What I’ve been thinking about for the last eight weeks, in a nutshell…

Is it already the end of the term????

I want to thank my prof, Alec Couros, for guiding us through a series of intriguing debate topics, and my classmates for their input both during the debates and via their comments on my posts.

Have a great summer, everyone!

https://spark.adobe.com/video/EjUhrc1MVmQc9/embed

(sources for the images and text in this video can be found in the blogs I’ve posted in this category)

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Tec-quity. When we’re nice.

After four weeks of watching other teams do amazing jobs on their debates, it was great to finally have the chance to step up to the plate.  What was the topic of the debate I took part in?  What side was I on?  Oh, I know you, the millions of my readers, are dying to know 😉

But, for the sake of hoping suspense will keep you reading… here are a few images and text citations to mull over while you try to figure out what the final debate of this class was all about. 🙂

In the image below, who has the best access to the technology that will give them the best opportunities for growth?

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Image source

“The major driving force behind the changes in the U.S. wage structure is technology. This consensus is built on the notion of technology-skill complementarity: technical change favors more skilled (educated) workers, replaces tasks previously performed by the unskilled, and increases the demand for skills. Consequently, many commentators see a direct causal relationship between technological changes and these radical shifts in the distribution of wages taking place in the U.S. economy.”  text source

 

We talk about the internet opening up opportunities for everyone in the world….

Is it that simple? 

Pots Market Firewood India Poverty Street Trading

Image source

And what comes with the “wealth” of information, resources, opportunities that our current technology embodies?

“[With Free Basics,] Facebook is not introducing people to open internet where you can learn, create and build things,” said Ellery Biddle, advocacy director of Global Voices. “It’s building this little web that turns the user into a mostly passive consumer of mostly western corporate content. That’s digital colonialism.”

“It’s an argument that doesn’t wash with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Gennie Gebhart: “Facebook’s efforts to bring the internet and more choice to people are laudable, but it’s unclear if that’s truly its goal. Facebook has a responsibility to its investors and that is being served by getting more eyeballs on its site, to lure users.”  text source

 

Even here in Canada, a so-called “first-world nation,” are we all talking about the same people when we describe how technology in the classroom enhances learning, etc?

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Image source

“Canada has a digital divide, a demographic that isn’t fully connected to the online world. In the past year, 20 per cent of Canadians haven’t used the internet once, from any location. And that number doesn’t include other kinds of disconnection, like those who don’t own a computer or cell phone, or who can’t use them effectively.”   Text source

[W]hile 95 per cent of Canadians in the highest income quartile are connected, just 62 per cent in the lowest income quartile have internet access.

There is also a still a pronounced divide between access for those in urban centres versus rural and remote households. Broadband is available to 100 per cent of Canadians in urban areas, compared to 85 per cent in rural areas. Text source

Besides access to the internet, what are other differences between the have- and have-nots of technology?

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Image source

“Systems such as the eligibility registration, homeless registry, child abuse and neglect algorithms have assumptions embedded in them.”

These algorithms affect all of us, but they don’t affect all of us equally.” Text source

And if your skin isn’t white….

getimage

More than 99 percent of the time, the systems correctly identified a lighter-skinned man. On the photographs of black women, the algorithm made mistakes nearly 34 percent of the time. And the darker the skin, the worse the programs performed, with error rates hovering around 47 percent – the equivalent of a coin toss. The systems didn’t know a black woman when they saw one.”  Text source

“[Word embedding], which is already used in web search and machine translation, works by building up a mathematical representation of language, in which the meaning of a word is distilled into a series of numbers (known as a word vector) based on which other words most frequently appear alongside it. Perhaps surprisingly, this purely statistical approach appears to capture the rich cultural and social context of what a word means in the way that a dictionary definition would be incapable of. For instance, in the mathematical “language space”, words for flowers are clustered closer to words linked to pleasantness, while words for insects are closer to words linked to unpleasantness, reflecting common views on the relative merits of insects versus flowers. And the AI system was more likely to associate European American names with pleasant words such as “gift” or “happy”, while African American names were more commonly associated with unpleasant words.” Text source

… and if you’re not a man…

“These models [are] based on the premise that words which appear near each other in texts share meaning. These spatial relationships are used in natural language-processing so that computers can engage with us conversationally. By reading a lot of text, a computer can learn that Paris is to France as Tokyo is to Japan. It develops a dictionary by association.”

