PTSD: Post Tough Debate Syndrome

The Aftermath…

A friend of mine who is an attorney once described his rehearsal process for cross examing a witness. On the way to court he would practice in the car trading imaginary barbs back and forth with himself (he likened it to verbal shadow boxing). Like all good legal counsel he had anticipated the opposition’s arguments and had developed a series of strategies for dealing with them. Generally this would go pretty well in his head and he would feely pretty confident. Once in front of the judge those same questions he had drilled beforehand always seemed to lack the punch and emphasis they did on the way there. Time seemed to go by faster and he said he would stammer more than usual. Leaving court he would always feel he could have done better. Once back in the car again, he would buckle his seat belt, and with the benefit of hindsight, deliver the most devastating cross examination in legal history to his rearview mirror.

This was what participating in the first round of debates felt like to me. Soon as I logged off Zoom and turned off my computer I delivered a tour de force series of counter arguments while brushing my teeth. By the time I got to folding laundry I had completely devastated my opposition. Perhaps next time I will sort socks while debating, it brings out the best in me.

That said, here are some of my thoughts on this weeks debates and associated readings.

Round 1: Arguments For and Against Technology Enhancing Classroom Learning

I will start by discussing some of the arguments against this statement. Something that struck me early was the assertion that social media was diminishing the ability of students to form authentic connections with one another. I must admit that this argument appeals to me on a primal level: I did not grow up with social media (“twitter” was and always will be to me a sound that a budgie makes), I find it scary, and therefore I avoid it unless absolutely necessary. On the other hand I can’t help but recognize that my beliefs reflect my lack of familiiarity with these platforms. Is texting a more shallow form of communication than speaking in person? I sometimes wonder if people reacted in a similar way when telephones displaced letter writing as our primary means of correspondence.

It was stated early in the debate that technology had not yielded significant educational gains despite its widespread adoption. This idea deserves to be unpacked as it feels a bit vague. Are we speaking about international standardized testing scores like PISA? Are we referring to reading comprehension levels or the retention of math facts? At what grade level? Where? Secondly, it is difficult to attribute success or failure to a single variable in education. If significant advancements have not occurred can we pinpoint technology as the culprit? Could other factors be at play? We have to remember that correlation is not equivalent to cause.

This is not to say the group arguing against technology did not make valid points. In the internet article they posted (from Western Governors University) the spectre of cyber bullying was raised. The article notes that cyber bullying is an unintentional side effect of our rapid adoption of technology in the education system. This reflects my personal experiences as a high school teacher as almost all fights that break out at my school originate in some form online, and are quite difficult to diffuse.

Technology has other unintended side affects as well. In his article “Four Ways Technology Has Negatively Changed Education” Dr. Alhumaid observed that the overuse of technology dulls the rapport that exists between teachers and students. This rings true in my own classroom. Since I started using a data projector in my lessons I have noticed a growing distance between myself and my students. The problem became so acute that I resorted to limiting its use to raise engagement levels. I think that this is more of a problem with the way I am using technology, rather than the technology itself.

This directly connects to an article that was posted by the group advocating for technology. In it Mcknight et al. assert that “instructional methods cause learning…when instructional methods remain the same, so does the learning, no matter which medium is used to deliver instruction” (p. 195). This points to the root cause of a lack of engagement my classroom, simply using technology to do the same old thing isn’t really innovation, and is not the fault of the tech being employed.

Round 2: Arguments For and Against Educational Technology Increasing Equity

I found that during the second debate, which my team participated in, I couldn’t help but concede some of the points that the other group was making. Now that it is all over I can safely say that in many respects technology may increase equity, despite my vehement arguments to the contrarty.

When available and implemented with sufficient training, technology does make the classroom a more equitable place for those with disablities. Last year I taught a student who was visually impaired and without the ability to send my lessons electronically to our brailists his classroom experience would have been greatly diminished. This combined with his access to an tablet computer and an educational assistant made him one my most engaged students. I cannot fathom how difficult a task teaching him would have been even a few decades ago. What bothers me is that had this student had the misfortune of being born in a different part of Canada, or a different country altogether, his educational experience may have been greatly diminished.

Technology may also be instrumental in helping prepare schools for the needs of individual learners. As Amundson and Ko (2021) observed data systems in schools are lagging far behind the private sector when it comes to delivering meaningful information about individual learners. If Netflix can accurately predict that I want to watch nothing but shows about dogs and food when I come home from a long day of work, how is it that schools can’t even recieve basic information about new student transfering in? We could be doing better, and adimittedly technology could help.

