Author Archives: Christina Puscus

The power of choice in successful education

I can’t believe this class is already over – that flew by! I particularly enjoyed this style of class in its debate format. It was engaging and exciting in the ways that other classes haven’t always been. A big thank you to our professor and classmates for a great overall learning experience.

The final debate topic: Online education is detrimental to the social and academic development of children.

Young woman using laptop at home
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Both sides of the debate did a phenomenal job defending their respective arguments. I initially voted “agree”, resulting from a longstanding belief that there is just that special something about being face-to-face with others. Communication and connection that can’t be replicated through screens or other mediums. I still think that certain situations and scenarios call for an in-person experience if possible, but the “disagree” side offered some compelling points that have me rethinking my initial stance.

Reading through the first article posted by the agree team, this thought came to mind: Online education is detrimental if it is forced upon someone and is contradictory to what they would have chosen for themselves. This was, unfortunately, exactly what happened to many students and families during pandemic lockdowns when whole school divisions shifted to remote learning.

The Toronto Life article, linked above, illustrates the struggles of some Toronto families when online learning was the only (or only seemingly safe) option, and how issues such as connectivity, hardware malfunctions, social isolation and physical symptoms of excessive screen time were just added challenges in an already stressful time. Important to note, and this was touched on in the debate, is that pandemic learning and online learning are two different situations, as pandemic learning was ultimately the only option at the time. Online learning can still present the problems above, but it can also create opportunities and situational solutions.

A girl attending online schooling
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Kat went over these during the debate, but mentioned in this article shared by the “disagree” team are five reasons why online education might be more effective for academic development of individuals: learning disabilities, physical disabilities, visual impairments, hearing impairments, and psychiatric disabilities.

Is it not dangerous to make a blanket statement about an entire group of people in any case? Saying online education is detrimental to children is to assume that all children are basically the same. Of course, this is far from reality. Many students, and more broadly, people, live with exceptionalities or disabilities that make daily tasks, including school, work or home responsibilities more challenging. Many people do not have high-stress jobs or work involving a large social component because it is not a suitable fit for their physical or mental health. Adults are able to make this choice as there are a wide variety of employment opportunities and work settings to choose from. Shouldn’t this choice also be one made freely available to students (parents) when considering a suitable learning environment for the individual, without the associated stigma of online education being “detrimental”?

Following the trend of continuing to unlearn things, I feel a bit ignorant for initially feeling so strongly about this topic. Before this, I hadn’t really considered all of the possible situations. I can’t imagine saying that online education is detrimental to a student’s social development if the alternative is being overwhelmed with social activity that leads to severe panic attacks. Or saying that a student with a hearing impairment is going to suffer academically if choosing online education when that is the only medium to view lectures with subtitles.

Despite being a suitable and more effective option for some, online learning is not without its shortcomings. Issues surrounding the digital/connectivity divide and assessment challenges are just two reasons why online education isn’t right for everyone. But it also doesn’t mean it’s wrong for everyone, either.

“Teacher, help! Who am I?”

Debate 7Educators and schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a digital footprint.

(Just a quick heads up – I went a bit off the rails with this one into some borderline philosophical territory. Happy reading if you wish to continue (: )

[Quick nod to the debaters for topic 7. You did a masterful job!]

It’s no question that technology and the internet have become central and integral to our lives. As stated in the agree team’s intro for this week’s topic, online spaces are real spaces. Increasingly, it is difficult to differentiate where offline spaces end and online spaces begin. They are so interconnected that untangling them is near impossible. I brought this point up in the open portion of the debate, and I’m going to take a moment here to elaborate on this.

If we can agree that a digital footprint is equivalent to an online identity, and if we replace “digital footprint” with “online identity” in the debate prompt, would it change a person’s perspective? Not yet? Keep reading.

Digital Footprint: What is it? | Packetlabs
Photo retrieved from https://www.packetlabs.net/posts/digital-footprint/

Back to the statement that online spaces are real spaces. At this point in history, I would venture that most, if not all, of us would prioritize educating our children and students that their actions in online spaces are just as “real” as they are offline and have real-world implications and consequences (things that are written on or for digital media, images or videos that are posted and how one is conducting themselves in them, communicating with others in respectful and responsible ways, not sharing unnecessary or private information that the general public can access, etc.). Maybe a stretch, but I suggest going back to the debate prompt and now replacing “online” with “real”

Here’s where we’re at: Educators and schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a real identity.

Is it just me looking at this new prompt, which is generally saying the same thing as the original prompt, and having a more challenging time agreeing? Responsibility is a loaded word. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my responsibilities as a teacher, as set out in the Education Act, are well laid out here. I don’t see anything about a responsibility for identity development (or even a digital footprint) and in 10 years, even with guidance from administration and the division to implement digital citizenship teaching, helping students develop a digital footprint was not ever mentioned, to the best of my knowledge. Of course, some of the responsibilities outlined could be open to interpretation and possibly include digital footprint development, such as:

“Teachers are expected to use professional judgment in determining appropriate pedagogical activities to ensure that students have the opportunity to have a successful educational experience. To this end, no specific methodologies are prescribed.”

