Author Archives: Jennifer Owens

My Summary of Learning

Thank you to everyone for a great EC&I 830 class. I’ve enjoyed tuning into the debates and learning from my classmates. I appreciated everyone’s willingness to discuss these topics and share their thoughts and perspectives. This helped me on my learning journey through the waters of contemporary EdTech issues!

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Are We Debating Online Learning or Pandemic Learning?

Topic: Online education is detrimental to the social and academic development of children.

What are we debating exactly?

Emergency Remote Covid learning is “detrimental to the social and academic development of children.”  Nobody wants that and nobody was prepared for it.  Children were suddenly forced to spend hours going through endless lists of Seesaw activities.  Teachers were working day and night trying to figure out the new balance of creating online content, connecting with students, chasing down missing work and trying to provide quality feedback to hundreds of students submissions every day.  All this WHILE trying to support their own at-home children, stuck at home with the whole family, learning to navigate a reality none of us could ever have predicted.

That is NOT online education.  That is emergency pandemic response.

Different environment should mean different practice?

According to Bates (2019), “Just adding technology to the mix, or delivering the same design online, does not automatically result in meeting changing needs […] because unless the design changes significantly to take full advantage of the potential of the technology, the outcome is likely to be inferior to that of the physical classroom model which it is attempting to imitate.” 

This means that we need to reconsider what an online learning environment would look like.  When planning for online learning, we need to create opportunities for deeper-level thinking and social constructivist learning. 

How do we design with social and academic development in mind?

Design

An extremely important factor in an online course is that actual course design. The organization and visuals of an online course play a huge role, especially as we are discussion the social and academic development of students.  According to John Spencer, how we design our course has a big impact on student learning AND engagement.

In this video, he explains how to consider course design to support learning:

Student Connections

Although students are not in class with their peers, online learning has the potential to provide many social opportunities.  If we consider the different types of media available in online learning, we might see the potential.  For example, a teacher might use broadcast media.  This is one-way media where the teacher might pre-record a lesson to model a concept or send out a whole-class message.  This can be ideal for students to learn in a self-paced setting, reducing anxiety and misunderstanding.  Students might also connect with the teacher and even share their work with each other and receive feedback from peers through communicative media.  This is interactive media that allows students to connect, interact with each other, generate class discussions and gain understanding in an online collaborative learning environment.  With these different types of media, students have the ability to connect with one another and teachers can create opportunities for deeper thinking learning tasks rather than long lists of digital worksheets.  This allows students to learn in a social constructive way and take advantage of using technology to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways.

Student Engagement

In an online setting, we can’t rely on teacher presence to be the motivator.  In online learning we have to find ways to re-invent learning for the students and build in online collaborative learning opportunities to engage students and inspire intrinsic motivation.

Dr. Philip Schlecty talks about the levels of engagement.  In an online course, when social and academic development in mind, me must actively plan with these in mind.  How can we create online learning opportunities that create high levels of attention and commitment?

Flexibility

Online learning also provides the gift of flexibility.  Where lessons can be very linear and due dates first in a face-to-face setting, online learning can provide the opportunity for self-paced learning.  It also allows students to go back, re-watch and review lessons and concepts.  While some students rely on a face-to-face setting to feel motivated, there are others who find it overwhelming, stressful or may distracting.  For students who are not comfortable or successful in a face-to-face setting, online learning can be the perfect fit.

So why is all this relevant to this week’s topic?

I think that when we are debating this topic, we must keep these elements of online learning in mind to truly examine whether or not in is beneficial or detrimental to social and academic development.  Emergency remote learning proved to be detrimental to everyone, teachers, students and parents.  But, I believe that QUALITY, WELL-PLANNED online education has the potential to be extremely beneficial while in fact helping social and academic development.  For some, online education can be the game changer that leads to success and well-being.

We All Have a Footprint…Let’s Walk With Our Students as They Develop Theirs

Topic: Educators have a responsibility to help their students develop a digital footprint.

I found this a very interesting debate. I went in with ‘certainty’ that it is an educators responsibility to help students develop their digital footprints, but the disagree side actually presented many concerns that really are an issue with such an important topic.

If a teacher says that teaching digital citizenship and digital footprints isn’t there job, I would definitely have to disagree. We know that it is our job to teach students to become well-rounded citizens. We teach them safety and security in the world around them. We guide them to think critically about what they see, hear, read and learn. Teachers know without a doubt that teaching students to be capable, independent and informed individuals is an integral part of our jobs.

