Does Technology Enhance Student Learning?

As per my first blog post, I cannot live without technology; I utilize it for just about everything. As for technology in the classroom and whether it is enhancing students’ learning, I am caught on the fence about whether I truly believe it is enhancing student learning.

Yes, I believe that technology improves access to information and efficiency in communication and grading, but is all of this “education” really helping students to acquire the skills, knowledge and understanding they need?

What Students Think

MS Forms Results, May 12-13, 2022
Forms Submission May 12, 2022

In preparation for this debate I had the idea to poll my grade 10-12 students (yes, using technology – MS Forms) about their views on technology in the classroom and whether it was enhancing their learning. I only had 24 students respond (that’s what I get for making an “optional” assignment…), BUT of those 24, there were many that said that technology does enhance their learning! Many said that access to the internet and Google were advantages, along with visuals for better understanding. Many also answered “both”, that technology both enhances and hinders their learning, with the most prevalent reason being that technology is a distraction (10 students!). 

Distraction

Forms Submission May 12, 2022

This idea that technology is a distraction is mentioned in just about every source on technology use. In his Ted Talk, Richard Chambers (2017), states that people are checking their phones over 150 times a day, that these distractions and redoing of tasks are making us less effective learners and producers. In another Ted Talk, (from the pro side), Jason Brown (2016), speaks about students “drifting away” by their cell phones, which takes away from valuable learning time. 

Moving Forward

This debate could not have come at a better time, call it serendipity! At this moment I am witnessing my love for technology integration in the classroom clash with misuse of technology in the classroom. When I read Strauss’s (2014) article on Clay Shirky, I could not believe what I saw! Shirky’s comments on how he used to have a “laissez-faire” attitude about technology in the classroom, is exactly my attitude and policy at the moment. But as this school year comes to an end, I am debating whether I will follow in Shirky’s footsteps and ban technology in the classroom all together or follow Michael Brouet’s advice and have my students put away their phones – physically away from them – when teaching a specific skill. I do have phone “pockets” in my classroom that I currently just use for quizzes and exams.

Again, I asked my students what they thought about when teachers completely ban technology from the classroom. Many groaned, some stated that they needed their phone for music to calm anxiety, and others insisted that even without their phones they would become distracted and zone out. But, this again brings me back to the Shirky article, where he speaks about “coming to see student focus as a collaborative process”, where my role should be to help students focus on a single task. To start and finish a lesson, assignment, or lab without distractions. And I think I can enhance their learning (and retention?!?) by requiring each student to shelf their device, unless the assignment requires it. 

ES 20 Students Pond Dipping!

I am also reminded of my gained knowledge from past graduate classes on culturally responsive pedagogy and Indigenous Education. What does education for all look like? How can teachers create environments for the best learning? In Fall 2021, I took a class with Jeff Cappo, the Indigenous Coordinator for Regina Public Schools. His work around land-based education is incredible and something that I strive for. Is it serendipitous that he posted this just a couple of days after our debate? I think so!

Questions Moving Forward

  1. More for middle/high school years – What is your classroom cell phone policy? And why?
  2. Does your school have a “bring your own device” policy? What does it look like?

Torn

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Debate #1

My feelings on technology in the classroom have always been that it is dependent on the teacher and how it is used. Within the walls of a school students can be guided and assigned technology that has been shown to engage students, not to mention the benefits of assistive technology that was mentioned during the debate and our discussion. McKnight, et al, (2016) found in their study that educators could use technology to have “individualized learning” for students while working on the same assignment. Not to mention giving more power to students to build on their ability to find and use more resources and guide their own learning (McKnight, et al, 2016, p.205).

During the pandemic we were forced to do distance learning exclusively through technology. This meant students did not have the face to face support of a teacher to guide them and provide suitable technology and digital resources.  While I understand this works for some, I found a majority of my students suffered from the lack of support and increased independence that they were not all ready for. As disagree mentioned the connections online were not as well constructed as those developed within a physical classroom.  There was also the issue of limited access.  Some of my students were in five children households with one laptop.  It was not possible for everyone to access their online classes at the same time.  Alhumaid (2019) mentions this and how possession (or lack) of technology enhances the differences between higher and lower socioeconomic students.

The one thing I did find students benefited from was self-pacing.  As Emma Cullen (2020) noted, a physical classroom goes at one pace and some students get left behind or become bored. Online learning meant that students could decide when they work and how quickly.  Unfortunately for some, this became a huge battle with procrastination.

