Does Tech Enhance Learning? The Answer is Up to YOU!

After a few weeks off from EC&I 832, I am back at it for round two in EC&I 830. This time though, our class is set up debate style.

This past week the debate topic was:

Does technology enhance learning?

Our professor Alec started off the conversation by posting a padlet which allows others to post onto a continuum the degree to which they agree or disagree on the topic. While there were some clearly on the far left or right of the spectrum, most posts came with a caveat. Posts began with: agree – kinda, depends, disagree…to some extent, agree – mostly, and so on.

So, where did I fit on the continuum? Well, I tend to agree with this anonymous padlet contributor:

I’d put myself in the middle of the continuum and my answer to this week’s debate topic is: it depends.

But if I had to pick agree or disagree (which we had to do in the pre- and post-vote), I would place myself on Team Agree. This aligns with the thoughts of many of my classmates thoughts as well. In our pre- and post-vote results found below, you can see that just under 90% of the students in our class agree that technology can enhance learning.

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Pre Debate Vote

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Post Debate Vote

We saw two opening statements from Team Agree and Team Disagree as well as explored articles suggested by each team to support their arguments. My classmate Erin highlights the main points from the debate nicely in her blog post.

On a personal level, I am of the era in which I remember a world pre-Internet where we had notebooks for taking notes. In high school my cellphone was somewhat of a distraction but I could also easily throw it in my backpack and ignore it because it couldn’t do anything cool enough to warrant having it out that often. Plus texting with T9 is a little trickier to hide from a teacher because you have to pay attention to what you are doing.

I remember our first set of Mac computers in my grade 7/8 classroom on which we got to make PowerPoint presentations and while I spent time researching my topic, I also spent a lot of time picking background colours, images and transition effects. But that was close to 14 years ago now and we all know how tech has advanced since then. So I can understand how big of a pain (distraction) tech can be for classroom teachers.

Clay Shirky, a professor of new media decides after long-allowing devices to be used in his classroom, to ban them. He cites distraction or multi-tasking as the main reason for doing so in this article: Why a Leading Professor of New Media Just Banned Technology Use in Class. Shirky found that when he requests students not use devices in the classroom, “the conversation brightens, and…there is a sense of relief from many of the students. Multi-tasking is cognitively exhausting; when we do it by choice, being asked to stop can come as a welcome change.”

Brain Rules

Source – If you haven’t read this book, you should!

In his book, Brain Rules, John Medina (a developmental molecular biologist and research consult) writes about the inability for the brain to multi-task despite modern society praising so-called multi-taskers for their seeming ability to complete many jobs simultaneously. He states: “Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth…The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time. Businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes”.

Shirky similarly argues, “Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.” He suggests “It’s not me demanding that they focus — its me and them working together to help defend their precious focus against outside distractions”.

I agree that in most debates about tech, distraction is likely to come up as a negative effect and rightfully so. But, I am not convinced that it is the answer to this week’s debate topic: does technology enhance learning? If we remove the distraction factor, does technology have the ability to enhance learning or not? To answer that question, I think it is important to turn to the SAMR model for technology integration.

If teachers remain in the Substitution stage where there is no functional change in student learning and creation, then technology does not enhance learning. However, with professional development (teacher support and training as suggested by Team Agree), teachers are able to move to the other three areas of the SAMR model in which technology can enhance and transform student learning.

Critical to this model of technology integration is the role of the teacher (both teams agreed to this). Technology does not and cannot replace the teacher. Teachers play a crucial role in implementing technology which allows students to be more prepared for the future. In this article, McKnight et al. (2016) indicate “Teachers play a critical role by organizing the learning environment to provide students with active, hands-on learning and authentic tasks and audiences for their work…Researchers have found that for technology to make a difference in learning, specific systems factors such as leadership support, frequency of technology use, and instructional models must be in place”. One example of an instructional model that must be in place is discussed by my classmate Amy. She explains how she teaches her students about the appropriate time and place for using technology and also about responsible tech use. It is not the device that matters, for it is simply a tool. What matters is how we choose to use the tool to prepare our students for the future.

