So our debate this week was looking at whether technology actually improves learning. Heavy topic for week 1! Much like Kelsie does in her blog ‘Debate #1 Debrief’, when discussing technology I am referring to electronics, not the chalkboard.

 

I very much agree with Stephanie who states, “Does technology in the classroom make a difference? I believe it all depends on how you use it”. I will admit to having tried a particular use of technology in the classroom ‘just cause’ only to be underwhelmed with the result. Using technology just because you can is usually more detrimental than not using it at all as it often results in valuable class time being wasted trying to use the technology. I have generally adopted the mindset that if I can do it without technology, I am going to.


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There are articles that discuss how technology does not improve student results, but that is likely due to improper use of the technology, or even using technology for innovative teaching practices but measuring success with assessments that are not applicable to the practice. The Missing Link in Educational Technology: Trained Teachers outlines that teachers need to be better equipped to utilize technology effectively in the classroom. Technology often looks all shiny and sparkly and so we want to use it in our classrooms, but unless it will improve learning over more traditional means and we feel competent in the technology, it shouldn’t be used just because it’s all shiny and sparkly.

 

When deciding how to teach something, I ask myself if I know of any technologies that can aid learning on this topic. If I do, do I feel competent with this technology? Only if the technology can provide an experience otherwise inaccessible and I feel capable of delivering instruction through this tool will I pursue it. I am no where near as technologically fluent as a lot of other teachers and so I still tend to do more traditional teaching, but as my comfort level increases I am incorporating new activities into my classes that utilize technology because they provide an opportunity that is impossible without technology.


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Some of these experiences that I am referring to are citizen science projects that allow citizens to participate in the research by either providing data to the scientists or utilizing the power of numbers and have many people help analyze data. This involves students in real learning, gaining important skills and increasing engagement. Experiences such as these are impossible without technology. For interested readers in having your own students participate in citizen science, check out scistarter and zooniverse for projects!

 

There are other technologies that I have mixed feelings about, such as Leafsnap. This app allows users to take a picture of a leaf and then it attempts to identify the species for you. My issue with technologies like these is that it simply provides us with answers and takes away important observational skills. This is where it becomes important to identify what the purpose of an activity is and does the technological tool help meet that purpose or hinder it?

 

Collaboration has always been an important skill, but will likely become more critical in the 21st century. Collaboration can happen in the classroom without technology, but is limited to either the people in the classroom or to the neighbourhood. Increased collaboration is the first item listed in ‘5 Ways Digital Tools Are Transforming the Education Space’ and identifies that social media is broadening our idea of community. You hear about classrooms skyping in experts on a particular topic, allowing guest speakers to come from anywhere in the world…or even out of this world! Check out this video of Chris Hadfield singing together with students from across Canada while in space!

Social Media allows us to knock down the walls of our classroom and become a part of the global community. As a big space fanatic, one of my favourite uses of social media has been to feel connected to the human experience of space as astronauts have taken to using social media to give us Earthlings an experience we would never otherwise experience. Chris Hadfield talks about the importance of social media and space in the following StarTalk podcast.

So with the debate focusing on whether or not technology aids learning or not, my two cents is that many topics can be taught with technology or without, and if properly guided, students can learn effectively with both mediums. However, there are certain skills and opportunities that can ONLY be achieved through technology, and this gives technology the win!

 

Live long and prosper

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