And traversing the online teaching frontier… (Debates 7&8)
What happens when you have to debate as the opposition on a topic you wholeheartedly support? Short answer: It gets very messy inside your mind very quickly! When I volunteered to switch my stance for this debate and play “devil’s advocate,” I was almost exclusively thinking of one of my favourite books, Think Again, by Adam Grant.
In his book, Grant outlines how to develop the habit of thinking again: think like a scientist, define your identity in terms of values not opinions, and (of most importance here) seek out information that goes against your views. Make no mistake, despite how I debated Monday night, I am firmly in support of teachers and schools having a role in the development of children’s digital footprints. Of course,I wanted to see if I could convince myself of the opposite viewpoint…even just a little.
As always, let’s turn to the facts before I jump in with my final reflections (revealed in the video below…)
Debate 7 Final Reflection and Leftover Questions
In the end, I cannot dispute that teachers and schools play a role in helping students develop their digital footprints (you got me there, Rae and Funmi!). As educators, we act as guides for our students navigating a physical and now digital world. After playing devil’s advocate, the one caveat I can make in this case is that the development of student digital identities does not START with teachers and cannot END with them either. The responsibility is shared. We owe it to our children to hold parents, teachers/schools/divisions, governments, and online platforms accountable for creating safe online spaces for our children to explore their digital identities.
As an educator (or similar), do you feel adequately supported by parents, your school/division, and professional resources/development when teaching students about digital citizenship and footprints?
If you have received excellent resources and/or PD on this topic (to use with students), please share in the comments, including how it guided your classroom lessons and use of tech.
How often do you check the terms of service agreement before signing off on something? Tell me I’m not the only one signing my life away
“I can’t but we can.”
Traversing the online teaching frontier…I think I got lost in Timbuktu – Debate 8
I was still reeling from my own debate (I really dislike pushing a one-sided viewpoint. Objectivity. ALL. THE. WAY!), but the subsequent online learning debate delivered a double-whammy to my solar plexus! I’ve been teaching online for almost 3 years now. To suggest it’s been detrimental to the social and academic development of the children I’ve worked with feels like a personal attack. It’s not, of course. Once more, I turn to the facts before I will jump in with my reflection…littered with 3 years of positive and negative experiences.
Debate 8 Final Reflections and Leftover Questions
After reading all the articles and listening to the debators and my classmates discuss this topic, I keep coming back to my own experiences over the last few years. I have the unique vantage point of having taught in the rushed, uncharted dynamic of the pandemic and then in a more developed, purposeful role as an OLST (online learning support services teacher). Teaching students from every school in every grade in my division is not for nothing. The highs and lows of online learning have changed me as an educator; changed my definitions of schools, classrooms, and teaching. To say that online learning is detrimental to students generalizes the concepts of physical schools and education as one-size-fits-all definitions. That is certainly not the case. When done properly, and by that, I mean MINDFULLY, online education can become a digital anchor for many families needing something different. Physical schools will always be needed, but online education is the perfect alternative.
If you’re so inclined, please tell me about your own teaching experiences during the pandemic. Mine was oddly positive, but I know experiences vary greatly!
How do you think pandemic teaching and current online teaching differ? Or do you think they do?
What would you say to a family considering online? What factors should be taken into consideration?
How do you feel about your own online education? Does it seem like a viable option as opposed to being on-campus? What works for you and what doesn’t?
Thank you for joining this learning journey. One master’s class down…many more to go! Best wishes to you all!
Another Monday evening and my brain is rumbling with all the new information laid out smorgasbord-style. Our first debate – Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology (e.g., cursive writing, multiplication tables, spelling) – simultaneously had me questioning my reliance on unreliable techwhile agreeing education needs a more innovative futuristic lens. Both sides presented such compelling, passionate cases I considered calling this: If My Blog is as Fuzzy as My Brain Right Now. I didn’t, and I’ll try to be clear as I outline the presented facts. For me, the question became: Does “basic” mean unnecessary? Let’s see what both sides have to say…
PRO points to consider
I can’t speak for the rest of the class, but in the pre-vote, I was Team PRO- ALL. THE. WAY. As a former student who struggled to learn multiplication facts and spelled I’ve as eyve, I managed to grow up to educate young minds. Sushmeet and Leah passionately outlined why our students deserve more than basic skills.