That said the assertion that technology is becoming more affordable is debatable. In the article “Increasing Access to Educaion is Incremental” Matt Jenner predicts that the slow growth of digital learning platforms and tools will slowly reduce the gaps in educational equity and allow everyone to eventually access high quality education. I want nothing more for this to be true (I always hoped the future would be like Star Trek the Next Generation, and less like George Orwell’s 1984), but my experience in the real world tells me otherwise. Education is a powerful tool, it grants access to power structures and wealth, and I can’t see those who currently hold both of these things giving it up so easily. Call me cynical, but I think those that have power desperately want to retain it, and will do so at the expense of others.

6 thoughts on “PTSD: Post Tough Debate Syndrome

  1. Hi Matthew!

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights on both debate topics from this week. I also thought that you and your group did a great job defending your argument, I always say that we are our own worst critic!

    As I teach Kindergarten of four and five year olds, I have not been involved much with our older grades throughout the years as technology has advanced, and now has lead to a lot of cyberbullying. I am sometimes grateful that I do not have to deal with any of those situations as an educator, as I am certain that they can be very difficult. Over the years with the growth of technology and seeing the effects of it, I often find myself thinking that I am thankful that I grew up in a time, particularly high school, that technology was not as prominent.

    I appreciate you sharing your experience of teaching a student that was visually impaired and the benefits of having access to technology to enhance their learning and meet their needs in the classroom. This is a strong argument that technology has lead to a much more equitable society.

    With teaching Kindergarten over the years, I have taught several students that are non-verbal and unable to communicate all. With the use and proper support of an iPad, and a program called Proloquo2go, it has assisted them to communicate with confidence in our classroom. They are just as much a part of our classroom as anybody else. The piece of inclusion and having technology to support that is crucial.

  2. Going first is never fun – your group did a great job! This line in your blog post sums it up my beliefs nicely around the technology debate “When available and implemented with sufficient training, technology does make the classroom a more equitable place for those with disabilities.” – I look forward to listening to more of your thoughts as we continue to debate in class – you speak very eloquently.

  3. Hi Matthew,

    Great post. I really appreciated the anecdotes about your friend, and delivering the most compelling arguments possible… after the fact.
    Speaking of arguments, your closing arguments around hoping for technology to be the bringer of equity, while acknowledging that those who have power want nothing more than to retain it. Within the context of Orwell, I think of the way online technologies (take Facebook) have been leveraged to (mis)inform and sway the opinions of the masses. We see it here in North America, although it has been used in other parts of the world to a much higher degree in places like the Philipines. In this example and context, I agree that a strong argument could be made around technology in many respects making the world more inequitable.

  4. By using technology in the classroom, both teachers and students can develop skills essential for today’s century. Students can gain the skills they will need to be successful in the future.
    Technology can help develop many practical skills, including creating presentations, learning to differentiate reliable from unreliable sources on the Internet, maintaining proper online etiquette, and writing emails.

    These are very important skills that can be developed in the classroom. These days teachers can easily use internet and improve their learning. Teachers can use different apps or trusted online resources to enhance the traditional ways of teaching and to keep students more engaged. Moreover, Virtual lesson plans, grading software and online assessments can help teachers save a lot time.

  5. Hey Matt,

    I feel that the debate between the effectiveness of technology itself and how it is implemented is the most common problem in the integration of technology. I recently did a grad class where I had to research the effectiveness of technology integration, which was surprisingly hard to measure given the difference in how technology is used by the teacher. Like you said, simply using the technology to do the same old thing, isn’t really innovation. So what should technology integration look like? And how do we get past this in the educational world? Do teachers need more training? Does every classroom need 1:1 computers? I often wonder if we will ever be where we need to be in regards to complete integration given the ever-changing world of technology. Furthermore, It is really hard to decide how much to use technology in the classroom and when it is truly better than direct instruction from the teacher. On that note, the debate on technology is far from over!

  6. It’s never easy when you are one of the first groups to go. It can be super nerve-wracking not really knowing what to expect, especially since there are so many participants in our course. Your group did a great job, so hopefully, the hamster wheels stop turning so fast for you and you are able to digest what happened.

    You did a great job summarizing the debates. When reading Arkin’s comments, I think, no… I don’t think every classroom needs 1 to 1 computers. Although it would be nice, there are so many people that are not using them properly or with good pedagogy at practice, therefore, having paperweights in each and every classroom seems to be a waste of resources. Sometimes technology is great, but something sharing the technology and having more equipped educators, or more of them for that matter may go a longer way than just ensuring that technology is in each classroom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *