Category Archives: Digital Divide

O Online Learning, Parting Was NOT Sweet Sorrow

This week’s topic – tools for distance and online learning – strikes a personal cord. Memories of my last 2.5 years as an online learning consultant cause an odd mixture of melancholy, anxiety, aversion, and pride to roll through my chest. Anyone in education over the last 3 years might feel a similar twinge. Love it or lump it, the need for distance and online learning -exacerbated by the pandemic – caused a shift in digital EdTech that will be studied for decades. (Am I being too dramatic if I say centuries?)

In Tyler Dewitt’s TedX Talk, he notes the inevitable push/pull factors of online learning and digital tools, but concludes with a quote from his father:

“The focus of education should be learning, not teaching.”

Similarly, the purpose of distance and online learning tools should be to incite authentic learning opportunities for students. From my ISTE training and the last few years online, I have learned that relevant/purposeful EdTech tools are more than just the “flavour of the month” or novelty items.  Digital tools require careful consideration of sheltered instruction, cultural responsibility, graphic design, and accessibility.

Indiana University’s Teaching Online MOOC

My Tickle Trunk of Online Tools

Using Miro, my favourite collaborative online whiteboard (for staff and students), I have outlined my gold-star, most-used online tools over the last few years. While I use and appreciate many of the tools discussed in class and noted in the suggested readings, I tried to include a few lesser-known tools that also hit ISTE online standards. Many of these tools were Godsends while working online, and now that I have moved back to the classroom, remain relevant learning tools for students.

Click to interact with Miro Mindmap

  • Edsby: As more Saskatchewan divisions shift toward Edsby, I have the unique vantage point (for better or worse) of being the Edsby SK “guinea pig.” When the pandemic hit, my division accelerated its Edsby implementation and I have spent the last few years training teachers and students to utilize Edsby as our division’s main lesson, assessment, and communication hub. Edsby is not without its faults, scoring particularly low in ISTE standards for accessibility; however, it remains relevant as a multi-purpose learning centre.
    • Back in the classroom: Edsby continues to be my main source for student/family communication, secure online student learning portfolios and chats, lesson planning, and resource/link sharing. I’ve become so accustomed to Edsby, I’m not sure how I’d work in a classroom without it now (and yes, I see the danger in that sentiment).
  • Peardeck: I was pleased to see Peardeck mentioned in Prodigy’s The 20 Best Tools for Virtual and Distance Learning.  Used as a cloud-based Google Slides add-on, Peardeck seamlessly transforms or creates interactive slides that promote student learning and engagement. Synchronous and asynchronous options like free response questions and drawing grids allow for streamlined, individualized formative assessment.
    • Back in the classroom: The asynchronous features were highly beneficial when online teaching, and back in the classroom both asynchronous and synchronous options remain relevant. Rather than having one student verbally answer while I present from Google Slides, Peardeck ensures all students can digitally answer. Student answers can be identified on the teacher dashboard, and then highlighted for further classroom discussions and/or conferring.
  • Mathigon: With an interactive polypad filled to the brim with math manipulatives, Mathigon allows all online students to interact with math. Online math assessments can lead to accessibility issues and 2-dimensional thinking; however, Mathigon provides equal access, and opportunities for authentic and collaborative numeracy engagement.
    • Back in the classroom: While my current placement allows for privileged access to 1-1 computers and a plethora of math resources, my students enjoy the creativity and experimentation Mathigon provides for their numeracy tasks. In-school students who need to complete homework are able to use Mathigon to continue their learning and collaboration outside of school hours.

Honourable Mention

  • Google. Period.
    • Google Jams, Slides, Forms, Docs are the most highly used tools I have used online or in the classroom. A majority of Google’s “arsenal” comes with assistive technology functions (ex: text-to-speech and proofreading) that allow diverse learners to gain confidence and independence.  Disclaimer: 😉  I am not affiliated with or endorsed by Google; I just think they’ve done some amazing work.

One Caveat…Ah, there’s the rub!