However, there seems to be a huge disconnect when we start talking about the digital environment of our students. In our school division, I think that most elementary teachers know about digital citizenship and our responsibility to teach it. But it was brought up in our class discussions that MANY teachers have no idea that we even have a mandatory digital citizenship continuum in Saskatchewan. This is a problem.

This is the argument that the disagree side was making. How can we expect teachers to guide students in becoming well-rounded and informed digital citizens when they feel unprepared and unsupported. As the disagree side mentioned, we send acceptable use forms home for parents and students to sign, but do they really know what they are signing? It wasn’t until I because a consultant of educational technology that I really started to understand the need to check the terms of use and the privacy agreements before introducing a new digital tool in school. Common Sense Media is a great site for checking the safety rating on different tools and platforms.

It is a great resource not only for finding teaching material and parent information, but also for checking the safety rating and student usability of hundreds of online educational sites and apps. It would be great if we could get all teachers using these sites to better understand the technology they are introducing to their students.

ISTE is also a great resource for teachers to learn more about digital citizenship and being global citizens. I believe that there is a lot of good being done to support teachers in this important role. But, I’m learning from my classmates that more work needs to be done around showing teachers where to look for resources and who to contact for support!

It is true that as adults, we often feel like we are learning about the digital world as we go, and it can be overwhelming with the speed at which technology changes. But, I would argue that the best way to tackle this is to raise the next generations to be more digital savvy than we are. We can only do this by learning and by teaching and guiding the children of today.

Here are some great tips for teachers who are just getting started with navigating this online educational world:

I strongly believe that we do have a responsibility to teach our children from a young age the meaning of a digital footprint AND how to consciously build a positive and safe digital footprint for themselves. But, the questions is…what needs to change in teacher training and teacher PD to ensure that teachers and all members of the school community feel equipped to lead our children in this important endeavor?

Closing Our Eyes Isn’t the Solution

Topic: Cellphones should be banned in the classroom.

Usually with the weekly topics, I find myself sitting somewhere in the middle, maybe leaning towards a particular side, but unable to fully commit.  But, with this topic, I have to admit, I am 100% in disagreement with the statement that cellphones should be banned in the classroom.

Before I get into my why, I’ll start by saying that I can appreciate some of the fears and concerns of people who want to ban cell phones:

  • Fear of addiction
  • Lack of control
  • Inappropriate content
  • Cyberbullying
  • Distraction in class

Are cellphones really to blame for bored students?

Often people will blame cell phones for lack of student engagement, but I’m not convinced.  When I was in school, we didn’t have cell phones, but I found other ways of making painfully boring classes fly by.  I would write notes to friends (I do shed a tear knowing that students of today will never know this joy).  I would write out song lyrics, stare out the window, and fill endless sheets of loose leaf with doodles.

So when I hear people say that cell phones are causing students to disengage, I can’t help but envision this timeless movie scene….timeless because boredom in class is timeless!

Cellphones are just the new distraction from our boredom 

How often do we as adults find ourselves mindlessly ‘checking’ our phones out of boredom? This is definitely something that we need to reflect on as adults and address with our youth.   But, I do not agree that cell phones cause students to be bored and disengaged in class.

The Power of Engagement

I recently attended a PD session on Building Thinking Classrooms with Peter Liljedahl.  The question of cell phones came up, and Peter told us that in their research, they have discovered that cell phones are not an issue when students are working on thinking tasks.  Why?  Because the students are fully engaged.  Thinking Classroom tasks have students standing in groups of 3, working in a very social and collaborative setting to solve deep thinking tasks.  Research has shown that student engagement goes up, students work for longer periods of time, and they do not mindlessly look for their cell phones to distract them from boredom.

Ultimately, when students are THINKING, they are engaged.  As teachers we want students who can THINK, especially in this age of technology.  So rather than banning cell phones from the classrooms, we should ask ourselves, how can we build tasks that empower and engage students to think, rather that recreating 1950s classroom lessons where students are asked to copy notes from the board, listen to lectures and regurgitate facts that they could google in half a second?  Technology is here and the kids know how it works.  It’s possible that they are less engaged by old-style teaching because they’re having troubles seeing why they need to memorize facts when they have access to limitless facts and information in their pockets.

