This has been an ongoing, internal issue I have been struggling with for the last few years… Does tech enhance learning in the classroom? Somedays I think it does, and some other days I want to SMAAAAAAASH every piece of technology in my sight!
But to answer the question honestly, I think if technology is implemented properly and used effectively, with a distinct purpose (not just to say you use it) it can enhance learning. Technology is an entity that has a firm grip on society, with new gadgets and apps being introduced daily, with no signs of slowing down or going away. Being a teacher in the 21st Century, I find it difficult to imagine not having to use some sort of technology in our teaching practices. With that said, you must know as an educator, well ahead of time, what sort of technology you will be using, what is the purpose of using it and how is it going to be properly utilized in your classrooms.
Both of these debate topics this week go hand in hand. Technology does not enhance learning if students do not have equal access to it. Does technology enhance learning for those who do not have access to a device or bandwidth outside of school? Or the means to afford a device in the first place? Or the skills or capabilities to engage with the technology? I have a hard time deciding which side of the fence I stand on. In some instances it has created more equity and others it has created an even larger inequity gap. With that said, I wish there was a “AGREE & DISAGREE” option to select during our pre/post votes!
To ensure that technology enhances learning and that there is equitable access for all students in our classrooms, teachers need to do some significant planning and understand who is in their classroom. Teachers must understand that technology must serve a purpose in their classroom. This can be accomplished by working through the SAMR model identifying the validity of the technology they want to use. Teachers also need to understand their student demographics, learning styles, and access to technology and all its components.
During EC&I 834 last semester, we were tasked with reviewing an EdTech app – I chose Quizlet. The article Online Tools for Teaching & Learning outlines how Quizlet fits into the SAMR model of technology integration in classrooms; although this article specifically outlines Quizlet, it is applicable to ALL technology and apps integrated into our classrooms as an outline of what teachers must do before they bring new tech tools into their classrooms. The main point that this article outlines is that before integration or implementation of new tech into the classroom, educators need to work through the SAMR model as a way of identifying the feasibility of implementing the new piece of tech. SAMR stands for: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. Technology must fit into this model prior to being implemented.
Student Demographics and Learning Styles
Not all students are the same, everyone has different learning styles, needs, adaptations, and already present tech savviness that will allow them to be successful in their own way. As teachers it is certainly a challenging job to ensure that all needs are being met. When designing a course it is difficult to plan for every consideration, however it is likely reasonable to plan for those that we are aware of will occur in our learning spaces. Before embarking on integrating technology into our classrooms, it is incredibly valuable to know more about the students that will be in your learning space. When you know what and who you are dealing with it is much easier to be more prepared. As Bates outlines in Chapter 9.2.1, student demographics, learning style and accessibility are crucial pieces of information that teachers need to understand to be able to know exactly who is in their classrooms.
Demographic information is very valuable when designing a class and integrating technology, when you as a teacher are trying to decide what type of technology to use or not. For example if there are EAL, LRT, Hard of Hearing or Blind students in your class you would work towards making the technology fit all needs. In some scenarios you might need to make worksheets that are adjusted reading levels, you might need to ensure that you have access to google read and write, there might be a need to develop slides that are easily read by a reader. It would be best practice to develop these based on the needs of the students and not use an incredible amount of your time prepping for possible situations that may not occur. Through the use of student demographic sheets teachers should take a comprehensive inventory of any disabilities or learning needs that students might require. This will allow teachers to plan accordingly and support students in the best that they can.
Along with the SAMR model, student demographics and understanding learning styles of students, teachers must understand how much access their students have to technology, both in the classroom as well as when they are at home. This is an important aspect to consider, especially if you are expecting students to be engaging with their school work outside the walls of the school.
Accessibility is an aspect that teachers must be aware of when they are designing their course work and use of technology in their classroom. This works very closely with student demographics and most often, teachers will be able to identify students’ access to technology, media or bandwidth by understanding their student demographic which makes up their classroom. Bates again outlines in Chapter 9.2.1 two sets of questions that teachers need to answer before finalizing a course. The first set of questions surrounds the teacher’s use of technology for the purpose of teaching.