–Survey says: Based on the survey shared on Discord (P.S. – such a brilliant strategy!) our class respondents heavily rely on technology to complete basic tasks, even though many of us come from a bygone era of basic skill drills. Why? Convenience. Should I strain my brain when Grammarly can spell restaurant for me (after my 6th attempt!)? And as someone who was diagnosed with dyscalculia too late in life for it to matter, using Siri as my verbal calculator feels like a godsend. Newsflash: Our teachers lied! We can carry calculators around with us every minute of the day!
– Less menial more meaningful: With less focus on rote learning, students become free to create and explore. Cue flashback: It’s grade 3 and I am trying struggling to learn anything past 2X2. My mom buys a bootlegged tape (yes, Gen Z, I said a TAPE!) of multiplication songs. I finally learn my facts. I can sing 5X2=10, but I don’t understand why until I am much older.
Has much less meaning than the awareness that an egg carton equals a real-world array.
Additionally, less focus on basic math skills allows more time for critical thinking tasks like makerspaces and coding. Hmmmm, would students rather look at a 2-D multiplication table or make a 3-D printing of an array city? I know what 9-year-old me would’ve said!
–Less impersonal while more equitable: Rote learning often fails to consider the diverse needs (and circumstances) of each student. As discussed in previous debates, tech can provide a diversified approach to student interests and abilities. Likewise, with less focus on spelling (as if it somehow reflects a person’s character) more time can be used for relevant and humanitarian-based subjects: social justice, climate change, and the like. If you’ve read my other post on tech-equity (techquity?), you’ll know I am not a huge proponent of technology bridging the digital divide; however, in the Tedx Talk Re-inventing Education in the Digital Age, speaker David Middelbeck makes a compelling case for a digital shift in education. Technology (when and where available) can be used to help students struggling with basic math and grammar skills; they can then advance to more innovative and employable skills like coding.
–Shift in teacher-student roles: As discussed in class, educational roles are changing. In the aforementioned Tedx Talk, Middelbeck outlines how education has consistently (albeit often too slowly) adjusted to meet the learning needs of society. The printing press marked an increase in class-inclusive education systems. The Industrial Revolution pushed an agenda of homogenous learning and capitalist advancement. Today, digital age educators are helping students use technology to ask and answer their own questions through creation and collaboration. With the use of such technology, how important is cursive writing for students in comparison to programs that allow ideas to flow across a shared screen?
–Other points liketech providing timely feedback and less bias were also discussed, but I’m not 100% sure these concepts exist in the “same lane” as the idea schools should no longer teach basic skills. Please feel free to argue this point with me! Until then, I’ll move on…
CON points to consider
Just when I thought I was firmly entrenched in the PRO camp, Alyssa, Kelly, and Durston presented their compelling reasons why basic doesn’t mean bad in education.
–Current events versus current abilities: If ever there was a timely case for the necessity of basic skills in education, the ransomware situation at Regina Public has certainly provided a relevant anecdotal record. As my Regina-based classmates struggled with tasks ranging from photocopying to inputting report card data, I questioned if I could function without technology in the classroom? Short answer: As an online educator, I can’t. Obviously.
Even in a physical classroom, I flounder with certain basic skills. Thank God ransomware can’t attack calculators, but what would I do without one? The situation was posed in class: If a student asks a math equation and the teacher needs to walk across the classroom to grab a calculator, how bad does that look? Full disclaimer: In the past, I have frequently been that teacher. Of course, it’s not calculators that finally “saved” me – it’s (really) learning my basic math. Hurray for meaningful math strategies! Likewise, it took time and effort for me to master my spelling issues. As Grammarly seamlessly corrects my errors (while I type this), I am extremely grateful; however, without basic grammar skills, I could never catch the issues often missed by computer programs. Quite often, or at least in my case, it feels like basic skills must come before tech skills.
–Mental math before calculators: My anecdotal academic failings aside (are you shocked I actually made it as a teacher?!), let’s return to the data. In Mathematics Deficit: Why do Canadian Students Still Struggle in Math?, author P. Bennett provides some (disappointing) findings: “The most recent April 2021 Fraser Institute report on Mathematics performance of students across Canada contained very few surprises. . . . Steep declines have been registered by students from Alberta (- 38 points), British Columbia (-34 points), and Saskatchewan (- 31 points).” Why? Bennett stresses an over-reliance on calculators since the 1980s. In comparison “top performing nations, such as Singapore, China and Korea, put far more emphasis on integrating mental computation with conceptual understanding before progressing to higher-level math and problem-solving.” In simple terms, we have to lay structurally sound foundations (see: basic math) before we can expand our thinking confidently and creatively.