This leads me to me next question, if we value learning and information, why are we so adamant about denying the use of phones in our learning environment?  When I need to look something up, I use my phone.  I’m able to quickly check a fact, watch a video, connect with a friend, or ask for help.  As a teacher, I want to help my students harness the power of their cell phones.  I can only do this if I build this into my teaching.

In some cases, teachers worry about cheating.  I would argue that if we can easily cheat using google, it’s time to re-examine what we are assessing.  50 years ago, it was imperative that we memorize facts because we didn’t have access to information at our fingertips.  But today, it is imperative that we know how to apply and extend our knowledge.  When asked to demonstrate understanding and deep thinking, the focus is no longer on the facts, rather it is on the ability of the learner to demonstrate deep understanding.  If you watch the video above, you’ll notice (1:00) a group using a laptop to help them solve a Math problem, yet the teacher is not worried that they are cheating. When planning our learning tasks and assessments, we need to examine what the students are expected to learn, why they are learning it, and consider what is needed to create deep-thinking learning tasks and assessments.

What are the experts saying?

In the article, “What do five experts think about mobile phones in schools?“, there were MANY arguments made for why we should not ban cell phones.  As you can tell from my opener, I’m already a believer, but here are a few of the great points made:

  • Mobile devices support research and learning
  • It is important to educate students in the era in which they are growing up
  • A good education is knowing how to use technology to learn, communicate and work with ideas
  • Quality use of technology provides new learning opportunities for students to develop skills for their future
  • Banning phones won’t stop phones.  It will only stop us from guiding students in the use of their phones
  • Digital literacy has to be taught through practice
  • Teachers play a huge role in teaching student safety online and offline
  • Phones provide more accessibility and necessary medical apps for some
  • Involving students in the creation and examination of appropriate phone-usage policies will encourage student buy-in

Should we teach our kids to have two lives, or one?

Since the beginning of time, children have learned etiquette and citizenship through experience, observation and imitation.  For our children to learn proper etiquette with their phones, we must be using these devices along side them.  If they are told to put them away all day and only use them in the privacy of their own home, how will they learn through societal example?

I strongly believe that we must teach character education in this digital age.  Jason Ohler worded it well in his article, Character Education for the Digital Age when he asked, “Should we teach our kids to have two lives, or one?”

According to Ohler, “The ‘two lives’ perspective says that our students should live a traditional, digitally unplugged life at school and a second, digitally infused life outside school.”  “In contrast, the ‘one life’ perspective says the opposite, that it is precisely our job as educators to help students live one, integrated life, by inviting them to not only use their technology at school, but also talk about it within the greater context of community and society.”

[W]e must help our digital kids balance the individual empowerment of digital technology use with a sense of personal, community, and global responsibility. School is an excellent place to help kids become capable digital citizens who use technology not only effectively and creatively, but also responsibly and wisely. But we can only do that if we help them live one life, not two.

Jason Ohler (2011)

To guide students in becoming digital citizens, technology must be integrated into their daily lives.  This is why I think we should allow students to use their phones in class.   I also think that we need to include students when we are discussing policies around cell-phones in school.  Not only are students experts in this area, it also invites them to talk openly with adults about the issues and benefits, and it encourages students to be more committed to living up to the values that they were a part of developing.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Topic: Social media is ruining childhood.

For this week, my team and I were on the disagree side of this topic.  We argued that social media is not ruining childhood, and that for hundreds of years, people have feared change and innovation.  We spoke about the many benefits that social media can bring, but we also felt it was very important to address the risks associated with the misuse of social media.

When I first started researching this topic, I discovered very quickly that while it is very easy to find research on the negative effects of social media and screen time, I had to dig through a lot of articles to pull out research done around the benefits. While reading, I noticed a pattern.  The negative effects of social media, in most cases, came down to overuse and a lack of understanding around teaching our children how to use social media safely and wisely.

Another argument  made was that social media is robbing children of a “real” or “normal” childhood.  In his YouTube video, Matt Walsh argues that his children would be better off with zero connections to the world, living in a forest.  However, as I listened to him, I couldn’t help but wonder why he felt his children would be better growing up with no outside influences than in a connected world where they might learn to think for themselves.  As I was watching this video, an ad popped up for Matt Walsh’s most recent documentary,  “What is a Woman?” in which Matt attacks people from the transgender community and argues that we need to get back to our roots and understanding of sexuality.  While you might think I’m off-topic here, the argument I’m making is that this ad helped me understand why he would want to keep his children isolated in a forest.  He wants to ensure that they keep his views and he definitely wouldn’t agree with my argument that social media helps underrepresented youth find connections and communities of support when their own families and friends might reject them. An interesting thing to note, however, is that Matt Walsh uses social media to spread false information…so…I could argue that he would be a good example of why we need to teach our children media literacy skills and how to think critically when online.

