Does Technology in the Classroom Enhance Learning?

This week brought our first Great Ed. Tech Debate with Amanda and Nancy taking on the agree side and Matt and Trevor challenging them on the disagree side. Both teams did an excellent job of arguing their side and I found myself agreeing with points from both teams throughout the entire debate.

Amanda and Nancy argued that technology enhances the 4Cs of 21st Century Skills. These include critical thinking, creative thinking, communicating, and collaborating. They added in a 5th skill, connection. Their argument was validated in the examples of how our current remote learning situation is only possible through the connections made with technology. I fully agree with this point. Staying connected during this time is only possible with technology. Being able to communicate with students instantly through platforms like SeeSaw, Google Classroom, and Google Meet is the next best thing to being with them in person. Many teachers have commented that they are able to see a different side in some of their students through remote learning. Students that were shy or extremely quiet in a classroom have now been able to shine through the use of technology. Technology for connection is not new to the pandemic. I was in a grade eight classroom earlier this year and witnessed a group of students working on a project. They told me that one of their classmates was at home sick however, they did not want to miss out on the work period. From their bed at home, the student Facetimed so that they could still be a part of the group. Technology provided that student with the connection that was needed. The power of technology for connection is also incredibly demonstrated in the video Amanda and Nancy shared, The Born Friends.

When we say that technology enhances learning, the term engagement often accompanies that statement. In George Couros’ series, The Myths of Technology, he discusses the common myth that technology equals engagement. Just because we put a computer in front of our students engagement does not magically happen. Like the example Couros shares in his article, I have checked in on many students to see what they were working on. It is very common to find a tab open which is showing a YouTube video, or game which is not at all what the student needed to be doing. With the belief that technology enhances learning, is engagement the carrot we are looking for when we use it? I found this quote from Couros to provide an answer to that question.

With the world now literally at our fingertips, “engagement” should not be the highest bar we set for our students. If we can develop meaningful learning opportunities that empower our students to make a difference, our impact will go beyond their time they spent in our classrooms.

Looking at the other side of this debate, Matt and Trevor provided strong arguments for disagreeing. One point they made was about the amount of screen time students are experiencing between home and school life. How much screen time is too much? It was interesting to read the article The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids is Not What We Expected. The articles discusses how parents in affluent communities are pushing for their children to move towards “screen-free lifestyles”. One parent in the article speaks about the impact that screen time has on her boys’ behaviour. She explains that she would see anger in her son when the screen had to be turned off. So how does that transfer to our classrooms? When students are spending a considerable amount of time on technology at home are we adding to the concerns by providing more screen time at school? Many parents will admit that an iPad or iPhone at times becomes the babysitter at home. This type of use of technology is not transferring well into a school setting. I have seen primary students stop having meltdowns and enter a trance like state when given an iPad. They see the iPad as instant gratification rather than a tool for learning. In some situations based on how an Ipad is used at home, teachers have been unable to use it in the classroom.

The other point that Matt and Trevor made that really spoke to me was their claim that technology doesn’t mean good pedagogy. Technology at best only amplifies the pedagogical methods of educators. It can make good teachers better but it can make bad ones worse. While this is a bold statement to make, it is one that speaks truth. Knowledge of the SAMR model is key to address this issue.

The issue I see with technology in the classroom is that many are still at the substitution level. How do we move on from this? While stakeholders say may say that technology enhances learning and money is spent on equipment is that enough? I don’t believe it is. As I said earlier, putting a computer in front of a student doesn’t cause engagement magically to appear. Well the same is for teachers. You can purchase all kinds of technology and fully equip a classroom but that does not mean modification and redefintion – the two highest levels in the SAMR model are going to occur. Can we continue to accept that some teachers are just not comfortable with using technology? Is that meeting the needs of our students and their needs for the future?

If we want to improve the use of technology in classrooms because we value what it can provide our learners then we need to improve teachers’ skills. The number one reason teachers have for not using technology is that they don’t know how to. Yet we have seen many PD opportunities fall by the wayside in the ever increasing tightening of budgets. So if we believe in the use of technology, where does the responsibility fall? Should school divisions be doing more to develop technology skills in their teachers? Should teachers take on their own learning and seek put PD opportunities? How do we move people forward in order to keep a better pace with the changes in technology?