Some educators might look at this and think that a “successful educational experience” undoubtedly means including a specific focus on helping students develop a digital footprint. But many will use their “professional judgment” to focus on other areas or methods to foster a “successful educational experience”. I’m not sure it is fair for educators to be responsible for something that is open to interpretation and invites personalization.

As Kelly mentioned during the open portion of the debate, educators interpret curricular outcomes differently. Nicole also made a solid point about the overarching identity focus throughout the Saskatchewan Grade 6 Curriculum. Here are some of the relevant outcomes:

  • CP6.10 – Create visual art works that express ideas about identity and how it is influenced (e.g., factors such as pop culture, cultural heritage, peer groups, personal and family interests, gender).
  • CP6.11 – Investigate and use various visual art forms, images, and art-making processes to express ideas about identity.
  • CR6.2 – Investigate and identify ways that the arts can express ideas about identity.
  • CG6.1 – Investigate the influence of a positive self-image on one’s life.
  • CC6.1 – Create various visual, multimedia, oral, and written texts that explore identity (e.g., Your Choices), social responsibility (e.g., Looking for Answers), and efficacy (e.g., Systems for Living).
  • USC6.1 – Analyze the factors that influence the development of personal standards and identity, and determine the impact on healthy decision making (including cultural norms, societal norms, family values, peer pressures, mass media, traditional knowledge, white privilege, legacy of colonization, and heterosexual privilege).
  • IN6.1 – Evaluate and represent personal beliefs and values by determining how culture and place influence them.

I’ve highlighted the actions the curriculum is asking that students are able to do (alongside a supportive teacher facilitating learning activities). I interpret the above as more investigative and creative than developmental when it comes to identity, wherever one is being developed.

I then ventured over to my school division’s website where I found a variety of resources that appear to be helpful in educating students about their own digital footprints. The selection is impressive and I was happy to find that these resources exist and are available to educators. However, as they are not specifically mandated to be taught, it becomes an optional teacher endeavor. Are teachers, then, failing at their professional responsibility if they choose not to help students develop a digital footprint? What if it doesn’t even cross their minds as it is their choice to seek out and implement?

If digital footprint development was mandated in the curriculum or by my school division, with clear guidelines and specific outcomes, of course it would be my job, my responsibility, to carry this out. As digital technology continues to grow and develop, I imagine that digital citizenship education will become a higher priority and even earn a spot in the curriculum. Digital footprint development probably wouldn’t be far behind. But as was brought up during several other debates, professional development opportunities and teacher education is a crucial piece in making this come to fruition. The argument was made in class that teachers do a variety of things as part of their craft that they are not adequately trained in; I can attest to this as I taught grade 7 French for a number of years and was absolutely not qualified to provide a quality program. However, I’d argue that business of identity development is a different ballgame altogether.

I don’t want this all to make me sound crusty and jaded or that I don’t really care about my students. I just feel like helping someone develop an identity (digital footprint, in our case) is quite a personal endeavor. A digital footprint is EVERYTHING someone does (and does not do) when using the internet. To play devil’s advocate against myself, I suppose I could help guide students in what rules I have in the classroom around permitted websites to access, conduct when communicating using online platforms, appropriate topics to research in search engines, and the like. But as Gertrude also mentioned during the debate, we can’t click and type for our students and ultimately have no idea what they are doing on the other side of the screen a lot of the time. How can I be responsible for something I have so little control over?

I'm Losing Control and I Like It. I'm Losing Control and I Like It | by The  Good Men Project | Change Becomes You | Medium
Photo retrieved from https://medium.com/change-becomes-you/im-losing-control-and-i-like-it-2f707d95d15c

As an educator, my responsibility is to educate. To teach. To foster a safe environment for learning. I can do all of these things to the best of my ability, but this is where my reach ends. Even the most engaging lessons and elaborate activities might not lead to meaningful learning; students have to make this choice by engaging in it themselves. As a teacher, this is the part I can’t do. I can do my very best to facilitate learning, but that’s as far as I can go.

When it comes to a responsibility to help students develop a digital footprint, my reach extends to facilitating an environment where students have access to knowledge about digital footprints, what they are, why they matter, what the consequences might be of a footprint that looks one way or the other, and some ideas or suggestions for how they could develop one that best reflects their identity. Actually helping develop the footprint? The online (real) identity? That’s their responsibility, and maybe more importantly, their choice.

Bird cage Stock Photo
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A blessing or a curse? Cell phones in today’s classrooms

Debate #6Cell phones should be banned in the classroom.