All of these online tools – mentioned here and elsewhere – can be extremely beneficial to student learning when students have equitable access. My quick shift to online quickly highlighted that the digital divide in Saskatchewan (let alone the rest of the world) is alive, well, and growing! Inequitable access does not negate the beneficial aspects of many of these tools, but these unfortunate realities cannot be ignored either. We must always ask who is being served by these online platforms and tools. The companies and shareholders? As discussed in class, EdTech companies appear the clear winners, often at the cost of our digital privacy. Students in emergent nations with privileged digital access equally benefit from these technologies. Until we can say that all students benefit from the plethora of distance and online tools, our work as educators and compassionate citizens remains unfinished.

Despite learning a great deal while working online, I will not be writing any Shakespearean odes to it either. Experience tells me I can shift from classroom to online to classroom with general ease. My desire to do so again remains doubtful. While I often deep-dive into the latest digital possibilities, I’m certain nothing can replace the human connection found between teachers and students learning together.

 

Points to Ponder

  • Do you have any lesser-known favourite online tools to recommend (that have not already been mentioned)?
  • How do you identify/separate purposeful EdTech from more “flash in the pan” options? 
  • As noted by Neil Postman, who do you believe are the “clear winners and losers” in EdTech? Who is not being served by these digital offerings?

 

Educational Technology: Neither Sinner nor Saviour

Defining the Variable: Ed-Tech

When I think of educational technology, my (active) imagination transports me to AI classrooms and interactive hologram projections. Part of me views ed-tech as the saviour of classroom to world relevancy; another part of me suffers ominous flashes of Judgement Day and Matrix-laden doom! Of course, that’s not the reality…at least, not yet.

 

matrix, code, data

It’s all the Matrix Photo by 0fjd125gk87 on Pixabay

In class, I defined educational technology as classroom-based innovations, in either hardware or software context, meant to enhance learning. In my breakout room, we further settled on one word to divide technology from educational technology: Purpose. Any human advancements in applied scientific knowledge can be interpreted as technology, but educational technology serves to analyze, evaluate, develop, manage, create, and collaborate in an academic setting. Laughing in our small chatroom about the purpose of a fridge was unexpected but served to demonstrate that the refrigerator – our cold-food cornucopia – can be defined as technology. However, when considered in a Home Economics setting, it could be categorized as ed-tech. Purpose then, and intentional purpose preferred – is everything when determining what ed-tech best serves innovative classrooms.

Smart home control panel in a modern kitchen

Help! My fridge is sentient! Photo: Adobe Stockpack

A Shady Past and Meaningful Future

Without realizing it (admittedly, I hadn’t completed all the readings before class) my philosophy of purposeful ed-tech aligns with Robert B. Kozma. In 1994, Kozma restructured the media debate by asking:

“‘In what ways can we use the capabilities of media to influence learning for particular students, tasks, and situations?'”

This mindful shift in considering and implementing media in the classroom fulfills the highest purposes of ed-tech: Effective teaching and enhanced learning.

Unfortunately, as history and personal experience have shown, a philosophy of mindful ed-tech usage has not always been the case. Reading through Audrey Watter’s article “The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade” (2019) was a shame-filled Delorean blast to past. I giggled, I shook my head, I remembered. When I started teaching 13 years ago, any “good” innovative teacher salivated over getting a classroom Smartboard. It was the saviour (fallacy) brought to life in my classroom! Now many sit as $8000 whiteboards with poor lighting and abysmal screen alignment. As Watters and Katia indicate, Smartboards turned into a hard technology due to lacking soft applications. Despite receiving hours of Smartboard training, my Smartboard has become a glorified (problematic) projector. Now I salivate over classroom chrome-cast TV’s. It’s always something! And I say that tongue-in-cheek as I stare at my coveted classroom 3D printer… gathering dust in the corner. Whoops!

Picture courtesy of OfftheMark.com

My ed-tech philosophy has been largely unconsciously written by hours of ed-tech training and lived experience. My childhood education was filled with chalk-board dust and projector reels. I hardly considered these ed-tech advancements, and yet, that is exactly what they were…in their time. My high school typewriters gave way to computers. My Moodle and Blackboard training was replaced with Google classroom, then Edsby. My ed-tech philosophy evolved to understand two key principles:

  1. Ed-tech is synonymous with change.
  2. It is neither sinner nor saviour.

Neil Postman elaborates on my evolving understanding of ed-tech, providing 5 key things we must understand about technological change:

  • Advancements carry a price.
  • The digital divide allots winners and losers (something I am now cognizant of after 2. 5 years teaching online)…
  • That give way to prejudice and bias.
  • Its reach touches everything and everyone.
  • It creates its own omnipotent mythos. As my current students struggle to imagine a classroom without 1-1 Chromebooks – supposing it has always been this way – I can certainly attest to this last (potentially dangerous) concept.