But this can create problems when the world is not exactly as it ought to be. For instance, researchers have experimented with one of these word-embedding models, Word2vec, a popular and freely available model trained on three million words from Google News. They found that it produces highly gendered analogies. For instance, when asked “Man is to woman as computer programmer is to ?”, the model will answer “homemaker”. Or for “father is to mother as doctor is to ?”, the answer is “nurse”. Of course the model reflects a certain reality: it is true that there are more male computer programmers, and nurses are more often women. But this bias, reflecting social discrimination, will now be reproduced and reinforced when we engage with computers using natural language that relies on Word2vec. It is not hard to imagine how this model could also be racially biased, or biased against other groups.” Text source

So! What was the debate topic that I signed up for?

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Technology is a force for equity in society. DISAGREE!

My worthy opponents, Jen, Dawn, and Sapna, put up a good fight. It wasn’t their fault that they chose the difficult side to fight 😉

(okay, truth-be-told, according to our pre- and post-debate polls, 66% of my classmates believed that technology is a force for equity in society. Sigh). 🙂

In their video, team agree claim that “technology has removed many of the barriers that people have faced in the past, for example, not being able to read.”  While I don’t believe that this is actually the case for the vast majority of people who face the struggle with illiteracy every day, I do agree with them that technology has “connected the world in ways previously unimaginable.” I also agree with them that technology offers people “classroom opportunities, community opportunities, personal opportunities.” Yes, this is true. For many people. Assistive technology tools can also, as they state, help students who “struggle with reading and writing at grade level.”  I also agree that “children are growing up in a world where social media, mobile technology, and online communities are fundamental to the way they communicate, learn, and develop.”

Yes, tech can do great things.

But is it a force for equity in society?

As a member of the agree team said, “more than 4 billion of us now have access to the internet.” What about the other half of the world’s population?

In her blog, one of the agree team members, Dawn, wrote that

“Fewer people in poor countries than in rich ones own computers and have access to the internet simply because they are too poor, are illiterate, or have other more pressing concerns, such as food, health care and security. So even if it were possible to wave a magic wand and cause a computer to appear in every household on earth, it would not achieve very much: a computer is not useful if you have no food or electricity and cannot read.”

… and I think that this hits the nail on the head.  Technology on its own is not the solution to the world’s problems any more than it is a basic necessity of survival.

Yes, technology can do amazing things to help all kinds of people – rich, poor; educated, uneducated; urban, rural; black, white; female, male… but it can only do what we, the people who create it, allow it to do.  I’ve said I’m a pessimist before, but I’m more than that, to be honest… I’m also a bit of a nihilist, and a slight misanthrope. I don’t see that anything we create technology-wise is going to quickly fill in the major gaps we have in our moral “coding.”  Ethically, we are still the same people we were before a few of us invented of this current technology. As a species, we will continue to be more selfish than selfless, more nearsighted than farsighted, more biased than unbiased, etc, etc. No amount of scientific or technological innovation will get us any further along in these regards.

I think that the credit for “my favourite quotation from the readings I’ve done for this debate” goes to Joanna Bryson, a computer scientist at the University of Bath (and hoot-hoot! She’s a female computer scientist, to boot!):

“A lot of people are saying this is showing that AI is prejudiced. No. This is showing we’re prejudiced and that AI is learning it.”

 Text source

I think Rakan and I gave it our all for this project, and I’m pleased with how much ground we covered. I feel we had some good content in our debate.  Of course there are so many other points we wanted to make, but a five-minute time limit proved to be our number one challenge to overcome.  (We hope Alec didn’t notice that our vid actually went to five minutes and thirty-three seconds… oops. 🙂 )

If any of my millions of followers are still with me at this point and would like to see our debate video, here it is.

 

This brings me to the end of my final blog post for this class, apart from the upcoming Summary of Learning. It’s been a blast.  🙂

Kids, control your app-etite and thrive

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photo source

What do you think, is social media ruining childhood?