This document, Future Work Skills 2020,  projects 10 skills areas that will be relevant in the future work force: sense making, social intelligence, novel and adaptive thinking, cross-cultural competencies, computational thinking, new media literacy, transdisciplinarity, design mindset, cognitive load management and virtual collaboration. Without diving to far into each skill area, it is easy to see how technology plays a big role in young people developing these skill sets. For my further thoughts on these skill areas, check out this post.

Team Agree argued that technology improves access, shifts teacher and student roles to a learning-center pedagogical approach and extends purpose and audience for students. Technology allows students to find their own answers, construct their own learning and present their learning in a personally relevant, meaningful way. Students can be transformed from passive to active learners.Students with special adaptations as well as those less likely to participate in a formal classroom discussion are afford more opportunity for participation. In addition, Technology allows for new kinds of immediate feedback and communication systems between students, teachers and families. Technology also fosters collaboration and social interaction which increases student engagement and deepens student learning. To support this, McKnight et. al (2016) found

“That teachers used technology to enable access to a wider range of learning resources, to keep the content current, and to provide greater depth and “richness” not otherwise available. Improved access also helped teachers to tailor or personalize instruction to meet a wide range of learning needs, including for students with disabilities. Our results also showed that teachers used technology to connect people with each other and to new information, ideas, and perspectives. This in turn enabled students to extend the purpose and audience of their work in an authentic way. Students actively sought their own information and shared their learning with a larger community outside of their classroom, which in turn created a greater sense of pride in and responsibility for their work. Perhaps most importantly, we found that technology transformed teachers’ roles as educators and activated cognitive processes that learning science tells us enhance learning”.

 

So, does technology enhance learning? I return to my original stance: it depends. When we think about this question we need to consider distraction but ask ourselves if we have given students the tools they need in order to manage device distraction. Have we set up the appropriate procedures for device use in our classrooms to maximize learning and minimize distraction? With the appropriate instructional and management strategies in place, we can move on to examining how we might integrate technology in a meaningful way so that it can enhance learning. The SAMR model is a good place to start thinking about this. What is it that we want students to do with the technology? How can technology allow for learning that was not previously possible?

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 10.19.00 AM

In my classroom, I teach from a blended learning approach, combining digital media with other more traditional teaching methods. Before we start learning with technology, we begin in September by learning how to use technology. Included in this learning is management of time, place and the tools we use when it comes to our devices. In a third grade classroom, this means learning about safety online, privacy, being responsible digital citizens and finding balance. All of these understandings must be in place before we begin learning with technology. In my opinion, this blended approach allows for technology to enhance learning in a meaningful way. Key to this approach is the teacher and as my classmate Wendy argued, “it’s not technology that motivates and engages students, its teachers. Bad tech isn’t good learning”. After all, we live in a digital world and students need the skills that technology is providing for them. Banning technology is a losing battle — it is not going away!

This week’s debate topic is not about tech as a distraction or whether or not tech is allowed in the classroom. This debate should focus on how teachers implement the use of technology in the classroom and what we want students to be able to do with the technology we provide for them. So, does technology enhance student learning? The answer is up to you, the teacher.

2 thoughts on “Does Tech Enhance Learning? The Answer is Up to YOU!

  1. Great post!! Although I had to defend the “disagree” side of the debate, I am a passionate tech user in my own classroom. Distraction was one point in our defence and I found your research about “multi-tasking is a myth” to be very interesting. You are right, it really isn’t about if we should have tech or not in the class, it really should be about how well tech is being used in our classrooms.

    • Thanks for your comment Wendy! Yes, I am really into the brain research side of things. I find it interesting that while research tells us our brains are not effective multi-taskers, society demands, encourages and celebrates people who appear to be multi-tasking well.

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