Category Archives: educational enhancer

The never ending Edtech debate: Does technology in the classroom really enhance learning?

Like a boss.
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We’ve all been there.

You booked the computer cart for your class, you’ve got this killer new lesson plan that you’ve been grinding on all week, and best of all, you had enough time to get a Starbucks before work. Grande Vanilla Latte with Skim. The day’s off to a good start (for a Monday).

The bell rings, your class comes in, and for some reason, everyone is doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. Everyone’s sitting at their desk, Johnny seems to be extra chill today, and what a coincidence, your entire class is actually here today! All 28 of them! Not bad. It’s like the stars have aligned or something.

Everything’s set up. The projector’s ready to go, and you switch that computer on. You tested everything out at 8:30 am, so everything’s LITERALLY good to go.

You start your lesson. You’re on fire. The kids are raising their hands, the discussions are smooth and engaging; you really couldn’t ask for more. You start a narrative, you’re setting everything up for the grand finale! You found this incredible Youtube video that’s going to wrap everything up perfectly and absolutely blow everyone’s mind. This is what teaching’s all about. That is, until you go to your laptop and hit play.


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Screen goes blank and a window pops up telling you the greatest thing you would ever want to hear:

“No internet connection”.


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Are you kidding me? It was JUST working! I just did my attendance! How can this be! Hmmm… hold on… maybe if I try to reconnect, that usually works.

Nothing.

Okay, maybe if I stand in the corner of the room, that way my laptop gets better “reception”.

Nope.

C’mon, just work!

Nope.

Maybe if I restart the computer.

“CONFIGURING UPDATES, PLEASE WAIT”

Behold, the worst screen in the world. SOURCE: 4.bp.blogspot.com

Alright computer… you win. I should have known… Mondays are never cool.

Ah Monday… you win.
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Well… by this point, Johnny got up and threw away Anastasia’s lunch in the garbage, and Killian all of a sudden NEEDS to go to the bathroom. The paper planes are flying across the room and you’ve officially lost all the great momentum you had. Just like that.

What do you do? Well, you scrap the video (but it was perfect!), and you try to salvage whatever you had going before this little “hiccup”. Better take an extra sip of that coffee, you’re gonna need it now.

If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, then you’ve obviously never used technology in the classroom. Although this scenario has quick, easy fixes, sometimes we WANT to show that video. Sometimes our entire lesson depends on that one component that’s going to take everything to the next level. Why should my lesson be compromised because of a lousy internet connection?

The problems don’t stop there though. Even if things do run smooth, there’s always another problem waiting around the corner. Teaching grade 4 students how to log onto their profiles may sound easy enough on paper, but try helping 25 students all at once… not so easy anymore. But when these components work, man oh man can you see the difference.

Although tech doesn’t always need to be present, it can make learning experiences incredibly engaging and absolutely captivating. Visual learners can greatly benefit from something as simple as a PowerPoint presentation or a YouTube video. And let’s be honest, many of our students nowadays simply respond better when tech is involved. Research projects are much easier these days because of the Internet. Not to mention, if you use Google Docs (or any online word processor), students cannot use the “my dog ate my homework” excuse anymore.

C’mon, just eat it!
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There’s no question of a doubt that tech in the classroom can enhance learning. I’m actually all for it. But we cannot forget the small (or large) dilemmas that come up when we least expect them. A flimsy Wi-Fi connection can be the bane of your existence, and in a matter of seconds, your class can go from “scary” quiet, to decibel levels exceeding a SLAYER concert. Go figure.

Rock on!
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Then we have even bigger issues that simply can’t go ignored. Cyber-bullying is more common than ever, and to be perfectly honest, it’s going nowhere anytime soon. Technology is also quite distracting, and without clear instructions or expectations, a lesson can plummet straight to the ground if these issues aren’t addressed by the teacher immediately.