    Stylish caucasian man in devil hat with horns and vampire cape with laptop isolated on white backhround.

    Ed-Tech: Neither Sinner nor Saint Photo by benevolente on Adobe Stock

Conclusion: Defining the Constant

After considering the historical and philosophical aspects of ed-tech, I can only surmise that my viewpoint will continue to evolve with the technology in my classroom. If ed-tech innovations are the variable, then meaningful/intentional/equitable implementation must be the constant.

Ponderings

  • Based on usage, technology can often be categorized as ed-tech, but how often do we use ed-tech as technology in our day-to-day lives? For example, Kahoot is largely construed as ed-tech software, but do we ever use it ourselves for fun? I know I don’t! If I never hear the theme music again, it will be too soon!
  • Do you feel a sense of jadedness when the “next big thing” in ed-tech/training comes out? Or a heady rush of excitement for something new to offer students?
  • It’s been over 13 years since I was an education undergrad, but I wonder how much emphasis is now placed on meaningful classroom ed-tech selection and implemenation. Insights are most welcome!

Off the Screen, Back Into the World

Allow Me to Introduce Myself…

My pronouns are she/her and I am honoured to live on Treaty 6 land. In the last 13 years, I have taught every grade from 1-12, and for the past 2.5 years, I have been the K-7 Online Learning Support Teacher (OLST) for the Light of Christ School Division. I am freshly returned to teaching middle years for 2022-23, while I continue to help educators with edtech curriculum and content creation. My family consists of my husband, Mark, two children, a polar bear (Great Pyrenees) named Tank, and – sadly – our recently departed mountain lion (cat) named AJ. My interests include creative writing, reading (largely fiction and personal growth), learning, hiking, travelling, my family, mental health, and environmental/social justice.

“Back In My Day…” 

film, movie, cinema

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pixabay

 

The powers-that-be (AKA: my students) have dubbed me a geriatric millennial, but I think I prefer xennial-on-the-cusp. The dubious title holds a wealth of experience with early educational technology. Strobing lights and flickering sounds of a classroom projector, alongside dying of dysentery a million times on the Oregon Trail, are some of my earliest educational memories. My elementary school was progressive enough to have a computer room simply to practice our wpm, but when I went to high school, typewriters remained the norm until Grade 10. Pshhkkrr-king-tshchchchch-ding-ding-ding, dial-up is a sound time does not forget; a necessary evil I endured while researching senior-level science projects and English essays. Registering for University classes blindly on the Registrar phone line….what could possibly go wrong? Technology and us…me? We’ve come a long way since those early Oregon Trail, Windows 95 days.

After the After(math)

Edtech and Me

 

In my first Graduate class, I wrote my first blog post, outlining the before and after(math) of educational technology during the pandemic years. Before the pandemic, my classroom heavily relied on technology to create student projects, but -in hindsight- I wonder if I unknowingly used tech for its own sake (mostly to seem current).

After spending 2.5 years as an Online Learning Support Teacher (OLST), isolated between four small walls and my face between four small points on a screen, something in my educational pedagogy shifted….a redefinition I still struggle to word. In my online time, navigating the digital divide was a daily struggle. Zoom, Edsby, TikTok, Flip, Peardeck, Kahoot, Blooket, Miro, etc. etc. etc.? What I finally understand is that all the programs, apps, platforms, and tech tricks can’t help without equitable access and human connection.

Returning to the classroom now, tech is interwoven seamlessly throughout my teaching day. From my classroom 3D printer to Zooms with Indigenous Saskatchewan artists, edtech provides amazing opportunities for my students (and me) to connect to learning on a deeper level. My edtech and teaching pedagogy is more purposeful now, revealing a silver lining in my post-pandemic online world.

