Part 1: Debate 1

DING DING DING! It’s Monday night and the first round of our debates is in full swing. In the PRO corner stands an impressively well-versed Megan and Brittney; in the CON corner, the intimidatingly well-researched Nicole and Daryl. The match in question? Technology in the classroom enhances learning. All my money is betting on the PRO side.

Okay, okay, I’m no Michael Buffer (wait, did I just drastically age myself?). I’ll cut to the point: Before this debate, I was solely on the PRO side. As an online teacher for almost 3 years, how could I place my bets any other way? The vast majority of our class pre-voted PRO. In a world where education had to flip on a dime to embrace technology, there should be a clear winner…..or, maybe not?

Photo credit: Pexels

PRO Points to Ponder

Megan and Brittney did an amazing job neatly outlining key advantages of technology in the classroom:

Access to information and resources: A plethora of our textbooks are ridiculously priced while comically outdated. And with time, our colonizer roots show brightly against the backdrop of historical inaccuracies. Online updated information has a clear advantage in staying current when it’s well-sourced. Arguably, both the outdated textbooks and the (sometimes questionably sourced) online resources provide teachable moments in classrooms. Teachers, however, have to be trained and ready for those moments when they come….and they always do!

Increases engagement and skills for success: Hands-on, interactive content is available for the next generation of learners via 1:1 laptops, Smart and Promethean boards, VR, 3D printers, gamifying, coding, robotics, the list is ever-growing.  Of course, that’s IF your school has the funding for such things (a point I’ll get to….eventually in Part 2).

A teenage boy programs a copter drone on a scratch. STEM education. Modern technology and gadgets.
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack

Promotes collaboration and communication: Watching students enthusiastically collaborate while coding instructions for their battle-bots remains a career highlight for me. Without clear collaboration and communication, their bots lose…repeatedly. It’s a resilient mindset of lose, learn, lose, learn, win (maybe)!

Restructures teacher time: In the article Teaching in a Digital Age: How Educators Use Technology to Improve Student Learning, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, the researchers note: “When students ask questions, rather than providing answers, [teachers] now guide them to find and identify relevant information, and to evaluate the quality and validity of that information. For students, the shift was toward active, deeper learning, which aligned well with skills students need to be successful in college and the workplace.” Honestly, who can say it better than that?

Adaptations/accommodations: Who knows more about adaptations than students and educators these past few years? How would we have navigated learning in a pandemic without technology? Paper packages sent home (printed on photocopiers….cough, cough, technology!) and occasional teacher-student phone calls (old tech, but still tech). Not to mention, assistive technologies provide a host of accommodations for diverse learning styles and abilities, as well as visual and hearing impairments…..I could go on…

little boy during the hearing exam, showing thumbs up at the audiologist's office. audiogram, children ear exam
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack

CON Points to Ponder

Again, you’ll think I bet all my money on PRO, but Daryl and Nicole brought up many clear issues I have battled over the course of my (almost) 3-year online career:

Connections are artificial: Personally, I would argue that the relationships I have built with my online students, and students with each other, are anything but artificial.  As I sit in my lonely corner office and my isolated students in their homes, our relationships seem like lifelines to a greater world. It is worth noting, however, that these online relationships are mindfully and meaningfully tended. As mentioned by Nicole and Daryl, student presence on social media accounts can often be interpreted as surface-level and disingenuous.

Portrait of a sad girl with a smartphone in one hand and a smiling mask in the other hand.
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack

Erodes social skills and relationships: First off, there’s a lot of experience in the “Zoom-room” during these debates. Despite logistical and career differences amongst our class, there seemed a general consensus that student social skills, particularly face-to-face interactions, are increasingly….aaaawkward! From behind our masks and screens, have we forgotten how to interact? After some deep-diving (using tech, of course), there’s a surprising lack of longitudinal data to back up the idea that screen-time equals social incompetencies. I shouldn’t say, however, that initial studies have been favourable. Calgary psychologist Sheri Madigan, PhD, tested over 24000 mothers/infants and “found that more time per week spent on screens at ages 24 months and 36 months was linked with poorer performance on screening tests for behavioral, cognitive and social development at 36 months” (JAMA Pediatrics, Vol. 173, No. 3, 2019). Speaking of which…

5G Technology for Families concept.Everyone sitting in sofa and using digital devices in living room.Big family grandmother grandfather and kids spending time together at home.
Photo credit: Adobe StockPack

Pulls students away from the outside world: My comments here are purely anecdotal, but I cannot abide by family meal times centering on……screens! Mom texting, dad on an “important” call, and the kidlets, tweens, and teens distracted by their tablets and apps. If that’s the focus at home, what takes precedence at school? Unless educational technology is used mindfully in the classroom, and just as mindfully stored away, will the habitual hit of dop(amine) screen time always beckon our students to their digital world? And what is the “real world” anymore, anyway? These are the questions that keep me up at night (and your insights are most welcome)!

Tech is connected to a plethora of other health, mental and emotional issues: Obesity, sleep issues, anxiety/depression, socioeconomic disparities, limited attention spans….each one of these concerns is worthy of its own post (and does, in fact, take centre-stage in millions of research papers, books, podcasts…you get the idea). All signs point me to one main takeaway from this debate…

In the world of edtech, there are no clear winners; only shades of grey

Yes, I voted in favour of educational technology in the pre-vote, and yes, I’m part of that EC&I fraction who changed my opinion in the post-vote. GASP! I was shocked too! That’s not to say I think there were any clear winners, or the necessity for “winners”, in this debate. Like so many other things, the use of technology in the classroom requires objective consideration, and objectivity largely falls into life’s grey matter. On one hand, technological advancements will continue to take precedence in our classrooms and open up new worlds of engaged learning. On the other hand, technology poses an increasing threat to social, emotional and physical threats when used improperly. Two sides of the same coin. We cannot include technology in our classrooms for its own sake. Instead it must be used mindfully as a tool (amongst many), with clear purpose and training. Only through mindful use of technology will we be able to move forward with our students.

“[I]t’s … the instructional methods that cause learning. When instructional methods
remain essentially the same, so does the learning, no matter which medium is used to deliver
instruction.” (source)

There was so much food for thought in these debates, please let me know your main takeaways. Were you PRO, CON, or happily sitting on the fence (munching popcorn) like me?

Stay tuned for Part 2/Debate 2:

Keeping up with the Edtech Joneses…