Author Archives: Jeff Barrett

Supporting Student Digital Identities

Following Dr. Couros’ presentation on digital citizenship, I found myself engaged in several timely discussions concerning the roles and responsibilities of teachers in shaping student digital identity. While the discourse was professional and engaging, I walked away feeling as though many colleagues harbour a resentment towards technology. In speaking with fellow practitioners this week, I was met with many familiar comments about the overuse of cellphones, the constant disengagement from learning, and a seemingly greater concern with social media than school. The usual suggestion to ban phones outright was followed by a decree that “things have never been so bad for us teachers” and “students just don’t want to learn”. Perhaps both statements are true, retrospect alone will judge that, but we must not resist the opportunity to promote  ethical, safe, and responsible online usage. The reality is, technology isn’t going anywhere and we must capitalize on it to draw students back into learning.

If Charlie Brown saw anything that was mean of humiliating he wouldn’t retweet it, he would fill people’s buckets, or cyber buckets

– Marialice Curran

Marialice Curran analogizes Charlie Brown as the ideal digital citizen. In her TedTalk, she suggests that Charlie Brown is emblematic of a student who takes the moral high road and does what is right regardless of the space that he occupies. Impressionable students can fall into a trap of presenting themselves as one way in person and another online. Teachers must find ways that build empathetic communities that operate parallel to their in-person classroom.

A common assumption regarding lack of engagement centres the notion that students just don’t want to learn. I refuse to see this as pessimistically as some and suggest that a multitude of reasons contribute to engagement issues in the classroom. Students arrive in our classrooms with personal stories that are traumatic, emotional, and sometimes neglectful. For many, digital spaces offer reprieve and gives them a sense of belonging and identity. In this sense, it becomes so closely tied to who they are that their immersion within totally disconnects them from the real world. For me, as an educator, I am curious about three overarching questions:

  1. Why are students preoccupied with their digital spaces, so much so that their reality is impacted?
  2. How can we educators better understand the nuances of technology to best engage students in learning?
  3. What does a healthy digital-literate learning environment look like?

As an aside, I don’t have a magic answer to any of the aforementioned questions, but I hope this post acts as a conduit for curious minds to consider the reality that students face a complex series of external stressors that significantly impact the way in which they engage with technology.  that it is not a crucial responsibility to create nurturing and safe environments in which students flesh out their digital presence.

While educators embark on their own digital learning journey, it is important to remember that we are integral in shaping our students’ digital identity. Educators are tremendously influential in the lives of students and must be cognizant of how conversations around digital spaces are approached. In considering this, I am reminded of the as the advice imparted to a young Peter Parker by uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Teaching in the digital age as complicated. On the one hand, it is exhilarating because students are afforded learning opportunities that alluded many of us when we were in school. Access to information has never been as fast or as readily available as it is today. Furthermore, the advent of technology has shifted the role of teachers wherein the focus is less on content and knowledge keeping. Alternatively, we resolve to act more as facilitators of critical thinking. In this sense, educators pose questions and guide students through problem solving and offer the skills necessary to navigate the digital world.

However, for as much wonderment as the digital age has ushered in, its ethical and legal parameters are of constant concern. Increased screen time, digital relationships, social media, cellphones, cyber-bullying etc. bring forth emotionally and socially detrimental effects. Our students struggle to navigate authentic online spaces because they are inherently bombarded by unattainable or unrealistic representations of who they should be.

For any generation, the journey through puberty into adulthood is one fraught with anxieties, insecurities, and self-doubt. But at least students twenty-five years ago had some reprieve when they went home. Today, the globalized world combined with the dopamine-induced instant-gratification society driven by social media severely limits the amount of time our students have to themselves. Empowering students to establish boundaries with digital spaces requires risk taking because it challenges the modern paradigm. Creating safe and inclusive learning environments extends beyond the walls of a classroom into a digital sphere..

If educators don’t feel they play as important a role in guiding students in digital citizenship, where will it come from?


AI and ChatGPT: the Future of Education?