Drop a line and share…

  • What were your early experiences with edtech? Do you feel it shapes how you use/don’t use technology in the classroom now?
  • Tell me someone out there mastered the Oregon Trail!?!
  • Do you see a clear distinction between your technology use before and after the pandemic? Have we become too reliant on edtech now? Or perhaps adverse to it due to overuse in the last 2.5 years?

 

 

Debate #6 – Cellphones should be banned in the classroom.

Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

Throughout the debate I maintained my position by disagreeing that cellphones should be banned in the classroom. Cellphones have immense capabilities, clearly negatives and positives, that being said we should integrate technology into the classroom when appropriate. In the classroom I gave students permission at the start of the class to use their cell phones constructively. Students sometimes had to look up a word, and I encouraged them to increase their vocabulary by looking up synonyms, as well as other ways to enhance learning. As a result, I found students were on their phones less, as they did not have to hide them and there was less misuse. Yes, I recognize this does not work for every class. With this in mind, I taught high school, whereas they SHOULD be able to have some self-control. It should be noted, I believe there should be an age limit as to when we can entrust students with this responsibility.

Some big questions that creeped into my thoughts throughout the debate: should we give students the right to have a dynamic tool in their back pocket that can distract them from their learning? Rather, should we as educators teach students how to use these powerful tools?

That being said, there are valid reasons as to why cell phones should be banned in the classroom. These reasons include, but are not limited to,

Beland and Murphy’s (2016) study on the impact of cell phones on students’ academic performance, reported that when cell phones were banned from classrooms, standardized test scores went up approximately 6% on average and more than 14% for low-achieving students. The researchers observed that the ban’s differential effect on previously underperforming students is especially significant in light of school-board equity policies, as “banning mobile phones could be a low-cost way for schools to reduce educational inequality”

Cell Phones, Student Rights, and School Safety: Finding the Right Balance
  1. Distractions…umm…what did you say? – Have you ever had a student look up from their lap with that blank stare on their face? The panic of oh I have been caught doing something I shouldn’t be, and now I have no idea what this lady is asking me. I have seen this face more than once in my classroom. Additionally, there are the vibrations or the ringing disrupting the whole classroom, and once in a while a video starts playing blaringly loud! For this reason, there is no doubt that cellphones are a distraction in the classroom. Cellphones are also a distraction for teachers alike, as teachers have to police who is on their cellphone as opposed to working. Ultimately cellphones could be stored in their locker or in a cellphone hotel and used at breaks only.
  2. Equitability gaps …hey not everyone has a cellphone – We have covered equitability in numerous debates and this one is no different! Sometimes when you cannot get the laptop cart you tell students to just use their phones. Additionally, in other instances there have not been enough to go around and you tell them to either pair up or use their phones once again. Some families cannot afford to buy their child a new cellphone with an attached data plan, and I as an educator forget that not everyone has a cellphone. Not having the ability for every student to have a cellphone with a data plan without connecting to WIFI, consequently widens the learning gaps and the equality within education.
  3. Critical situations – The agree team mentioned cellphones interfering with critical situations that occur in schools, for example, fire drills and lockdowns. Stephen corrected me in the debate conversation about the lights of cellphones being the main concern for the intruder, although there can be interference with cell towers being jammed up. He pointed me to a time at Luther High School where a teacher was held at gunpoint and the police could not get through to the shooter as the towers were all jammed up with the multitude of cellphones from students. In a lockdown drill students are not to be on their cellphones, furthermore they are supposed to shut them off. In effort to defend the agree side, this would be a very important factor and should be noted why cellphones should be banned from the classrooms.

Conversely, in my humble opinion the reasons for cellphones not to be banned in the classroom out weigh why they should.

“These educators maintain that cell phones can be leveraged to enhance student collaboration, engagement, and idea-sharing across grade levels and subject areas.”

