Author Archives: Nicole Wiens

Wrapping up ECI 830 With a Video Reflection

As this course comes to an end, I have put some thoughts together on my learning journey and how the format of the class encouraged collaboration while also expanding critical reasoning and perspective. This kind of growth is important in the formation of leadership skills. Thank you to each of my colleagues, and Dr. Katia Hildebrandt, for the journey through various challenges in education technology.  We all worked hard to research, critically examine alternative viewpoints, navigate to find the best solutions, and recognize that others may have concluded differently. I will leverage each of these skills for success on my education and leadership journey.

The Pandemic Gave Rise to Online Learning – but is it Still Needed?

On Monday evening we heard an interesting debate on whether or not online education is detrimental to the social and academic development of children. This debate may have seen the largest shift in voting outcome out of all of our debates, and it generated interesting conversation.

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The agree side (Colton, Britney S., and Kayla) posited that online education is detrimental to the development of children because:

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The disagree side (Christopher, Arkin, and Katherine) worked to prove that online education is not detrimental to the social and academic development of children, stating that:

  • Online learning is the perfect supplement and is best when presented as a choice that families can plan their lives around.
  • The pace is flexible, allowing a better work life balance. It can also allow personalization.
  • It provides unique benefits for students with disabilities.
  • Helps develop self-discipline, self-motivation, and time management.
  • It can ease the pressures of bullying or harassment, and can support students with mental health challenges to keep up in a flexible way.
  • Covid-19 forced the world into online learning and many successes were reported.
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Emergency learning was a negative experience in many cases, including my own. I have intelligent young children, but I also work fulltime. Emergency online learning was just that – an emergency. I was not able to plan a safe break in my career to be at home with my children to support their learning. Instead, I managed their education between meetings, adding my own content as a supplement when there wasn’t much to work with. In order to manage doing this, I worked well into the evening, every day, for several months. This was a difficult and unsustainable arrangement.

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Emergency online learning was a challenging time for many women. Dubbed a “she-cession,” Canada has seen a significantly disproportionate number of women leave the workforce since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, setting progress in female employment rates back by decades. This article discusses others who struggled with emergency online learning, and the unbalanced effect it had on marginalized populations.

End feminist rant.

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Emergency learning is not the same thing as optional, established online learning. If a family is able to choose online learning for their young children, and is set up to facilitate that learning effectively, I think online learning can be highly effective. However, the key to its effectiveness is the facilitator’s ability to engage the students in the learning. In this case, parents are the support persons who are ensuring the course is effective and learning is, thus, largely dependent on them.

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I wonder, would you answer the debate question differently if you were given the age of the student? Say 6 vs. 16?

Teaching Kids to be Responsible Online

This week we had the pleasure of attending a debate entitled “teachers must help students develop a digital footprint.” It was a wonderful debate, resulting in a rich class discussion and kudos must be given to all parties involved for their excellent efforts in arguing their sides.

The agree side, Rae and Funmilola, argued that educators in schools are best positioned to help students develop the necessary skills to safely discern and navigate the online world and build a positive digital footprint.

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This team argued that teachers have the responsibility to educate students on how to use appropriate language online, conduct reliable research, post their work online, and comment collegially on the work of others, all within their stage of development. This article by Dawn McGuckin provides several suggestions on how to incorporate learning on digital citizenship and digital footprints. Doing so will help students learn about the consequences of online conduct, the risks of social media algorithms, digital marketing, and data collection. Dan Spada offers explanations on how to teach students about their digital footprint and safe internet use. Teachers must work to empower students with the knowledge to develop and sustain their own positive digital identity.

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The disagree side, Kimberly and Gertrude, argued that a digital footprint is a data trail, which is different than teaching good digital citizenship. Because of the new phenomenon called “sharenting” (parents sharing information about their children online), the vast majority of children already have a digital footprint before they begin school. Most parents do not request consent from their children, and often begin documenting their children’s lives at conception. Wimbly Martin & Feldstern (2020)  urge parents and schools to consider the potential consequences for children whose lives have been shared with the world as facial recognition software evolves. Each of these children is at risk for identity theft and possibly other unforeseeable issues.