Kids these days…

Far too often, adults argue that children don’t have a real childhood.  But the “Back in my day” line isn’t new, and it definitely isn’t unique to the web 2.0 era! 

Adults have a habit of looking back on their own childhood as if it was perfect.  Brenna Hicks implies in her video that children never used to speak of depression, suicide, drugs, alcohol and sex.  Really!?!  While I won’t try to ignore the correlation between too much screen time, mindless scrolling, fomo, and depression and anxiety, I cannot accept that children of the past had zero problems before the age of the internet.  At one point she claims that when she was growing up, she was stronger because she just dealt with problems in her head and moved on.  Children today have been equipped with more resources and connections to know what they need and to ask for help.  When I was growing up, we never talked about mental health and I definitely wouldn’t have known who to contact if I had needed help.

I admire the way my own children use the internet to learn new things. 

My middle son doesn’t take piano lessons, but about 3 months ago he started watching Youtube videos.  Look at this…it’s ridiculous. How can I say that social media is ruining his childhood? I also think we need to stop saying that it eliminates creativity. I would argue that it enhances creativity and gives children opportunities beyond the limits of their school and home.

My youngest son is wise beyond his years.  He is able to watch videos about science, build Minecraft worlds with his friends online and connect with others to talk about his interests. Recently, he has become interested in coding and has started connecting with his uncle in Saskatoon via Messenger Kids to work on coding projects.

During Covid, my oldest son was just going into high school.  It was a very isolating time, especially for a young teen.  Online gaming and Snapchap helped him to feel connected to his friends.

Now, all this said, I will acknowledge that we do have a problem. 

Adults and children spend hours staring at screens.  This is not healthy for anyone.  We know that social media is here to stay, so what are we going to do about it??  We can’t point fingers and say “not it”.  We are ALL responsible.  As a mother, I need to make a more conscious effort to put my phone down, ignore notifications, and model face-to-face interactions and family time.  I also need to set boundaries and rules for my children.  I can’t expect them to know how to navigate the web on their own.

I’ve noticed that we tend to have an all or nothing mindset around whether or not children should use social media.  I think that instead of focusing our attention on how we feel about social media, we need to focus on how to use it to help our children learn and grow, and what health and safety measures we need to put in place.

Does Social Justice Mean Center Stage?

Topic: Educators have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice.

I want to start by saying, I appreciated the class discussion that took place during this week’s debate.  We addressed real challenges that we face in our profession and shared personal examples of how we might be silenced or worried about being in the public eye. 

I think that when we see “responsibility to use social media to promote social justice” we immediately think of Twitter posts and YouTube campaigns.  But maybe we don’t all have to be center stage with a megaphone to promote social justice.

We know that change often starts with the people who take risks, cross socially accepted lines, and speak their truth, even though there may be repercussions.  Sadly, we know that these change-makers can face consequences for their actions.  The first people to speak up to disrupt societal norms might risk losing their jobs, being attacked by community members or being outcast, even though what they are fighting for is right.  This is why change to disrupt oppressive discourses is often a slow and difficult process.

Center Stage

We need these courageous change-makers, the people who post on social media, scream from the rooftops and take on the social issues in a very public platform.  They are the ones who start change and create awareness.  They are fighters, they are brave and they light a fire that with time, helps others see.

But this isn’t the only definition of change-maker.  While some run to the front-lines, there are others who lead and fight for social justice in different ways, some in the public spotlight, others behind the scenes.

Watch this video that explains what leadership in a movement looks like:

Powerful Followers

As this video demonstrates, it takes a unique person to be the leader, but it also takes guts to be the first FOLLOWER.  You face ridicule.  And, even though you are just the first follower, you are helping the leader share the message. “We’re told that we all need to be leaders, but that would be ineffective.  The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow.”

Silent Forces

As educators, we all have the responsibility to be change-makers.  I agree with the statement that we risk reinforcing systemic oppression by “choosing to maintain the status quo and further marginalizing certain groups.

