous work. It was easy and quick to install and free during that initial time of online learning. 

Variety of other apps: Kahoot, Sporcle, Jamboard, etc. that I would use occasionally, usually for a hook, or a pick me up, or a class discussion. 

As we have heard reiterated in class I think again it is less about what tools we choose to use and more how we choose to use those tools that impacts teacher and student learning experiences most significantly. In her article “Pedagogical Considerations of E-Learning in Education for Development in the Face of COVID-19” (2020) researcher Patricia Ananga identifies the Social Presence Theory of learning as especially relevant to distance education. Essential to the success of the experience is the awareness of the teacher and student as real people who are present at the other end of the learning (p. 314).

This theory truly resonated with me when remote teaching experience lengthened as the pandemic progressed. In March of 2020 when remote teaching was new I spent so much time scouring the internet for technology tools that would engage kids and get them learning. When we went online again in November of 2021 I paired  down the technology I was trying to make work in the spring and chose as much face to face activity as I could make work for the kids. For the most part, the most engaging element of the class is the teacher, and when there is a face at the other end of the learning there is an accountability and an engagement that doesn’t come with 100% asynchronous instruction.

Ananga further recognizes that “due to the limited social interaction that exists between student-student and student-instructor, it is very necessary for the students to motivate themselves and have frequent communication to ensure that assigned tasks could be accomplished” (2020, p. 312). Nothing could be more true, and more difficult, with high school age learners. There are definitely students in my class that are intrinsically motivated and there are students present who need an English 30 credit to graduate. Time and again this past year I experienced more success when I forced students – willingly or not – to engage with me live. The question Ananga poses: “Why should educators bother with learners’ emotions or feeling at all?” (p. 315) – for me at least – comes down to the fact that these connections, these relationships,  increase student success. 

week 2, part 1: dwight, dogs, and productivity

The video Raquel, Deidra, Allison, and Kelly shared this week could not have been a more accurate reflection of my technology habits. Similar to others, I’m sure, I currently have multiple tabs open, multiple windows running concurrently, and I have my school laptop, a Mac, my phone, and my iPad at my fingertips. They have different purposes. The Mac is for editing a video. My school laptop is the one I work on the most because it is most familiar to me. The phone is to check text messages and see what’s happening on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The iPad? Its sole purpose is to play episodes of Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, or The Office on loop. It’s just comforting background noise. How are you to get work done with Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica in the background? 

Hmm. I should put in an Office video here. Let me just YouTube that up.

Source: The Office

While the Atlantic video is definitely funny, it certainly reminds me of my own inability to “single task.” Remember when you went to the grocery store and you lined up to pay, and you just … stood? And maybe read some tabloid magazine covers? I’m annoyed if I forget to take my phone to the bathroom, and I hate that about myself. And clearly, I am not being “productive” — I’m not answering emails or writing assignments or creating assessments.  I’m googling something or checking social media or watching a YouTube video of dogs seeing their military owners for the first time in a year. 

And while I wipe the tears from my eyes from caused by German Shepherd who suddenly recognizes her owner, the emails pile up, and the to-do list gets longer. I often feel the weight – during the school year – of unanswered emails and incomplete tasks. And while I do feel that the bombardment of teachers via email takes away from my actual work as a teacher, at the same time, I make the choice to wander down the rabbit hole of YouTube or Instagram or SnapChat. I’m an adult, and I’m old enough to recognize that the choices I’ve made have consequences. These terrible habits? They are my own making.  And while I don’t know if I’m working more than I did, pre-internet, I certainly know that I’m working smarter and the work I do can be completed faster because of productivity tools. 

I remember when our school got Chromebooks a couple of years ago and we were all up in arms because we couldn’t print from these laptops:

How can we possibly assess without the actual assignment?! This makes no sense! This is ridiculous! Now to print I have to send my kids to the library —  what a waste of time!! 

Sometimes teachers get notoriously worked up when we have to change –  or maybe that’s just me? Two years on and the lack of printing ability has changed my assessment practices. I’m faster because I can type my feedback right on the Google Doc. Google extensions such as Mote have allowed me to actually speak my feedback so I’m giving more formative and summative feedback, and kids are hearing it the way I want it to be heard. Because of these tools I can see the keystroke by keystroke of my students’ work. I can see the way they think and the way they process their information in a way that I never could before these  collaborative types of tools existed. This unprecedented insight into students’ learning process can be such a valuable element of formative assessment. It allows me to assess and diagnose issues and plan specific lessons to target those issues — so helpful! And, in terms of the 21st century competencies that our presenters this week discussed – productivity suites allow those skills to happen: collaboration, creative thinking, communication, citizenship. I honestly don’t want to go back to the teaching life of my first few years. I cannot imagine my job without these productivity tools.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Dwight’s about to light the office on fire and I need to finish the New York Times crossword puzzle on my phone while I go to the bathroom.

the beginning: a reflection on ed. tech and pedagogy

I remember in high school when I wanted to type an essay I had to go to the SRC room, where there was a computer. The SRC room was attached to the library, where I went to gather my resources. There I became a pro at navigating the card catalogue. The library, in turn, was next to the teacher photocopy room, and one day I remember a teacher showing me how to run the Scantron machine. The SCANTRON. One gently fed yellowed cards through this machine, and it magically punched out the answers, allowing the teacher (or student helper – how much easier could this teaching job get?!) to quickly mark an exam. 

