Does Ed.Tech. Enhance Learning or Waste Time?

After this past week’s debate about whether technology in the classroom enhances learning or not, my head was swirling.   With this being the first online debate that I’ve been experienced, there was a lot to keep up with.  Between conversations in the Zoom Room, the side chat that was going on and checking out the links that my fellow students, I was left feeling a little like this.

Confused Urkel       LINK

Going into this class, I felt that technology in the classroom does, of course enhance learning.  If it didn’t, why would I be taking this course?  The disagree team seemed to have been given a rather difficult task, trying to convince us all that technology in the classroom does not improve the education of our students.  After the team arguing for the stance that EdTech is beneficial shared their opening video and presented their argument, I felt confident that I was right — that technology in the classroom does enhance learning.

Then the disagree team presented their argument.  I found myself agreeing with their points and wondering whether my initial stance was accurate.    I began thinking about the numerous roadblocks that I’ve hit and the headaches I’ve endured while attempting to integrate various technology into my classes.  We’ve all experienced students forgetting their passwords,  not having access to enough laptops, the wifi not working, etc.  The monetary costs of providing access to tech can be astronomical and this group got me wondering — is it worth it?

I’ve spent time this week considering how I have integrated technology in my own classroom — how sometimes it has proved helpful and other times it has not.  Why is this?  I think that the SAMR model provides a little insight.

SAMR Coffee                      LINK

When integrating technology at the substitution level, it is hard to see much benefit for my students.  If some new tech is thrown into the mix but the task itself has not changed, all that has really happened is adding potential for frustration because there is more that could go wrong.   Why mess around with getting all of your students logged into some new program when completing a task in a more traditional way is more efficient and effective?  Reflecting on my teaching, the times that the integration of technology has not seemed all that beneficial seems to have been instances where I was at the substitution level.

However, on the occasions where I have moved beyond substitution, and have been able to significantly redesign a task using technology, it seemed much more beneficial.    The integration of technology needs to be meaningful and be used for a reason in order to have a positive impact.  As Doris Wells-Papanek states in her  article, The Purposeful Integration of ‘Technology’ into Teaching and Learning Best Practices, “there is no point in requiring students to engage in digital activities unless the tools serve as purposeful vehicles of learning and are effectively integrated into a plan.”   AT (assistive technology) is a great example of truly purposeful integration of technology into classrooms — if technology is used in the classroom to help students with learning disabilities or other difficulties to achieve, by redesigning a task (modification) or making something possible for them that may have been inconceivable without the technology (redefinition),  then the technology has clearly been able to enhance their learning.

So if it is used with purpose, technology can enhance learning in a classroom.  Why then did the debate group opposing this idea garner so much support from our class?  Were they just really convincing or did their argument have merit?  Upon further contemplation, their arguments were accurate — technology can be expensive, it can be difficult to use, wrought with issues, and can cause distraction.    However, these issues do not negate the potential for educational benefit of technology.  Rather, they outline some of the many issues of implementation of it.  One of the articles used to support this side of the debate, The Missing Link in Educational Technology: Trained Teachers, suggests that “[e]ducational technology is not, and never will be, transformative on its own – it requires teachers who can integrate technology into the curriculum and use it to improve student learning” (p. 7).    To me this really just suggests that it is difficult to integrate technology on a meaningful, tranformative level without adequate support and training and is not proof that it does not enhance learning.

When we refer to integrating technology into our classrooms, we are referring typically to newer technology — personal devices, online apps and social networks, class websites and organizational tools like google drive.   Depending on context, educational technology can include other tools that we take for granted — pencils, chalkboards, textbooks and perhaps even school buildings themselves –tools that at one time may have evoked skepticism about whether they actually enhance learning.