So which side did I end up on at the end of the debate? Well, I don’t feel I can simply say that I agree or disagree with the statement. I don’t believe it’s one that can be answered with an either or response. It depends on how the technology is being used. We need to consider the purpose and what levels of the SAMR model are being reached. Only once those questions are answered can we truly say if technology is enhancing learning.

7 thoughts on “Does Technology in the Classroom Enhance Learning?

  1. Amanda Brace May 25, 2020 / 4:55 pm

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post! You made a lot of great points as you reflected on the topic of technology in learning. It was a topic that was easy for me to debate because I love tech integration in learning, but at the same time, you are completely right: it depends on how the teacher integrates it. The SAMR model is something that is newer to me, but I think it is so valuable. There are so many different aspects that we need to be aware of when we are integrating technology so that it can be purposeful and empowering. Thanks for a great read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jill McLeod May 25, 2020 / 8:00 pm

    You raised some valuable points Laurie. I have been teaching for 11 years and I am in the last course of my Master’s Degree in EDL and this is the first time that I have heard of the SAMR model. If teachers aren’t aware what they’re doing wrong (not wrong but something where there’s room to grow), then they aren’t going to look to make changes. You asked some good questions and proposed some solutions. I agree that it starts at the top – in most cases the School Division. I look at the PD that I’ve received to introduce new tech such as SMARTBoards, Chromebooks, Google Drive, etc, and the PD we get is a “how-to.” While this is absolutely necessary, there needs to be follow-up PD on how to use the tech to strengthen pedagogical practices not just using for the sake of using. I think from a Division standpoint though, since they’ve invested the money on the tech, they want to ensure it’s being used first and foremost, but ensuring that teachers are “diving deeper” into the SAMR model with the tech in classrooms, needs to be a priority to ensure enhancement of student learning and improved success.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. curtisbourassa May 25, 2020 / 9:40 pm

    Hi Laurie, I love how you brought up that many teachers as using technology on the Substitution level on the SAMR model. I feel as many teachers, believe they are doing an excellent job when they implement any sort of technology, however, we know this is not the case. I do believe that Substitution needs to be a stepping stone for teachers, we just need them to take the next big step. I believe substitution is necessary to reach the later steps of the SAMR model. However, as you allude to in your post, if you are stuck at the substitution level of the SAMR model we really are not enhancing the learning by using technology, because the learning ultimately is staying the same. As a technology coach often we have to meet teachers where they are at, and encourage them to take the next step.

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    • Laurie May 25, 2020 / 10:16 pm

      Thanks Curtis! I fully agree that we need to meet teachers where they are believe that is why your position as a technology coach is so valuable. Not all divisions have such a position which is unfortunate.

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  4. Trevor Kerr May 26, 2020 / 1:49 pm

    Laurie, thanks for the great read. I really connected with your discussion about the SAMR model. In RCSD, we’ve talked a lot about the “SAMR Swimming Pool.” A simple explanation is that we should be swimming laps in the SAMR pool. At the same time, understanding that people might be doing cannonballs into the deep end (redefinition) or simply dipping their toes in the shallow end (substitution).

    I wonder what impact technology is having on the behaviour of some students. As you said, some students enter a trance like state when given an iPad. What happens when the iPad isn’t there?

    Great post!

    Like

    • Laurie May 28, 2020 / 6:06 pm

      I love the analogy with the SAMR swimming pool. Definitely going to use that!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Daina Seymour May 26, 2020 / 6:38 pm

    Great post! As many have already said, your discussion about the SAMR model is very important to keep in mind. I don’t think many teachers go beyond substitution because they don’t know what lies beyond that. To be honest, the SAMR model is just a form of differentiation with technology. Differentiation is often thought of as something to use with our lower level students, but it can be used for all. Some teachers find it difficult to assess an assignment (although they should be focusing on assessing the outcome) and want all products to be represented in the same way in order to gage either a beginning, progressing, meeting, or established level. We need to give students opportunities to demonstrates their understanding in a multitude of ways that fit their learning needs and stop restricting them to what we want, which tends to be the traditional way of learning. I’d find it valuable to sit down with grade alike teachers within the school, or our collab groups, to take different tasks/assignment and discuss how they can be differentiated to reach all learners in addition to incorporating how technology would help with differentiating. I have a feeling we could all learn a lot from each other….the only restriction to this finding the time to do this.

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