Last week’s debate was a fierce one, with such great points made by each of the two teams that I wanted to take the time to recap them here. Below, I quote and paraphrase to summarize the points from their excellent videos, which I strongly recommend people view.

agree

By Melinda, Alyssa, and Lori

disagree

By Erin, Brooke, and Daniel

social media can cause mental health issues, such as Facebook depression

the intensity of the online world is what can trigger depression

kids who rely on social media are at risk of social isolation

kids may turn to risky sites and blogs for help

sites may promote unsafe and self destructive behaviours

kids worry about being judged by peers online

kids have anxiety about not getting enough likes

on these sites, girls worry a lot about appearance; boys are pushed to be macho

impulsive behaviour is normal in kids, but attention-seeking posts with inappropriate behaviour online can lead to serious consequences

an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex mixed with instant gratification = perfect storm for risky online behaviours (like the Tide Pod challenge).

there can be a serous lack of privacy on these sites

kids may post too much or post false info

their digital footprint stays for life – even from apps that claim that images stay online for only seconds

future jobs can be jeopardized

kids using social media can be targets for fraudsters, marketers, or pedophiles

cyber-bullying, including exclusion, stalking, outing, harassment, impersonating and threats, is a serious problem

there is a link between cyber-bullying and many negative behaviours and thoughts, as well as school and family problems.

the minimum age rule for social media use is not well known or followed

social media can cause sleep issues

the benefits of social media outweigh risks when students understand responsible use

social media use strengthens relationships and offers sense of belonging

kids can interact online in ways we couldn’t do before

kids can connect with others around the world to get inspired and not feel alone

kids can stay in touch with friends, get to know people, and connect with others with common interests

kids can show sympathy towards each other via social media sites

social media allows kids to provide genuine support to one another

social media is a safe space for kids to express insecurities

kids can use social media to develop their online/offline identities

kids learn how to be autonomous adults via using social media

kids can explore interests and establish a digital identity without the pressures of social conformity

sites offer a platform for sharing ideas, info, and points of view

the digital world extends the info kids can access and deepens their understandings of subjects

social media allows kids to make their world a better place

social media gives kids an awareness of trending issues

social media can be a “weapon for good”

social media is a tool, and with boundaries and guidance, kids can learn to be responsible digital citizens

As you can see, each team made strong points to support their side of this debate.

Where I do stand? Well, I agree most with Daniel, who wrote in this week’s blog that

“social media is not ruining childhood, but rather, social media is changing society at such a furious pace that our ability to form new social conventions and social contracts to attend to these changes is proving to be too slow.”

I think that the question of whether social media is ruining childhood is a bit hyperbolic. It’s clear that there are benefits and drawbacks to this technology, just as there are to most of the tools we’ve designed. As my prof and classmates have pointed out, people have often thought that some new tech was going to “ruin” us – whether it was the radio, the television, the walkman, or the telephone (just to name a few).  What does being “ruined” really mean, anyways? Apart from a small number of tragic cases where social media use has led to suicide, social media is not destroying our species… not yet at least.

Thanks, Giphy

But we are changing, and while I wouldn’t say things are dire, I also don’t agree with the sentiment that we’re impervious to the unforeseen, and even still unknown consequences of our actions.  Just because other new inventions haven’t “ruined us” as predicted by naysayers, this doesn’t mean that our slow (sometimes fast) social shifts aren’t in a direction that is more negative than positive.

When I read articles such as B.C. expert weighs in on why kids are eating Tide pods for fun, I just sadly shake my head and have to agree with the idea that social media “amplifies some of the effects of young people’s natural tendency towards risk.”

Likewise, when I I see the issues surrounding kids and “cyberbulling and harassment, sexting, Facebook depression, privacy concerns, and the influence of advertisements on buying” as listed in The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families, I feel sad.

Thanks again, Giphy!

But then, thanks to the readings I’ve done for this class, I get to see things like the 9 ways real students use social media for good and How Social Media Helps Teens Cope With Anxiety, Depression, and Self-Harm and I feel much calmer about the situation. 🙂

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I take advantage of the tools of my time on a daily basis, and so I’m not going to rag them out for destroying our civilization. That said, I do see many problems with our world today, and I have to admit to being more on the pessimistic side of the fence. At the same time, I know that we will adapt, somehow, and with the help of the awesome ed-tech-conscious teachers who are my classmates, I have some hope for our future.

Thanks to the two debate teams for this interesting discussion!

The bigger “picture” of school sharing

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photo source

Once again, we had an informative debate in class this past Monday, with teams agree and disagree each giving very strong points to support their positions on the topic of whether or not openness and sharing in schools is unfair to kids. Like many of my classmates, I have especially mixed feelings on this topic. While I have several concerns, a few of which I outline below, the fact is that it’s a done deal: we live in a digitized world…. we cannot go back to the way things were before the internet spread into just about every aspect of our lives, including our school lives.

