The Highs and Lows of Technology

The video assigned for this week’s blog prompt was a humorous way to describe the distractibility that children and adults face due to the accessibility of technology.  When posed with the question, “Is the Internet really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions?,” I have to argue that it is dependent on the individual.  Like many of my classmates have stated, the use of technology requires self-discipline, time management and self awareness.  Sage provides suggestions for increased productivity in her blog like “putting your phone away, giving yourself deadlines, closing extra tabs on your browser, and preventing information overload by setting time limits for research.”  I can relate to these suggestions.  Each week, I often find myself writing blogs for EC&I 833 with focus on connecting my blogs to assigned readings in addition to my classmates responses.  This has often left me feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information I want to include and unfortunately, short on time.  Therefore, setting time limits for research is of use to me in my studies.  In addition to this suggestion, I have also noticed that putting my phone where it is out of reach and unable to distract me has increased my productivity and ability to be “present” in my daily tasks and relationships.  As stated, two suggestions from Sage’s blog are of use to me in my work and personal life.  For someone else, it may be different.  I feel like it depends on the individual, their learning style, ability to focus, ability to ignore distractions and the severity of the task at hand.

It is clear that the Internet has the ability to distract individuals from tasks at hand and conversations with others.  The multitasking associated with the use of technology can give it’s use a bad reputation.  However, it is important to understand the benefits that technology can provide it’s users.  Over the course of EC&I 833, we have witnessed the productivity that tools like Google docs, Twitter and Zoom can provide for students and teachers, alike.  Research methods for learners are literally, right at peoples fingertips with access to smart phones and the Internet.  I echo my classmate Scott when he states the following,

“Given everything that we know, both good and bad about the internet, one thing is for certain – digital citizenship is more important now than ever and needs to be taught (by parents and teachers) starting at an early age.”

I believe that it is up to parents and educators to teach our future generations how to responsibly use technology and ways in which they can prevent it from hindering productivity in both their work and personal lives.  This week, my classmate Katie posted an excellent article addressing this issue.  “Balance in the Digital Age” by Jim Steyer outlines the importance of families understanding how addictions to technology can promote multitasking and thus, negatively affect child development and human connections.  Steyer stresses the importance of developing strategies (similar to those outlined early in this post) to “maintain humanity and ensure that while we are all connected electronically, we do not lose our ability for human connection.”  In an age where productivity and human connection can be so easily lost to a world of social media posts and text messages, it is important to teach society how to be responsible and productive, digital citizens.

Distinguishing Reality: Sesame Street vs. School

One of the tasks of this week’s blog was to unpack Neil Postman’s quote, “… We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.”  In a failed attempt to find this exact quote, I uncovered an interview Postman gave in 1989.  Postman expressed similar views to the one provided where he criticized Sesame Street as providing a false representation of what schooling is.  He specifically states, “It may be that watchers of Sesame Street are learning their letters and numbers, but they are also learning many other things about learning. They are learning that it must always be entertaining, that learning is largely a matter of images, and that learning has to involve immediate gratification.”  I suppose the first thing that I would like to point out is that Neil Postman made his opinions and statements regarding Sesame Street in the late 1980s… this is 30 years ago.  Although I discussed in last week’s blog how Seymour Papert critiqued education as evolving very little over the last 100 years, one could argue that today’s classrooms, educational strategies and teachings look different then the way they did in the late 1980s.  Audiovisual technologies have allowed students to learn in new ways through things like iPad apps, youtube, SMART boards, etc.  I would argue that including technology in a learning environment promotes a more engaging experience for learners; one that might align more closely to educational programs such as Sesame Street.

Secondly, I think it is important to acknowledge that Neil Postman’s criticisms fail to address the responsibility that parents have in teaching their children that schooling isn’t going to be like television.  As a parent, allowing your children to watch programs like “Super Why” or using educational apps must be accompanied by the real-life experiences and teachings of concepts.  Ultimately, I believe that it is a parents duty to ensure that their child enters school with the understanding that he/she isn’t stepping into an episode of the Magic School Bus with Ms. Frizzle.  Sorry, kids.

The idea of preparing your child for a realistic schooling experience links closely to the opinions expressed in my classmate Daniel’s blog.  Daniel states, “As a teacher in a publicly funded public education system, my obligation is to teach my courses based on curriculum established by the Ministry of Education of Saskatchewan…  (television programs) do not have the restriction of needing to teach specific outcomes and making SURE their audience has demonstrated a sufficiently good understanding of that outcome to be successful.”  I think Daniel makes great points here.  We can’t allow educational television and computer-based games to set the standard for public schooling when the two are in totally different playing fields.

