Category Archives: technology in education

Culmination of Learning…and a Thousand Paper Cuts

If there was no time limit this video would have been at least 15 minutes. The writer in me got a little carried away, that lead to cuts, then more cuts and more cuts. All the little lines I treasured got tossed to the side. Even then it’s a few seconds over (15 with citations). There’s a reason my film degree was not in production.

On a side note the music I used from WeVideo gave me a copyright strike. First video ever uploaded and I got a copyright strike. Seems fitting.

Best of luck to everyone, whether you are done your masters journey or just beginning.

Choice: Debate #8

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It’s interesting on how a slight change in wording can make a big difference in how you view a statement.  These questions are all worded well to encourage a mix of ideas and opinions, which is what makes for a more interesting debate.  Being reminded of those words is also what has made me side with one group or another.

I entered this debate, as many of us, with a bitter taste in my mouth of online schooling.  I remember that rush to get prepared for something we were never trained to do.  Our families also had an enormous responsibility placed at their feet while they were dealing with the trauma and unknown of a global pandemic.  Students told me of how they avoided work, played games while in class, roasted each other while the teacher was working with them, and generally revelled in how they got away with it.  So once again I came in agreeing with the debate statement that online education was hurting children’s social and academic development.

As Agree began I found myself checking off the points they made from my own experiences.

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Adds to the socioeconomic divide? Check.  My students with one laptop and 5 kids at home had a hard decision to make when it came to who was going to “school” that day.

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Not Equitable? Check. Students with at home parents had a huge advantage and were able to get more work done, and typically at a higher quality.  Sometimes too good…

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Increase in screen time?  Check.  I would work into my day plans time when students had to go outside to get some fresh air.  Too many went from online school, to online games. Parker (2021) has found that critical thinking and engagement does not improve with additional screen time.

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Not a good replacement for social interactions? Check.  While my own debate discussed the benefits of social media, I have definitely noticed a lack of social skills when students returned to in person class.

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Information overload?  Check.  A number of parents complained to me about how difficult it was to watch and keep track of the various classes each of their children had to deal with.

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Difficulty separating home and school life?  Double check.  This is always a challenge for teachers, you could always work on something.  When my classroom was just down the stairs, it was hard to set aside those assignments I had to grade; especially when they were arriving at all hours of the day and night.

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Loss of a safe space.  This one was the hardest.  For most students home is a safe place. Not everyone. Look at the students that lose control near school breaks, not all of them are excited.  There were far too many teachers who were terrified for their students.

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Disagree began with a key word to the debate; choice. We were viewing this debate through jaded eyes. Online schooling can be a choice, and when it is a choice it can be an effective one.  Even when I was struggling with online classes I saw some benefits.  My students could choose their schedule to suit their needs and circumstance.  They were learning skills that have been transferred to in person classes.  I have far more students typing their work and developing digital slideshows than before. I could also set up office hours to give concentrated one on one help.  In a busy classroom that was never a possibility.

Disagree also brought up a number of points I had never considered.  It provides transient students with some form of stability.  They may be moving from place to place, but their classroom is the same. Students who struggle with accessibility issues (Online Degrees.com. 2022) or anxiety were on a more level playing field when everyone was appearing on a screen. Murphy, Malenczak, and Ghajar’s study (2019) demonstrated that students with psychiatric disabilities could function better online, giving them more autonomy over their education.

Despite those benefits, I found that for the majority of my students online schooling was not as effective.  Agree’s message that too much flexibility led to procrastination was very true.  Half my day was checking emails for assignments and sending messages looking for missing ones.  Students that needed in person supports were out of luck.  Speaking to teachers of younger grades, they were crushed by the amount of preparation and struggle to control a room full of “littles” on a screen.

Disagree battled back, reminding us that online learning is an option.  It is not replacing in person learning, it’s giving an alternative to those that need it. I set my fear aside of returning to online school and accepted that just because it wasn’t for me did not mean it was wrong for everyone. I reminded myself of the one student I had who thrived and went from a middle of the road learner to top of the class. In the end Disagree won me over with that word, choice.

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Digital Footprints in the Snow: Debate #7

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Years ago in my home town it was a snowy day two teenagers were breaking into cars and stealing items from inside. A man noticed them sneaking around in the dark while sitting in his car. He slouched down and thought, “There is no way they’d be stupid enough to not see me and open the door.” They were. They were seen. They ran. The police followed their footprints right to their front door.

As both sides discussed many children start their digital footprint before they are even aware of the world around them.  I am just as guilty, happily posting a picture of my son on social media shortly after he was born. It is also difficult not to have at least a few tidbits of information about individuals online (at least in the western world).  That is why I initially voted yes for educators having a responsibility to help students develop a digital footprint.