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photo source

If kids don’t have their images shared via their teachers, they will more than likely will at some point develop a digital footprint via their parents, friends, and their own online activities.  The Telegraph cites one UK survey that shows that “the average parent will have posted 1,498 pictures of their children on social media by the time the child turns five.” Not only that, but “[t]he survey found that 85 per cent of parents had not reviewed their Facebook privacy settings in more than a year, and 79 per cent wrongly believed strangers could not see pictures of their children.” There is lots to be concerned about, given the stats posted in Dangers of Posting Pictures Online: Is Your Child at Risk? :

  • 50% of the images posted on paedophile sites were sourced from parents’ social media profiles

  • More than 1 in 4 children admit to feeling worried, embarrassed, or anxious when their parents post photos of them on social media

  • 51% of parents post information online that could lead to an identification of their child’s location at a given time

  • 27% of parents share photos of their children online that could be considered inappropriate

And, if it isn’t parents posting to their Facebook pages, it’s corporate and government databases collecting information on them via online and even school services that they are not given the choice to use.  As Bill Fitzgerald points out in his blog,

Right now, there is a very good possibility that at least some of the candidates for the 2056 presidential election are in elementary or middle school. To meet federal accountability requirements, their schools collect detailed information about their behavior and performance. This information – tied to a unique identifier – gets stored in a state database that records detailed information about learners. All states collect this information for K12 education; 41 track information from preK through college. Many of these state level datastores are managed, supported, and accessed by external vendors like – for example – Pearson, eScholar, and Infinite Campus.

And here in Canada, it seems like schools are also getting more and more connected, with “offerings” such as Google Classroom as described in this episode of Spark on CBC Radio becoming more widely used. It seems that as time goes by, we will have fewer ways to remain disconnected, and our digital footprint will be not only become larger, but also less under our own control.

So, “openness and sharing” via classroom photos and activities is just one small piece of the puzzle. And while many have pointed out that school can and should be a place where kids learn the ins and outs of mediating this digital life of theirs, what of the irony that in some cases, school systems themselves are collecting and using data on individual students?

Security issues (such as identity theft, pedophilia, and even kidnapping) aside, what I wonder most about are the social consequences of all of our online sharing.

As Ether points out in her blog post, Should Educators Be Sharing So Much Online, digital sharing tools like Seesaw are “a fantastic way to document learning and highlight great student work and achievement to show parents. The difference with this new technology [from the time of scrapbooking] is that parents can give feedback and comments right away, instead of waiting until report card time.” This immediacy is a part of so much of our lives these days. I guess I sound pretty ancient when I say that the world seems to be speeding up these days. Would anyone disagree, though?  I’m not saying I believe this is a flat-out negative trend, but it is certainly a trend.

Connected to the the more immediate, faster-paced world digital tech offers us is the potential for what I’ll call hyper-awareness. In our discussion during class last week, we talked about the issue of helicopter parenting and how teacher posts give parents the opportunity to know so much more about what goes on inside the classroom than was available to know before.  I know my 8 year-old gives me the the standard reply of “good” when I ask him how his day was, and I’ve long given up asking him to tell me more than that about it. More information usually comes out during dinner conversation, when he’s in the talking mood and volunteers a few details.  While I ask follow-up questions to show an interest (which I do have, of course), I also understand that he has the right to keep his school self and his home self as separate as he wants to.  I know that he’s likely quite a different little boy in his Grade 2 classroom from the one I see at home, and having those different personas is an important part of growing up, isn’t it?  Frankly, while I love to see the photos that his teacher posts to their Facebook page, and he loves to share them with me, I sometimes feel just so slightly like a bit of an intruder when I catch myself asking many questions about them.

The last unknown about our digitization of our lives, including our school lives, that I’ll point out here is the effect of all the attention that everyone now gets.  I smiled when our prof recalled how it used to be that having a photo of yourself published in a newsletter was a really big deal. It’s kind of a “wow” to me to think that that phenomenon is largely dead. Now, with so much sharing going on, every kid can get the kind of attention which used to be reserved for special achievements in the past. Is it the case that we are making every kid feel special, or is it that having photos of yourself posted is such a everyday thing now that kids have to find other ways to get that extra attention? I’m not sure, but in either case, this is just a notable change. I also note that much as been said about our online habits and their narcissistic tendencies. Articles such as Me! Me! Me! Are we Living Through a Narcissism Epidemic? suggest that we are seeing “not [a rise in cases of] the disorder but the rise in narcissistic traits.” I’m not saying I’m convinced that there is as direct and dire a correlation between our postings and narcissistic behaviour, but I find it an interesting issue to ponder.

