Author Archives: Nicole Wiens

A Sleepless Monday Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Technology Enhances Learning, or Does it?

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

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

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

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

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

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