This topic is an especially difficult one for me. In the pre-vote, I easily chose “disagree”, but upon reflection, there have been a number of times in my teaching career so far where I have said “OKAY CELL PHONES AWAY EVERYONE I DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM AT ALL FOR ANY REASON ANYMORE” or something along those lines. Granted, this usually happens in moments of erupting frustration around some of the concerns voiced by the “agree” team.

In these situations, all you’re really left with is mad/annoyed teachers and bored/annoyed students. Not exactly an ideal environment for meaningful learning.

Mad formal executive man yelling at camera
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Person in white shirt with brown wooden frame
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Both sides of the debate did a superb job crafting their arguments and putting forth an overall strong case. The agree side, arguing that cell phones should indeed be banned from the classroom, highlighted concerns around these personal devices being too much of a temptation for young people. Bullying is another issue, as cell phones can make the issue significantly more pervasive, as touched on in the debate around social media use by children as well. Students can suffer from “no-mobile phobia” and allowing cell phones in the classroom can serve to feed addictive tendencies. Cell phones can also ultimately lead to a lack of concentration on school work, and to further the issue, some students in our classrooms do not have cell phones, and allowing their frequent use can contribute to the digital divide and widen the inequity gap among students in a given classroom.

The disagree side proposed that cell phones should be allowed in the classroom, arguing that policies like “bring your own device” does not mean that students are allowed to use their cell phones at all times in all ways in the classroom. These devices can actually help shrink the digital divide by filling in gaps where there are not enough devices for students to have 1:1 devices in the classroom setting. Cell phones are a useful tool in teacher-caregiver communication, they reduce parental anxieties as they create a “lifeline” of sorts to communicate with children, which, in some cases, can be lifesaving.

My thoughts (well, questions) on the matter

After the intro videos and the first conversations in the class debate portion, a few thoughts came to mind: do students have the developmental capacity to be disciplined enough to put their cell phones away and not use them? How do they fare against temptation in comparison to adults? Are they ready for a responsibility like this? In lockdown scenarios, are cell phones more harm than good? Do cell phones in classrooms widen or shrink the digital divide?

Diving in to the research

Selwyn & Aagaard (2021) present 5 concerns that a blanket ban of cell phones in the classroom could help remedy. What I find most interesting about this article is the notion that such a ban could serve the purpose of fostering a more appropriate environment for welcoming cell phone use into the classroom (Selwyn & Aagard, 2021, p. 17). I connected with this approach because I’ve struggled with wanting to implement and allow greater cell phone use and access in my classroom, but when attempted, certain constraints stop my vision from being fully accomplished (time allotment to teach necessary skills, academic pressures, achievement gaps, socio-economic disparities, students who do not have cell phones, etc.) In simple terms, there just aren’t enough hours in a day (or minutes in a rigid academic schedule) to implement a true, effective BYOD policy. Making this happen would require a rebuilding of education at a more structural level and rather significant policy changes (maybe it’s about time?)

This article by Breanna Carels sheds some light on my question of if school-aged children of certain ages have the ability to focus in the classroom with cell phones present. It discusses that cell phones indeed function as a distraction to student learning, as students learn best when focusing on one task at a time (Carels, 2019, p. 9). Carels also points out the anxiety students experience when being forcibly disconnected from their devices as a result of policies that ban cell phone use in classrooms (2019, p. 10). Borrowing ideas from Gao et al. (2014), Carels suggests that schools “develop effective policies that regulate negative behaviours and maximize the positive impacts of phones” (2019, p. 11). Once again, this reading points to a need for policy changes at a broader level than the teacher’s choice in each individual classroom.

The final article presented by the agree team (found here) also points out the negative impacts cell phones in the classroom can have on students (cyberbullying, academic dishonesty, sexting, poor mental health) (Smale et al., p. 60). The reading also touches on the benefits of cell phone use in the classroom, but ultimately aligns with other arguments surrounding the topic, expressing a need for clearer implementation policies that include balance and reasonable solutions for inequities.

Swap horizontal orientation arrows from flaticon

Now to the disagree side. In this video, Sam Kary, a former middle school teacher himself, argues that cell phones should be allowed in classrooms for several reasons, including increasing the likelihood of 1:1 tech within classroom settings, the opportunity for virtual reality, and the mere fact that because cell phones are part of our daily lives, they should naturally also be a part of education. Similarly, this video puts forth the idea that cell phones aren’t the problem, or at the very least, not the only problem that leads to distracted students.

The disagree side also listed two articles, one clearly outlining the pros and cons of cell phone use in the classroom, with the benefits including the line of communication cell phones provide and the importance of learning the critical and relevant life skill of responsible use. The other article (found here) provides 11 reasons why cell phones should be allowed in the classroom, including many of the same benefits mentioned in previous readings and videos and adding the points that cell phone use is good for the environment, saves schools money and diversifies learning in various ways.