We cannot say that teachers are neutral.  Neutral does not exist.  Teachers are told that they must be impartial, but we have a responsibility to be aware of social issues and find ways to be the change that will advocate for the rights of the oppressed.  Neutrality is a sign of privilege.  If you don’t have an opinion, you are fortunate.

We must work to fight for the rights of others, examine socially accepted narratives with a critical eye, listen when people speak of injustices and act to make a difference.  But the way in which we do this will look different in each individual.  We all have a different role to play.

In my role, a big part of my job is to create division resources and units for teachers to use in their classrooms.  My role is also to model how we might use digital platforms to be critical thinkers and global collaborators.  For me, this is my “in”.  It is where I have an opportunity to promote change. 

Social Media For All

This is also where I have a responsibility to use social media to promote social justice.  Just as I believe in technology to provide opportunities for our students to expand their horizons, consider new perspectives, develop empathy and deepen understanding, I too, must be connected through social media to broaden my experiences and understanding.  I have a responsibility to use social media to connect with others and to listen to the voices of those who experience injustice and oppression.  I must be up-to-date with current events and seek new perspectives.  I must learn to think critically when I am online and question the narrative I am hearing. 

I don’t always post online, but I do share lessons, reflections, media and opportunities in a platform that teachers will use to lead these discussions with their students.  Education is the key to change.

I work to stay connected, to think critically, to learn and to unlearn, so that I might continue my learning journey and make a conscious effort to built social justice into every decision I make as an educator, a parent and a global citizen.

Why Are We Stuck in the Factory Model?

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

When reflecting on this topic, I find myself agreeing with many of the arguments made by the agree team, yet also agreeing with the arguments made on the disagree side.

In their opening argument, the agree side argued that using technology is more convenient and it levels the playing field with assistive technology, spell-check and grammar check.  They also argued that technology allows teachers to see quick automated feedback to have an immediate snapshot of how their students are progressing.

But, for me, the strongest argument they made was that using technology to reduce focus on menial tasks in order to allow for deeper thinking, creativity, collaboration and problem solving.  I absolutely agree that in this day and age, teachers need to adjust their focus from the old factory model of teaching.

Children no longer need to “be computers”.  We have computer to do that now.  If you’ve even see the movie, Hidden Figures, you’ll know that NASA used to hire “computers” to do their calculations.  Imagine going to space on a rocket based on HUMAN calculations!!!  We know that’s just absurd because we have grown up in an era of digital tools.  In Hidden Figures, there is a moment where Dorothy, one of the head computers realised that NASA was installing an IBM.  So what did she do??  She had a choice to make.  She could insist that the skills of her team were relevant and needed….OR….she could adjust her focus and learn the new skills necessary to ensure that she and her team remained relevant.  Remember, we’re dealing with geniuses who had the ability to calculate extremely complex equations needed to get humans to the moon!  Instead of holding onto outdated skills, Dorothy learned how to operate the IBM.  She knew that with this new technology, her team would no longer be needed.  So, she trained herself and her team to be the IBM experts. 

As educators, we must continue to learn, and prepare our children for the future.  We need to focus on skills that are relevant.  We are preparing them today for jobs that don’t even exist yet

Does that mean we need to predict the future? 

Of course not!  We need to provide opportunities for students to problem solve, to think critically about the overabundance of information, to explore new ways of creating, to take advantage of opportunities to connect beyond the classroom, and to practice collaboration with others in the physical and the online world.

While technology is an asset that provides opportunities, it will never replace people.  Technology plays a part in fostering relationships, developing empathy, practicing social justice and deepening thinking, but it will never replace valuable experiences in the physical world.

While I do think that we need to shift our priorities and re-examine the curricular expectations, I don’t agree that we should completely eliminate teaching any skills that can be easily carried out by technology.

The disagree team also made some very strong arguments as to why these skills still hold value in the classroom.  For example, they spoke to the importance of being able to read, write and spell without relying solely on our devices.  They also argued that hand-eye coordination supports students in learning to read and can improve the quality of retention.  I know that I am a big user of technology in my daily life, but when I am thinking, creating, collaborating or listening, I am more successful taking note, sketching and planning with a pencil in hand. 