Returning to my original point, technology can enhance learning, but exclusively relying on it can hinder it. At a time when we are trying to cut back on screen time, over use of digital technology can impede on those efforts (Strom, 2021). I still feel that technology can augment learning; however it is up to the educator to use it effectively, not as a blanket solution. As agree said, we are preparing students for the future, and like it or not the future is technology.

Debate #2

This was a challenging debate to watch as my heart was tugged between both sides. I have seen how effective technology can be at allowing a student who would be separated or ostracized from their peers, be brought into the group through the support of technology. Agree brought this up, mentioning mobility aids, hearing and vision assistance and communication enhancements.

Amundson and Ko (2021) discusses how technology can analyze a students work and point out areas of concern that a teacher might over look. Edsby will highlight concerns when an assignment does not meet a student’s typical results.

I was encouraged with agree’s comments on how the increase in technology seems to be related to the increase in literacy levels as online learning can be accessed by isolated communities. Global education is an interesting if not challenging concept.  As it increases (Jenner, 2021), it is important to consider what was mentioned in the discussion that we view much of this through a North American perspective.  Who is controlling the technology and how are they using it to influence the students?

During any dialogues like this I always have to remind myself that I come from a place of great privilege, and I may overlook drawbacks of any number of things.  I have had access to a computer since grade 8 and as a result did not fall into the divides mentioned by Shala Ghobadi and Zahra Ghobadi (2012). Disagree’s concept of technology actually widening the divide between different socioeconomic statuses was an interesting concept.  Lack of access at home can result in comparatively lower results to students who have regular and supported access.

Weeden and Kelley (2021) focus on the lack of digital equality due to rural and isolated communities’ limited or non-existent access to the internet.  As Disagree mentioned (and I referenced above) the lack of sufficient devices also can cause a gap between higher and lower socioeconomic status students. This is something I experienced prior to the pandemic.

I worked for two years in a fly in community where the internet was slower than dial-up, as a result we could not use YouTube or any streaming services. When the cell towers went down, communication was further limited.  Most students did not have a computer at home, although many had some access to a smart device (with limited connection to the internet).  Even at school there were no computers beyond a large teacher desktop.  In this situation the gap seemed less prominent because everyone fell within the lower socioeconomic side.

However that did not mean we were completely cut off from technology.  A number of classes had smart-boards and files and resources were passed along with a USB.  While this was limited it did provide a great deal of resources that would not have been available.  Remove technology and we were stuck with two textbooks and whatever we had recently gained from teacher’s college.

This is where I end up conflicted.  Technology did provide more resources, but compared to other communities we were greatly lacking. So I’m left with the question, do the benefits of technology outweigh the draw backs? Is it better that we provide access to technology in school when we know our students do not have access at home?  As with most things I feel a compromise is in order.  Teaching our students how to use technology prepares them for a world they will interact with, however expecting them have access to this technology beyond our classrooms is unfair.  It can set up unrealistic expectations.  Hopefully being aware of this and showing students how to succeed with and without technology will provide some balance to an increasingly complicated world

Mindful Tech, the Only Way Forward

Part 1: Debate 1

DING DING DING! It’s Monday night and the first round of our debates is in full swing. In the PRO corner stands an impressively well-versed Megan and Brittney; in the CON corner, the intimidatingly well-researched Nicole and Daryl. The match in question? Technology in the classroom enhances learning. All my money is betting on the PRO side.

Okay, okay, I’m no Michael Buffer (wait, did I just drastically age myself?). I’ll cut to the point: Before this debate, I was solely on the PRO side. As an online teacher for almost 3 years, how could I place my bets any other way? The vast majority of our class pre-voted PRO. In a world where education had to flip on a dime to embrace technology, there should be a clear winner…..or, maybe not?

3D boxer arena. Isolated empty boxing ring with light. 3D rendering. Boxing ring with illuminated spotlights
Photo Credit: Adobe StockPack

PRO Points to Ponder

Megan and Brittney did an amazing job neatly outlining key advantages of technology in the classroom:

Access to information and resources: A plethora of our textbooks are ridiculously priced while comically outdated. And with time, our colonizer roots show brightly against the backdrop of historical inaccuracies. Online updated information has a clear advantage in staying current when it’s well-sourced. Arguably, both the outdated textbooks and the (sometimes questionably sourced) online resources provide teachable moments in classrooms. Teachers, however, have to be trained and ready for those moments when they come….and they always do!

Increases engagement and skills for success: Hands-on, interactive content is available for the next generation of learners via 1:1 laptops, Smart and Promethean boards, VR, 3D printers, gamifying, coding, robotics, the list is ever-growing.  Of course, that’s IF your school has the funding for such things (a point I’ll get to….eventually in Part 2).