This Tuesday marked the first online class I have ever taken. Not only does this class rely on the internet, but the main topic of discussion is Technology in the classroom. As far as me sitting in front of a computer goes, our first class blew my mind! Not only does the class take advantage of the Zoom video conferencing app, it feels exactly like being in a real classroom, providing us with several ways of communicating with each other and participating in class discussions in real-time (via instant messaging and live video and audio feeds). Almost fifty students, coming from all parts of Regina and even other territories, all learning and engaging together in this virtual world. Now THAT’s cool!

This is a perfect example of how tech can be used in a classroom setting, enhancing and diversifying the learning experience. Tech is a classroom tool. Use it wisely, and you’ll be surprised by the amazing things you’ll be able to do with your students.

Our first class focused on this exact topic. Two teams went head-to-head, in a fast-paced debate about whether or not technology enhances learning. After reading both team’s articles and witnessing the debate first hand, here’s my take on the question.
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Technology in the classroom can either go really well, making a big difference in student learning; OR it can go completely awry and transform your classroom into a snapchatting, instagramming, youtubing disaster!

I’ve had some hit or miss situations myself, but with some experience under my belt, I’ve learned when and how to use technology in my classroom. Last year, at the beginning of the school year, I allowed my students to bring in their devices to class. We went through all the ground rules, including when and how to use their devices in the classroom. I was pretty lenient with devices and tech back then. As long as students were “working” and not “distracting” anyone, I was fine with them using their Ipods and their phones. I quickly learned that this wasn’t going to work. Sure, listening to music can help some students stay focused, but I soon started seeing students sitting next to each other, sharing their ear buds and having arguments over what song they were going to listen to next. Alright… lesson learned.

As a legitimate learning tool, I saw that the B.Y.O.D. approach yielded some positive results. Oh, you don’t know a word in French and you don’t have a dictionary? Well, good thing you have this device that has ALL of those things, plus way, WAY more. Sure enough, for the first little while, students used their devices for exactly this purpose (I was even quite impressed at how well it all worked out). Students were asking me permission before pulling their devices out of their backpacks, and would quickly put them away when they were done. But as the year went on, and my guard got lower and lower, Word Reference soon got replaced by the mindless Agario and Youtube. GREAT.

It was just a matter of time that social media started to infiltrate and pollute my classroom. “Mr. A, Jenny just posted a picture of me on Instagram without my permission”. “Mr. Araneda, Howard blocked me off Facebook”, or worse “Mr. A., Johnny keeps calling me a &$%# on SnapChat”. Alright, so no more devices!
Hmm… is that the solution though?

I started this September a little differently this year. Students were allowed to bring devices, but my rules were much more firm and way more limiting. My guard stayed up the whole time and I even collected devices at the beginning of the day, locking them up until we were actually using them in class. This worked, but it put a lot of liability on my shoulders. If someone were to steal these devices, who’s responsible now? Me. Which is ridiculous, and quite honestly, not something I want to even attempt to deal with.

Our school eventually went into a school-wide ban on devices. At this point, I was in full support of this rule. Although I had taught my students how to use their devices (and my students this year did much, much better than last year’s group), many of the issues I experienced the year before, still managed to surface. The only difference was that the students are learning to become a lot more sneaky with their devices.

When we make mistakes like I did, it’s easy to resort to dismissing the value of tech in our classrooms. Abolishing technology in the classroom is a rookie mistake. Yes, there are a million ways students are going to misuse technology, but the answer is definitely NOT to get rid of it. The real answer is using it in moderation, and finding true opportunities where it will fully enhance the learning experience of our students. Truthfully speaking, the weakest link here was ME. You can’t go into your classroom with the assumption that your students are going to use their devices appropriately. Perhaps it’s time that I start looking at technology in a new light.

Think of it this way. If you’re playing an electric guitar without plugging it in, yeah, we’ll get the idea of what you’re trying to play, but it’s just not going to sound that great. Plug that sucker into an amp, and now you can be as loud as you want. In a matter of fact, you can be so loud, that people in a one mile radius are going to hear you. Walls are going to shake and ears might even bleed.

Turn that sucker down why don’t ya, McFly.
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Although I don’t want my students’ ears to bleed per se (well… most times at least), I definitely want them to hear me. I also want to be able to hear THEM! And to an even further extent (the whole point of the tech we have nowadays), why not have OTHERS hear what we’re doing in our class? We have tools that allow us to AMPLIFY and share everything we’re doing in the classroom with people all around the globe. I’m sure once we have people living on Mars, we’ll be able to tweet with them too. How on earth can we discredit THAT? The point of the matter is, tech is definitely a learning enhancer, and in the following section, we’re going to run through some of the great arguments my classmates used in order to defend and dismantle the old debate of whether or not technology enhances learning.

TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM ENHANCES LEARNING.

Agree

S’all good in tha hood
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First off, let’s start with the agreeing side of the debate. In their opening video, they state how technology is a tool that levels the playing field for students with disabilities. Technology can help students with learning difficulties/disabilities to decode and comprehend grade level content through various forms of online teaching tools and software. This point is reinforced through Adebisi, Liman and Longpoe’s article , which discusses the benefits of tech tools for all types of students (both with, or without learning disabilities). By teaching students how to use certain learning tools, not only are we allowing them to reach grade-specific learning goals, but we’re also making school and learning a much more enjoyable experience.

As many of us can attest, students who experience difficulties learning and completing assignments, often suffer in school. Not being able to read at grade level, not being able to write quick enough, or experiencing great difficulty comprehending a text, can leave students discouraged and at risk of either “failing” or worse, eventually withdrawing from school altogether. Discouraged students need their tires pumped, because you know what? They CAN do it, we just need to give them the assistance to get there! Working with students with learning disabilities in my own classrooms, I’ve seen the benefits reading, writing and comprehension apps have had on students. Sometimes using a laptop simply to type out notes or completing classwork assignments makes a world of a difference. Taking that away would not only be illogical (considering the positive effects they can bring), but unfair and quite backwards. We have these tools that can make a world of a difference to some students, why not just use them? Sure, they can be distracting to some students, but if we’re handing computers to our students, we NEED to be keeping an eye on what they’re doing!

Another interesting point made in the opening video is how technology has helped close the educational distance gap between learners who live in remote locations. Using apps such as Zoom and Skype can allow people from all corners of the world to participate in discussions and attend classes in different countries. Not only that, but online tools such as Google Docs or classroom blogs such as Edublogs or even Word Press , can allow students who are often pulled out of class (due to advanced sports or arts programs), to stay connected and continue being part of the class. Blogging tools can also serve as a very useful organizational and collaborative tool not only for students, but also for parents who would like to know what their kids are doing in class. Again, the dog eating your homework excuse is almost useless nowadays. Maybe updating the excuse bank to 2016’s standards is something kids need to work on now (just kidding).

There are many other ways edtech is very useful, including Sheringer’s take on how open-source technology can personalize learning and improve overall comprehension, collaboration and assessment in the classroom.

Greg Toppo’s TED Talk is definitely worth a watch as he discusses how technology not only has constantly evolved throughout human history, but has also caused some sort of controversy in the field of education. The point of his argument is that technology in the classroom has always been questioned, contested and heavily opposed. Whether we’re talking about paper, chalk, or the latest Iphone, scholars have and always will find an argument against the use of tech.

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Disagree

Maybe you should get a new computer…
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This side of the argument is interesting because most of us have experienced a lot of the downfalls and difficulties technology has in a classroom setting. For one, many of the articles and arguments brought up the fact that devices are a huge distraction to learning. Cell phones are filled with distractions such as games, social media, music and videos. In the Maclean’s article, we learn that technology surveillance is not as easy as it sounds. Keeping track of what our students are doing on laptops (or even worse, their phones), when you’ve got 20+ students is simply impossible. Although we live in an age where technology is only going to continue developing, these are issues that are becoming more and more common as more and more students acquire these tools. Even looking back five years ago, most elementary school students did not have cell phones at all. Fast forward to today, and most grade 2 students have an Iphone. This is a reality that we need to address, and although the article does mention the benefits technology can have in the classroom, we cannot move forward until we start teaching our students when and how to use it.