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Agree described teachers as being in an ideal position to help students develop and control (at least partially) their presences online. Buchanan et al., (2017) found that while children were avid uses of the internet they thought of their digital footprint as a source of fear, rather than a tool. They concluded that teaching children how to “curate” their footprint to build towards their future goals.  In the same way we teach the basics of math to prepare them for higher grades, we could teach them how to use the virtual space to help them achieve their goals. Schools have policies that are meant to protect them and we can build a safe and controlled situation to help build their fundamental digital skills. Agree further mentioned that we can help guide impulsive kids as they take their early steps into the virtual space. We also must acknowledge that parents are often not teaching their kids how to approach their presence online.

Buchanan et. al., (2017) found that there was no consistency with how involved parents were with their children’s use of devices, leaving them without the skills to properly interact online.  One only has to read a few stories of “cancelled” people to see why carefully choosing your posts and tweets is so important.  The internet never forgets.

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Disagree later chipped away at some of these points.  Those school policies and release forms we have parents sign, how much do they really understand?  What about the student’s choice to regulate their own online presence?  Personally I am asked to take pictures of students and submit them for uploads to our school website.  While I always make sure those students have had a release form signed, I do not always ask students permission before taking pictures.  Although I carefully cultivate what I email or upload to Edsby, it is a fair comment that I should include the students more in that decision. Anson-Smith (2021) found that a number of schools used student images as marketing.  Not to mention the amount of information that companies and individuals can collect. If schools and teachers are making these mistakes, can we honestly say we are currently prepared to educate our students on the same topic?

As I bounced between sides my own thoughts asked if we hand over technology that could be used to create a digital foot print, should I be responsible to teach them how to manage its use? Furthermore, do I indirectly do this through health and media literacy lessons?  There are numerous times throughout the year when we have discussed why it is important to be careful what you put online and what you share with others.

Where disagree won me over was reminding me of that word “responsibility,” indicating we had to do this.  As they mentioned, we are not trained to support students in this situation. McGuckin (2018) presents to educators and she continually sees how little we know about the abilities and ramifications of social media. Yet we are expected to teach our students, who often know far more than us.  We are not backed by government or divisions directly, although some may assume or encourage us to take on this responsibility anyway.  This also pushes the responsibility onto students who may not be ready to nurture their online presence.  It may present a false confidence in parents that teachers have this and remove themselves from the responsibility of checking in on their children.

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That is not to say I do not think it is a good idea to help students understand what they are/can do with their use of digital technology.  I want my students to understand that a tweet or a discord chat room may seem like a small step, but it can have huge implications. However placing that responsibility entirely on educator’s shoulders is unfair and dangerous.  It sets a precedent for assuming we will pick up the pieces that government, corporations, and parents should be carrying. Until teachers have been properly trained, education policies and programs are designed, and parents are made more aware of what is happening, it is not fair to place this responsibility on teachers.  As Disagree said, making the responsibility of developing their student’s digital footprint is a reactive approach.  It creates and unstable platform on which an important part of our students futures rest

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Take a Breath

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I was very nervous when we started our debate and my nerves ran high until the end of class. I was so in the mind set of go, that when we broke into break out groups for the second debate my brain hadn’t caught up and I thought I was in the debaters room. Needless to say my fellow students were greatly confused by my concerned “I don’t think I’m supposed to be in this room.” Well that’s in the past and I can now hang that anecdote on a collection of other embarrassing moments.

As with many of us I was a little late signing up and ended up going for an argument I didn’t totally agree with. I do feel that real world connections are important and can create stronger, and in some cases more honest, bond.  Films like The Social Dilemma also created a anger towards the larger tech companies that run the more prominent social media sites.  That being said previous classes I have taken made me question some of my distrust of social media and required me to push past my preexisting prejudice.

I’ve seen the dark side of youth interacting online and those instances can overwhelm what I know can be a useful tool. Thankfully my jaded attitude did help prepare me for the debate, knowing some of the arguments that would be coming our way.

Agree made some interesting arguments to start, that social media pulled kids inside, disrupted physical social connections, increased the amount of targeted marketing, predatory behaviour, mental health, and robbed kids of an “authentic life.”

Unlike a lot of previous media where these effects have been exaggerated and most studies showed that the impact was not there, studies have shown direct connections to social media impacting mental health.  The video by Dr. Brenna Hicks, that Agree provided, was particularly damning.

 As we mentioned however this focused study can often be a result of that initial fear of a new technology, typically written from the older generation that views anything new with skepticism.  There are fewer studies that examine the positive correlation with young people and social media. Children and teens that were isolated either due to culture, community or location now had a way to reach out to others.  They were isolated in the physical world and connected in the digital space.

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Returning to the video by Dr. Brenna Hicks; she said that in recent years more of her clients have admitted to depression, suicidal thoughts, cutting, etc., and stated that the only change has been the amount of time spent on phones.  While I am not denying there is a connection to social media and targeted bullying, there is also a much greater awareness of mental health struggles.  There is less discrimination, more open conversations and more ownership.  As someone who has struggled with mental health for much of my life, I can tell you there is a huge difference between how kids approach mental health now and how they did when I was there age.   You could connect this to how we address it in school as well, but social media has definitely opened up the doors a little more.

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As we mentioned in the debate virtual support groups have created safe spaces for any number of young people.  Organizations have taken advantage of this and adjusted how they reach out to young people (Kids Help Phone) and young people themselves have taken up the challenge.

That might be the true strength in social media, providing people with power to change the discourse themselves. Sweet et al., (2020) provide direct examples of how children with disabilities were able to create social relationships and increase their self-determination in a way they could never do in the physical world. Hannah Alper used a blogging platform to speak out on issues that concerned her and other youth. These early lessons became the building blocks for strong and supportive young adults.

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Anecdotally I have noticed a drastic shift in the last few years on how my students talk about social media. They are incredibly savvy on what dangers to look for and how to handle challenges when they appear.  My biggest worry used to be that when I was a kid I could at least go home to avoid the bully and kids now a days are followed into the digital space. However as they have been taught strategies in school and learned from the previous generations of users, some of them have more tools than I do as an adult.  I was a frequent target when I was a child. Those bullies showed me I was weird and alone and those I reached out to just fell back on the lesson they were taught as a kid; ignore them or punch them back. I was taught to swim by being thrown in.

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As an adult I have started to learn the skills many of my students already have. In effect I have learned how to swim.  Now I am trying to teach others, but this time they’ll learn with a life jacket.

Debate #6: Phantom Ring

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As I mentioned above my adrenaline was still running high when the second debate began. The irony was not lost on me that I kept reaching and then putting down my phone as it began. I wanted to reach for my digital pacifier and text my wife.

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I work in a school that covers Pre-K to 12. Within my time there they banned smart devices for students until they reach high school. The reason matches much of what Agree said. They were distracted and were using devices to take pictures of people unknowingly, post online and bully. They back it up to. Students caught can lose their phone for up to 2 weeks. We are an exception in a lot of ways and most of our parents backs us up. This has lead to some changes in how I teach. I used to allow students to bring in technology on certain days to add more devices for online research. I now have to make a more strategic choice. As Selwan and Aagaard (2020) state, it forced me to reexamine how I use devices in education. I also have more control over which devices I need to be aware of. When we use devices it is a limited time and my supervision is direct, controlled and can be relaxed when we put those devices away.

Nomophobia, mentioned by Agree and Breanna Carels (2019) is also very real. When a phone is present and students know that with a quick glace they can check for texts, updates, etc., there is an urge to check. I have spoken to my high school colleagues and they have mentioned that rush when students are given the chance to grab their devices. I have that same problem in my free time. Agree’s phrase “Disconnect to Connect” can be very relatable. When we are forced to put down our devices we can separate ourselves from the outside world and connect to the moment.

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Disagree mentioned an important part of allowing smart devices at school, they are not used at will. Whether there is a “phone hotel” or specific class bans, students can be limited by their access. As they mentioned they can also allow for 1 to 1 ratio of technology, something many schools can only dream of. If we tried to overcome this by allowing laptops or tablets to try and avoid the issues with cellphones we run into what Sam Kerry discussed. There are far more students with easy access to a smartphone than a laptop. While the digital divide is real, this (at least anecdotally) seems to be a common solution.

There is also the added benefit of having devices to teach students how to effectively use social media. As is apparent with the beginning of this post, I feel that teaching students how to safely use social media is an important skill. We know that our students are already participating, and making real life connections to in class lessons is much easier with those devices. This does contain risks, but in a controlled environment it holds potential. This can be seen in Kunnath and Jackson’s 2019 study of students use of twitter.

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As with social media from our debate, I feel that in a controlled and measured way, cell phones can be effective tools to support classrooms. We live in a technological world and our students are a part of it. We can take advantage of their embrace of it. As Disagree noted, until we find some magical source of funding and all schools can provide a 1 to 1 devices, we should not ignore the free resources that are carried in to schools everyday.

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