A teenage boy programs a copter drone on a scratch. STEM education. Modern technology and gadgets.
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack

Promotes collaboration and communication: Watching students enthusiastically collaborate while coding instructions for their battle-bots remains a career highlight for me. Without clear collaboration and communication, their bots lose…repeatedly. It’s a resilient mindset of lose, learn, lose, learn, win (maybe)!

Restructures teacher time: In the article Teaching in a Digital Age: How Educators Use Technology to Improve Student Learning, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, the researchers note: “When students ask questions, rather than providing answers, [teachers] now guide them to find and identify relevant information, and to evaluate the quality and validity of that information. For students, the shift was toward active, deeper learning, which aligned well with skills students need to be successful in college and the workplace.” Honestly, who can say it better than that?

Adaptations/accommodations: Who knows more about adaptations than students and educators these past few years? How would we have navigated learning in a pandemic without technology? Paper packages sent home (printed on photocopiers….cough, cough, technology!) and occasional teacher-student phone calls (old tech, but still tech). Not to mention, assistive technologies provide a host of accommodations for diverse learning styles and abilities, as well as visual and hearing impairments…..I could go on…

little boy during the hearing exam, showing thumbs up at the audiologist's office. audiogram, children ear exam
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack

CON Points to Ponder

Again, you’ll think I bet all my money on PRO, but Daryl and Nicole brought up many clear issues I have battled over the course of my (almost) 3-year online career:

Connections are artificial: Personally, I would argue that the relationships I have built with my online students, and students with each other, are anything but artificial.  As I sit in my lonely corner office and my isolated students in their homes, our relationships seem like lifelines to a greater world. It is worth noting, however, that these online relationships are mindfully and meaningfully tended. As mentioned by Nicole and Daryl, student presence on social media accounts can often be interpreted as surface-level and disingenuous.

Portrait of a sad girl with a smartphone in one hand and a smiling mask in the other hand.
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack

Erodes social skills and relationships: First off, there’s a lot of experience in the “Zoom-room” during these debates. Despite logistical and career differences amongst our class, there seemed a general consensus that student social skills, particularly face-to-face interactions, are increasingly….aaaawkward! From behind our masks and screens, have we forgotten how to interact? After some deep-diving (using tech, of course), there’s a surprising lack of longitudinal data to back up the idea that screen-time equals social incompetencies. I shouldn’t say, however, that initial studies have been favourable. Calgary psychologist Sheri Madigan, PhD, tested over 24000 mothers/infants and “found that more time per week spent on screens at ages 24 months and 36 months was linked with poorer performance on screening tests for behavioral, cognitive and social development at 36 months” (JAMA Pediatrics, Vol. 173, No. 3, 2019). Speaking of which…

5G Technology for Families concept.Everyone sitting in sofa and using digital devices in living room.Big family grandmother grandfather and kids spending time together at home.
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack

Pulls students away from the outside world: My comments here are purely anecdotal, but I cannot abide by family meal times centering on……screens! Mom texting, dad on an “important” call, and the kidlets, tweens, and teens distracted by their tablets and apps. If that’s the focus at home, what takes precedence at school? Unless educational technology is used mindfully in the classroom, and just as mindfully stored away, will the habitual hit of dop(amine) screen time always beckon our students to their digital world? And what is the “real world” anymore, anyway? These are the questions that keep me up at night (and your insights are most welcome)!

Tech is connected to a plethora of other health, mental and emotional issues: Obesity, sleep issues, anxiety/depression, socioeconomic disparities, limited attention spans….each one of these concerns is worthy of its own post (and does, in fact, take centre-stage in millions of research papers, books, podcasts…you get the idea). All signs point me to one main takeaway from this debate…

In the world of edtech, there are no clear winners; only shades of grey

Yes, I voted in favour of educational technology in the pre-vote, and yes, I’m part of that EC&I fraction who changed my opinion in the post-vote. GASP! I was shocked too! That’s not to say I think there were any clear winners, or the necessity for “winners”, in this debate. Like so many other things, the use of technology in the classroom requires objective consideration, and objectivity largely falls into life’s grey matter. On one hand, technological advancements will continue to take precedence in our classrooms and open up new worlds of engaged learning. On the other hand, technology poses an increasing threat to social, emotional and physical threats when used improperly. Two sides of the same coin. We cannot include technology in our classrooms for its own sake. Instead it must be used mindfully as a tool (amongst many), with clear purpose and training. Only through mindful use of technology will we be able to move forward with our students.