In reflection, it seems so archaic and dated; at the time it was magical and the epitome of teacher time management. Of course, in my high school simplicity, not once did I consider the learning that the Scantron reflected. Obviously, in hindsight, the question is: did those 100 multiple choice questions – administered at the end of every social studies chapter –  reflect the learning of the students in the class? And, what learnings did those 100 multiple choice questions leave out? Neil Postman (1998) argues that the question: “‘What will a new technology do?’ is no more important than the question, ‘What will a new technology undo?’” (p. 5), and I can’t help but make this connection to my scantron amazement. Who did this teaching strategy privilege? And who does it still privilege — multiple choice is, after all, the assessment tool of choice for SATs, AP exams, and other standardized tests. The scantron of my youth is alive and well and deciding who gets into what college. 

As I dwell on these reflections, my simple definition of educational technology: a set of tools that serve to increase and facilitate student learning and engagement,  perhaps needs some clarification. This reflection on my rudimentary exposure to educational technology certainly looks a lot different than the ed tools I use in my daily life, yet some of the questions that drive their use are still the same. As I think about my definition and my use of ed tech in my daily practice, I need to question: What is the purpose of the educational tool? What does it value, and what does it not value? What learnings does it facilitate and what learnings does it eliminate? Who does it engage and who does it disconnect? What level of thinking does technology raise in the classroom – is it higher order thinking? And, as Katia discussed in the video, do my beliefs about knowledge or learning align with my tech choices in the classroom?

As Bates notes in Chapter 6 of Teaching in a Digital Age, “most technologies used in education were not developed specifically for education but for other purposes (mainly for the military or business)” (2019, para. 6). Again, I return to the example of the Scantron — a  Google search reveals the initial purpose of the Scantron was, in fact, developed for education, but has since become big business. While the technology sold to schools was inexpensive, the products (testing sheets/pencils) were pricey — haha, clever work around, Scantron!  However, like Skinner’s teaching machine, I suppose it has its purpose and place. 

This contemplation of purpose and place takes me to a consideration of my own theories of knowledge – the underpinnings that guide my own pedagogical practices.  I remember when I started teaching – actually, it was during internship. I was teaching a grade 11 class and we were reviewing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. I divided the poetry analysis into three sections: sights, sounds, and meaning. As we progressed through the class I was driven by this need to make sure they understood the structure of the analysis. In the sights section I had students identify images – metaphors, similes, other figurative language. One student offered up the line “But now they only block the sun/ They rain and they snow on everyone” and suggested this was a metaphor. Yes. Check. Correct. Okay, next sight?  Post class, my cooperating teacher asked me how I thought I did. I thought the lesson had been successful – after all, they could all slot in the metaphors to the correct section, write in  some examples of alliteration under sounds… After a brief lull, my co-op asked one question: so what? So what what? So what, that they can identify a metaphor, or alliteration? So what? 

So What?? Why does it matter?

Twenty three years into a teaching career, and this moment still stands out to me. In context of our readings over the past week, I connect my initial teaching strategies to a behaviorist model – the Pavlov’s Dog of theories of knowledge. I didn’t demand higher order thinking – I was simply offering the stimulus and suggesting the appropriate response to the stimulus which would gain them the requisite mark. On my end, there was “no attempt… made to determine the structure of a student’s knowledge nor to assess which mental processes it is necessary for them to use”  (cited in Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 48). 

Thankfully my learning strategies have advanced and my instructional design now reflects more of a constructivist approach. As I look back through my career I would also posit that my understanding of learning has changed over the course of my career, and that the underpinnings of my teaching has followed the path of behaviorist to cognitivist to constructivist, with perhaps some connectivist elements currently intertwined. As I read through Ertmer and Newby’s article on education design and theories of knowledge, after each one I thought, “That’s me! I did that!” And then I would read the next section of the article, and think… “Oh no, THAT’S me now!” Certainly I started my career with many elements of behaviorism – and that maybe makes sense. I was 21, and a little scared, and just needed kids to follow the rules and do the things. Behavior and reward was the name of the game. In university, however, cognitive theories abounded, though I was too young and immature to recognize what it was I was learning. My profs emphasized the need to “relate new information to existing knowledge in memory” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 53). I distinctly remember thinking, if I ever hear the word “schema” again, I’m going to schema someone’s eyes out. 

Moving to my current practice, I appreciated the update to Ertmer and Newby’s article — Herrington and Herrington identify the fact that learning needs to be learner centred: “Quite simply, learning designs for today’s students must be highly contextualized, personal, and collaborative” (as cited in Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 69). In short, we need to know our students. The constructivist and the connectivist recognize that knowledge is socially constructed and “nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning” (Siemens, p. 6). These ideologies are significant in my current teaching practice as I work as part of a team of teachers and students focused on the arts. Much of our daily planning and our instructional practice is collaborative and creative, and demands interdependence on peers — for both teachers and students. My learning and practice as a teacher has significantly shifted in the last three years as I have worked closely with a team of three other teachers. Further, our students — willingly or not — interact closely with each other for much of the day; they work to problem solve and create and construct their learning together. In many ways, the connectivist theory is reflected in our pedagogical belief that learning is not a means to the end, but rather, the end itself. Given the declining half life of knowledge (Siemens), this seems to be a valuable ideology and entrance point for a way of knowing. 

Learning is not a means to the end, but rather, the end itself.

P.S. On an ironic side note…right before I went to post this, I constructed a photo collage. Unfortunately, as I was working on Canva – a platform you IN THEORY do not need to manually save —  my computer died, and I lost the image. As Postman says, “Technology giveth and technology taketh away”. Praise be.

About Me

Hello! My name is Janeen Clark and I am a teacher in Regina, Saskatchewan. I teach at Balfour Collegiate and am part of the Balfour Arts Collective. A first time blogger, time compels me to focus on my writing, yet all I really want to do is play with the aesthetic of the page… alas, I must resist.