The Great EdTech Debate – Round Three! Should schools continue to teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology?

Photo of cursive letters on a paper
Photo by Poppy Thomas Hill on Pexels

There was a lot of build-up and much anticipation leading up to round three of The Great EdTech Debate as this was my groups debate topic: Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology, such as cursive writing, multiplication tables and spelling. I want to first congratulate Sushmeet and Leah on a hard-fought effort. You were tough opponents to go up against and really put us to the test. Your knowledge, preparation, and commitment to the agree side of this topic is truly admirable and overall, a job well done! I also want to send out a huge thank-you to my group members on the disagree side, Kelly and Durston! Such a fun group to work with that are not only incredibly knowledgeable in the tech world, but also were very passionate and supportive about our debate topic. Way to go team!

The agree team concluded their opening statement video with the question of, “Can we live without technology?” My answer to this question is “No.” However, as educators I believe that we need to be mindful of how we are incorporating technology into our classroom and ensuring that we are not creating an environment where we become too dependent on it. Therefore, I continue to advocate for skills such as cursive writing, multiplication tables, and spelling to still be taught in the classroom without the use of technology. These skills are critical for our students to acquire for them to become successful members of society.

Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology (e.g., cursive writing, multiplication tables, spelling). *Agree*

Technology and Creativity: Integrating technology in the classroom promotes student creativity, better engagement, and higher-level thinking. At the start of my grade seven year, I attended a brand-new elementary school that had just been built in the east end of Regina. This was in the year 2000, and at the time, this particular school offered a wide range of new and innovative technology that we as middle years students were able to use for more purposeful learning in the classroom. We had pods of iMac computer labs right outside of our classroom doors for researching information and making iMovie presentations. In addition to this, we also had access to brand-new cameras for taking pictures and documenting our learning. Within this time, we had a lot to learn with the use of this new technology, but it provided us with the opportunity to take part in new and exciting learning experiences.

Technology and Pedagogy: Incorporating technology into your classroom just for the sake of saying you have essentially “checked off that box” as an educator, is simply not enough. When it comes to technology, it is crucial as an educator to have a well-developed and purposeful pedagogy. For students in the classroom to experience the direct benefits that technology has to offer, it is the responsibility of the educator to become better informed on this practice. As Mason, Shaw and Zhang (2019) describe, “For educators, engaging with technological innovation requires a willingness to explore both the benefits and dangers and to do that is also necessary to recognise the trends as they are emerging.” Essentially, as technology continues to advance, then as educators, so should our pedagogy.

Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology (e.g., cursive writing, multiplication tables, spelling). *Disagree*

Development of Fine Motor Skills: Cursive writing helps to develop fine motor skills and better hand-eye coordination for students. During my first-year teaching twelve years ago, I taught a grade four and five split class where I taught cursive writing once a week. Even though I have taught Kindergarten for several years now since then, if I were to go back to teach this same grade again, I would still choose to teach cursive writing. Now that I have taught at the Kindergarten primary level, I have come to realize just how important the development of fine motor skills are for our students. If we as educators do not provide students with the opportunity to put pencil to paper, but rather fingertips to keyboard, they will not be able to develop these essential life skills. Upon arrival, are you often required to fill out paper-work when entering an important or urgent medical appointment? If you answered “Yes” to this question, then point proven, the development of fine motor skills and cursive writing are essential!

Close up photo of person writing on paper beside calculator
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

Use of Calculators: With students using calculators in the classroom, it is diminishing their ability to develop critical thinking skills. For students to perform higher-level thinking and to develop stronger problem-solving skills, basic math facts are essential. Once again to reference to my experience with teaching grade four and five, at the beginning of each math class I always had my students work on the basic math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; calculators were not used in my math class. If students did not have these foundational math skills, they were unable to complete the higher-level thinking of math computations and problems. Ultimately, for the students that did not have these foundational math skills, with time, they only continued to fall more behind.

Digital Divide: From a recent study done by Stats Canada, it has been found that 6% of people in Canada do not have internet access in their home. Reasons for this includes the cost of Internet services at 28%, cost of equipment at 19% and the unavailability of Internet services at 8%. These stats directly connect to the digital divide and the inequity gap that so many of our students, student families and communities still experience today. If we do not teach our students the important skills of cursive writing, multiplication tables and spelling, and assume technology to carry out these critical skills instead, not only will the digital divide continue to grow, but the futures for our students will become incredibly uncertain and unequitable.