“[I]t’s … the instructional methods that cause learning. When instructional methods
remain essentially the same, so does the learning, no matter which medium is used to deliver
instruction.” (p.14)

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

There was so much food for thought in these debates, please let me know your main takeaways. Were you PRO, CON, or happily sitting on the fence (munching popcorn) like me?

Stay tuned for Part 2/Debate 2:

Keeping up with the Edtech Joneses…

A Sleepless Monday Night

This week, my colleagues and I were tasked with debate whether or not technology has led to a more equitable society. I found myself on the side I didn’t initially want to argue, which I’m sure won’t be unique to me. Interestingly, once we had put our argument together, I believed in our points and really wanted the class to see it our way. Christina, Amaya, and Matt argued that technology has not created equity, while Stephen, Tracy and myself argued that it has. Both teams presented thoughtful points, and I didn’t sleep a wink on Monday night as I stressed over the few students we won over and what I wished I had said differently.

Image by Julia Cameron on Pexels.com

My team highlighted that assistive technology (AT) has created more equitable opportunities for differently-abled people to access and participate in education, the workforce, and society (watch Kymberly DeLoatche’s TED Talk on AT here). We also highlighted that global education and literacy rates have exponentially increased over the past two decades thanks to increased access, led by technology. We shared the ways that technology can improve access to education in rural locations, provide educators improved access to up-to-date resources, and that not all technology relies on the internet. Lastly, we shared evidence that significant gaps in student achievement existed before the introduction of technology in education, and emphasized that technology is not to blame for the digital divide, but that societal inequities, money, and internet accessibility challenges need to be addressed to allow equal access to technology because it can promote increased personalized learning, effectively reduce disparities in student learning, and improve overall quality of life.

Image by Rodnae Productions on Pexels.com

The disagree side noted that access to technology and internet is not equal, with marginalized populations being less likely to have access in their homes. This is well established in literature to widen the achievement gap, and has been coined the ‘digital divide.’ They observed that the pandemic exacerbated this issue. They also highlighted that schools lack the funding to solve this problem; providing access to all students would be financially unsustainable (not to mention the administrative hassle). The group also strongly opposed social media, citing that personal data is constantly being harvested, that algorithmic informational control creates biases, that social media is addictive, and that it is creating reduced attention spans in learners. They also remarked that not all technologies are accessible to people with disabilities, and that overuse of technology can be detrimental for students, such as those with ADHD.

Whew! Do you see the valid points on both sides? Now do you get why I couldn’t sleep Monday night?

After a sleepless night, and some self-reflection about why the debate was so difficult, I’m choosing to look at the valuable learning from both sides of the argument. While I don’t believe that technology has created a fair and just world, I do believe that it creates equity where enabled to. There is no denying that societal inequities exist, and that we have inadequate internet infrastructure and public policy surrounding technology access that has allowed the digital divide to endure. We all have responsibility to influence progress towards a world where technology is accessible to all and can empower everyone with improved equity in education, and improved quality of life.

Now that I’ve got this off my chest, I think I’ll try to catch up from my sleepless night by taking a nap.

Image by Anna Nekrashevich on Pexels.com

Technology Enhances Learning, or Does it?

As an administrator in Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Simulation Centre – a centre filled with advanced technology used to simulate health care patient experiences – I philosophically believe that technology can enhance learning when effectively integrated into the teaching and learning process.

Image by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

This week, my colleagues were asked to debate whether or not technology enhances learning. Megan and Brittney argued that it does, while Daryl and Nicole argued that it doesn’t. Both teams presented thoughtful points and resources. Here are my musings about it:

Technology has improved access to information, provided us new tools for student collaboration, and can enhance a lesson plan.  But in order to be effective, teachers must incorporate it meaningfully.  This may look different in different contexts (for example, students in different socioeconomic groups may have varied levels of familiarity with technology), and educators are responsible to select appropriate technologies and implement them effectively into their teaching. This means that schoolboards should be offering valuable, ongoing professional development opportunities on the implementation of technologies in the classroom.

As we heard in the class debate (and read about in McCoy’s article), personal technologies can be a classroom disruption. We are all inundated with notifications on our personal devices. A cell phone or personal device can easily go from a learning tool to a distraction, thus the school and teacher have a responsibility to establish rules and expectations about personal devices. If students are distracted by them, isn’t it time to enforce those rules? i.e. take away the device in order to teach them to use tech responsibly. How do y’all manage this in your classrooms?

