Category Archives: equitable

Pear Deck: Test-Driven by a Fangirl

Will reiterating my love for Pear Deck sound like a broken record? I had nearly forgotten this love when Tuesday’s class reignited the spark. Kudos to Group 5!  In my previous life as an Online Learning Consultant, I completed the Pear Deck Institute training to guide divisional implementation in the classroom and online. It was a hit! The aside to that success, however, is that my 2.5 years online prevented me from actually testing it in a physical classroom….until this week. Too often we hear consultants and facilitators label EdTech as “teacher/classroom-friendly” without test-driving it themselves (whoops!); it was past time to take Pear Deck for a spin myself.

Test Subjects and Challenges…or Challenging Test Subjects

The majority of my Grade 7’s are tech gurus with daily “comfortable to seamless” digital classroom implementation. A handful can easily bypass my division’s firewall settings…a fact that both frightens and impresses me. Trialing Pear Deck on them didn’t seem challenging enough. Enter the vastly less tech-confident Grade 5 class at my current school. With the permission of their more-than-happy teacher, I created a science lesson on “Forces” to review with the 5’s.

First Challenge: The Grade 6 and 7 classes at my school are privileged to have 1-1 devices in the classroom. The K-5 classes scrounge for the remains of Chromebook and Dell rejects shunned by the upper grades.

Second Challenge: Tech focus and stamina take practice. Through repeated lessons….and full-out nagging lectures (truth-bomb), my 7’s have mastered the art of staying on-task 95% of the time. This cannot be said for the 5’s, due to their lack of access (see first challenge).

Third Challenge: Typing. Prensky once called my generation (and younger) “digital natives” but the art of typing and not texting appears to have died with the invention of the iPhone. 30 Grade 5’s typing Pear Deck into the browser and then the phonetic log-in code took more time than I want to remember. All the Right Type, why have you forsaken us?

 

Fourth Challenge: Heavy reliance on Smartboard or TV casting for instructor-paced activities. Another truth bomb, the Grade 5 classroom Smartboard is wretched! I would toss it in the garbage for the classroom teacher if I could!

Fifth Challenge: My premium subscription has loooooong since expired, so certain engaging features like LIVE dashboard, draggable, draw, and audio would be unavailable…unless I accessed a new premium trial from the Grade 5 teacher’s account (shhhhh!). Much as I love these features, do I want to shell out an extra $150 for them? Ummm no, I’ve seen current gas prices, thank you!

But Despite These Challenges…A New Fanbase Emerges

After the plethora of challenges on my Pear Deck “test-drive” you’d think the lesson might have been a loss, but the 5’s loved it so much they asked for more! Google Slide presentations for Generation Alpha have become commonplace. We know the drill. The presentation is shown on the glorified projector…I mean Smartboard. Questions are asked. The same 3 kids raise their hands. EVERY. TIME. It was true before Smartboards and Google Slides; it’s still true today. With Pear Deck, the students loved their anonymous ability to interact with the slides and view videos without leaving the Pear Deck (also handy for teachers worried about students staying on task).

Assessment Verdict

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once more, Peardeck is an excellent formative assessment tool. The suggested reading, Section 4: Measuring of Learning, discusses the importance of embedded learning and real-time feedback, components fully provided by deeper-level thinking Pear Deck prompts. 

“Through embedded assessments, educators can see evidence of students’ thinking during the learning process and provide near real-time feedback through learning dashboards so they can take action in the moment.” – (Source

The Pear Deck instructor dashboard allowed me to see the Grade 5’s overall and individual comprehension. From these real-time insights, I was able to adjust my lesson pacing and suggest to the regular classroom teacher possible 1-1 conferencing for struggling students.

“Embedded assessments have the potential to be useful for diagnostic and support purposes in that they provide insights into why students are having difficulties in mastering concepts and provide insights into how to personalize feedback to address these challenges.” – (Source)

Despite my Pear Deck and EdTech fangirling, I hesitate to use the majority of digital tools for summative assessment. Google Slide extensions like Pear Deck or platforms like Mathletics allow teachers to quickly highlight student strengths and struggles, but nothing – in my opinion- trumps the potential for 1-1 student-teacher conferring. Human interaction/dialogue remains the epicentre of my assessment practices.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

 

No EdTech app or assessment method (digital or not) is without flaws. For the sake of not repeating my “challenges” section or the T-Chart Jamboard above, I will instead focus on where Pear Deck falls on the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model, created by Dr. Ruben Puentudura.