With all this being said, it is important for parents and educators to understand that although schooling will not be a walk down Sesame Street, the use of audiovisual technologies can allow an educational experience to be elevated to new heights for learners.  As one of this week’s articles points out, “Children learn differently and audio visual equipment gives teachers the chance to stimulate each child’s learning process with a combination of pictures, sounds and attention grabbing media.”  My classmate Brooke echoes this statement in her blog, when she explains that today’s technology capabilities allow teachers to actually show students concepts rather then just having them read about it or listen to explanations from a teacher.  I agree with both authors on this topic and see audiovisual technologies as a means to enhance student learning.  When audiovisual technologies are used to assist in the delivery of curricular outcomes, students are provided with engaging opportunities in school settings.

Understanding Constructionism

Part of this week’s task was to familiarize ourselves with a Logo emulator by using tasks outlined in this Logo Workbook.  Like Brooke, this was also my first experience using computer codes to generate images.  Perhaps my first observation of this coding program was how useful it would be in a mathematics class for students learning concepts such as angles, rays, patterning, sequencing, measurement and computation.  After receiving necessary instructions from teachers, students could practice skills using this program.  As the constructionism approach to learning suggests, the best way to learn is through active creation of something tangle outside of your head and that learning happens as a consequence of experience.  Allowing students to experience the creation of images based on computerized instructions, would allow this type of learning to take place.  I strongly believe that coding would provide an engaging activity that students could apply their knowledge in meaningful ways.

When exploring the work of Seymour Papert, the following video contributed greatly to my understanding constructionism.

In this video, Gary Stager discusses many of Papert’s powerful ideas and the impact Papert had on progressing computer-based eduction for children.  I would like to point out two points that struck me in this video.

1. Stager highlights the comparison that Seymour Papert made of a modern-day surgeon visiting a hospital 100 years ago to a modern-day teacher visiting a school 100 years ago.  Papert suggested that a modern-day surgeon would enter a surgery suite and not recognize anything about the practice.  However, if a teacher had a similar time machine and travelled back 100 years, they would know exactly what to do.  For me, this comparison really exemplifies how little education models have progressed, despite evolution of the digital world.  This can serve as encouragement for educators to continue their work in incorporating computer-based education (such as the use of coding and other programs) into everyday teachings in schools.

2. Stager spoke of Papert’s belief that educators need to create a mathland where learning mathematics comes naturally.  Papert believed that we need to provide the youngest of learners with mathematical experiences that would not be possible without digital technologies.  He believed that if we were to provide these types of opportunities to students, then mathematics would be learned in a more engaging, natural way.  This idea of Papert reminded me of the Logo activities that we completed this week.  The Logo activities were engaging and would be a natural and meaningful way to teach and practice mathematical skills in today’s classrooms.

One example of how Canadian educators are practicing the ideas of Papert and constructionism is in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the provincial government has provided funding for students to learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics through activities such as computer coding.  Details of this project can be found in the following article:

As one teacher who is working to facilitate the technology-based education outlined in the article states, “Technology and certainly coding is a language that’s as important to learn as English in terms of our school system.”  This statement aligns with the beliefs of Papert and the importance he placed on technology as a tool for learning.

In closing, I am left to wonder if the Saskatchewan curriculum is progressing towards technology-based education and programs like those outlined in the news article about Newfoundland and Labrador school systems.  Any thoughts regarding this are welcomed!

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


My Teaching Philosophy & Observations

Throughout the course of my teaching career, I have only worked as a learning support teacher.  Therefore, it would seem natural that my first statement in a post about teaching theories and classroom practice would be to say that “a teacher’s philosophies and theories of knowledge must encompass a wide array of practices from the behaviourism, constructivism, cognitivism and connectivism approaches.”  This idea of differentiated instruction to suit the needs of learners can be echoed in my classmate Adam’s post where he states, “Student needs play a large part in deciding what theory is best utilized within our walls and with the incredibly diverse range of students that are in our classrooms, one theory is not always going to work for all of their needs.”  Therefore, when Ertmer and Newby ask, “Is there a single “best” approach and is one approach more efficient than the others?,” I would argue that there is not a single, “best” approach and that one can place effectiveness on a theory based on the type of learner that he/she is working with.  

Now, as a learning resource teacher who has stepped away from full-time work and returned as a casual substitute teacher, I have taken note of situations where different theories of learning are apparent.  Recently, I was subbing in a grade 1 classroom where the topic of discussion was around a student’s trip to Disney World.  As the children were discussing details of the child’s trip, one boy had a question about a Star Wars attraction at Disney.  Having never been to Disney World, I was little to no help and the child’s classmates also could not answer this boy’s question either.  He was quick to tell me that he was going to “go home and ask Siri.”  This situation reminds me a lot of the teachings in Siemens article about connectivism.  Siemen states, “When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.”  Therefore, providing learners with the tools that they need to access information is perhaps, more beneficial then the actual knowledge they already have.  In this example, I believe the boy’s ability to recognize that a digital tool like Siri could assist him in finding an unknown answer is a reflection of the connectivism theory and the way in which we should be moving our educational practices.