Final Thoughts

In my own teaching, I’ve seen the benefits and pitfalls of cell phone use in the classroom, as I’m sure we all have. Sitting at my desk, I can scan the room and simultaneously see one student laser focused, using an app on their personal device to create an infographic for a project, another student across the room clearly sending a Snapchat selfie, a student without a cell phone using a school-provided laptop to finish outstanding homework but waiting for it to update, a student listening to music on their iPhone and responsibly working on finishing a math assignment, and another student caught up in showing a classmate their most recent Spotify playlist. As it stands, the cell phone integrated classroom environment could use some renovation.

I think there will always be pros and there will always be cons to allowing cell phones in class. These devices that unlock accessibility and more meaningful, engaging learning experiences at the same time open the door for students to sidebar learning and scroll through TikTok instead, easily shielded from supervision. Despite the opportunities that cell phones in the classroom create, is it worth banning them to avoid distraction and amp up time-on-task? I don’t think the answer will ever be clear. I do think the greatest benefit comes from a balanced approach in which educators allow cell phones in the classroom when appropriate for the task at hand, teaching the skills necessary to use them respectfully, purposefully, and to their full potential.

TikTok TikTok… Childhood is running out

This week’s debate (1 of 2): Social media is RUINING childhood.

Close up of smart phone
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Person holding black android smartphone
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Person holding white printer paper near black ceramic mug with coffee
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Lonely girl sitting on a doorway
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As pointed out during the debate a couple of times, ruining is certainly a strong word. It is also interesting thinking about childhood and the biases each new generation holds regarding what makes a “great childhood”; each age group seems to have had it better than the one that succeeded them for various reasons, one being the digitalization of society. A common outlook is viewing today’s children as missing out on what it truly means to be child (spending copious amounts of time outdoors with the neighbourhood kids, only coming inside for a meal or by some other parental request). I have heard many parents of school-aged children now doing the opposite, requesting their children get off of their devices and go play outside instead. But is digital technology, and specifically, social media, truly destroying the childhood experience for the younger generation? Here is what the debaters had to say:

Agree Side:

  • More time on social media means less time children have to be outside and practice creativity
  • Social media companies have minimum ages of 13, indicating that these platforms are not made for children
  • Social media can replace in-person relationships with more superficial, online ones
  • Cyberbullying is more pervasive through social media can have a further reach
  • Safety issues arise when children are spending time using social media platforms
  • Children are exposed to advertising and false information which can be harmful to their developing cognitive functions
  • Children can be come overly reliant on validation and recognition from “likes” and “comments”

Disagree Side:

  • Online socializing can create & strengthen bonds
  • Social media allows students not to only be consumers of knowledge and learning, but also producers.
  • Social media decreases the isolation that children may feel by allowing for connectedness in online spaces
  • During the pandemic, social media was one of the only means of staying connected with friends
  • Marginalized students have the ability to seek out others with similar values and life experiences in ways that real-world communication doesn’t allow
  • They included a swimming pool analogy – we wouldn’t throw a child into a pool without any prior learning or explanation; similarly, we should teach our students how to use social media in a positive way that does not contribute to a “ruined” childhood

Following the introductory videos, opening statements and rebuttals, thoughts were added to the discussion from classmates. Nicole W. Offered that it is too extreme to say that social media is ruining childhood; Jenn offered the idea that childhood has evolved from what many of us experienced; Mike contributed the important idea that the possible presence of online predators shouldn’t outweigh all the good that social media can allow and that students are already becoming better equipped to deal with social media issues; Gunpreesh talked about addiction, alluding to the developing child brain and the potential susceptibility for it to be more significantly impacted by the harmful effects of social media; Dami noted that digital identities can be curated in ways that real-world identities cannot. There were many other insightful and thought-provoking comments made during the open portion of this debate.

Diving into the readings, both sides of the argument have valid points to offer. In this video, shared by the agree team, Matt Walsh discusses how kids are living out their childhoods in digital worlds and that he’s intentionally chosen differently for his children. In contrast, the disagree team shared this article that highlights several examples of young people using social media to enact real positive change (with some seriously feel-good stories).

As a relatively new parent, this topic has me thinking about what kind of rules/guidelines I will have around social media and tech use for my child once she’s a bit older. The first concern that came to my mind, besides online safety and privacy, is the impact that social media has on cognitive development in children. This led me to a few articles (here, here and here) that discuss some research findings around this topic.

The first article outlines the steps parents can take if they decide to allow their children to use social media to minimize risk and maximize benefits.

The second article I found somewhat by accident; I was googling if and how social media is detrimental to a child’s cognitive functioning, and in doing so, I actually found more reasons why it can actually be beneficial, which surprised me. The article references a study of 4,500 young people and how screen time affects their cognitive development from adolescence through adulthood, beginning in 2015. From the data collected, there was little influence from screen time or social media on the outcomes. If this is the case, then what is all the fuss about?

