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.
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.
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.
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.”