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At school, when a child is given an email account, a RazKids username, a Typing Club login, etc., each account is listed in their name. And many of the digital education resources we use store student data online. This puts children at risk for digital information theft and even possibly human trafficking. Unfortunately, Canadian law does not differentiate between children and adults regarding online privacy. This results in student digital identities that are not safe.

The disagree group listed several items we need to consider before asking teachers to be responsible for the digital footprints of students, including the need to educate parents, a child’s right to autonomy and consent, improved digital security, and corporate transparency.

This was a wonderful debate, and truly led to a rich class discussion and many people changing sides. Upon reflection, I do think teachers should teach students about digital footprints, digital citizenship, and safe internet use. While teachers cannot be held responsible for students’ home lives, or thus their digital footprint, they can offer a positive learning experience for students that can help shape the decisions they make. In order to empower teachers to do this, support for professional development on digital citizenship and footprints is needed; this learning could be incorporated in staff meetings, and learning consultants could provide resources throughout the school to help reinforce this learning on how to educate children about curating a positive digital footprint.

Great job to all of the participants this week.

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Cell Phone Hotels – a Clear and Effective Boundary

Our class was nearly split in equal halves in this polarizing debate, with 48.5% disagreeing and 51.5% agreeing that cellphones should be banned in classrooms. I sided with the agree side at the outset, and although the debate did not swing my vote, it did offer good food for thought.

The disagree team – Bret, Reid, and Leona – offered valid arguments, starting off by openly recognizing the addiction risk, mental health concern, and distraction posed by cell phones, but suggested that the benefits of using cellphones in the classroom might outweigh the negative impacts, if used appropriately.

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The disagree team emphasized that cellphones are an integral part of our lives and that teachers should work to promote digital literacy, creating classroom environments where students use their phones in a productive manner. They posed that proper classroom management may mean that cell phones are not used at will, but that cell phones “provide flexible and collaborative learning environments and we should work to incorporate these devices into everyday classrooms” (debate recording, 01.07.54). It is possible that incorporating innovative activities involving cell phones might engage students in an exciting way as well as help teachers hone in on creating critical digital literacy. See Kunnath and Jackson’s (2019) article on using Twitter to accomplish this goal.

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The disagree group also pointed out that cell phones are more readily available among students than laptops. They noted that cell phones are compatible with certain VR software which can make learning more tangible. For example, students can experience virtual field trips, science experiments, etc. The group argued that Google cardboard headsets are all that are needed and that apps for the phone are free.

And in one of their more debatable points (sorry guys), the disagree team suggested that cell phones would improve communication between the children, the school and parents. For example, in the event of an injury or emergency, cell phones would offer streamlined communication between parents and students. These same points were made during a cell phone ban in New York City Public Schools, which was eventually dropped in 2015. This “improved communication” point was debated among classmates, and I must say, hypothetical examples of extreme chaos during an emergency ran through my head.

The agree team – Echo, Lovepreet, and Amanpreet – outlined the dangers of cell phone use in classrooms. They explained addiction and “nomophobia, a fear of not being able to use one’s phone or the apps that these devices offer” (debate recording, 01.03.12). This means that the mere presence of a child’s phone causes a split in their attention, potentially leading to them missing important instructional information.

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The agree team suggested that banning cell phones in classrooms would help prevent certain types of cheating, cell phone theft, technology addiction, cyberbullying, and surveillance capitalism while they are in school.  Selwyn & Aagaard (2021) propose that banning cell phones in schools offers researchers an opportunity to “advance understandings about a number of seemingly problematic issues regarding the continued use of digital technologies in schools” (p.8).