I also observe aspects of connectivism in EC&I 833.  Siemens states that “Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era.”  EC&I 833 has challenged me to create blogs for the use of educational learning, use networks like Twitter to share ideas and perspectives with colleagues and understand how technologies such as Zoom or FlipGrid can be used in educational settings.  These newfound skills and teachings that I have gained will undoubtedly, benefit me as a participant in a digital world.

Like Amy, I can also observe the behaviourism approach in my day-to-day routines and practices with my children.  In my mind, practices of behaviourism theory allows face-to-face perspective and interaction to occur.  Similarly to Amy, I observe aspects of behaviourism in teaching my four and two year old children social norms and expected behaviours.  Undesired actions or behaviours will often result in “time outs” while desired actions or behaviours will result in verbal praise or visual rewards like sticker charts.  I agree with Amy when she states that ultimately, it is consistency that must be paired with behaviourism practices.

The role of cognitivism theory is also quite prevalent in my day-to-day practices when teaching my four year old alphabet recognition and sounds.  As Ertmer and Newby explain, this theory sees individuals as being an active participants in their learning.  “Instructional explanations, demonstrations, illustrative examples and matched non-examples are all considered to be instrumental in guiding student learning.”  This statement reminds me of certain practices I use at home such as using things like play-doh, alphabet pretzels, Alpha-bit cereal, or sidewalk chalk as ways to teach letters and sounds in ways that are meaningful to my child.  The instructional strategies I have incorporated in our day-to-day activities have proven to be effective, however one must acknowledge that the child I am teaching to does not experience cognitive delays nor is she in a classroom setting where the list of distractions occurring can often be endless.  

I end with reflections on the constructivist theory.  In my opinion, this theory is very much based on one’s understanding of a learner and his/her own experiences.  As educators, we should strive to foster teaching that is meaningful to learners, based on the experiences that they have had.  In classrooms where learners are socio-economically, racially, culturally and sexually diverse, this creates challenges.  What are ways in which educators can best practice constructivist approaches when the experiences of their learners can be so diverse?


Educational Technology: My Impressions & Understandings

Being only two weeks into EC&I 833, I have come to the realization that any definition I attempt to give to the term educational technology will be ever-changing as this course progresses through the semester.  However, in the initial stages of this class, I would propose educational technology to be the learning, adaptations and assessment that occur when using technologies such as the internet, iPhones, online learning communities, apps, SMART boards, just to name a few.

As I reflect on my own learning through public education and university, I recognize the role that the internet played in shaping my understanding of educational technology.  The use of the internet provided means to research topics, support ideas and learn new information.  It was not until I was in the work force that I gained experience with things like SMART boards, iPads and apps.  The use of iPads allowed me to understand how technology could assist students who had learning challenges.  Apps like Dragon Dictation proved to show how students who struggled with writing could create a written document through spoken word.  In addition to using these types of apps, one example of using technology as an assistive means was with a young student who was diagnosed with selective mutism.  A basic Flip Video Camera was used by the young child’s parents to show what letter sounds and sight words that the child knew.  This assessment was performed at home, where the child spoke and communicated to her parents.  I will never forget watching the child speak on camera after months and months of communicating with her, nonverbally.  Based on my experiences as a learning resource teacher, I recognize that most of my understanding of educational technology can be directly related to assistive technology.

Moving forward as a professional learner in EC&I 833, it is incredible to learn just how far educational technologies have taken us.  As Tony Bates explains, “The first fully online courses (for credit) started to appear in 1995, some using Learning Management Systems, others just loading text as PDFs or slides. The materials were mainly text and graphics.”  23 years later, here we are creating online learning communities through blogs and Twitter.  We are using tools like Zoom to facilitate teaching and class discussions.  Although only two weeks into this course, I have formed connections with classmates (through the use of iPhone texting, Facebook, and Twitter) and it’s amazing to learn, first hand, how effective educational technologies can be.

In closing, Neil Postman highlights an important point to consider about technology.  Postman (1998) states, “Technology giveth and technology taketh away.  This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the advantage may well be worth the cost” (p. 1).  Although the educational benefits of technology are limitless, I think it is important to be mindful of the responsibilities that come with it’s power.  Postman’s statement reminds me of the opinions made in Channing’s blog “Educational Technologies: My Views.”  Channing explained that “With technology, students generally have access to a wealth of knowledge at any time. We need to be teaching them the  skills that they will require to access and critique this information that is so readily available to them.”  I strongly agree with this idea.  Although we must encourage learners to access and use technology, we must be teaching them how to critically think and use technology in responsible ways.

Until next time,