Chalkboard  –   Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc

In the TED Talk video, A different way to think about technology in education: Greg Toppo at TEDxAshburn,  Greg Toppo quotes Larry Cuban as saying that ed tech is “Any device available to teachers for use in instructing students in a more efficient and stimulating manner than the sole use of the teacher’s voices.” This talk, along with other resources we’ve looked at this week emphasize that technology has always existed in education and often has received criticism before being accepted as standard practice.  Although we can use this as an argument that current technologies are in the same category and that with time, the critics will be proven wrong and these technologies will become the norm, this is not necessarily true.  Just because something is new does not mean that is inherently beneficial.  Using technology just for the sake of using it does not create any meaningful change or benefit for students (remember the substitution level in SAMR?).  As my classmate Stephanie Pipke-Painchaud states, it is not the technology itself that enhances learning, but “it’s how we use it that impacts our learning and the experiences of others around us.”

So… where am I at after last week’s debate and resources, my own readings and reflection and looking at what some of my fellow students have said?   I really feel that this is not a black and white issue.   I went into last week with the mindset that technology undoubtedly enhances learning and left that evening questioning this stance a bit.   I think that at this point I am more of the opinion that technology in the classroom does not inherently improve learning, but rather that it provides the opportunity for enhanced learning if implemented purposefully.  The digital world is here to stay.  Our learners live in a world very different than the one that we grew up in and we need to adjust our teaching accordingly.    As stated in 5 Ways Digital Tools Are Transforming the Education Space,  “[a]mbitious, successful teaching and learning have become inherently intertwined with the digital world. Educators must be able to develop and enact rigorous, relevant instructional methods and formats while using digital tools effectively to underpin their instruction.”






9 thoughts on “Does Ed.Tech. Enhance Learning or Waste Time?

  1. I agree that the ‘disagree’ side to last week’s debate had a tough job. I think both sides did well to come up with valid points for their arguments. I am grateful to them for ‘paving the way’. angela


  2. I really think your post reflects the middle ground that the debate moved toward. Simply saying “ed tech is bad” is a flawed argument, which is why we tried to steer the debate toward “ed tech as it is is a flawed tool”. Your example of google drive is a good one, and it has definitely improved my own practice, although again, it was integrated with literally no training. Great post!


    • Yeah, I’m definitely pro google apps. Working in a school where collaboration and team teaching is an integral component of what we do, it has come in very handy. I’ve somehow found myself in the position of go-to guy about it, although I don’t proclaim to know all that much.

      Teachers at my school have really begun to use the program to their advantage. It seems to be pretty useful for some of our interdisciplinary, project courses and has become and integral component for student organization.


  3. I didn’t discuss the SAMR mode in my blog but it is something that all teachers should be aware of. I like that you stated that when you did use technology it was usual beneficial. Those schools and school divisions that impellent new technology and encourage their teachers to use it in their classrooms, are helping the students become aware of what is around them. They are letting these students realize that all types of technology is a part of their lives now and in the future. Great post Ian.


  4. Thanks Ian. When you stated “To me this really just suggests that it is difficult to integrate technology on a meaningful, tranformative level without adequate support and training and is not proof that it does not enhance learning.” I felt a big connection. And you are right, the digital world is here to stay. I think it says a lot for the issue itself that a large majority of us taking this class are here because we have a desire to learn…and as you said, “Educators must be able to develop and enact rigorous, relevant instructional methods and formats while using digital tools effectively to underpin their instruction.” I completely agree. I think for a lot of us, this class will have a huge learning curve but hopefully we will improve our instructional methods in a technological way.


  5. Hi Ian, the Urkel gif had me laughing, and after reading your excellent post I have to say by no means do you seem out in the dark. Great points raised, and I enjoyed following your journey as you contemplated the pros and cons of technology on learning. Thanks!


  6. Pingback: WEEK 1 RECAP: Technology in the Classroom Enhances Learning | Blackimoto Blah Blah

  7. I was exactly like Urkel as well! What a great analogy! I’m with you, that both teams raised excellent points! They set the bar pretty high!


  8. Pingback: Technology has replaced Play and is ruining our Health – ottenbreitblog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s