The most significant point I believe the agree group made was that of decreasing digital distraction and its associated negative impact on learning. They cited research, stating that “students spend up to 20% of their in-class time texting, emailing, and checking social media” (debate recording, 01.03.37) and that “students who received text messages during class had significantly lower test scores compared to those students who did not receive text messages in class” (Chaklader & Bohlander, cited by Tindell & Bohlander, 2012).

The group also proposed that using personal cell phones in class would promote digital and educational inequality and social isolation; not all students have them, and not all families can supply one (Smale, Hutcheson, & Russo, 2021).

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The agree group’s final message, “disconnect to connect,” resonated with me. There is no doubt that technology enhances learning when used appropriately, and that cell phones are multi-tools offering certain potential educational uses in the classroom, independence, and flexibility, however we cannot ignore the potential distraction and negative impacts on learning that cell phones create. I would not be opposed a cell phone ban in my children’s K-8 school. However, if cell phone use is allowed (for example, in high schools), I believe it should be approached cautiously, with school-division-provided phones for those who do not have a device, and with clear expectations and limits imposed to reduce potential negative impacts. A cell phone hotel, or cell phone lockers, for example, creates a clear and effective boundary. Only with these guidelines will teachers be able to maximize the potential positive effects of phones in the classroom.

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All of this being said, here is something to think about: What does the need for a cell phone hotel say about our tech practices?

Is Social Media Ruining Childhood?

On Monday evening, we were privileged to hear a debate on this topic. Fasiha, Gunpreesh, and Dami faced Jennifer, Shivali, and Mike, with each side trying to convince us that social media is or isn’t ruining childhood. In the pre-vote, I sided with the minority and voted “disagree.” Because I work in a post-secondary school, my students are adults, not children. My perspective is thus limited to my personal life. Personally, I use social media. As a parent, I am making every effort to guide my young children (ages 6 and 9) to use technology responsibly. They have age-appropriate, parent-guided, limited exposures to educational apps, such as Epic and Seesaw. They are not old enough to have their own Facebook or Instagram page, however they are featured on mine. All devices (iPod, iPad, phones, etc.) in our home are password-protected and cannot be accessed without a parent. I am sharing this to explain that my perspective is different from many of my classmates who work with children day in and day out. Nonetheless, as a parent, I found this debate to be thought-provoking, relatable, and with excellent points made by both sides.

The agree side (Fasiha, Gunpreesh, and Dami) made many good points. The ones that resonated most with me were:

1. Let kids be kids

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Childhood (which the agree group defined as 0-12 years) used to be about going outside, skipping robes, making mud pies, and using your imagination. These years are at time to nurture imagination, curiosity, and creativity. Introducing social media during these years overshadows childhood imaginative play and “robs children of having an authentic life” (Dami, debate recording, 00.06.32). As Matt Walsh states “many kids today do not know how to find joy or happiness or fulfillment outside of a screen, though they can’t really find it inside the screen either, so they just don’t have it at all.” Walsh suggests that the easiest way to keep your 7-year old off a cell phone is to not give them one in the first place. Parents have a responsibility to restrict or prevent internet and social media use for young children.

2. Social media is harmful to mental health

Children are impressionable, and if guidance and supervision are not there, children may be severely impacted by the dangers of social media, such as online predators or cyberbullying. Social media impacts self-esteem development and has been linked to an increase in anxiety, and risky behaviours. A literature review by Carly Bizieff (2021) supports these claims, concluding that social media causes aggressive behavior, and negatively impacts body image, mental health, physical health, and school performance in children.

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3. Social media is addictive

Children need to play in a face-to-face environment to discover how to socialize and have fun. Children who are addicted to social media feel detached from the world, become disinterested in previous passions, and rely on online validation to feel relevant.

The disagree side (Jennifer, Shivali, and Mike) were able to make some convincing counter-points, demonstrating instances of social media being used to contribute to collective good. Here are the disagree points that resonated with me:

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1. It’s change that we fear

We have resisted many developments when they were new, such as newspapers, writing, sending children to school, radio, and email. These things did not ruin childhood. As Mike states “social media does not ruin childhood any more than books, radio, of the printing press. It’s about how we use the tools” (debate recording, 00.12.22).

