Tuesday night marked the beginning of the online portion of our EC&I 830 class, and with that came our first class debate. With a little bit of fanfare (including a theme song) we jumped into our first contemporary issue in educational technology: Technology in the Classroom Enhances Learning. Taking the “agree” stance was Jeremy, Erin and Kyle, while Kayla, Chalyn, and Steve approached the topic from the” disagree” perspective. After much discussion (and a bit of smack-talk), the “agree” stance was declared the winner, if only by a surprisingly small margin. Truly, each team set a high standard for the upcoming debates and provided a fair deal of “food for thought”, both in the debate discussions, and in the articles the teams provided to support their arguments. Below are some of my thoughts after considering the topic from this week.
The agree side began the debate by proposing that technology (and especially assistive technology) has the potential to enhance learning for students of all levels of ability. The group supported this statement with a number of points and examples from the article,Using assistive technology in teaching children with learning disabilities in the 21st century, from the Journal of Education and Practice. Having read the article, I agree that many students could benefit from the suggested assistive technologies listed in the paper. Teachers should not feel limited to allowing only EAL students or those with learning disabilities to utilize assistive technology.
This got me thinking of some of the assistive technology recommendations I made while in my role as technology coach. Frequently teachers requested speech-to-text converters as a way to help some students quickly transcribe their thoughts to “paper”. A free website I have used for this purpose is Dictation.io (Google Chrome only). With this online dictation tool students can quickly record their thoughts and have their speech converted to text. The text can then be saved to the notepad, which can then be further copied and pasted into other applications such as word documents or blogs. Though it is not perfect, it does allow struggling writers the opportunity to get their ideas out, and the author is free to revisit the text after to perform an required edits or to add correct punctuation.
A second assistive technology tool I would highly recommend for use with students of all learning levels is Text Compactor. This free, online tool allows you to type or paste text into a box. This could include content from a website, from a textbook, or from lecture notes. The user then selects a percentage of text to keep, and the summarizing tool automatically generates a summary of the content. I have tried it with various levels of content and find it does a very good job of picking out the main points from the selected text. If you decide to try it I am certain you will find a number of useful ways to apply it to your teaching.
A final point made by the “agree” side was that technology is engaging for students and allows them to participate in collaborative learning activities with an authentic audience. This reminded me of a statement Rushton Hurley made at the FETC Conference I attended in Orlando in 2012. Rushton said, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they’re just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough.” (George Couros speaks of this further in his blog, “The Principal of Change”). I strongly agree that technology provides students with the opportunity to create, collaborate, and engage in meaningful learning, and I do believe that the potential of a global audience is incentive for some students to produce high-quality work.
The “disagree” group opened their argument by stating that they do not feel that technology use in education itself is inherently bad, but rather that there are flaws in the way in which it’s use is implemented by many school divisions. This group referred to the article, The missing link in educational technology: Trained teachers by Sam Carlson. The author contends that teacher training and support regarding educational technology is terribly underfunded and lacking in depth. Though technical training regarding the utilization of tech hardware and software is important, “teachers also need professional development in the pedagogical application of those skills to improve teaching and learning” (Carlson, 2002, pg. 7). I agree that when introducing technology, professional development of teachers must be a primary consideration and receive a major portion of the funding. A few years back I was part of a project with Regina Catholic in which we introduced a new interactive whiteboard technology to the division. This technology was not forced upon all teachers, rather, those interested were invited to apply to receive a device. Within the first year more than 300 teachers applied to take part in the project. As part of the device rollout, each teacher received three sessions of professional development and training. The first session was a 1/2 day training session with a focus on technical skills. The second session was a full-day PD session held in conjunction with subject area consultants. During these sessions pedagogy was discussed and participants were given time to begin creating lessons related to their teaching area. The third PD session was an independent session in which participants completed their lesson and submitted them to the consultants to be shared throughout the division. Though the cost of PD was expensive, participants enjoyed having the opportunity to develop their personal skills and pedagogy by collaboratively working with others. To date, nearly 500 lessons have been created and shared by these participants.
My final reflective point from the session this week is regarding the SAMR model. As the website, SAMR Model Explained for Teachers, states, SAMR is a framework for assessing technology use in the classroom. It represents Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. According to this model, Substitution and Augmentation are considered as enhancements to learning, while Modification and Redefinition represent further transformation in learning. While the use of technology at the Modification and Redefinition level is something teachers should strive for with some lessons, it is not a level which can be sustained throughout the year. I personally like the concept of the SAMR Model as a seen below as a swimming pool. There is inherent value in utilizing technology at all levels, and a balanced approach to technology integration sees one swimming laps, rather than trying to spend all of the time in one end of the pool.
These are my thoughts for the week. I would be interested in hearing yours.