The second set of questions outlined by Bates, surrounds the expectations if students are to supply their own devices.
Bates goes on to further outline that for both teachers and students to answer these questions, teachers must be clear with why and how they intend to use technology. There is no point in requiring students to provide their own technology if you are uncertain if you will in fact be utilizing it in your class. This requires some more foreplanning by the teacher to ensure that there is not an unwarranted expense to the student families. Teachers must answer the following when making concrete decisions surrounding technology or media in their class.
Technology Integration Capabilities
McKnight et al. outlines in the article Teaching in a Digital Age, the 5 ways in which technology can play a vital role in enhancing student learning. There are 5 roles technology plays outlined:
- Technology improves access – Technology has the ability to increase the access to up to date and relevant learning resources for students and teachers.
- Technology improves feedback and communication – technology has the capabilities to streamline feedback and assessment with students and communication with parents. Many classrooms enlist the aid of a communication app, where they are able to keep families informed of what is happening and upcoming at school
- Technology restructures teacher time – implementation of technology has affected the daily normal tasks of teachers. They are spending less time directly instructing students and more time facilitating tasks online.
- Technology extends purpose and audience for student work – students are able to extend the purpose and audience of their work through the use of technology. They are able to actively find and guide their own learning that can be shared widely outside the classroom walls.
- Technology shifts teacher and student roles – with the increased exposure to multiple resources, technology has decreased the student reliance on the teacher where students can take more ownership into the direction of their learning.
The Digital Divide
With the continual advancements and increased prices of technology, the result has been an inequity gap that continues to widen. There are and will continue to be individuals who will never be able to reap the benefits of the always advancing technological world, which falls out of their control. The digital divide is nothing new and has been something that has been warned about since the 1980’s. These gaps became abundantly clear during March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Ashleigh Weeden and Wayne Kelly outline in their article “The Digital Divide Has Become a Chasm: Here’s how to Bridge the Gap”, that despite the decades of warnings by communities and researchers, our societies were woefully under prepared for the pivot to online learning, working, socializing that was a result of the pandemic. They go on further to outline that the best time to invest in the digital infrastructure required to bridge these gaps was a decade or two ago. Weeden and Kelly dictate that the gap between policy makers and productive action improving digital framework is as deep as the urban/rural digital divide itself.
“Canada will not realize its full potential until rural communities are fully included in the process of identifying and responding to our most pressing social and economic challenges, including digital policy”, outlined Weeden and Kelly. They go on further to mention that the need to get digital policy right is of utmost importance – this includes not only broadband infrastructure, but also being able to have citizens improve their digital skills. According to Weeden and Kelly, “Ensuring everyone has access to high-quality, affordable, high-speed broadband internet is a matter of equity. It’s time to get this done!” The digital divide does not just affect one aspect of a person’s life – it affects their educational, social, and work lives immensely.
As we continue to learn and develop our awareness of tech integration and where and how it fits in our classrooms, it becomes obvious that it is complicated. There are numerous aspects to consider and there is no real perfect method. One of the key concepts that we continue to think about is that technology integration requires teachers to be “flexible” in order to help students succeed. Although complicated, Bates outlines that teaching and learning with technology can provide more opportunities to learn while at the same time accommodating differences more easily. With that being said, it becomes abundantly clear that the first step a teacher needs to take with incorporating technology is to know their students, the similarities, the differences, what digital skills they possess and what kind of access to technology is available to them.
If implemented properly and effectively utilized, technology can play a significant role in enhancing students’ learning and help correct the equity gaps in students’ lives. I believe that if technology is implemented with great care and preparation, it indeed enhances the learning of students. I do also believe that this implementation process will come with headaches and hiccups while we navigate the trial and error in our classrooms. Implementing technology cannot be effective if the teacher decides to implement for the sheer fact they can say they use it in their classroom – there must be a method to the madness!