Cell Phones, Student Rights, and School Safety: Finding the Right Balance
  1. Promoting responsibility and self-control – As adults, most have the ability to not be on their cellphone when they shouldn’t be. We can use cellphones as a teaching tool in the classroom to know when to and when not to use their cellphones. Allowing students a sense of responsibility is positive in terms of future growth, as well as enhancing their social skills and work habits. As educators we can use this as a teaching moment to progress not digress!
  2. Outrage – Within the debate it was pointed out that guardians would be outraged if they could not get ahold of their child while at school. Whereas, looking back 10-15 years ago the guardians would just call the school. Preemptively, schools are avoiding the backlash of banning cellphones in the classroom, additionally schools would be plagued with the outrage of such an effort.
  3. Enhance learning – Cellphones are an integral part of the 21st century, and I strongly believe we should integrate these powerful tools into our planning and preparation. In doing so, students may not feel the need to always be on them (fingers crossed). I encouraged students to use their cellphones as a tool, as previously stated, in ELA to look up synonyms and increase their vocabulary as well as knowledge. Students began to tell me/ask me if they could further their research with their cellphone. If we start allowing cellphones to be a tool, as opposed to a distraction or a negative aspect in our classrooms students tend to not be scared to ask if they can use them. I mean in hindsight they are going to use them whether we say yes or no in some instances, so why not use them to help enhance their learning?

Studies reveal that cell phone use in classrooms have an array of other beneficial effects for young people, including improving motivation, being relevant for future work, supporting pedagogical innovation and greater interactivity in the classroom stated that cell phone use has high potential for students involved in distance learning.

Cell Phones, Student Rights, and School Safety: Finding the Right Balance
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

Final Thoughts

Educating students on ways to use their device properly in class would enhance learning as they have an immaculate amount of knowledge at their fingertips. That being said, I do not believe that self-control is primarily the students fault, as parents are calling and texting students within instructional hours of class time. Additionally, parents like the sense of security they have when they can reach their child at school. For this reason, boundaries are essential when allowing cellphones in the classroom, although cellphones in the classroom puts more work on teachers, as they have to police cellphone misconduct.

Some educators use cellphone hotels with labelled pockets for each student. Katia brought up the idea about student not having a cellphone and their pocket is empty, evidently pointing fingers back to the digital divide and equitability. There are going to be a multitude of hurdles that we face in the classroom with cellphones, regarding distractions, although I believe cellphones have their place in the classroom as well.

Maybe we, as educators, need to foster acceptable cell phone policies within our classrooms.

Debate #2 – Has Technology Made a More Equitable Society??

I have been struggling with this topic after the debate, as some very valid points were shed light on. I repeat the word equitable through my head. Equitable: dealing fairly and equally with all concerned. From one end of the spectrum people with disabilities are given a more equitable education, and then there is a social divide that limits certain students from accessing technology allowing for an unequal chance at education. So where do I sit?? The debaters did such a great job that I feel torn as I see negatives and the positives of both sides of the debate.

Positives Aspects

Individual Needs

From the agree side, teachers are able to help assist students with individual needs closing the gap and allowing every student inclusivity. The technologies mentioned in the debate was assistive technology such as hearing devices, screen readers, and even visual assistive technology. Through various assistive technology it allows people to function more independently and has created more opportunities to further their success.

  • Hearing Impairments: FM Transmitters have allowed students in classroom to hear all the content that is being addressed. We have all been in a noisy classroom, and feeling as though you cannot project your voice loud enough, but now think about students that are hard of hearing with the help of a personal FM station their world just got a little easier!
  • Screen readers: help students that have dyslexia be able to understand the text on the page without struggling for hours to read through the text and maybe then not even grasp the concepts. If there was not this assistive technology students could become discouraged and check out of learning for feeling that they are not the same as others. Technology such as screen readers has promoted equitability in the classroom to learn

Differentiated Instruction

There are various learners so it seems very obvious that we need differentiated instruction in the classroom. The Role of Technology in Reimagining School states, “Technology also makes it easier for teachers to share the work of developing differentiated lessons. If every teacher is teaching two-digit multiplication, one can develop games for skills practice while another creates word problems.”

Technology can assist in allowing all students succeed with various platforms like videos with captions and screen readers to name a few. The struggle lies when teachers do not see these as a learning platform to expand students understanding and knowledge, but use them as a babysitting tool so to speak, as mentioned in the debate. Technology in the classroom is equitable IF all students have equal opportunities to access computers, Ipads, and other platforms that are utilized as an educational tool.

Negative Aspects

Access Gaps

  • Cost of Devices

Technology may further the gap in education, as well as further outcast various students that come from a lower socioeconomic family. Not all technology is affordable for every student that is in our classrooms, and therefore do not have the background knowledge nor the capabilities of technology that we incorporate in our classrooms. Are we promoting a fair, inclusive and equal access to education when families cannot afford these platforms, and there is not enough technology to go around in our classrooms?