Well, the third article tackles the subject of what social media use does to the brain. Physiologically, excessive social media use causes the brain’s ability to maintain focus and attention to decrease (the article actually uses the words “shrinks parts of the brain associated with maintaining attention”). It discusses dopamine release associated with social media use and instant gratification, reinforcing reward pathways in the brain. Finally it touched on memory, highlighting the affect that social media has on transactive memory, in which the brain decides which information is important enough to store.

So in turning back to our question “Is social media ruining childhood?”, both sides crafted a compelling argument, and further research certainly doesn’t help me know for certain if it is or is not destroying those precious, innocent years. One thing that’s undeniable is that childhood certainly looks different than it did a few generations ago. The whole world looks vastly different than it did even twenty years ago. It’s quite safe to say that digital technology, the internet, and social media are here to stay, in addition to whatever new developments are made in this field over the next several years. Perhaps it is a better use of our time and resources to accept that social media use is going to be something our children engage in, if not now, then at some point before they are adults. Talking about and teaching positive, responsible, and respectful social media use, including how to maintain balance with the offline world, rather than banning its use for children completely, might sooner lead us to our ultimate goal of kids having happy, enjoyable childhoods that extend into adolescence and adulthood – maybe even better than the ones we had.

Teaching for Social Justice – Am I Doing Enough? (Debate #4)

The topic for a fourth juicy debate: Educators have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice

Educational settings can be somewhat obsessed with preserving a neutral environment. Granted, neutrality has educational value in the classroom, evident in this blog post. However, maintaining neutrality should not extend the boundaries of learning potential in inquiry settings. When it comes to issues of social nature, neutrality needs to be scrutinized as responsible for perpetuating social injustice. Kristen Parker (2019) suggest in this article that “…by remaining neutral, teachers are enacting the opposite of neutrality by “choosing to maintain the status quo and further marginalizing certain groups.””

Benjamin Doxdator (2017) says this about what schools choose to (or not to) post about: “[t]he reluctance for schools to jump into politics is also political” (full article here). Also suggested by other readings related to this topic, this was a personal reminder for me that neutrality itself isn’t neutral when its definition was conceived out of systems and structures that were built in certain ways for certain reasons. As individuals, we have opinions and values, shaped by our experiences, that grow and change as we do. I do believe that most people in society believe that all people should have an equitable opportunity for success and a life they’re content with. However, It does not feel this way in online spaces. Social media can provide anonymity and allow confidence for people with discriminatory views to express their opinions in ways that amplify their voice louder than the majority. I sometimes wonder if, then, too many people who are passionate about social justice are just staying silent online. If so, is silence just compliance with the status quo? This question sparks motivation in me to use whatever platforms are available to me to point out injustice and push for social change. It makes me feel like it is my responsibility as an educator.

Crowd of protesters holding signs
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I say all of this, and then I open my phone and look at my own social media content. It is largely void of anything explicitly or directly promoting social justice. Is my media silence compliance? Should I be doing more? Should we all be doing more? What does that look like in the classroom context? Where does it fit in among everything else we are expected to do? Sigh… once again, more questions than answers.

Angela Watson, founder and creator of the Truth for Teachers podcast, makes some interesting points in this article about the impossibility of neutrality, even in the things we do, say, and imply unconsciously. In light of this, if as educators, our values are already generally known by students, must we stay vocally silent on issues that matter to us?

I understand the impact that educators can have by modeling a positive digital presence through social media. In a 2015 blog post, Torrey Trust argues this and several other benefits of teachers having a professional social media presence. However, as touched on by Dalton and Brooke, being an active and vocal member in digital media spaces does not necessarily promote social justice in meaningful ways or enact lasting change. It is, at the very least, equally important to speak about and promote social justice in real-world settings, in both speech and action.

Crop woman with smartphone near protesters during manifestation
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The disagree debate team for this topic shared a blog post I thought to be very meaningful surrounding the topic of social media activism. It explains how while by no means is social media activism a negative thing, in order for it to be genuine, it needs to encompass measurable commitments and action. As strongly as I feel about educators using whatever means necessary to promote social justice, maybe it is too much to ask for all teachers to be social media advocates if only genuine with follow-up action. Things get especially complex in situations, as shared during the debate, where an educator’s beliefs on certain issues are in conflict with those they are expected to uphold in the classroom.

I hate to do this, but I’m going to slightly separate “technology” and “social media” for my final thoughts.

Educators have a responsibility to use technology (optionally including social media) to promote social justice. At this time, there are too many implications around sharing viewpoints that could conflict with those of the desired code of conduct in the employing educational organization to make social media advocacy mandatory. In our technology-dense classrooms, however, I do believe that educators have a responsibility to use technology as a tool to promote social justice. The connectivity and diversifying experience that digital technology provides is an essential tool in helping students see and understand social issues that need our attention. Perhaps someday, if and when social media presence becomes even more commonplace, a responsibility for social justice activism through those platforms would also be an expectation.

Debate #3 – I love multiplication facts…but it’s not all about me

“I am not asking for the complete removal of all these strategies, but merely a re-balance, a refocus, a re-emphasis on the importance of acquiring and mastering basic math skills.”