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Another valid point discussed was that increased interaction with technology has caused a decrease in connections among students and their peers, and between students and their teachers. There is no doubt that technology is addictive and is correlated to increased mental health disorders in young people (have you seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix? It’s scary! It talks about how algorithmic technology is designed to cause addiction, and ponders the societal consequences of the resulting orchestrated information feed. It’s worth seeing and will absolutely have you second-guessing your use of social media). But the reality is our children are growing up in a technology-filled world, and our schools should engage students with responsible, innovative technology use (hear Jason Brown talk about it, here), and help them develop the necessary insight to critique online content, and the composure to use social technology wisely.

There are inequities related to technology in our communities, societies, and in the broader world.  However, technology is none-the-less a powerful tool that can enable access to a wider range of up-to-date learning resources, and support a richer learning experience (McKnight et. Al, 2016). Teachers and schools should be working to implement it at appropriate levels to harness it’s ability to enhance learning.

Has tech made the world more equitable?

Round two of our ECI 830 class debates was about technology making society more equitable. The groups did a really great job of presenting their cases and having quality discussions about technology’s societal impact.

The groups discussed that educational technology may in fact lead to a digital divide in society but also that technology may be the solution to the achievement gap between rich and poor students.

Here is a great video that was presented by the agree side for this debate:

Truthfully, I believe technology has the ability to bridge the gap, but I do not think it has, yet. I love these ECI83_ classes because there is an emphasis on quality information that is not necessarily scholarly. Open access to educational resources means that education is not solely held in the hands of the rich anymore. It creates a vacuum for misinformation, but critical thought and educating students on investigating their information goes a long way.

We saw during the pandemic that access to wifi and devices caused a large gap in under-privileged students’ learning. Simply offering students a device did not mean they would have access if wifi or data was not available to them. In a perfect world, if we could solve those connectivity issues, I think technology could create a more equitable society.

If we look at this topic from a global perspective, technology is not equal in all parts of the world. What we consider to be technology at home could be completely different than what other youths around the world consider technology advancements. If we gave every student in the world a tablet, it does not mean that they would be able to use it properly, have access to the internet, or enhance their education. This is a global question that is very difficult to answer, globally (if that makes sense).

This is a very complex discuss and I think the debate groups did a great job of breaking down and reconstructing their arguments in a way that was thought-provoking and authentic. Well done!

Let me know if you have any thoughts or criticisms! There is no one right answer, so I would love to hear your thoughts!

-Dalton

The Great EdTech Debate – Round 1 & 2!

This has been an ongoing, internal issue I have been struggling with for the last few years… Does tech enhance learning in the classroom? Somedays I think it does, and some other days I want to SMAAAAAAASH every piece of technology in my sight! 


But to answer the question honestly, I think if technology is implemented properly and used effectively, with a distinct purpose (not just to say you use it) can enhance learning.  Technology is an entity that has a firm grip on society, with new gadgets and apps being introduced daily, with no signs of slowing down or going away. Being a teacher in the 21st Century, I find it difficult to imagine not having to use some sort of technology in our teaching practices.  With that said, you must know as an educator, well ahead of time, what sort of technology you will be using, what is the purpose of using it and how is it going to be properly utilized in your classrooms.

Both of these debate topics this week go hand in hand.  Technology does not enhance learning if students do not have equal access to it.   Does technology enhance learning for those who do not have access to a device or bandwidth outside of school? Or the means to afford a device in the first place?  Or the skills or capabilities to engage with the technology?  I have a hard time deciding which side of the fence I stand on.  In some instances it has created more equity and others it has created an even larger inequity gap.  With that said, I wish there was a “AGREE & DISAGREE” option to select during our pre/post votes! 

To ensure that technology enhances learning and that there is equitable access for all students in our classrooms, teachers need to do some significant planning and understand who is in their classroom.  Teachers must understand that technology must serve a purpose in their classroom.  This can be accomplished by working through the SAMR model identifying the validity of the technology they want to use.  Teachers also need to understand their student demographics, learning styles, and access to technology and all its components.

SAMR Model

During EC&I 834 last semester, we were tasked with reviewing an EdTech app – I chose Quizlet.  The article Online Tools for Teaching & Learning outlines how Quizlet fits into the SAMR model of technology integration in classrooms; although this article specifically outlines Quizlet, it is applicable to ALL technology and apps  integrated into our classrooms as an outline of what teachers must do before they bring new tech tools into their classrooms.  The main point that this article outlines is that before integration or implementation of new tech into the classroom, educators need to work through the SAMR model as a way of identifying the feasibility of implementing the new piece of tech.  SAMR stands for: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition.  Technology must fit into this model prior to being implemented.