–Grammar: A Schoolhouse Rock production: We’ve all read the (judgy) adage: “If you say ‘I seen’ rather than ‘I saw’ I will assume it’s never been the inside of a book!” (anon). Schoolhouse Rock, with its catchy beats, led us to believe that spelling and grammar act as windows to our minds. As discussed by the CON team, a lack of basic spelling and grammar skills can negatively impact a student’s future in the following ways:
Employability: Though arguably an antiquated and possibly costly practice, employers dismiss over 42% of resumes based on spelling errors.
Miscommunications: Students have valuable ideas, but grammatical issues can cause their concepts to be lost in translation.
Societal judgment: It’s not a point I like mentioning, but society is constantly judging us based on our grammatical/spelling skills. Whether applying to a university, writing a prescription, or creating a business site, grammatical mistakes can prove costly.
Societal Inequity: This one relates to all basic skills – if we assume technology will “fix” all student learning discrepancies, then we assume all students have access to these technologies in the first place.
Enter the case for programs like Grammarly and Readable. If grammar and spelling are so elitist and important, why not use assistive tech to help students? Every year, I have my students download Grammarly to their Chromebooks, and every year, the ones who don’t have basic grammar and spelling skills seem colour-blind to the glaringly obvious (to me) red squiggly lines. We cannot slap a grammar program on little Billy’s learning (dis)ability – brought about by a lack of literacy at home – and then wipe our hands clean. And as Durston noted in his team’s defense, we can’t just be waiting for future tech; our current technology is simply not there yet. I can attest to that as Grammarly tries to adjust my Canadian spelling to American for the millionth time (despite changing my settings a hundred million times!). It’s colour not color, Grammarly!
–The case for cursive: I haven’t discussed cursive much because, as a person with a weird hybrid form of print-handwriting, I’m uncertain how much this skill has helped or hindered me….or any of my students. In its defense, cursive writing (when a mastered skill) is quicker than printing, allowing for flowing prose and speedy note-taking. Additionally, as noted in the Edutopia article What We Lose With the Decline of Cursive, cursive lights up the brain, activating increased memorization skills. For me, if I have to give up one basic skill for myself and my students, it will be cursive. From Egyptian hieroglyphics to Chinese Hanzi, the way we communicate using letters and images will continue to evolve (and I’m okay with that). Of course, I may just be bitter because my old-school, beautifully scripted mother, consistently judges my sloppy handwriting!
Basic ain’t so bad, and ain’t ain’t a word…
After all that thinking (and it’s been hours on this one topic alone), I have reached the conclusion that “basic” has its place in our lives, neither bad or unnecessary when used mindfully. Like technology, basic multiplication and grammatical skills must be used with purpose. I feel with certainty there is no purpose telling students, “Memorize these math facts! Why? Because that’s how it’s always been done!” Even if educators resisted the use of computers and/or programs, there are still a plethora of innovative, hands-on learning activities that can demonstrate basic concepts without relying on sit-and-get drill sheets. When we teach basic skills to show the why and how of learning, students can use these concepts as scaffolding for deeper level thinking. In their closing remarks, the PRO team quoted John Dewey: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” I would argue that we cannot build for tomorrow if we do not understand yesterday.
Stay tuned for Debate 4 (which I haven’t named yet because I can no longer see straight)….Meanwhile, someone please save me from my own fuzzy thoughts/blog, what were your main takeaways from this debate?
DING DING DING! It’s Monday night and the first round of our debates is in full swing. In the PRO corner stands an impressively well-versed Megan and Brittney; in the CON corner, the intimidatingly well-researched Nicole and Daryl. The match in question? Technology in the classroom enhances learning. All my money is betting on the PRO side.
Okay, okay, I’m no Michael Buffer (wait, did I just drastically age myself?). I’ll cut to the point: Before this debate, I was solely on the PRO side. As an online teacher for almost 3 years, how could I place my bets any other way? The vast majority of our class pre-voted PRO. In a world where education had to flip on a dime to embrace technology, there should be a clear winner…..or, maybe not?
PRO Points to Ponder
Megan and Brittney did an amazing job neatly outlining key advantages of technology in the classroom:
–Access to information and resources: A plethora of our textbooks are ridiculously priced while comically outdated. And with time, our colonizer roots show brightly against the backdrop of historical inaccuracies. Online updated information has a clear advantage in staying current when it’s well-sourced. Arguably, both the outdated textbooks and the (sometimes questionably sourced) online resources provide teachable moments in classrooms. Teachers, however, have to be trained and ready for those moments when they come….and they always do!
–Increases engagement and skills for success: Hands-on, interactive content is available for the next generation of learners via 1:1 laptops, Smart and Promethean boards, VR, 3D printers, gamifying, coding, robotics, the list is ever-growing. Of course, that’s IF your school has the funding for such things (a point I’ll get to….eventually in Part 2).
–Promotes collaboration and communication: Watching students enthusiastically collaborate while coding instructions for their battle-bots remains a career highlight for me. Without clear collaboration and communication, their bots lose…repeatedly. It’s a resilient mindset of lose, learn, lose, learn, win (maybe)!
–Adaptations/accommodations: Who knows more about adaptations than students and educators these past few years? How would we have navigated learning in a pandemic without technology? Paper packages sent home (printed on photocopiers….cough, cough, technology!) and occasional teacher-student phone calls (old tech, but still tech). Not to mention, assistive technologies provide a host of accommodations for diverse learning styles and abilities, as well as visual and hearing impairments…..I could go on…
CON Points to Ponder
Again, you’ll think I bet all my money on PRO, but Daryl and Nicole brought up many clear issues I have battled over the course of my (almost) 3-year online career:
–Connections are artificial: Personally, I would argue that the relationships I have built with my online students, and students with each other, are anything but artificial. As I sit in my lonely corner office and my isolated students in their homes, our relationships seem like lifelines to a greater world. It is worth noting, however, that these online relationships are mindfully and meaningfully tended. As mentioned by Nicole and Daryl, student presence on social media accounts can often be interpreted as surface-level and disingenuous.
–Erodes social skills and relationships: First off, there’s a lot of experience in the “Zoom-room” during these debates. Despite logistical and career differences amongst our class, there seemed a general consensus that student social skills, particularly face-to-face interactions, are increasingly….aaaawkward! From behind our masks and screens, have we forgotten how to interact? After some deep-diving (using tech, of course), there’s a surprising lack of longitudinal data to back up the idea that screen-time equals social incompetencies. I shouldn’t say, however, that initial studies have been favourable. Calgary psychologist Sheri Madigan, PhD, tested over 24000 mothers/infants and “found that more time per week spent on screens at ages 24 months and 36 months was linked with poorer performance on screening tests for behavioral, cognitive and social development at 36 months” (JAMA Pediatrics, Vol. 173, No. 3, 2019). Speaking of which…
–Pulls students away from the outside world: My comments here are purely anecdotal, but I cannot abide by family meal times centering on……screens! Mom texting, dad on an “important” call, and the kidlets, tweens, and teens distracted by their tablets and apps. If that’s the focus at home, what takes precedence at school? Unless educational technology is used mindfully in the classroom, and just as mindfully stored away, will the habitual hit of dop(amine) screen time always beckon our students to their digital world? And what is the “real world” anymore, anyway? These are the questions that keep me up at night (and your insights are most welcome)!
In the world of edtech, there are no clear winners; only shades of grey
Yes, I voted in favour of educational technology in the pre-vote, and yes, I’m part of that EC&I fraction who changed my opinion in the post-vote. GASP! I was shocked too! That’s not to say I think there were any clear winners, or the necessity for “winners”, in this debate. Like so many other things, the use of technology in the classroom requires objective consideration, and objectivity largely falls into life’s grey matter. On one hand, technological advancements will continue to take precedence in our classrooms and open up new worlds of engaged learning. On the other hand, technology poses an increasing threat to social, emotional and physical threats when used improperly. Two sides of the same coin. We cannot include technology in our classrooms for its own sake. Instead it must be used mindfully as a tool (amongst many), with clear purpose and training. Only through mindful use of technology will we be able to move forward with our students.
“[I]t’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.” (p.14)“
Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
There was so much food for thought in these debates, please let me know your main takeaways. Were you PRO, CON, or happily sitting on the fence (munching popcorn) like me?