The disagree side also made a strong argument about the need for students to work through the learning process, make mistakes and learn the why.  I completely agree with this statement.  While I think that we need to re-examine our outcomes and consider important changes needed in our assessment practices, there is definitely still value in teaching students the basics.  Students will be more successful if they learn how to blend the 2 worlds together.  While I’m arguing that students need the basic skills, I am also arguing that we do not need to invest endless hours in ensuring students have memorized every fact. 

What does this mean?

The beautiful thing about our world today is that we can learn essential skills in our physical world and blend them with our digital world to create in reimagined ways, access information at our fingertips, increase productivity, deepen learning experiences and strengthen relationships and collaborative opportunities.

Does Technology Really Mean Equity?

Topic: Technology has led to a more equitable society.

When I read this statement, I cannot pick a side.  My opinion changes, depending on the lens. If I examine this statement with the assumption that technology and support are available to all, then yes, in that scenario, technology can help level the playing field.  Technology has the ability to be transformational.

In my school division, we use Microsoft tools.  In recent years, Microsoft Edu has made an effort to put an emphasis on creating tools that support learning and destigmatize assistive technology.  They promote incorporating Universal Design for Learning principles in order to make these tools available to all before they even need to ask.

A big part of my job is training teachers in using this technology.  I’ve become very passionate about UDL, especially in a blended learning environment.  It is my wish that every teacher recognize the need to share

the tools for learning, to normalize the technology and to recognize the value. 

I tell people all the time, I myself use these tools to support my learning and productivity.  These are tools I didn’t have growing up, but knowing how they have changed my life as an adult, I want every student to be aware of the tools they can use to help level the playing field.

I’m using them to write this blog post today!

What I really want educators and parents to know is that these tools are FOR EVERYONE and assistive technology IS NOT CHEATING!

This is a great video addressing some of the myths about assistive technology:

When we have access to technology and education, we can easily see ways in which technology has created more equity in society.  According to Matt Jenner there has been a growing access to education at a global level.  “In 2007, 57 countries were providing over 10 years of formal education to people; by 2017, it grew to 173 countries. The same goes for those who provide under five years of formal education, which, in 2017, 47 countries were unable to deliver. However, by 2017, this number shrank to just 32 countries. This is a huge, global, success story and is enabling millions of people to be better educated, and stand better chances in life.”  There are many organizations, such as Unicef, who work to increase access to education around the world.

BUT…although there are many benefits and ways in which technology helps level the playing field, there are still many inequities that cannot be ignored.  There are still many cultures and people within our communities who do not have equal access to technology.

“If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education, then it’s not really a revolution.” (Source)

According to D. Frank Smith, the US Department of Education laid out a vision, outlining guidelines to help close the achievement gap in education.  Along with teacher training and quality materials, the Department of Education identified the need to “Ensure equitable access to technology and connectivity inside and outside of school, regardless of students’ backgrounds,” and ” Implement universal design principles for accessibility across all educational institutions and include these principles in teacher preparation programs.”

The better technology gets, the more necessary it becomes.  It has become such an integral part of society here in Canada that we might need to pose the question…should technology be a privilege or should it be a right?

Unfortunately, we have learned that the digital divide is not a simple as a “lack of technology”.  Annie Murphy Paul discusses this in her article.  “While technology has often been hailed as the great equalizer of educational opportunity, a growing body of evidence indicates that in many cases, tech is actually having the opposite effect: it is increasing the gap between rich and poor, between whites and minorities, and between the school-ready and the less-prepared.”   According to Neuman and Celano, “granted access to technology, affluent kids and poor kids use tech differently. They select different programs and features, engage in different types of mental activity, and come away with different kinds of knowledge and experience.”  What makes this even more concerning is something called the “Matthew Effect”.  This is the tendency for early advantages to multiply over time.”  This means that the most affluent and supported students will continue to benefit, moving them even further ahead with the advantages of technology.

We often think of the digital divide as being something we can ‘fix’ with more technology.  But in reality, it has more to do with how technology is being used.  “Addressing it would require a focus on people: training teachers, librarians, parents and children themselves to use computers effectively.”

When we talk about the advantages of technology, we need to remember that our assumptions come from a position of privilege and access.

It Isn’t the Tool, It’s the Practice

Debate: Technology in the classroom enhances learning.

I am a believer of technology in the classroom.  I see the need, the potential, the excitement, and the undeniable truth that this ever-changing technology is here to stay.  However, although I promote the use of technology in the classroom to enhance learning, the statement, “Technology in the classroom enhances learning” leaves too many variable to be stated as an undeniable truth.