8 Examples of Transforming Lessons Through the SAMR Cycle | Emerging  Education Technologies

Student Demographics and Learning Styles

Not all students are the same, everyone has different learning styles, needs, adaptations, and already present tech savviness that will allow them to be successful in their own way. As teachers it is certainly a challenging job to ensure that all needs are being met. When designing a course it is difficult to plan for every consideration, however it is likely reasonable to plan for those that we are aware of will occur in our learning spaces. Before embarking on integrating technology into our classrooms, it is incredibly valuable to know more about the students that will be in your learning space. When you know what and who you are dealing with it is much easier to be more prepared. As Bates outlines in Chapter 9.2.1, student demographics, learning style and accessibility are crucial pieces of information that teachers need to understand to be able to know exactly who is in their classrooms. 

Demographic information is very valuable when designing a class and integrating technology, when you as a teacher are trying to decide what type of technology to use or not. For example if there are EAL, LRT, Hard of Hearing or Blind students in your class you would work towards making the technology fit all needs. In some scenarios you might need to make worksheets that are adjusted reading levels, you might need to ensure that you have access to google read and write, there might be a need to develop slides that are easily read by a reader. It would be best practice to develop these based on the needs of the students and not use an incredible amount of your time prepping for possible situations that may not occur. Through the use of student demographic sheets teachers should take a comprehensive inventory of any disabilities or learning needs that students might require. This will allow teachers to plan accordingly and support students in the best that they can. 

Student Accessibility

Along with the SAMR model, student demographics and understanding learning styles of students,  teachers must understand how much access their students have to technology, both in the classroom as well as when they are at home.  This is an important aspect to consider, especially if you are expecting students to be engaging with their school work outside the walls of the school.


Accessibility is an aspect that teachers must be aware of when they are designing their course work and use of technology in their classroom. This works very closely with student demographics and most often, teachers will be able to identify students’ access to technology, media or bandwidth by understanding their student demographic which makes up their classroom. Bates again outlines in Chapter 9.2.1 two sets of questions that teachers need to answer before finalizing a course. The first set of questions surrounds the teacher’s use of technology for the purpose of teaching.

The second set of questions outlined by Bates, surrounds the expectations if students are to supply their own devices.

Bates goes on to further outline that for both teachers and students to answer these questions, teachers must be clear with why and how they intend to use technology. There is no point in requiring students to provide their own technology if you are uncertain if you will in fact be utilizing it in your class. This requires some more foreplanning by the teacher to ensure that there is not an unwarranted expense to the student families. Teachers must answer the following when making concrete decisions surrounding technology or media in their class.

Technology Integration Capabilities

McKnight et al. outlines in the article Teaching in a Digital Age, the 5 ways in which technology can play a vital role in enhancing student learning.  There are 5 roles technology plays outlined: 

  1. Technology improves access  – Technology has the ability to increase the access to up to date and relevant learning resources for students and teachers.
  2. Technology improves feedback and communication – technology has the capabilities to streamline feedback and assessment with students and communication with parents.  Many classrooms enlist the aid of a communication app, where they are able to keep families informed of what is happening and upcoming at school
  3. Technology restructures teacher time –  implementation of technology has affected the daily normal tasks of teachers.  They are spending less time directly instructing students and more time facilitating tasks online.
  4. Technology extends purpose and audience for student work – students are able to extend the purpose and audience of their work through the use of technology.  They are able to actively find and guide their own learning that can be shared widely outside the classroom walls.
  5. Technology shifts teacher and student roles – with the increased exposure to multiple resources, technology has decreased the student reliance on the teacher where students can take more ownership into the direction of their learning.

The Digital Divide

With the continual advancements and increased prices of technology, the result has been an inequity gap that continues to widen.  There are and will continue to be individuals who will never be able to reap the benefits of the always advancing technological world, which falls out of their control.  The digital divide is nothing new and has been something that has been warned about since the 1980’s.  These gaps became abundantly clear during March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began.  Ashleigh Weeden and Wayne Kelly outline in their article “The Digital Divide Has Become a Chasm: Here’s how to Bridge the Gap”, that despite the decades of warnings by communities and researchers, our societies were woefully under prepared for the pivot to online learning, working, socializing that was a result of the pandemic.  They go on further to outline that the best time to invest in the digital infrastructure required to bridge these gaps was a decade or two ago.  Weeden and Kelly dictate that the gap between policy makers and productive action improving digital framework is as deep as the urban/rural digital divide itself.  

“Canada will not realize its full potential until rural communities are fully included in the process of identifying and responding to our most pressing social and economic challenges, including digital policy”, outlined Weeden and Kelly.  They go on further to mention that the need to get digital policy right is of utmost importance – this includes not only broadband infrastructure, but also being able to have citizens improve their digital skills.  According to Weeden and Kelly, “Ensuring everyone has access to high-quality, affordable, high-speed broadband internet is a matter of equity.  It’s time to get this done!” The digital divide does not just affect one aspect of a person’s life – it affects their educational, social, and work lives immensely.  