Final Thoughts

The Regina Public School Division that I teach for, is currently experiencing a system wide cyber attack which has forced our schools to go completely offline. Students that often use laptops to record notes in class are now using pen and paper to copy off the board. As teachers, we do not have access to print our resources, not to mention that we no longer have any connection to Wi-Fi. Teachers are scrambling and students are frustrated, with no timeline shared at this point of when things will be back up and running again. It begs the question, for both educators and students, have we now become too dependent with the use of technology in the classroom?

To conclude my thoughts on this debate topic, I do want to clarify that even though our group was on the disagree side for the use of technology to carry out skills in the classroom such as cursive writing, multiplication tables and spelling, we do firmly believe that with informed and relevant pedagogy, technology should still be integrated into the classroom; just not within these specific skill-based areas. As educators it is important to remember that technology is a tool for our students, not a teacher.

Thanks for reading and stopping by!

8 Replies to “The Great EdTech Debate – Round Three! Should schools continue to teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology?”

  1. Alyssa,
    Great points were made by both teams. Like you, I think technology should be integrated into students learning, but they should still be learning the fundamental basics. As you said, “As educators it is important to remember that technology is a tool for our students, not a teacher.” The frustration of the cyber attack was a good reminder that technology is not always there and we all went back to the basics in the last 2 weeks: Paper and Pencil!!

    1. Alyssa Johnson says: Reply

      Hi Jenny!
      Thank you so much for your response to my blog and for your kind comments, it is much appreciated! 🙂 This cyber attack is wild right now with our division, and at such a crucial time in the school year too. Will be interesting to see what report cards end up looking like in a few weeks… Being forced to go offline has definitely taken us back to the basics in some areas as teachers. You are so right, balance is key, like anything in life. Perhaps this cyber attack has made me think twice of how much I use technology in my classroom now, as it has set myself and my students back quite a few these past few weeks!

  2. Sushmeet Kaur says: Reply

    Hey Alyssa,
    It was indeed a wonderful debate and you guys were tough competitors. You all did a great job. Thanks for the appreciation, though it was a tough job to be on the agree side. I know that some of the skills are foundation and can not be replaced by technology and should not be, however, I still believe that learning Tables and cursive should not be emphasized more upon and rooms can be made for more important skills to be taught to the students. Since I am not a part of Regina Public School so maybe, can’t relate you guys over there. But, it was a great experience for me to be part of this debate.

    1. Alyssa Johnson says: Reply

      Hi Sushmeet!
      Thank you so much for your support and kind words, it is so appreciated and you did great on your debate topic! 🙂 What area of work are you currently in Sushmeet? I completely agree with your side of the topic in relation to pedagogy and finding the purpose and relevance of technology in your classroom. One of the articles you listed as well mentioned that as technology continues to advance, so should ones pedagogy in the classroom. This statement is so true as I think back to my first year teaching twelve years ago, and to my teaching today and how I incorporate technology into my daily teaching practices; so different now and so much has changed!

  3. Great summary, Alyssa. I love the way that your framed everything and the important points from both sides. You were a great groupmate to have in our group and brought a lot of different perspectives to the group (Kindergarten is not my strong suit whatsoever). Like you, I feel as if teaching and learning basic skills is still beneficial, and a healthy balance between learning and using basic skills and technology is vital.

    1. Alyssa Johnson says: Reply

      Hi Kelly!
      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and for your kind words! 🙂 I am so glad I was able to bring in a new perspective to our group from a primary teacher lens, but also much appreciated both yours and Durston’s expertise in the area of middle years! We sure made a great team and will of course continue to promote the development of fine motor skills, understanding math computations and as educators, finding that balance of technology use in our classrooms.

  4. Kayla Henderson says: Reply

    Hi, Alyssa! I enjoyed reading your thoughts! I appreciated the primary school perspective that you brought to the debate. The lowest grade that I’ve ever taught is Grade 7 and so your thoughts really added another dimension to my thinking! In particular, I never considered cursive writing as helping a child develop their fine motor skills. I agree that students should definitely develop these, first, before attempting fingers to a keyboard. Now, I’m not sure if I’m entirely sold on students having to develop fine motor skills through cursive writing (instead of just through printing), but it’s up to the individual teacher to decide what works best for their class! I think that we, as a society, need to put trust in teachers’ professional judgement to decide how they want to meet the needs of their students!

    1. Alyssa Johnson says: Reply

      Hi Kayla!
      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and for your incredibly kind comments! 🙂 I am so glad that I was able to bring a primary perspective into the debate discussion, and as you mentioned, something that not all educators in our class have experienced teaching! I do agree with you on the fact that learning basic printing and spelling to develop fine motor skills first is the best approach, rather than beginning with handwriting. Watching my Kinders learn to print and spell for the first time truly is magical, it is always such an exciting time and they are very proud of their new acquired skill!

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