Ding….Ding…Ding… EdTech Debates Rounds 3 & 4

Ding….Ding…Ding… EdTech Debates Rounds 3 & 4

Debate #3 –  Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology (e.g., cursive writing, multiplication tables, spelling).

In a world where the progression of technology and its capabilities will continue to advance at an alarming rate, the many simple tasks that were once required of human beings will go the way of the dodo bird.  I do believe that there is still value in teaching certain tasks that are easily carried with technology.  Humans are still going to be required to read, write, work with numbers regardless of the tech advancements.  But, as technology becomes even more abundant, there will still be times where we may be without it, can’t afford it or have forgotten it and are expected to be able to carry out tasks whether at work, school or our everyday lives.  


I was having a conversation around this debate topic with my Mom the other day.  For some more context, she and my Dad are heavily involved in running a lottery fundraiser for recreation facilities in Foam Lake.  This lotto is still old school and relies mostly on handwritten tickets, either mailed in directly from the buyer or taken over the phone.  They continually run into issues where they cannot read the information that is sent in to them directly from the buyer or the information that is written down by a volunteer via a phone order.  This creates headaches and more work for volunteers to try and decode what has been written down.  A simple task that is not done correctly turns into more work for others to correct; may as well do the task properly the first time than creating more work! I believe there is still significant value to teaching students to be able to print legibly.  I do not think that there is a purpose in teaching cursive writing, however, the value remains for being able to print and print where someone can read what you have written down!

According to Dana Goldstein, in her article Why Kids Can’t Write, poor writing is nothing new or earth shattering, nor is the concern about it.  She later goes on to outline that ¾ of both 8th and 12th grade students lacked writing proficiency according to an American national study.  These same students also struggled with reading and writing skills required to score well on college admissions tests.  Goldstein later goes on to outline that one of the major concerns over the lack of writing skills is the lack of training that is given to teachers.  This made me think of my undergraduate education classes and the lack of instruction we were given in terms of how to teach students to write properly.  


Just like my thoughts on handwriting, I believe that value still remains in teaching students basic math concepts.  I understand that not all students learn the same or have the same capabilities, but I do believe that we need to try to help students comprehend and understand these basic tasks.  Some of these students will no-doubtedly become touted as “calculator kids”, but they should still be challenged with learning the task without tech.  There are going to be times in our lives where students are going to need these basic skills either in the workforce, school careers or their own professional lives.  There will be a time when they are in the grocery store with a specific budget in mind and wondering how much food they can buy or on the construction site needing a calculation without the ease of using their phones calculator or other tech.  Sure there will be times where they are going to need to use the technology, but sometimes, relying on tech may not be the most efficient, especially for basic calculations.  

As mentioned in the debates last week, Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces whose mathematical scores are continually declining.  This, I believe, can be associated with the lack of basic understanding of math skills.  Alberta is another province whose math PISA scores are also declining.  In the article, Alberta Kids Must Learn Basic Math Skills, a concerned parent brought forward a petition to reinstate the teachings of basic math concepts and operations such as addition and subtraction with carrying and borrow, as well as long division and multiplication.  Nhung Tran-Davies, an Alberta physician brought forward her frustrations with the convoluted strategies that are not being taught in the math classrooms.  They go on further to outline the purpose of the petition, “ I am not asking for the complete removal of all these strategies, but merely a re-balance, a refocus, a re-emphasis on the importance of acquiring and mastering basic math skills.”  I can only assume that this frustration is also shared from many Saskatchewan parents!

Debate #4 – Educators have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice.

The Age of Slacktivism

Can online social media activism be meaningful and worthwhile?

I have a difficult time answering this question – I often find myself questioning the motives of those who are participating as an online activist.  I think social media activism can be somewhat meaningful and worthwhile, but it has lost a lot of its luster, due to the fact that everyone and their dog seems to consider themselves one.  While doing some research into online activism for this post, I came across an article entitled “When Everyone is an Activist Online, Is Anyone?” written by Ella Glover.  She outlines that “social media has once again turned something hopeful into something toxic and that activism is now seen as mandatory or expected.”