Image copyright 2012, Dr. Ruben Puentudura

Does Pear Deck redefine new tasks, “previously inconceivable” or provide significant task modification? No, whiteboards displaying individual student answers could easily accomplish the same tasks. Rather, Pear Deck falls precariously between Augmentation and Substitution. I would argue on the side of Augmentation, as Pear Deck does – in my opinion – provide functional improvements to standard classroom prompts or Google Slides. The draggable, draw, audio, and built-in video options, as well as the teacher dashboard (displaying individual student answers), are welcome additions that provide engaging and interactive lessons. Pear Deck takes Google Slides and makes them functionally better and, dare I say, more fun.

Final Verdict

After 2 and a half years of recommending Pear Deck, I finally took it for a classroom test drive…and I wasn’t disappointed. As far as Google extensions go, Pear Deck is a worthwhile add-on. While it requires a “basic to comfortable” level with technology for students and teachers, Pear Deck can seamlessly be used in the classroom to enhance embedded learning, real-time feedback, formative assessment data, and student engagement. My next test subjects will be my 7’s, a much tougher crowd to please. I’ll keep you posted…

Points to Ponder

  • Digital or not, what do you believe constitutes authentic, best-practice formative and summative assessment methods?
  • Can you think of any digital assessment tools that can be summatively, but not formatively, useful? And vice versa?
  • Do you believe digital assessment tools add more work for teachers or less?
  • Who is left out of the digital assessment narrative? Do online assessment practices generate or alleviate assessment anxiety? Do digital tools cause less savvy teachers to resist technological advancements?
  • What guides your standards for successful technology integration?

 

 

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!

Debate #8: Online education is detrimental to the social and academic development of children.

Online learning is fairly current, and after the pandemic it is becoming more and more common. That being said, there is not a lot of data surrounding the negatives and positives of online learning, and a lot of the resources were pandemic based. The term online education is a broad term, whereas it could mean taking one or two classes (supplementary learning) or fully emerged online. Our group, which was the agree side, took it to be fully online and not in a face-to-face setting using supplementary online learning. Secondly, the term detrimental is a very strong word especially encompassing all children. That being said, online learning can be detrimental to social and academic development of some children.

Hang on tight! I have a LOT to say about this topic.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

 Less social interaction may increase feelings of social anxiety and pressures. For example, teenagers may worry about changes in their friendships as a result of prolonged isolation.

https://highfocuscenters.pyramidhealthcarepa.com/the-effects-of-online-learning-on-a-teens-mental-health/
Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com

Mental health affects students in both online and in person school settings. As being an online teacher I hear testimonies of students shifting to online learning because they are getting bullied in face-to-face school. Some of these students flourish in an online setting, but others have fear of the continued bullying, and hide behind the screen or simply start to vanish. Other students do not have parent support at home and require the supervision of an adult to keep structured boundaries for them, in this case students start to get into bad habits of spending all day in their bedroom, not socializing, and missing synchronous lesson. Ultimately, these students’ grades start to slide to the point of no return. Furthermore, students start to feel overwhelmed, stressed and feel as if they are in a hole they cannot crawl out of as they do not know where to start. I have dealt with a multitude of students that deal with this. Online learning requires skills that not all students possess and this subsequently puts them in an unfortunate position of helplessness. Conversely, some students no longer have the social anxiety they had while they were in person school, and they thrive online as there mental health is better than it has ever been. These thriving students used to be quiet and shy in the back of a classroom, but now have found their voice online and are flourishing. This is so amazing to see and hear about. There are definite positives for online learning given the right structure, positive work habits, parental support and having the right materials they need to be successful.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

As mentioned in the debate it is important to assess students before they fully engage in online learning, as we do not want to set our students up for failure. Parents play a very essential role in online learning. When students are at home all day long by themselves, and required to log onto their meetings independently without good work habits they will not always log in (if ever). That being said, the students that take responsibility and initiative to do their work and attend meetings are cultivating their skills, therefore they will be successful in the online education world and these skills will help them in their future. The parents need to be sure to also pay attention to the students’ marks and attendance, otherwise there is a risk of some falling through the cracks.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Online learning is perfect for students needing the flexibility, especially for busy or traveling families, and students that attend a lot of appointments for health concerns. Other students that need flexibility is for various sports, and online education allows them to travel for sports and maintain their education, for example hockey. Some students get billeted in WCS and play their season out while engaging in asynchronous education, and once they have completed their season they go back to their base schools generally for the second semester.

There are extra supports and activities that are available in face-to-face school that is not available for all students online. Some students that would once have had an EA in face-to-face school struggle to get this support online as well as LST and RTI hours are reduced for all students. There are shop classes and other hand on classes that can be taken in person that are not available online as well as labs that aid in learning. That being said, there are sometimes bridge programs that are allowed, and students can take these classes in addition to electives that are not offered in their own schools. Students are able to take extra curricular classes from the school that they are closest to if they wish.

Before Covid-19 hit, the family of five had been sharing an old laptop and a desktop computer without a camera or a mic—features that didn’t really matter a year ago. Suddenly, two aging devices weren’t enough to get three kids through school.

https://torontolife.com/city/the-miserable-truth-about-online-school/

In some instances, school is a students safe place where they get breakfast/lunch, as well as getting out of their living situations. Not all students have a happy and healthy home-life and this allows students to get out of these toxic atmospheres for a portion of the day. In other instances, students get more time to spend with their parents and feel more comfortable and protected in their own home. The research attests to students being more successful in online learning with affluent families as they may be at home more for support as well as supporting students with their technology needs.

Final Thoughts

Being an online teacher I see the realities of students from all over the division emerging to online learning. For some, this is the last option for students as they are non-attenders and they are hoping that they will find some success. These students tend to vanish, and this is completely heart breaking. My job is incredibly rewarding, as it is a huge success when you get a student to finally pass a class, start to attend class regularly, or make a connection with a student that was completely shut off from the world. I see both sides of the coin and the students that have good work habits and parent support will succeed online, but it is not for every student. The reality is most students leave in person learning to come to online learning for a few main reasons: mental health reasons (mostly anxiety), health needs, sports, and travel. Regarding these reasons online learning has the flexibility to meet everyone’s needs, however it does not always meet students needs academically. I believe that online learning is detrimental to SOME students regarding their social and academic achievement.

The Mindful Grey: EC&I 830 Summary of Learning

Wow, there just are no words. It’s cliche but that first class went by in a flash! Please enjoy my summary of learning. I keep trying to push myself outside of my comfort zones; from podcasts to videos…and now this. Slam poetry! Yes, you read that right, slam poetry…or my attempt at it.

None of this learning would have been possible without you all; so thank you for joining me on this snippet of my journey. Best wishes on your own path.

Wordart by Cloudform Slideshow by Prezi Video by WeVideo Slam Poetry by Moi

Until we meet again…

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.

Tech Equity is as Real as it Gets, and There’s No Way Around it… There’s a Road that’s Been Through Hell, and Tech Equity has Been Down It…

Debate #2: Technology has Led to a More Equitable Society(Week #3: Post #2) Some Initial Thoughts I almost feel a bit pessimistic here lately on the old blog, as again this is a statement that I disagree with. Unlike the other one where if the wording was altered even in[Read more]

Keeping Up with the Edtech Joneses

Part 2: Debate 2:

Poster adaptation of the well-known meme by C. Froehle

Full disclaimer:

I’ve been delaying my response to this debate. More than delaying, I’ve been intentionally avoiding. Our prompt- Technology has led to a more equitable society– hit(s) me differently, on a heart rather than head level. And once the ol’ heart is engaged, emotions and memories pin down my customary objectivity.

Despite being thoroughly vocal (probably too vocal) throughout the debate, I just kept thinking: Should I even have a voice at this table? Having taught at a Following Their Voices, community school for over a decade, my experience with educational equity isn’t minimal, and my current reliance on edtech remains high as an online teacher for 2-plus years. But (and it’s a big one)…as a third-generation white settler, cisgender female who is educated, employed, and housed, how unbiased (or necessary) is my viewpoint on equity…even when well-researched?

Trying to use my voice…

Instagram post, with permission from @theindigenousfoundation

While avoiding this…

Instagram post (2), with permission from @theindigenousfoundation

So we’ll stick to the facts then…(mostly)

PRO Points to Ponder

Even though (spoiler alert!) I pre-voted CON, there’s no disputing the myriad of ways technology is attempting to level the playing field, as so eloquently outlined by Tracy, Nicole and Stephen:

Teacher insight into student individual needs: Whether in-person or online, Canadian classrooms are becoming vastly overcrowded (please tell me this isn’t up for debate). Shy Sandy’s dyscalculia or behaviour Billy’s dyslexia can be easily missed in our sardine-tight classes. In the shared article, The Role of Technology in Reimagining School, authors Amundson and Ko observe: “[T]echnology can give teachers a bird’s-eye view of how students are solving problems. If a student is missing a critical step—forgetting the order of operations in a math problem, for example—the teacher can focus on that content.”

I’m a firm believer that relationships and conferring trump data management, gamification, and standardized anything, but in increasingly busy and crowded classrooms, having further insight into student needs definitely feels like an equitable band-aid.

Image courtesy of educatorstechnology.com
These are a few of my favourite things (and if you sang that like The Sound of Music, we should be friends).

The necessity of differentiated instruction: Further in The Role of Technology in Reimagining School, the authors note that “[t]echnology 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.”

If equity is making sure everyone gets what they need to succeed, then differentiated instruction seems like an obvious must. Reading programs like Raz Kids and Essential Skills provide Katlyn with boredom-free challenging readings, while Abi gets the extra comprehension assistance she needs. When I look back at my own experience receiving the same Grade 7 fraction drill sheets as my brother, despite a 14-year age gap, these differentiated programs seem like a godsend for students and teachers. Of course (as was mentioned during class discussion) the danger lies in teachers viewing these sites as separate sit-and-get “solutions” for students, rather than personally investing time in individual needs.

Inclusivity via assistive technology: One doesn’t have to look far or hard to learn about Canada’s murky past with classroom inclusivity (on a multitude of levels). According to the timeline outlined by BC Disability: “During the 1800s, young persons with special needs were simply excluded from the education system and deemed burdens, often confined to institutions where they festered away in isolation.” It wasn’t until the 1920’s that the idea of equity in education began to take root within Canadian classrooms.

Inclusivity for students with special needs remains imperfect today but assistive technologies can help level the field:

  • Hearing impairments: Technology like personal FM Systems have been game-changers. At the start of my career, I was instructed, “If you have a deaf student in your classroom, try to speak loudly and face them as much as possible.” That was it – that was the strategy! As a partially deaf person for the past 3 years, my advocacy for FM (frequency modulation) systems has increased tenfold. In crowded, noisy classrooms, nothing can feel more isolating and overwhelming than not understanding the “where, what, and who” of every conversation. Something as simple as closed captioning during in-class learning or Zoom meetings makes all the difference for deaf or hard-of-hearing students (like myself).
Closed captioning sign
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack closed captioning
  • Visual Impairments: Classrooms are visually rich places, and visual aids can provide inclusive solutions for students with visual impairments. Something as simple as enlarged text to more advanced tech like video magnifiers and digital text programs. Four years ago I taught a student designated legally blind. With proper funding, he gained access to a video magnifier. It was all he needed to transform from disengaged and “behavioural” to one of the most creative, innovative students I have ever taught!
  • The list goes on…
digital transformation concept in business, disruption
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack

CON Points to Ponder

When our classrooms shut down 2.5 years ago, technology was used to keep educators and students connected. 1:1 laptops sent home and various online platforms were meant to lessen the learning strain; however, as Christina, Amaya, and Matt outlined, technology did not prove to be the great equalizer.

This is the section I’ve been dreading. To remain impartial; stick to the data and studies and avoid soap-boxes and white saviourism.

So if I stick to the facts and the issues proposed, these problematic concerns with equitable technology remain:

Disproportionate access and support: Even the article highlighted on the PRO side, The Role of Technology in Reimagining School, outlines the problematic nature of viewing technology as an equitable solution for all students in all classrooms and homes. Participants in the research group noted that “[h]alf of all respondents rated learning disparities as a significant challenge . . . Disparities that existed before the pandemic were in many cases exacerbated. The shift to remote learning was a blow to many students who were already vulnerable, particularly students of color and low income children and youth.”

While this data has been collected from the States, and we do not yet have any longitudinal studies, I can only speak to what I have experienced – much greater disparities than those highlighted in the aforementioned reading.

When the pandemic hit, my (biological) children’s very well-funded (see: parent committees and fundraisers) school shifted seamlessly online. 98% of students already had access to WIFI, 1:1 laptops/smart devices, printers, and parental support. In comparison, my community school (same town, same school division), bled our laptop supply dry…and then we begged for more. My children’s school had a 96% end-of-year completion rate, with almost 100% daily online presence in all classrooms. Amazing! My community school experienced an 80% drop in online presence; we lost families whose locations remain unknown today. As mentioned in our debate, my school (and others like it) shifted our focus to family mental health and food assistance. It became more important for little Johnny to eat than it was for him to finish Grade 4 math. As an aside: All statistics above are courtesy of the weekly 2020 email updates we received from our school division (not just numbers I randomly cite in my head).

North Battleford Food Bank
Photo Credit: News Optimist

The debate question was raised: Was this a Covid learning gap, which happened in all classrooms and countries? My answer is: This was an inequitable learning situation before, during, and certainly after our pandemic lockdowns. In the aftermath, we now know that technology- at least in our Saskatchewan schools- did not provide equal access to the same learning opportunities. Based on the experiences of EC&I classmates from other parts of the world, equitable access is certainly not a Saskatchewan-based problem either. But I digress…

Global digital divide: My teaching experience and email statistics aside, when looking on a global scale, the disparities remain alarming. In The Global Digital Divide, Khan Academy author, Pamela Fox uses interactive maps and statistics to highlight the remaining inequitable global data. The reasons listed by the author for this broadening gap? Infrastructure (largely based on government funding), geography (some places are more remote than others), difficult terrain, gender identity, and government restrictions (internet black holes, shutdowns, kill switches). Politics alone make it difficult to term technology as equity-driven.

Cost of data (2021) Statistics courtesy of Cable UK, World Bank / Photo credit: Orion Wilcox

Issues with “Big Tech” Companies: A major issue, and one I will be elaborating on in my own debate topic (just felt it was definitely worth noting).

 If not everyone has a seat at the table, can the table be equitable?

My final takeaways? The topic – Technology has led to a more equitable society– is exhaustive! Technology has created equalizing opportunities for a variety of learning styles, needs, and (dis)abilities. I’ve cried listening to a student communicate with me for the first time via assistive tech and basked in the sound of my noisy classroom, courtesy of my new hearing aids. These technological wonders; however, do not come without an (inequitable) price tag; one not everyone can afford. Any assistive tech in my school has required hours of teacher/parent/programming teamwork and advocacy (writing countless grant letters to places like Jordan’s Principle). Without that advocacy, and those “dollah-bills”? No tech to create equal access to learning opportunities. As stated by authors Kelly and Weeden in The Digital Divide Has Become a Chasm: Here’s How We Bridge the Gap: “[D]igital injustices are layered and complex, and reflect the systemic and structural barriers to full participation that have Canada’s disconnected digital policies. 

In short (or actually long…I know this is soooo long), there is work to be done. We cannot be distracted by flashy technology (though I do love it) or small gains in equal access (though some exist). If even one student goes without equitable learning solutions, then the system as a whole is not equitable. Not yet; not without continued awareness and advocacy.

Photo credit: Reader’s Digest