I was initially introduced to Chat GPT by my brother Dr. Matthew Barrett in early December. He sent me an email with screenshots of his prompts and the corresponding responses. He provided a cursory explanation of how it worked, but I was most intrigued by the speed and general accuracy of results. Naturally, with my curiosity peeked, I gave it a whirl. I married my love of Seinfeld and Shakespeare and asked the generator to produce, “an episode of Seinfeld but Shakespearean”. While a fairly rudimentary prompt, the result yielded an episode entitled “The Taming of the Shrewd” in which the characters speak Early Modern English and Kramer declares his new found hobby of Shakespearean acting, but the premise follows the story arc of Taming of the Shrew (not perfectly, but pretty well). I was impressed with the quick response and the layers of meta humour that were embedded.

In the weeks since my exploration, news outlets and education forums have been abuzz with talk of the benefits and the drawbacks of AI in educational spheres. Interestingly, as I write this post, my phone notified me of a Globe and Mail op-ed discussing ChatGPT’s capabilities while evaluating its limitations. Regardless of where people stand on the debate, there is little evidence suggesting AI driven technology will go away. In fact, societally, we have to find ways to embrace it for good.

For as much as educators want to believe they are forward-thinking classroom leaders, it is very easy to fall back on tried and true pedagogical practices. While we have every intention of producing engaging lessons that embed technology, the reality is, many find it daunting or are skeptical of its benefit. In recent weeks, the paradigm shifting effect of ChatGPT has left many educators feeling even more wary of technology with many suggesting that the comprehensive AI platform will completely undermine the authenticity of student work. A recent CNN article explained how ChatGPT managed to pass law and business school exams. The initial response, rightfully so, is condemnation. However, upon further consideration, is it as problematic as appears?

I believe that the AI technology driving ChatGPT will only strengthen and will become more intuitive as it becomes more widely adopted. It is understandable that teachers will raise an eyebrow when students can seemingly produce unauthentic work so quickly and easily. However, as discussed in class this week, early adopters are incorporating AI technology into the classroom and are using it to reverse engineer argumentative essays. AI is a powerful tool, akin to a calculator or a translator. Teachers must not resist AI because students have an opportunity to explore in an ethical and honest way. The results yielded from ChatGPT are only as good as the prompts and questions offered by the user. The ensuing results are not flawless and do not replace the insight of human intuition and emotion. However, the results are a starting point for discussion and debate, and provide students a stronger depth of knowledge in subject areas and argumentative competencies.



Introducing Myself

Hi everyone, and welcome to my blog for EC&I 830. My name is Jeff Barrett, I employed by Living Sky School Division, and I am the principal of Cut Knife Community School. This is my third course in the Teaching, Learning, and Leading program through the University of Regina. I serve as an executive member for the Battle West Athletic Association, coach volleyball, basketball, badminton, and track, and officiate.

I consider myself comfortable with technology and have adopted it in my practice since I entered the profession in 2013. I completed my Bachelor of Education at Ontario Tech University. The focus of my B.Ed centred on emerging trends in educational technology, how to best apply technology to pedagogical practice, and how to utilize technology to reimagine educational institutions. While I found technology in the classroom an interesting topic, it was not until the pandemic when I used this time to explore the capacity for technology in the classroom. However, advancements in assistive technology, the universal reliance upon social media, and AI technology the landscape of EdTech has complicated the educational environment. Whereas, Google Classroom and its suite of collaborative tools has made it easier to engage students and close learning gaps, the aforementioned technology also presents issues around equity, privacy, and authenticity. A recent New York Times article outlines the steps that some universities in the United States have taken to combat the ease of which students can create essays and work.

As a 21st century learning practitioner, I strive to engage students and staff in technology trends. As a school leader, I find collaborative tools like shared folders, document templates, and Teams the most accessible tools that allow for idea generation and problem solving. I use social media, but not to the extend that I would necessarily like. I am amazed at the content creators in education like John Spencer who utilize social media and virtual spaces to engage students, parents, and staff.

I look forward as we use our blog spaces and class meetings to enrichen our collective understanding of issues related to educational technology.