2. Social Media promotes connections and gives youth a voice

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Many youth find connections online which reduces isolation and helps them form communities of support and mutual interest. This can be particularly empowering for underrepresented or marginalized youth. The group provided multiple examples of social media being used by young people for societal good, such as 24-year-old Isabelle Chapadeau, who uses social media to share her Inuit culture. They also showcased Alex Knoll, the 16-year-old who came up with the idea for the ability app, designed to improve accessibility and inclusion. And they discussed Hannah Alper, 17-year-old activist, motivational speaker, and author, who uses her blog as a platform to raise awareness for social justice issues in an effort to promote change and promote activism from others. Social media can promote connections and empower youth with a voice.

3. Adult guidance and support are needed

The group used an impactful analogy of learning to swim, stating “when children learn to swim, we guide and teach them to be safe and know the risks” (debate recording, 00.14.48). Children require the same attention, supervision, and guidance when learning how to navigate social media. This requires boundaries, and education on cyberbullying, safety and security, and mental health impacts, in order to instill values on proper social media use. The group also provided an article that proposes educators should move beyond teaching digital citizenship and towards teaching students to become digital leaders that use the internet and social media “to improve the lives, wellbeing, and circumstances of others” (Miller, 2018).

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When the rebuttals began, Dami had me questioning where I stood on the issue when she passionately reminded us all that “we are talking about children here” (debate recording, 00.17.40). The definition of a child does make a significant difference to this topic: A child under the age of 13 requires restrictions to online and social media access, whereas a teenager requires support, guidance, education, and autonomy to explore. Since we didn’t clearly establish whether a child was 0-12 or 0-18, the different sides seemed to have adopted differing definitions. As Katia stated at the conclusion of Monday’s class “as usual, we come down somewhere in the middle, with points to be made on both sides” (debate recording, 01.51.33). Social media is not all bad. It entertains us. It can bring people together, give people a voice and a sense of belonging, and help families and friends who live apart keep in touch. We have seen several instances of youth using social media platforms for good. However, it remains imperative that parents and schools create safe guidelines for children to limit, guide, and support the safe and age-appropriate use of social media as the dangers posed by social media are real.

Social Media and Professionalism

Early polls showed this was the most widely split discussion topic our class has seen thus far. My early vote was that educators do not have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice. I voted this way because, while I believe that we are responsible to teach, promote, and pursue social justice, I do not believe that social media is the most appropriate vehicle for this.

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Kari, Jessica, and Jenny argued that teachers should be responsible to use technology and social media to promote social justice. They contended that teaching is not neutral, and that teaching children to have a voice is essential in creating critical thinkers with the confidence and knowledge to navigate complex topics and speak out. They provided an article that discussed leveraging social media and web-based technologies to engage and empower students with social justice projects; the article proposed that “in order to reach this generation, an internet-ready, web-enabled approach is needed” (Liang, Commins & Duffy, 2010, p.16) to help students engage with social justice work.

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Conversely, Dalton and Brooke’s “Mick and Rercer Retort” asserted that we expect professionalism and accountability from educators both in person and online, and that becoming a “slacktivist” can lead to negative consequences.  They proposed instead that teachers who want to make a difference should attend rallies, write letters, or join community activist groups. An article entitled “Teachers, Politics, and Social Media: a Volatile Mix,” reviewed a cases of teachers put on leave for making unprofessional remarks on social media, and discussed the balance between having political opinions and the potential to create conflict when voicing those opinions. “In an increasingly divisive climate, teachers might think twice before posting political opinions on Twitter or Facebook” (Will, 2020, para 38).