“Still many cultural and societal issues when it comes to a fair, inclusive and equal access to education.”

https://edtechnology.co.uk/comments/increasing-access-to-education-is-incremental/

Cost does not allow for equitability regarding access for all, therefore I argue does not lead to a more equitable society.

  • Digital Divide

Over the course of the last few years the digital divide has become more prominent in our educational systems. As schools shifted to an online learning format many students struggled with access to technology as well as internet. How does this affect students’ of lower socioeconomic backgrounds? The disagree side exclaimed that the digital divide promotes a social divide and creates gaps for students that do not have access at the ready for them to utilize. Furthermore, the digital divide is understood and coined in the 1990s by inequality between those that have access verses those that do not have access to technologies.

“Inequality of technological opportunities, in terms of the gap between ‘those who do and those who do not have access to new forms of information technology'”.

s. Ghobadi & z. Gobadi – Behaviour & INformation Technology

The disagree side laid out the inequity gap between high socioeconomic verses lower socioeconomic status regarding access to technology.

High Socioeconomic Status

  • Parental supports
  • More resources
  • Sufficient devices

Low Socioeconomic Status

  • Widening gaps
  • Technological inequity and pandemic
  • Insufficient access to devices

Socioeconomic status widens the gap between the use of technology in the classroom. The pandemic widened this gap further especially for families with multiple children as there were not enough devices for students to engage on. When I taught during the pandemic I heard multiple students exclaim that their sibling was using the computer, and they were on a phone therefore they could not fully engage in a lesson. Adversely, causing further problems when the said student went to work on their homework and realized they had no idea what to do. These students started to fall between the cracks.

Lack of WIFI and technologies affect minorities resulting in students not being able to freely participate in school, adversely being discriminated against and the feeling of defeat when trying to catch up in school work. The article by S. Ghobadi & Z. Gobadi addresses four major ideas when it comes to the digital divide; motivational access material access, skills access, and usage access. Motivational access is to wish to have access to a computer and to be connected to the ICT affected from low income, low levels of education, computer anxiety and lack of time. Ghobadi describes the other three factors with commonalities relating back to income, education, social class, and ethnicity. The word equity still buzzing in the back of my brain – this does not sound equitable in the least for students in our educational systems. I will leave the digital divide topic with the following quote for you to ponder over:

“Their results showed the relationship between digital access divide and digital capability divide (e.g. students without home computers had lower self-efficacy even when they had IT [information technology] access i schools) as well as the relationship between digital capability divide and digital outcome divide (e.g. students with lower self-efficacy had poorer learning outcomes”

S. GHOBADI & Z. GOBADI – BEHAVIOUR & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Concluding Thoughts

I see the divide for many students when it comes to technology in my classroom. Let me tell you why. We have students from all over the division, and some live in rural areas which either do not have internet or have very poor internet. The divide within the classroom for these students is very evident if they struggle with their work and cannot work on it at home, or if the student is sick for an extended time (especially during COVID). These said students started sliding behind with no means to catch up. That being said, this is only a small portion to consider within the realm of technology. I have also seen technology assist students with dyslexia in the classroom with mainly screen readers and speech to text. Furthermore, technology is constantly evolving creating difficulties for families to keep ahead of the everchanging ways of technology.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the debate I voted for disagree, although if I could neither agree nor disagree I would have chosen this option. There are positives and negatives to everything we incorporate into the classroom, and I believe it is important to keep in mind these discrepancies while we engage students in the classroom. This debate has opened my eyes to the gap in education from various socioeconomic status’ that disproportionately have access to technology (whether low end or high end quality), conversely creating a digital divide that questions whether technology has really made a more equitable society.

Debate #2- Technology Has Lead to a More Equitable Society

During this debate, I felt like I was being pulled towards both sides constantly. Originally, I had said that I disagreed with this statement as this is definitely a topic that I have not put much thought into before, especially past the general ideas surrounding access to tech and internet. Both teams presented many greatContinue reading "Debate #2- Technology Has Lead to a More Equitable Society"