The above quote is from Nhung Tran-Davies, a parent concerned about the lack of basic math skill teaching in his daughter’s Alberta school (full article here). Granted, this article is from 2014, and aptly stated by our professor, anything published related to education and/or technology beyond 7 years or so ago might be subject to a higher level of skepticism and scrutiny. However, the article, and in particular, the above quote, really resonated with me.

This week’s debate topic: Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology (e.g., cursive writing, multiplication tables, spelling)

I hate to say it, but yet again, I’m truly on the fence with this one. That’s why I appreciate Tran-Davies’ suggestion of a better balance in approaches and a meshing of traditional skill learning and inquiry-based problem solving.

As alluded to in the blog title, I’m a big fan of multiplication facts. Not only that, as a student, I loved all things basic and traditional – drill and practice worksheets, timed multiplication drills, spelling tests, clearly outlined step-by-step procedures for equations that could be checked and verified. How satisfying it was to spend several minutes solving for “x” and ultimately determining its correct value! (Sorry, could have prefaced that with a nerd-alert, but we’re all teachers here, and I know at least some of you love it too).

goal scores GIF
Goal Scores GIF from giphy.com

This debate topic suggests that we should replace basic skills, the ones typically not involved with tech, with more creative, inquiry based opportunities enriched through digital technology. The basic skills don’t matter if tech can just do it for us, right? If we’re struggling to know what exactly is most important to teach, maybe it’s worth reemphasizing-what’s the point of it all? Where are we ultimately trying to go from here?

Mason, Shaw and Zhang (2019) borrow words from UNESCO (2005), highlighting the experience of quality education as one that “enables individuals to learn to know, to do, to be, and to live together” (p. 211). Undoubtedly, technology is a major part of this, and increasingly so! The authors go on to note the need to “…consider the changes that are occurring in society, and the required response of education to these changes and the impact of this on individuals and communities. As societies evolve and adapt, so education systems and approaches also need to change and adapt” (2019, p. 218). As years pass by, so should the standing practices and pedagogy in education; they should be in flux with the changing world. But in keeping with previous arguments in previous debates, technology can’t change this. As argued by Ken Robinson in this video, and echoed by many others still today, the educational system we find ourselves in is outdated and in need of reform. It’s easy to assume that technology, the greatest modernizer of our time, is the solution to this. But does technology fit in to the rigid, historical framework of education we still find ourself in in such a way that allows us to scrap basic skill-learning and put all our metaphorical eggs in the technological basket? I don’t think so. I think there are still too many barriers to this, and quite frankly, too many risks.

A lack of equity, access, stable home-life, classroom support, and large class sizes (I know, shocking) make it difficult for me to want to fully buy in to the idea of more technology time replacing teaching of basic skills in the classroom. Alyssa talked about the danger of exacerbating the digital divide by doing this. No, not all students will be great spellers or memorize their multiplication facts, but maybe that’s okay. The way I look at it, some students will succeed at these things, helping benefit their future selves and future societies. As Durston mentioned during his team’s debate, basic foundational understanding is helpful in building and creating better technology. On the other hand, some students, due to cognitive, social, behavioural, or other reasons, may never learn cursive writing or be able to solve simple math problems without the use of a calculator. But don’t we already know this to be true? Maybe regardless of the technological interventions or educational system we find ourselves in, not all students will be successful in all areas; they will excel in whatever they are naturally, uniquely gifted in. Provided that we, as educators, continue providing a balanced set of opportunities for our students to be engaged and successful, I think we’re on the right track.

Final stance? Schools should still teach most* basic skills, and if needed, students may use technology as an assistive tool in their learning in these areas.

*cursive can probably go. lol.

Season 8 Nbc GIF by The Office
Season 8 GIF by The Office from giphy.com

Techuity – are we there yet? (Debate #2)

As part of this debate’s team on the disagree side, I felt very certain of my position from the get-go. I chose this topic because I feel strongly about the lack of equity that technology provides and the ways in which it actually perpetuates inequity among students in the classroom. However, reflecting more deeply and thoughtfully on this topic post-debate, taking into consideration what the agree side had to say (excellent job, btw!), I once again find myself questioning the rigidity of my previous stance.

As stated by Amundson and Ko in this article, “[t]he shift to remote learning was a blow to many students who were already vulnerable, particularly students of color and low-income children and youth” (2021, p. 14). I strongly agree with this statement because I witnessed it first-hand. The most vulnerable students in my class were the ones who openly admitted that school was the place they felt safest. Remote learning ripped this away from them and attempted to mimic the classroom setting digitally. Unfortunately, the home life of many students does not support an adequate learning environment, or more importantly, an environment that provides safety and security of basic physical and emotional needs. Of course, it’s not technology’s fault that we were hit with a life-changing event; the pandemic could have arguably yielded even more detrimental results without technological intervention (mass production of PPE, vaccine development, etc.). But did technology, in this particular scenario, lead to a more equitable society for our students? No, I don’t believe so.

