Tonight’s first debate offered a wonderful way of looking at how technology has or hasn’t created a more equitable playing field in education.
The agree side had great points, all of which had me considering my own position as a teacher making every effort to meet the needs of the many students in my classroom. Certainly I have seen firsthand how much technology has improved the motivation and academic output of the students in my classroom. Students, for example, who are unable to read grade level texts, are capable of using apps and other tech that will allow them to listen to the text in order to understand content. Students are also able to use similar tech to record their voice, or to use speech to text to show comprehension or to express themselves. Several students who, prior to the use of this tech, were unmotivated and had to often rely on the teacher for scribe, which in a classroom with little support, gave the student little opportunity to work through problems with the teacher.
Aside from students using assistive technology, using this technology allows for greater opportunities for learning outside of the classroom. The use of Google Classroom, for example, allows teachers to provide videos and online applications that students can access outside of school time. This flipped design gives the students a better grasp of content, so class time can then be spent working on inquiry projects, and more time for students who still struggle with content and need further support.
This sounds idyllic, and easy to imagine just how much better achievement rates will improve based on these opportunities. However, the disagree side of the debate effectively threw a branch through the spokes of this smooth ride.
Ian’s side argued that these supports, that my classroom can afford to provide to its students, rely upon a number of factors, that when unmet, cannot meet the idyllic equitable situation the agree side argues technology provides.
In reflecting upon my own classroom’s success in finding an equitable balance of tech to meet and support all students learning, I pinpointed the following:
- Teacher training: I am one of the ‘tech’ teachers in the school, and have made it a priority to search out and learn how to use the best tools to meet my students needs. Many other teachers though, either do not have a technological aptitude, or have not taken the time to understand how to use the technology provided to their students’ academic needs.
This reminds me of a recent re-tweet shared to our Google + community, where George Couros speaks to the idea that teachers need to be responsible for their own PD, and this type of problem solving will make for a mastery that one cannot necessarily achieve by simply being told the step by steps. I totally agree with this sentiment, but I’m also quick to check that this type of thinking doesn’t support teachers struggling with technology, as well as it doesn’t take into account the time and pd opportunities that will need to be provided by schools in order to ensure all teachers are capable of achieving mastery.
- Student training: Without having a competent instructor teaching and monitoring the learning of how to effectively use the assistive technologies being offered, students will not be able to effectively take advantage of the tools to meet their greatest potential. As we all know, simply giving a student a laptop will not automatically equal success. Specific apps such as Google Read and Write will not be used to their fullest potential unless students are provided direct instruction into how best to use the tech for different end goals.
As well, unless there exists consistent procedures and consequences regarding tech use, students will inevitably use the technology in ways that are distracting to learning.
- Access: My school, located in Regina (small, but nevertheless a city), is part of a school board that has made it a priority to provide schools with the infrastructure to access high speed internet, as well as equitable tech support for students that have been assessed as needing the technology. This makes it easy to forget that in rural areas or on reserves, either the funding, or the location, makes it impossible for students to access the technology the students need.
- Access in homes: Many of my students now have computers and access to the internet. Ian’s group pointed out however, that there is a divide in how the technology is being used by students, depending on factors such as socioeconomic status, to lack of parent’s understanding on how to support their child at home to use the technology effectively to support their child’s learning. I realized that this point held true, as some students with families who are more affluent have shown more growth versus other students whose parents may be not around (due to work, etc) to monitor student’s use of online tech.
- Technology does not replace one-to-one support: Many schools are currently caught up in the fervor of technosolutionism, which has led to the belief that all students, regardless of disability, will be able to find success using technology. The issue is that not all disabilities offer technological supports that provide an equitable seat in the classroom. With the increased push for an all integrated classroom, combined with a budget crunch, many school boards are simply replacing EA’s and TA’s with laptops. I have seen firsthand how this model works wonderfully when the technology meets some children’s needs (and they have all the above supports in place), but fails miserably when a student is incapable of working independently, and the technology is not fit to support their specific needs.
So while technology certainly is working towards creating an equity that didn’t exist in the past, we still have a long way to go before assuming that technology is the catch-all solution to all learning challenges in and out of the classroom.
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