As we continue to learn and develop our awareness of tech integration and where and how it fits in our classrooms, it becomes obvious that it is complicated. There are numerous aspects to consider and there is no real perfect method. One of the key concepts that we continue to think about is that technology integration requires teachers to be “flexible” in order to help students succeed. Although complicated, Bates outlines that teaching and learning with technology can provide more opportunities to learn while at the same time accommodating differences more easily. With that being said, it becomes abundantly clear  that the first step a teacher needs to take with incorporating technology is to know their students, the similarities, the differences, what digital skills they possess and what kind of access to technology is available to them. 

If implemented properly and effectively utilized, technology can play a significant role in enhancing students’ learning and help correct the equity gaps in students’ lives. I believe that if technology is implemented with great care and preparation, it indeed enhances the learning of students.  I do also believe that this implementation process will come with headaches and hiccups while we navigate the trial and error in our classrooms.  Implementing technology cannot be effective if the teacher decides to implement for the sheer fact they can say they use it in their classroom – there must be a method to the madness!

Cheers, 

Bret

Has Technology Led to Greater Equity in Society?

There are many factors to take into consideration when adressing the question of whether or not technology has led to greater equity in society. I apologize in advance for the lenghtly post, but there are so many items to tackle. Some specific variables to consider in this debate include geographic location, socioeconomic status, access, funding, and professional development opportunities. Here is North America, is it very easy to view this issue through rose coloured glasses since technology is readily available to so many either in their personal or professional lives. However, the inequalities lie right within our own neighbourhoods.

This debate covered a vast amount of different talking points both for and against the topic. It left me feeling unsure of my position. Maybe after I finish this blog post I will feel more pulled in one direction or other. Turns out if you Google “Technology equality in Education” you will find million of articles to both support and discredit both sides.

Lets start with the Digital divide.

Not only do developing nations not have access to internet, but over 40 million American’s do not have access to broadband internet. This is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. This video above states that the biggest challenges that they face is bringing internet access to places it has never been before, mostly in rural areas of each state. And, reducing costs of internet access that already exists. This can be said for Canada as well espeically bringing reliable internet access to our students who live in rural areas such as farm land and indigenous reserves all across our province.

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s 2014 Factbook found that 87 per cent of Canadian households are now connected to the internet, compared to 80 per cent in 2010. The country ranks 16th globally in terms of internet penetration rates. However, CIRA also found that while 95 per cent of Canadians in the highest income quartile are connected, just 62 per cent in the lowest income quartile have internet access.

Sunny Freeman, 2014. https://www.huffpost.com/archive/ca/entry/digital-divide-canada-broadband-access_n_4995560

The inequality gap has alway existed, but was exasterbated during the global Covid-19 pandemic. Students who identify as minorities, those in a lower socioeconmic status, families with multiple children, lack of parental support, and those that live in rural areas consistently feel the impact of the inequality gap when it comes to technology. Families that struggle with additions, mental health, and affording reliable devices, and wifi will always be at a disadvantage compared to those that don’t. Additionally, researchers are beginning to document a digital Matthew Effect, in which the already advantaged gain more from technology than do the less fortunate. As with books and reading, the most knowledgeable, most experienced, and most supported students are those best positioned to use computers to leap further ahead those who don’t.

School divisions also see the inequality gap as well when it comes to funding and technology literacy in schools. Government funded schools are starving for funding in every sector. Inner city schools and publically funded schools have extreme differences in their access to student devices and internet connections compared to those that are privately funded or are in traditionally middle to upper class neighbourhoods in the land of “white suburbia”. All children are created equal, and they deserve to be treated like so in our education systems. Unforatuntely, we also have to tackle the systemic problems that exist in education to be able to do that.

Let’s switch gears.

Now, this video doesn’t exactly represent the use of tecnology leading to greater equity, however it still brings me to tears every time I watch it so I wanted to share it with you all. It does however, lead me into my next section on how technology has increased equity for those with disabilities.

People with disabilities both visible and insivible has been struggling to be accepted in society for centuries. Only in the last few decades have there been very real and promising innovations that have made living day to day, going to school and working become a viable option for those that having differing abilities. The world of assistive technolgy has made it possible for so many to have equitable opportunities that didn’t exist before. Even though they come with a heafty price tag, government grants, insurance and savings programs can help off-set the costs of this expensive equipment.