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My perspective on this topic aligns more closely with that of Dalton and Brooke, and relates to my frame as a nursing educator. Healthcare students are firmly advised to avoid discussing private and confidential patient information with anyone outside of the circle of care. Doing so, even accidentally, poses problems with their educational institution and regulatory body.  Educational institutions, such as the Saskatchewan Polytechnic, and regulatory bodies, such as the College of Registered Nurses of Saskatchewan (CRNS), have strict guidelines around professionalism and patient confidentiality for social media use.

These rules and regulations are strictly monitored and enforced by healthcare institutions and regulatory bodies. A Saskatchewan nurse who criticized her grandfather’s care on Facebook, advocating for Saskatchewan’s Minister of Health to make changes that would lead to care improvements, was found guilty of unprofessional conduct, and fined $26,000. Professional behaviors must be maintained both at work and in the private lives of nurses and educators.

This is why I don’t believe in posting social justice related advocacy on social media. There are instances of social justice platforms being affiliated with radical groups.  If a nursing educator accidentally releases patient details, student details, or aligns themselves with a radicalist group, they are at risk of professional misconduct.

It is noteworthy that in this particular debate, debaters and classmates related to the subject matter on an emotional level. This encouraged empathetic consideration of both sides of the argument. I often find myself sitting somewhere in the middle of these topics, and this one is no exception. It is absolutely our responsibility to teach, promote, and pursue social justice in order to improve our communities, however I do not believe that social media is the most appropriate place to do this.

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Do our kids need to know how to multiply?

I must admit, headed into this week’s debate I was fairly stuck in my opinion that “basic skills” are foundational to good citizenship and must be taught in schools. A troubling potential hazard to no longer teaching basic math, spelling, or cursive writing include a deepening of the achievement gap. However, a good debate can broaden your perspective and improve your critical thinking, and this one did just that.

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Leah and Sushmeet made a valuable point around the use of technology to free up instructional time that can be used to improve understanding of basic subjects (rather than my assumption that the argument would be to simply not teach basic skills at all). In his TED Talk, David Middelbeck proposes that most people don’t understand how technology works and that there is a need for radically transformed digital education to eliminate digital illiteracy. Middelbeck discusses the importance of blended learning: subjects can be taught with the aid of online tools, which “free[s] up the valuable offline time for deep interaction with our students” (9:32). Leah and Sushmeet emphasized this point in their argument stating that, for example, if you replace the teaching of a mathematical computation using a technology resource, then you free up instructional time to delve deeper into the understanding of that computation.

Alyssa, Kelly, and Durston argued that schools must still teach basic skills. They presented an article that supports the need to improve mental math skills in Canada, and suggests that the use of a calculator has contributed to a wide-scale national problem (Bennett, 2021). However, I believe it is noteworthy that a calculator is an example of a technology that is a substitution for learning. If we hope to teach basic math skills with the aid of technology, shouldn’t we be seeking a technology that enhances learning and provides students with feedback?

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We also read an article on the importance of spelling. This article proposes that, despite the existence of software to correct spelling mistakes on devices, spelling matters in today’s world and should continue to be explicitly taught (Pan, Rickard & Bjork, 2021, p. 1543). However, researchers ultimately concluded that there are many spelling instruction techniques, including innovative technology-based methods, and that research is needed to scrutinize new ideas and generate evidence to establish which are effective.

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In any good debate there is opportunity to learn from both sides. I agree with Alyssa, Kelly and Durston, that basic skills are foundational and must be taught in schools, however I see no reason that these skills cannot be taught with the aid of technology. In fact, I believe that leveraging technology in our classrooms will help to individualize and personalize learning, and may also minimize the effects of the digital divide. Technology and online tools have the ability to strengthen and personalize education in order to prepare students for the technology-filled “real world.” However, technology has to be carefully chosen and implemented. A calculator, for example, does not help enhance learning or impart knowledge. In short, we must teach basic skills, and we can certainly employ technology in these lessons, but care must be taken to ensure the selected technology enhances learning.

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.