Unit 3 – School Level
Technology and the integration of technology has been a huge discussion at the school I work at over the past few years. As I mentioned in my introduction, I am part of a technology initiative called Connected Educator. This program brings technology into the classroom. As a teacher in the program, I have been allotted 1:1 laptops for my students to use. This has greatly impacted the access to technology within the school. Students utilize technology in almost all subject areas. The point of the program is not to have kids using technology for the sake of technology. The point is to use technology to break down the walls and open the educational opportunities that technology allows. Of course we do not allow for free-reign, but rather scaffold and teach students responsible technology use. We teach them digital citizenship strategies and consistently model these strategies with our students on almost a daily basis. Students are able to see the benefits of using technology as a tool to enrich their education and engage their creative and critical thinking skills.
Because we have teachers in grades 4 through 8 who are all Connected Educators, we do not have a need for BYOT at our school. Every student is assigned a laptop to use throughout their time at school. Students do not need to use personal devices. We have a policy that personal devices are to be kept away while in school. This has helped with on-task time greatly. I do not agree with banning them and not replacing that technology with something else. Simply removing technology is not only closing several doors, but it is also turning it into a desired and much more sought after gadget. I believe students need to gain skills that are necessary for 21st century learners to be successful. Skills like to research using search engines and online data bases, word processing skills, digital design tools, and more. Students also need to learn to be safe online. They need to learn to discriminate fake news. Limiting their use is not providing them with the skills they need. I fear that in removing devices from students in schools is not benefiting students at all. In doing so, you are missing out on great teaching and learning opportunities.
The digital divide is not a new phenomenon. This has been an issue for as long as technology has become somewhat affordable. Knowing technology and access is not always available or affordable should not hold a student back from being successful. Being in my Connected Educator classroom means I do not assign much homework. I do not want my students dependent on technology at home. There are times a student may need to finish up a task, however my deadlines are lenient. I know some of my students do not have home access and that many times even if they do have a device at home, their connection may not be reliable. Depending on technology to complete an assignment would be irresponsible of me as an educator. Assuming every one of my students has access is also naive. I have included a statement in my classroom procedures that allows students to come early to work if they struggle for access or to have a conversation if they are late because they could not complete a task due to this digital divide. As educators in the 21st century we need to be aware that our students do not all have access and therefore may not be able to complete homework like they would have without the use of technology.
Recently I had the privilege of listening to a short lecture by author Jennifer Casa-Todd, who wrote the book Social LEADia. In her discussion she discussed changing the “Acceptable Use Policy” so many of our schools have to the “Responsible Use Policy”. In doing so, we are encouraging our students to take responsibility for their time online and to make more responsible choices with what they do while online. Of course, students need to be taught, reminded, and modelled how to do so, but changing the language and the way we approach student technology use can often change they way it is used and respected. Another suggestion made in this lecture was the change the term “Digital Citizenship” to”Digital Leadership”. This helps to show students, particularly some of our senior students, they can be leaders and set a positive example for how to behave online.
Recently I have found myself having to defend my technological classroom from those who read articles or rather headlines that state technology is more harmful to our youth than it is useful. I agree, technology has side-effects. However Zhao (2017) outlines that much of what we do in education has side effects. In her article “What works may hurt: Side effects in education”, Zhao discusses how the medical industry is required to research and publish side effects before any treatment is considered to be acceptable. In education, however, new and “revolutionary” educational trends come and go without stating the side effects behind using such tools, teaching procedures, or resources. Teaching with technology is no different. This seems to be the new trend that has made its’ way into our schools and classrooms. To state there are no side-effects to having students increase their screen time, having them type rather than write, or being stimulated by videos or learning applications, would be naive. The question one needs to ask herself is:
What are the benefits?
Is what I am doing in the classroom aligning with “good teaching practice”?
Does technology enhance what students are doing, or rather am I simply replacing the pencil?
As professionals it is up to us to weigh out the options, consult “best practice” and decide what teaching strategy to implement to fulfill my students’ learning outcomes. I sincerely believe students are more engaged and are producing a better representation of their learning through the use of technology within my classroom. I do not have educational studies to back my claim though. All I have is what I have experienced first hand after teaching in an integrated classroom for the past three years. Yes possible side effects are present, such as more classroom management issues and possibility for students to get distracted, however, I am prepared to deal with those and I do not believe they are deal breakers. As we continue to work with educational technology and become technological leaders within our classrooms, we need to acknowledge not only the benefits, but also the possible side effects of this newer educational tool.
To close, I am going to leave you with this TEDx Talk by Jason Brown where he outlines the outlines how the integration of technology is redefining student learning experiences and thereby creating a whole new culture within our classrooms.