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I felt I needed to actually understand what Social Media Activism encompasses to be able to properly answer this question.  I came across a blog of a former student of Alec’s – Catherine Ready who was able to shed light on her thoughts regarding Social Media Activism.  Through her blog, I was able to find a simple yet effective definition of exactly what social media activism is.  It is essentially using the platform of an online forum to lead or support a cause.  It’s essentially activism behind a screen.

In her article, “When Everyone is an Activist Online, Is Anyone?” Ella Glover’s message throughout the article resonated to be “if we aren’t publicly condemning something bad, or pushing for something positive on our social media platforms, we’re not doing anything at all — whether we are out in the streets or not”.  In all honesty, this is exactly how I feel in terms of social media activism.  I often wonder how much of an effect likes, retweets and hashtags actually carry  and whether people are engaging for the right or appropriate reasons. 

A lot of the time, I am finding myself wondering how TRUE people are when they engage in online/social media activism or whether they are just paying lip service to achieve a certain look or be seen in the appropriate light.  I often see meaningful posts, but hardly see any sort of follow through in person, in the community or away from the keyboard – AKA the keyboard warriors or armchair activists are everywhere!  This thought leads me to wonder, are they helping the cause by posting on social media!? To me, with social media activism, there is a lot of over-promising and under-delivering with boots on the ground.

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Over the last two years, with the arrival of COVID-19, we have found ourselves online or engaging with our social media apps more frequently.  Speaking from experience, my time on these apps has increased, but I have also noticed something else – the content on these apps can be soul crushing, extremely negative, hard to handle and affecting my mental health.  I think social media activism has played a bit of a role in the increase in this type of information with jumping from cause to cause without any sort of action or resolution.  In her article, Ella Glovers reminds us that “we are not equipped to handle the constant barrage of information at once.  The pressure to juggle an infinite amount of injustices in our minds, while also worrying about our own lives is problematic.”  

Many people find themselves in a position where they refrain from posting on social media due to their occupation.  Some “activists” may not find it safe to be posting online in fear of losing their job or facing discipline for thoughts posted online.  This can be particularly true for those who work in civil service.  This is the driving force behind what and how I post on my social media platforms.  I am very rarely posting on any of my social media platforms out of fear of repercussions from offending someone, or how it may be interpreted.  When I do post, I leave personal opinions, biases and thoughts out, primarily based on the fact that I am a teacher.  I find that educators are often held to a different standard to the rest of the public and may be more susceptible to mistreatment based on their social media. 

Where do teacher’s responsibilities with Social Media Activism?

Responsibility the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone.

I have a difficult time answering this question based upon how I currently see social media activism.  I honestly think that social media activism has the potential to continue to do great things, however, I think the field is very watered down, with so many activists jumping from movement to movement.  What I mean by that is that, it seems like there are a significant amount of social media activists, which is great, but they are dipping their feet into a significant number of causes and moving onto the next movement without any significant action.  How can one be able to give all they have for change when they are involved with so many different causes?  This segways into the major issue that I have with the whole social media activism is the fact that there seems to be a lot of liking, retweeting and reposting online with a significant lack of meaningful boots on the ground actions outside of the interweb.  When I come across these profiles on the platforms, I often overlook them as I find it difficult to engage with their messaging based upon this lack of action.  

In today’s day, when everything seems to be political, I personally think it is unfair to make teachers feel that they are responsible to be a social activist online.  With the political arenas that have developed over the last few years, and the amount of hate and threats that people can be subject to in terms of sharing their personal political beliefs, I do not think it is fair to put the duty onto a teacher that they must become a social media activist, because they are an educator.  I think this needs to be a personal choice.  If a person chooses to engage that is great, but I do not think that those who do not need to feel ashamed or pressured to do so.  I, for one, support the initiatives that social media activists are working with, but it is not in my character to discuss my political views online.  I am more than willing to have a face to face discussion where words are less likely to be taken out of context. 