I’ve often used the analogy of the outdated knee surgeon who uses the old scalpel to slice open your knee versus the surgeon who has learned the most advanced medical technology available.  Of course, we would all choose the most advanced procedure.  But, I ask you, if I had the newest, shiniest medical technology was in MY hands, would you let me cut your knee open?  OF COURSE NOT!  You know that no amount of medical technology will ever make me a surgeon!  So why would we assume that it’s any different with educational technology?  When we talk about better technology to enhance medical practices, we do so with the assumption that the doctor is highly skilled and well-trained in the most up-to-date research-based medical practices. 

We know that there is little to no research to prove that the addition of technology in the classroom directly increases academic performance.  But whenever I hear this, I always wonder…by which standards?  What criteria are we using to define academic success?  Are we comparing students to western, colonial standards, whereby they are assessed on their ability to read, write and calculate on paper, regurgitate euro-centric historical facts, and memorize scientific terms?  Are we simply looking at the summative results of standardized tests and numbers on a scale?  Who determines what it means to be ‘smart’?

If I looked at the final result of the 2 knee surgeries, I might determine that in the end, both were successful, and the technology did not have a direct impact on the final outcome.  But we know that isn’t the case.  In the knee surgery we consider the process, the pain, the healing time, the risks, and then the final results and success rates.  Although “[r]esearch comparing the effects of digital learning to traditional classroom instruction has yet to show a consistent, significant advantage for digital learning” (Bernard et al., 2004), when we break it down into teaching practices enhanced by the integration of technology, we could say that there is indeed research that supports these instructional methods to enhance learning.  Therefore, the argument can be made that, if used effectively, technology in the hands of highly skilled and well-trained teachers can indeed enhance learning in the classroom.

In their debate, Megan and Brittney M highlighted many ways in which technology can enhance learning, such as:

  • Access to information (beyond the classroom)
  • Culture and real-life experiences
  • Active engagement
  • Differentiation
  • Collaboration
  • Creation and communication
  • Family engagement

Meanwhile, Nicole R and Daryl presented many valid concerns regarding technology in a learning environment.  These included:

  • Possible distractions
  • Screen-time
  • Lack of face-to-face connections
  • Risk of shallow and artificial learning
  • Impacts on mental health and social emotional learning
  • Lack of balance

I believe that both groups included strong reasons to support their arguments.  When looking at the effective use of technology in the classroom, I think that the arguments made against technology are valid concerns.  Computers don’t fix learning.  We can’t simply increase the number of devices in a building and call it a day.  If used ineffectively, the function of a device might be used as a simple substitution of pencil and paper.  Don’t get me wrong, there are times when all a student needs is a word processor, but without the consideration of effective instructional methods, technology does not guarantee added value.

As Clark and Mayer (2011) observe:

“From the plethora of media comparison research conducted over the past 60 years, we have learned that it’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” (Teaching in a Digital Age)

To help teachers reflect on their use of educational technology, Dr. Ruben Puentedura created the SAMR model framework.  Puentedura encourages teachers to consider whether or not they are using technology in the classroom to provide added value.

In the article, “Four Ways Technology Has Negatively Changed Education“, Dr. Khadija Alhumaid argues that technology has led to a deterioration of students’ competencies in Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.  Alhumaid quotes Carr (2011) who “accuses technology of causing our minds to be ‘shallow’ and asserts that students who read linear texts have better understanding and a stronger memory than those who read via the Internet.”  This statement reminded me of something I read from Tony Bates in his book Teaching in a Digital Age.  “For the ancient Greeks, oratory and speech were the means by which people learned and passed on learning. Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey were recitative poems, intended for public performance. To be learned, they had to be memorized by listening, not by reading, and transmitted by recitation, not by writing” (Bates 2019).  Bates talks about Socrates, who once found his student memorizing a speech that he had learned from written text (gasp).  Socrates shared a story with his student to teach him a lesson about this ‘new’ technology that would be the demise of wisdom:

[Writing] will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they will rely on what is written, creating memory not from within themselves, but by means of external symbols. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminding. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them many things without teaching them anything, you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they will know nothing. And as men filled not with wisdom but the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellow men.