On the other hand is the question-what, then, is the alternative? What if technology was not available to make remote learning and digital classrooms possible? In the article, Amundson and Ko go on to talk about how technology makes it significantly easier to differentiate instruction and tasks, access professional development, streamline assessment, and share work with other educators (2021, p. 16). In this regard, from a teaching perspective, technology has certainly supported equity. The access technology provides to, well, everything, gives anyone with internet and a device to everything in the public cyber-sphere. Hypothetically, this should shrink the gap to nothing and, given everyone has digital access, equity shouldn’t be an issue. But this is not the case.

Young asian girl studying online at home during quarantine
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As argued by Tracy, Nicole, and Stephen in their intro video, technology has led to more equity for individuals with disabilities, increased access universally, diversified learning opportunities, and is not solely responsible for maintaining the achievement gap. These points were extremely well-argued and I found it difficult to disagree with them. I’m not sure anyone could say that a technological device that allows a child to communicate, when they otherwise couldn’t, has not led to more equity.

Somewhat of a tangent here, but during the early lockdown days of the pandemic, I was home with my 4-month-old. I was lucky to be able to introduce her to many family members and friends prior to social-distancing protocols and household gathering restrictions, but soon window visits and video chats would have to do. I think about my 88-year-old grandmother who lives in an apartment for seniors and is not very mobile herself. Without her iPad and the ability for me to send her pictures and videos of my daughter, she would not have been able to see June grow over the first year and a half of her life. I had conversations with many others who had similar experiences with grandparents and elderly relatives during this time. In this case, technology helped decrease an equity gap related to age and ability.

Woman holding her baby while having a video call using a laptop
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The conundrum of whether or not technology has led to a more equitable society can be summed up in this statement (full article here) by Matt Jenner: “too many exclusions still block the fundamental right of access to education” (2021). The major exclusions that prevent equity are not ones we can fix through the use of technology. The structural inequalities embedded deep in the fabric of society naturally permeate into all the worlds created by human hands and minds, including the digital world. It’s daunting to think about what we can even do to address the root of the problem. Perhaps a first and important step is recognizing that while providing universal digital and physical access to technology creates opportunity equity, it is not a replacement for the work that is needed to fix much larger societal inequities.

Final stance? Technology has not led to a more equitable society…at least not yet. But, alongside other interventions, it could help.

Debate #1 – Technology in the classroom enhances learning

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The pre-vote for this topic took me about 1.5 seconds. I was 100% team agree.

After listening to Nicole and Daryl defend their argument from the disagree viewpoint, however, I definitely questioned my rigid beliefs on this topic. I thought more about what the word “enhances” means. Naturally (at least to me), this led me to a few dictionary definitions of the word. Merriam-Webster defines it as to increase or improve in value, quality, desirability, or attractiveness. Dictionary.com defines it as to raise to a higher degree; intensify; magnify. At the risk of being too cliché with the inclusion of definitions, I will say that I do think the accurate meaning of the word, in this case, matters. The assignment was to either agree with or disagree with the statement “technology in the classroom enhances learning”. Perhaps I’m way off base, but I wonder if it was tempting for the disagree side to mold their main argument from “technology in the classroom does not enhance learning” to “technology in the classroom reduces learning”. I struggled with this concept in my own debate topic in which I was on the disagree side. My group’s goal was to defend the disagree perspective for “technology has led to a more equitable society”. I had a hard time remembering that the disagree perspective was “technology has not led to a more equitable society” and not “technology has led to a more INequitable society”. I think that for those arguing the disagree sides of some of these statements, it’s most challenging to stay in your lane, so to speak, and make sure the correct viewpoint is being addressed and argued.

ANYway, that was a bit of a tangent.

As some of the articles for this debate topic argue, technology has made great advancements in the world of healthcare and medicine. I don’t necessarily agree that this argument is as relevant when discussing how technology enhances learning in the classroom. Healthcare professionals using technology to streamline and increase accuracy and effectiveness in medical procedures is different than students using technology as a means of enhancing learning. I would argue that there are fewer negative aspects of medical digital technology. I think that without the ability to scan and see what’s happening inside the human body, society would suffer significantly more. However, our students, who may one day fill the roles of nurses and doctors, are still young people. Their brains and bodies are changing and developing in a much different way than adults, and this affects the consequences of digital technology on the user. How can students learn self-control, such as not scrolling TikTok when they should be listening to a math lesson, if they are never challenged to? How can they practice moderation and experience its benefits for their whole person if they have few opportunities to escape it? What is it about the learning that technology provides that makes it more important than the learning that only takes place in the offline world (face-to-face social skills, experiencing tough emotions and having to just sit with them and not be distracted, resisting temptation, being bored)? These are all part of the human experience no matter how much technology we have. But what about our collective well-being as a society? Our mental (and physical) wellness? It is all very complex.