I’d like to share my husbands journey with assistive technology. He was born with substanial hearing loss and was diagnosed as hard of hearing when he was just one year old. Ever since then, he has relied on hearing aids, lip reading, FM systems, subtitles, speech therapy and interpretting body language and facial expressions to navigate the world. He has about 20% hearing on his own, and about 70-80% hearing with heading aids depending on the external environment. When he was going through schooling from 1996-2010, he relied mostly on his teacher using a clunky/scratchy FM system and sitting close to the front of the room to be able to lip read. This often left him feeling singled out because everyone new it was specifically for him. Today, schools have implemented bluetooth audio systems into every single classroom. I wear my mic religiously not only to help students hear me speak (which was very helpful while wearing a face mask) but also to save my voice from projecting all day long.

Additionally, the advancements in hearing aid technology development has increased significantly over the past decade. Just last week my husband was fitted for new pair of hearing aids that are water proof, rechargable, connect to his bluetooth on his phone and car, and are able to significalty reduce background noise in loud/echoey environments where lots of people are talking all at once. During puppy class, he gives the instructor a small microphone that they can clip onto their shirt that speaks directly into his hearing aids so that he can participate in a large group setting and still understand all of the directions clearly while moving around the room. As technology becomes more advanced, people with disabilities quality of life often increases.

Technology has led to greater equity for a lot of reasons. People have gained a lot for independence in their personal and professional lives because of it. Access to education has been made possible to many different communities only because the online option is now available. We wouldn’t have been able to supplement any learning at all during the shut down of the Covid-19 pandemic without any access to online school. Traditional school does not suit every single family and the option to have remote school as an option permanently has allowed many the opportunity to graduate. Many advocates believe digital technology has the potential to dramatically expand access to education to underserved children worldwide. – John Ward, 2015. All in all, education was not equitable before technology, and I hope that with the right implementation and tackling of other systemic issues in our society, we can use technology to bridge the digital divide in the future.

Let me know if you have any experience using assistive technology personally, as a teacher or parent!

Debate #2: Has technology led to a more equitable society?

The second of the two debates did not disappoint!  Both groups did an excellent job articulating their arguments and they both clearly conducted excellent research on their topic.  Assistive technology has increased opportunities for those with exceptionalities, and literacy rates have been growing higher than ever.  However, there are many inequities throughout education, and many have opportunities with technology that others lack.  There are disparities within our own communities with some having access to technology at school and home, while others may only have that opportunity at school, or not at all.

Many First Nations communities throughout Canada are in the stages of revitalizing their Indigenous language.  Many communities rely on Elders to assist in teaching future generations their language because in many areas, language is dying with the Elders.  Technology has been instrumental in assisting schools in teaching Indigenous languages.  Many schools in Saskatchewan have been replacing French classes with Cree language classes.  Is the teacher fluent in Cree?  Perhaps, but technology and community members are readily available to assist in this regard.  Technology has helped revitalize many Indigenous languages in schools throughout Canada.  However, not all communities have internet access to assist in language revitalization, technology, or the funds to ensure their language thrives for future generations. 


When I look at this argument through the lens of teaching in a larger urban center, I understand the argument that technology has led to greater equity in society for some, but that is not my experience teaching in a low income neighborhood.  I cannot justify that it does lead to greater equity in society when I see areas struggling and not thriving the way others are due to technology.

IF…..

A poem about technology in the classroom. 

Technology in the classroom is great, if….

If it works regularly. 

If there’s enough to go around.

If it’s accessible. 

If the students know how to use it effectively and appropriately.

If the internet works.

If the teachers are digitally literate, or are willing to learn. 

If there is professional development around it. 

If digital literacy is woven throughout the curriculum.

If….

Students using Technology in the Classroom

The idea of technology in the classroom is grand, but let’s be honest the reality of it is often very different. With that being said, technology is only a thing, it is not inherently good or bad. The power it has comes from those who utilize it, and to what end. It has the potential to change lives for the better, as in the case of medicine. I know that my family is eagerly watching the Kidney Project, which is developing a bioartificial kidney to treat kidney failure. This could be a potential solution for my niece who is in end stage renal failure, and unlikely to get a transplant from a living donor. 

On the other hand, it also has the potential to provide psychological damage, as in the case of cyberbullying, online predators, or even for those who are addicted to scrolling ceaselessly on their smart phones. In conclusion, technology use in the classroom has incredible potential, but there are a whole pile of ifs that get in the way. A crucial facet of embracing technology in the classroom is educating students about the dangers of technology and social media, but also teaching them the effective use, and potential, of technology. When the stars are in alignment, and everything goes well, technology truly can enhance classroom learning.