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.

Technologically challenged – A day in the teaching life of someone who burns microwave popcorn.

The transformative power of technology has touched all aspects of teaching, learning, and curriculum. Social media allows teachers to communicate with students in ways that would have seemed like science fiction 20 years ago.

I wouldn’t know. I have been hiding with my head under a metaphorical and literal blanket for the last 15 years.

That is of course an exaggeration, but within the lie there is a grain of truth. My day starts the same way it always has, fumbling to stop the screeching alarm emanating from an old Sony alarm clock my grandmother got me when I was 14 years old (hey, it still works so why get a new one?). This sets in motion a routine that has remained relatively stable for as long as I remember: get up (curse my sore joints), exercise (curse my sore joints), and get to school (curse my sore joints).

And so begins my technologically rich teaching day with checking emails: the advanced features of Microsoft Outlook still elude me, but I managed to set up a digital signature a few months back so I am feeling pretty good about myself. Small victories such as these sustain me through the dark times. This is promptly followed by my first interactions with EDSBY, a “cloud-based software application that combines social networking with class and student management features” (according to Wikipedia). It is not quite the arch nemesis of my teaching day, instead it is more like a mid level boss. It’s design apes Facebook circa 2010 with the an incredible feature set that includes hiding useful functions like printing a class list behind 6 submenus and adding students to attendance rosters a full 24 hours after they first arrive in my room. It could be worse, at least I don’t have to send students messages via carrier pigeon.

As students arrive in the room I attempt to engage them in conversation. For most part they stare blankly into their smartphones, their faces illuminated by an eerie blue glow. I have made some headway recently and most respond with rudimentary grunts. My next interaction with technology is with my tablet computer. This is where I start to drag myself out of the early 20th century and firmly into the late 20th century. I have converted most of my notes to Microsoft Word documents which I project onto the whiteboard and edit using a stylus. The students love it because I draw too many cartoons when I should be teaching them how to solve quadratic equations, but the freedom it affords has been game changing allowing me to share notes with absent students and post them to a google classroom. My Google classroom is a repository of COVID era video lessons, notes, and YouTube links that served as my last bastion of teaching during the Pandemic. It is now relegated to helping students get caught up when they miss classes.

Speaking of YouTube it plays an integral role in explaining how mathematics gets used in the real world. Like all good teachers when I panic and can’t explain something myself I turn to smarter people who have done a better job of it.

My electronic interactions with students, parents and teachers is still mostly through the old fashioned medium of email. I don’t tweet, snap or use Instagram. Until I started this course I thought Discord was something that was sown amongst enemies in Arthurian legends. The instant messaging functions available through EDSBY have become increasingly popular amongst my students. They now have new electronic ways of asking me the same question that I answered 4 times during class. It’s neat.