So, above are a few of the thoughts I’ve had on this topic, and in the end I’ll return to my first point – that our lives are inextricably connected to the digital world now, and sometimes in ways that we are not even aware of. This just means that – you got it – media literacy and awareness of the concerns/risks that are out there is all the more important.

Thanks for reading, and for sharing! 😉

Knowledge: a useful byproduct of school

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photo source

Last week’s through-provoking debate statement was “schools should not focus on teaching things that can be googled.” While both sides of the debate presented good points on this topic, I’d like to express my confusion over some blurriness I see remaining, and give my own two-cents.

Team agree began their video for the debate by asking “why teach it when you can just Google it.” They went on to give reasons why “we are increasingly becoming a world where knowledge is obsolete” and schools should focus their time on teaching skills. They quote a Forbes article, Top Employers Say Millennials Need These 4 Skills, which suggests that schools should focus on helping students develop their attention, their agility, and their humility, and that school should be “more than college.” I have to say that I disagree with the “agree team” this time around, and while I applaud them for taking on this difficult topic, I have a few problems with their arguments.

For example, the “agree” group of debaters cite the Forbes article saying that “attention” is an important skill to have in today’s job market. While talking about this article, one of the group members says that:

The first thing [students] need is attention. If we give students tools like Google and we give them a topic that they are interested in, we allow them to choose that and give them an opportunity to explore those interest on something like Google; we’re taking away what we know as being important because it’s what we as the teacher know, and allowing them to decide what they feel is important.

The point that students will be more motivated to learn something they are interested in is a good one. However, I’m confused – if “schools should not focus on things that can be Googled,” then why give them a project that involves searching Google?  Is the argument here that they students are teaching themselves, via Google?  If so, isn’t the school still involved in “teaching” or at least directing students to the “things that can be Googled”?  Furthermore, this take on “attention” is not the one presented in the Forbes article.

Not only that, but even the Forbes article makes points about “attention” that I find quite off-topic…  Please – really! – please tell me if I’m missing the boat here, but below is my brief analysis of this part of the article. The paragraphs indented and in italics are from it:

“Focus is the new IQ,” says Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport. Technology has increased automation and decreased our focus, creating a high demand for and short supply of workers capable of concentrating.

Um, I’m not sure what the hard data is on this employment “fact.” We all use technology (as my previous blog post mentions, just about everything we use in our daily life, even if you’re out there banging rocks together to make a fire, is in fact “technology”), and I don’t think there is as much of a “short supply of workers capable of concentrating” as this statement suggests.

Attention is conscientiousness. Jake Rozmaryn, CEO of Eco Branding, told me that his firm sees lots of “careless typing and formatting errors in millennial applicant writing and work samples, cover letters, resumes, etc.”

Is “attention” the same thing as “conscientiousness”? Is it “attention to detail” that we’re talking about when we talk about attention? I think this draws attention to our need for clarity when discussing constructs such as “attention” – are we talking about the ability to proofread, or are we talking about the ability to maintain an attention span greater than that of a goldfish’s (as the disagree team of this debate make us ponder in their video).

[Attention is] also time management and follow-through. Executive Recruiter Carolyn Thompson said she’s seen “an increase in people struggling to manage time and prioritize.” Lindsey Dole, Vice President of People at Updater, notes that “very few” entry-level candidates have work experience on projects or internships that have allowed them to “own and execute on a deliverable from beginning to end” – a must-have skill in startup environments like Updater’s.

I think it’s possible that  of Forbes needs to slow down and pay attention to the logic behind what she’s saying. Is sticking with a project “from beginning to end” necessarily an issue of lack of attention?  Perhaps, but I’d say that “time management and follow-through” are quite separate issues from it…

So… getting back to the topic?  Schools should not focus on teaching things that can be googled … I’m sorry, maybe I have weak concentration abilities and poor attention skills, but I’m not sure how any of the above connects to this statement. Is the point that we should not teach things that can be Googled, but instead teach kids how to pay attention? If so, I don’t know how teachers can go about doing a better job of this without technology rather than with it.

If I’m missing something here, would someone please tell me?

It’s amusing that team disagree actually uses the same argument, that of the importance of teaching kids to have better attention skills, but, I think (this too is not very clear to me), to suggest that schools should in fact continue to teach materials that are “Google-able.”

Among other sources, this group draws on points made in Nicholas Carr’s article Is Google Making Us Stupid: What the Internet is doing to our brains. First of all, I have to say that I enjoyed this article. As a lit major myself, I nodded my head when I read Carr’s quotation from Scott Karp’s blog: “’I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,’” he wrote. “’What happened?’” “’What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?’”

This idea that the way we are thinking is changing because of the way we are encountering reality (now via the world of the web) is fascinating. I was thinking of Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” point just as I got to Carr’s paragraph in which he writes that

media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, [that] media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I have to admit that I can feel this happening to me, too.  I need to make a conscious effort to turn my phone to “do not disturb” before doing my bedtime reading… and that bedtime reading doesn’t happen as much as it used to – I now find myself skimming my Twitter feed or checking my messages on various apps… all of this from someone who (until recently) hardly ever used my phone and certainly didn’t feel it was a major part of my life. Now, even as I type this, I have it pinging next to me as I skim – not really even read – most of the articles I need to look at for this class!  (oops, don’t tell my prof 😉

But again, does this issue (of less-than-deep reading/thinking from our over-reliance on digital technology) mean that schools should not teach things that are online?  I’d still have to say the answer is a big “no!”

Let me put it this way: I teach English as a Second Language. One could theoretically learn English through using Google… but who would want to?  This is why I’m not afraid of losing my job any time soon.

Another reason: We are more than the sum of our knowledge. We need to remain engaged in the issues of our social and physical world – with all of its serious problems that need – and will always need – solving. We need to care about each other and our planet more than we do. Schools can and should teach kids to do this. But if we take away the job of teaching knowledge from the work of schools, we will do away with schools. Why? Because in this rewards-based society, where all the talk is about “employ-ability,” who would really send their kids to school just for the sake of teaching them to be decent human beings and contributing members of the world-wide-community? Teaching “critical thinking” and “creativity” (and yes, “digital citizenship and media literacy”) are important, but are these topics alone going to fill a 12-year curriculum?  I don’t see how. And, at least for now, school is a place where yes, kids may spend 12 years learning the knowledge that they could and do learn elsewhere, but they also get socialized – for better and in some ways, for worse.

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photo source

 

Tech, as yet another teaching tool

Back for more awesome EdTech learning with Dr. Alec Couros in EC&I830, and this time our class is designed using a debate format. Fun!

giphy

via Giphy

For our second class session, brave students volunteered to be our first debaters, and the hot topic was:

Does technology in the classroom enhance learning?

We saw videos made by the two groups who agree and disagree with this question, and we were asked to look at materials supplied by each group and blog our response on this topic. As I did for my tech course last term, I’ll try to make my responses relate to my experience teaching young adults ESL whenever I can.  I realize this gives me a slightly different perspective from most of my classmates who teach in the K-12 system, although I’m sure there is still lots of overlap.

So, do I think tech in the classroom enhances learning after hearing/reading the interesting materials my classmates shared on this issue?  I’d have to say that, like the majority of my class (according to pre- and post-debate polls), I believe that technology does enhance classroom learning.

From an adult ESL teacher’s position, I can’t imagine not availing myself of a few of the many contemporary tools that technology affords us in my daily lessons.  My number one use of tech on a daily basis?  I’m sad to say, it’s Google.  Over the 18 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve gotten to be quite good at acting and improvising (less so at drawing) when I’ve needed to help a student understand the meaning of a new word.  But some words, like squash, balcony, and speed dating, can become terribly time consuming to describe.  Whereas before I would have had to devote five minutes of class time to explaining what “germination” is… (more, if I get sidetracked!)….  now, voila!

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                                                                                       Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Students themselves use Google images to share famous people, places, foods, and other elements of their cultures.  It allows them a quick and efficient way to share something of themselves, which is so important for language learners living in an immersion setting, far from home.

I also use my “smart classroom” computer to project a lot of work we have going on during an average class, such as when I type up student responses to questions so that we can analyze their vocabulary or grammar use, or when I create a mindmap with elicited information on a new topic I’m introducing to the class.  Honestly, I’m at the point where I can’t really imagine teaching without a computer, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t especially tech-savy and doesn’t use many of the “fancy” tools and apps that are out there.

I have to say that I agree with the authors of Teaching in a Digital Age: How Educators Use Technology to Improve Student Learning who write that technology can transform students from “passive to active learners, guided by their own quest for information” (204).  Language learning is such a personal journey, and allowing students to use digital tools, often their cell phones, to look up information, share images and videos, and occasionally (when appropriate) translate a word, phrase or idiom, really puts them in the driver’s seat and gives them a sense of independence and control over their learning.

Another advantage of technology that McKnight, O’Malley et al. describe is that via technology, teachers can incorporate materials that are more current than textbooks.  With the world, and technology itself, changing at such a rapid pace, our theme-based language textbook become outdated very quickly. I can supplement what is in my textbook with learner appropriate information that is “more current, ‘richer,’ and more engaging than their textbooks” (204).

For the above and so many other reasons (many of which the authors give), it really does seem that “tech enhances learning in ways not otherwise possible,” and I can see why around 70% of teachers surveyed on their “technology beliefs” (198) agree to this statement.

I agreed with a few of the other advantages to using tech in the classroom that are given in 6 Pros and 6 Cons of Technology in the Classroom.  For instance, I know there are digital tools out there that allow teachers to get and give instant feedback, and I plan to also experiment with using a few of the at least 65 Digital Tools and Apps to Support Formative Assessment Practices listed here.  I know that these tools would definitely enhance the feedback I am able to give my students on their written and spoken class work and assignments – and at the same time, it would likely be less tedious for me to use a digital tool to record myself talking about an essay (for example) than sitting with yet another red pen and marking up yet another piece of paper…  Besides, how many students actually look at those comments on their papers…?

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via Giphy

I also appreciate how technology can help more students participate in class, especially those who may not otherwise speak up.

And so, as you can see, I agree that online tools can make ESL lessons so much more time efficient, interactive, interesting, up to date, relevant, and fun.

Of course, as its title suggests, this webpage also give the “cons” of using tech in the classroom, such as the point that “technology in the classroom can be a distraction” and “technology can foster cheating in class and on assignments.”  I can see that the writer is clearly biased towards technology in the classroom, as she points out (and I agree) that for most if not all of these possible drawbacks, the “teacher is in control,” and so there are always ways to mitigate the challenges that devices can bring to a classroom.  In the end, I like the quotation she added from a history professor in Virginia, Sara Eskridge, who “believes that technology is a tool to be used in the classroom, rather than an end in itself.”  This is how I feel about the situation – “technology” is a term that actually encompasses just about every single object that we use.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannicatechnology is

the application of scientific knowledge to the practical aims of human life or, as it is sometimes phrased, to the change and manipulation of the human environment.

Given this definition, technology includes not only the laptop I’m typing this on right now, but the table that’s under it, the hardwood flooring under the table, and every other element of my created surroundings.  Therefore, to teach without technology would be to return to the days of a strictly oral storytelling tradition, which I don’t believe anyone would argue is the way to go, even those who send their children to the Waldorf School of the Penninsual.

Matthew Jenkins writes in this Guardian article that at this school, “[t]eachers encourage students to learn curriculum subjects by expressing themselves through artistic activities, such as painting and drawing rather, than consuming information downloaded onto a tablet” and that at this school “[l]essons are delivered by a human being that not only cares about the child’s education, but also about them as individuals.” I often have to wonder how the “all or nothing” attitude is so frequently fostered by such educated people.  Surely no one is insinuating that teachers at schools which incorporate technology don’t employ painting and drawing in their toolkit, and are disinterested in their pupils “as individuals.”  While I definitely work hard to help my 8 year-old develop his creativity, individuality, curiosity and passion for learning, as well as his love of nature and respect for the environment, I don’t see how letting him have one hour of screen time a day is going to squash all of my efforts…

And so, as much as I see that there are potential hazards to relying too much on “new” technology or depending on it for every element of our lesson plans, I remain certain that technology, old and new, is an essential part of education, and pretty well has been since we left the cave.

I do advocate for classroom-created policies on the use of devices, such as one approach to creating a policy I outlined in a blog post I wrote for my previous EdTech class, Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy, Classroom cell phone use policy making: of the people, by the people.  I think that if the “rules” and expectations are designed by and accepted by students, there will be more buy-in to them, and a better balance of technology’s advantages vs. disadvantages can be more easily achieved.

Let me know what you think, please!