Studies have shown, including this one , that computer use doesn’t actually improve student test scores. In a matter of fact, countries where students spent less time behind a screen were actually performing much better than students who used computers on a daily basis. As most schools are increasingly spending more and more funds on technology, we need to make sure that this money is getting used correctly. As most teachers will tell you, technology is useless unless you take the time to learn how to use it (take this article for example). This isn’t just you knowing how to set up a projector, a blog, or how to run a program. It’s actually knowing when to use the tech, how to integrate it into a lesson creatively, teaching our students how to use it and showing them ways to maximize the possibilities of this technology. Technology shouldn’t be a crutch, it should be a pair of wings (okay, that was sort of lame, but you get the point).

Again, that money our school boards are spending on new equipment is useless if we’re not spending equally as much money on Professional Development and training. I’ve seen a million cool ways that we can use a SmartBoard (Incredible historical games, mind-blowing math lessons and interactive lesson plans just to name a few), but I have NO CLUE how I can do those things on my own. This P.D. thing isn’t just something I’m pulling out of nowhere, we really do have to train teachers to use this technology (I know this because I’m one of those teachers!)

CONCLUSION: TECHNOLOGY, THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

Although I’ve experienced my fair share of difficulties integrating technology in the classroom, I will never deny the benefits it has on teaching and learning. The times technology has worked in my favor have been incredible pedagogical experiences where my students and I have both flourished to new heights.

I’m slowly learning from my mistakes, and as time goes on, I know that I will learn new ways to integrate technology in my classroom effectively, creatively, and hopefully in the coolest ways possible.

Here’s a list of some of the points and personal reflections, realizations and conclusions that have resonated the most with me after reading and hearing this awesome debate:

– First of all, technology and students need to be monitored. Letting our students run amok on their computers isn’t going to do any of us any favors. Set some serious ground rules when working with tech and show your students how YOU want them to use the technology. Handing them a laptop with zero guidelines will almost always result in some sort of horseplay. Allowing students to bring their cellphones can be a great way of integrating their own tech as a personal learning tool, but when these tools also have the latest Beyonce album, Instagram, and wacky Donald Trump videos, you can’t expect those kids to stay on task.

– Second, using tech has its place in the classroom, but you need to know when to apply it. Moderation is key, and anytime you’re going to use it, it should have a specific purpose. There’s a time and place for everything, including the tools that we use. Which leads me to the next point…

– Learn HOW to use the technology that we have at our fingertips. Sure, I can have the latest Virtual Reality equipment, but if I don’t even know how to turn it on, what’s the point? It doesn’t stop there though! You might know how to actually use the technology, but be open to new ideas on how to apply it and how to integrate it into the classroom (this is where collaboration can do some serious wonders). If you’re only going to be using your SmartBoard to show Bill Nye the Science Guy videos off of YouTube, you’re not really doing the SmartBoard any justice.

– Identify the needs of your students. We have so many types of learners in our classrooms. Some experience difficulties with comprehension, whereas some need assistance with typing or reading. Some students are visual learners, and some respond better to the idea of technology. We have these tools that actually help students with learning difficulties and disabilities. Use this to your advantage. As much of a distraction some tech can be, it does in fact have its practical uses. We need to arm students with the tools to succeed. Sometimes these tools are more than what we perceive them to be.

I can go on forever, but at the end of the day, I see the value of technology in the classroom as an asset and a step forward towards the future. Whereas I saw the birth of the internet and social media, the new generations are being born right into this golden age of technology. There is no “hey remember when we used to have to call each other on land phones to hang out?”, so why force our kids to think that way? This is the future, so as educators, we need to just get with it already!

MY final words.

Technology absolutely enhances learning, but be sure to know that it also brings some of the biggest distractions we’ve ever had to deal with in the classroom in the entire history of learning. As long as you keep these things in mind, technology can help your classroom grow in all sorts of directions you never thought possible.

Thanks for reading everyone!

Dre