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.