The virtual tools and platforms that technology affords creates opportunities that would be otherwise impossible for students to experience in the classroom (virtual field trips, simulations, models, etc.). It provides digital access to what is difficult to get your hands on in the “real” world. It’s pretty tricky to plant a garden and study seed growth when, in most Saskatchewan schools, students are not in the classroom for two months of the growing season. Or maybe you can’t find the math manipulatives in your school because another colleague is hiding them in their classroom. Virtual manipulatives are a reasonable, and sometimes better, substitute.

On the other hand, do the ease of the technological substitutes enable a form of laziness in us? Do we settle for the digital tool because it is “close enough” to the real thing? Do tech substitutes steer us away from seeking out real-life, tangible experiences that we can experience with all of our senses?

At a very basic level, we are living beings with brains and minds and the innate desire for human connection. Is that need filled by “connecting” through a screen? Or is physical touch, seeing someone in the flesh, hearing them in person and not through a speaker, truly what humans are “wired” for?

As you can see, I have a lot of questions. And questions about questions. Ultimately, where I stand now is: when used skillfully and meaningfully, technology enhances learning in the classroom. But it is not always used this way. So, like many of my peers, I find myself somewhere in the middle, not entirely confident to agree or disagree.

Technology and Me – A Love/Hate Relationship

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Unlike many of my fellow peers, I am rarely woken by the “radar” sound on my iPhone. Usually, the early morning ramblings coming from my child’s crib are the first thing I hear in those wee ours. We’ve been blessed with a (very) early riser.

This is not to say that my morning routine is void of technology. In fact, soon after waking, I pick up my phone and check to see if I have any missed messages from the night before, notifications on any social media apps, or emails. Even if I don’t see the little red notification circle on any home screen icons, I still usually spend at least some time scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, or more recently, getting the daily Wordle done before I leave the house. I value the opportunity technology allows me to stay up to date with the goings-on in the lives of my family and friends. I also appreciate the outlet it provides to just…mindlessly scroll. Sometimes, it’s soothing.

Though I’m not currently working as I write this (thanks, broken leg), if I were, the school day would involve a variety of tech. Before the kids arrive, I would turn on the projector, as something in my daily plan would inevitably involve viewing a video, PowerPoint to accompany a math lesson, or any number of other things I wanted to make visible to the students in a whole-group setting. A number of teachers in my school division are “Connected Educators”, meaning they have access to one-to-one technology for all of the students in their classroom. Although I applied for this program, I was not chosen for it. Instead, I regularly use an Outlook calendar to book shared devices for my students to use. On average, I would say that my students use the laptops for about 1.5 hours each day, depending on the nature of assignments as well as availability of the devices.

Throughout the school day, I use various digital programs for a range of purposes. These include email, OneNote, Seesaw, Microsoft Teams, Planboard, and Clever. My students regularly use programs such as Adobe Spark, Knowledgehook, and more recently, my students and I explored PenPal Schools, a space that allows students to connect and converse with students from around the world. I have tried blogging with my students here and there, and have incorporated media tools such as Wakelet. Unsurprisingly, many of my students also have personal technology that they use throughout the day, depending on the current classroom policy surrounding cell phones.

This brings me to my qualms with technology. I’m at a point in my career where I struggle to find the balance between encouraging and teaching purposeful and positive technology use and constantly policing improper use during class time. It feels like a never-ending battle trying to pull my students’ focus away from TikTok when they’re supposed to be creating commercials for their business expo products or some other project I wrongfully assumed would be engaging enough for them to not even be tempted by their mobile apps. Sometimes, it feels easier to just say “Okay, no cell phones, period.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t the solution. And truthfully, I know it too. But I do struggle to find that balance. In an ideal world, every student who came into my classroom would have their own personal device and together we could use them to learn and fight for justice and solve all the problems known to humankind. But we live in the real world where inequality abounds, and personal devices such as iPhones allowed in the classroom present the dangerous risk of widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. As a teacher of adolescents in the process of exploring and becoming who they are, I am more concerned about doing what I can to prevent students from feeling “lesser-than” in their own classroom… (and also with the whole being too concerned with their Snap streak thing to pay any mind to reducing fractions).

After the school day, once supper is finished and my daughter is asleep (or at least happily singing in her crib), I would typically either open up my laptop to do some correcting or planning, watch a show either solo or with my husband, or just relax and scroll. Sometimes, I’m okay to end the day this way. Sometimes, I wonder if I could be doing something better with my time…

And that’s what my day in the life – technology edition – looks like. In a nutshell, I appreciate technology and all that it allows for, including educational technology. I am, however, hesitant and even a bit resistant to fully immersing myself in this complex world. I am looking forward to challenging some of my own beliefs about the pitfalls and shortcomings of digital technology in this course and hopeful to maybe even find some solutions to my conundrums.