Phaedrus, 274c-275, translation adapted from Manguel, 1996

We are so far removed from ancient Greek times that this notion that true wisdom only comes from oral memory seems almost absurd.  But, are we really that far removed?  Does this not sound exactly like the arguments made every time a new technology in introduced to education?  This brings me back to the point I made earlier.  When we are talking about “competencies” we need to ask ourselves, how do we define wisdom, intelligence, and COMPETENCE?  If we were assessed on the ancient Greek standards, I do believe that the majority of us would fail the test.  Aristotle would say that accurate memorization is a critical skill, lost with the written word.  Based on those standards, one could argue that our learning has become “shallow”.

Rather than clinging to principles that were defined in the past, we need to consider teaching and technology with a focus on social practices that can adapt to the environment.  When we consider how students learn, an argument can be made for the ways in which technology might improve learning.  “Research-based principles of learning indicate that what and how much is learned are influenced by motivation to learn, which is stimulated by tasks of optimal novelty and difficulty, relevant to personal interests, and providing for personal choice and control (APA, 1997; Caine & Caine, 2011; McCombs & Vakili).  “Allowing students voice and control in their learning process, taking responsibility in the learning process, and utilizing multiple pathways to individualize learning are key principles of this learner-centered approach to instruction.”  This approach is correlated with higher student participation and motivation to learn, which in turn correlates with improved learning (Cornelius-White, 2007). (As quoted in Teaching in a Digital Age: How Educators Use Technology to Improve Student Learning)

When used effectively, technology has the ability to redefine the learning environment.  It can allow students to learn through observation and hands-on experiences.  Technology also allows students to learn through a variety of multimedia platforms, which creates choice and enables them to take ownership in their learning.  We also know that, “[l]earning is influenced by social interactions, interpersonal relations, and communication with others, and learners need opportunities for positive interactive and collaborative tasks (Darnon, Butera, & Harackiewicz, 2007). Research suggests that collaborative learning promotes critical thinking and helps students retain information longer” (Johnson & Johnson). 

Technology in the classroom opens the door to many possibilities.  It allows students to share their work with a real audience.  Gone are the days (I hope) where students wait while their work sits on a teacher’s desk, waiting to be marked.  Learning doesn’t happen when students get their marks…learning happens during the process.  This is why we should be looking at the process when asking ourselves whether or not technology enhances learning. 

Technology allows students to share their understanding in a variety of ways.  Rather than completing multiple choice tests and essays, students have the tools to demonstrate understanding in a multitude of ways and share their thinking with an authentic audience.  Students can learn from each other, from their teacher, and from a global community.  Dr. Khadija Alhumaid also argued that technology creates a “dehumanising effect” and leads to social isolation (2019).  I would argue that while over-consumption and screen-time are a growing concern, technology also provides opportunities for students to be more connected than ever. 

I think I’ve made it very apparent that I see the value in technology to enhance learning.  However, technology alone means nothing.  Just as I would never put a wiggle seat in a classroom and expect every child to suddenly start learning, I would never put a computer in front of a child and expect them to know how to use it to learn.  It comes down to having an understanding of best practice and instructional methods that enhance learning.

As discussed in Technology can close achievement gaps, improve learning | Stanford Graduate School of Education,

– States, districts, and schools should favor technology designed to promote high levels of interactivity and engagement and make data available in multiple forms;

– Curriculum and instruction plans should enable students to use technology to create content as well as learn material; and

– Policymakers and educators should plan for “blended” learning environments, characterized by significant levels of teacher support and opportunities for interactions among students, as companions to technology use.

Professional learning for teachers is key!  Teachers should understand the need to balance in a “blended” learning environment. 

A Day in the Life

Well…I have done something completely out of my comfort zone for this opening EC&I 830 post…I have recorded a song. However, I have good reason. All week, as I’ve considered what I will say about a day in my life of technology, I could not get the song out of my head (A Day in the Life by the Beatles). The more I thought about it, the more I realized, it actually fits quite well with my relationship with technology and education. I am a learning consultant of 21st Century Learning with Regina Catholic Schools. This means that I work with teachers and students to integrate educational technology in the classroom to provide opportunities for students to create, connect, collaborate and think critically. We also work together to establish an environment where students have voice and choice in their learning. What better way for me to express this than to create a video sharing a day in my life as a learning consultant.

I’m surprising even myself with this post…I hope you enjoy!

Instrumental music: Zoom Karaoke Official