As Madeline Will outlines in her article, Teachers, Politics and Social Media: A Volatile Mix, “In an increasingly divisive political climate, a teacher might think twice before tweeting or posting other social media takes on hot-button issues.”  She later outlines that teachers choose to shy away from posting in a political manner for numerous reasons.  Education is inherently political and for that reason many teachers choose to abstain from posting politically to preserve relationships with students, parents, and employers and to maintain their objectivity in a diverse field.  They are also concerned with work related repercussions that may arise from their posts; as many of us know, teachers seem to be held to a different standard outside of their professional lives.

Concluding Thoughts

I am not saying that it cannot be meaningful but in the current state,  I don’t find social media activism to be meaningful, purposeful or worthwhile.  I feel at this moment it falls on deaf ears due to the creation of a “topical activism”, outlined by Ella Glover as jumping from movement to movement before any results. I do not think it is the teacher’s responsibilty to take to Social Media in an activist role.

Online activism is in a state of slacktivism;  In her article “The Realities of Slacktivism” Siobhan Mullaly outlines that social media activism can often come across as lazy and fake when it is not followed by genuine action and as a result the term “Slacktivism” was coined.  This new term makes it hard to think of it as meaningful or purposeful.

Daze Aghaji, a 20 year old British climate activist summarizes online activism in Ella Glover’s article in a way that is hard to ignore.  She states that prioritizing online activism is acting in such a way as to be counterproductive to the boots on the ground style of activism work.  She goes on further to say “burning myself out, constantly commenting, and trying to get involved with loads of different social issues at the same time, is not actually going to help the issue.”   Francisa Rockey, another young British activist, outlines that if we really want to make a difference “ those who are interested and have the time should spend less time talking about what people are not doing and shaming people, and more time coming together and doing the work.” 

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I think both of these quotes speak profoundly to the current state of social media activism and where it needs to go.  If we want this type of activism to again be meaningful, purposeful and carry more weight, we have to put our money where our mouth is, and get our boots on the ground to create meaningful action and change, giving up the keyboard warrior status and getting out from behind the screens.



4 thoughts on “Ding….Ding…Ding… EdTech Debates Rounds 3 & 4

  1. Bret, I like the way you shared your personal experience about learning basic skills in the past and still the way you are using them. I agree, it sometimes brings stress and it reminds me of my experience; back home when I was a kid, In India in my summer holidays we use to have cursive writing practice books to complete before the end of summer break and it use to be very difficult and tiring and now when we are doing graduation it feels, what was the need of learning cursive writing as we use laptops to complete our assignments.

  2. Great summary! Thanks for including a personal story about your parents. I think when we are thinking of the debate, we are only thinking of our own perspectives, instead of the perspectives of others. Urban versus rural is another great debate for access to technology, as well as the need for basic skills. When talking to my spouse who is in the trades, and didn’t love school or really find a purpose for it, he said the only thing that really mattered was learning the basic skills–the ones that he still uses today and are applicable in all areas of life. Interesting from a non-academic perspective.

  3. Hi Brett! I enjoyed your post. I couldn’t agree more with your commentary around topical activism. I would throw out the words “echo chamber” as well when describing how it is often not particularly helpful. I think it would be so intriguing to see a study on how many minds/perspectives have been shifted because of a Tweet or Facebook post. Anecdotally, at least in my circle it seems as if perspectives only get harden or more rigid through social media activism, as we find others that share our some point of view.

  4. Bret, I agree entirely with your thoughts regarding handwriting, legibility, and low math scores. As a grade 8 teacher, I feel it is essential to balance computer work and handwritten assignments. Being a Connected Educator means that I have one-to-one computers in my classroom; access to technology is never an issue. However, it does not completely replace paper and pen. In my math class, students have to use pencil and paper for every assignment and must show all steps. It takes me the better part of September to teach them that math needs to be done neatly and properly to avoid careless mistakes. Furthermore, regarding teaching cursive, I agree that it doesn’t seem necessary, and more focus should be on legibility. On the other hand, have you ever tried to watch a teenager today try to write a signature? Trust me, and it is not a pretty sight! Although our world is ever-changing technology, I truly believe the fundamentals of math and writing should always be at the forefront.

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