Labyrinth – Navigating the Complexities of Online and Blended Learning

Thinking of your own context, what tools for online and blended learning seem most useful/relevant and why? If you currently teach in an online/remote/distance setting, how have you/might you bring these tools into your current context, and how has your experience been impacted by the online or distance format? OR If you do NOT teach in an online/remote/distance setting, how would you feel about teaching with these tools in an online or distance education class, and how would your current context be impacted if you were to shift to an online/distance format vs. face to face?

I typically teach in a face-to-face classroom setting.

For me, the tools for online learning that seem the most useful and relevant are:

A Video Conferencing Platform
This one might be too obvious, but in order to facilitate an online class, a teacher needs a mode which they can communicate with students. This, of course, might not be necessary for asynchronous courses or those with face-to-face meeting times; however, if a student needs to meet remotely with the instructor in some capacity, a conferencing tool would still be necessary.

A Learning Management System
Having a “home base” where all learning materials can be organized is pretty essential for successfully facilitating a class, in my opinion. Even in blended classrooms, utilizing an LMS is extremely beneficial in providing opportunity for students to take ownership of their learning from any place, any time.

A Blog
Blogs can help bridge the gaps that fully online classes can create between students who are physically isolated from each other. Blogs and online discussions with frequent commenting and participation builds relationship between students which otherwise does not exist.

Free Woman in Pink Shirt Sitting by the Table While Smiling Stock Photo
Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels

If I did teach in an online, remote or distance setting, I think the biggest change would be the inability to teach students how to use the tools in person first. This would mean being even more thorough and detailed in instructions via whatever learning platform we are using, or including a screencast of myself using the tool, etc. However I went about it, it would have some challenges that are more easily tackled with students face-to-face.

Reliance on the learning management system in a fully online class would increase as in-person instruction and interaction would no longer happen. The importance of communication during video conferences would also be crucial as this would be the only means of conversation and opportunity to ask questions in real-time.

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Photo by chenspec on Pixabay

Of course, utilizing only these 3 tools would be a pretty bare-bones version of an online course. There are many other tools that could take a web-designed course from good to great, including some of these:

Edpuzzle
Especially relevant for courses delivered online asynchronously, teachers don’t have the opportunity to pause videos they are showing to discuss them or ask questions. Edpuzzle gives instructors the ability to choose a video they’d like their students to watch and to add in questions at specific points, inviting learners to further engage in the material and allowing the opportunity for assessment. Lumi is another tool that provides a similar function.

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Photo by Memed_Nurrohmad on Pixabay

Assessment Tools
Since students don’t have the opportunity to physically complete assignments or do exams, an online assessment tool is helpful to gather information on student learning. As Jashandeep and Honey touched on in their presentation, some assessment tools include Kahoot, Quizizz, and Google Forms.

Engaging Activities
In an entirely online format, the ability to engage students becomes a bit tricky. You can’t set the tone of the environment because learners are all participating from their own locations, some of which might be pretty gloomy, like a downstairs windowless office room, or perhaps just at the kitchen table with other siblings running amuck, making it difficult to focus! Tools like Socrative, which incorporate game-based learning, can be especially helpful in sparking interest and enjoyment in online learners.

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Photo by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay

Reflecting on this week’s topic, I decided to reach out to my aunt, Kathy Grad. Prior to her retirement in 2022, she was a Personalized Learning Coordinator/online teacher for six years with the Sun West Distance Learning Centre (DLC), now SaskDLC (July, 2023). She worked with grade K-9 students specifically, but the DLC offers the opportunity for students to complete their Kindergarten through grade 12 education in a home-based environment, providing supports based on individual needs. I was curious about her perspective and insight on this week’s blog prompt. Here are my paraphrases of some of the (many) thoughts she (very graciously) offered:

  • Emphasis on an initial encouraging discussion about online learning is very important in setting students up for success. Being honest with students that this type of learning is different than in class learning and will require them to find their unique “learning rhythm”. Being positive, realistic and fostering a fun learning atmosphere is also important.
  • Choosing and using the right LMS can be a make or break situation. The LMS should be user and facilitator friendly, allow for needed functions (timed tests, etc.) and be properly supported by whatever device the student is using to access it.
  • In fully online contexts, there should be clear guidelines that are explained in detail by instructors as there is no physical supervision of conversations and other goings on. Acceptable norms should be established early on for forum discussions, blog posts, comments, etc. and reviewed frequently.
  • Online courses are becoming more popular and learning how to be a successful student is an essential skill to master.

As a teacher in an in-person teaching environment, I think the biggest impact for me would, perhaps selfishly, be the loss of standing in front of a room full of students who were physically there with me. I don’t believe the connection that humans can have with one another can be fully replicated through a screen (hence why pandemic lockdowns were so difficult). Undoubtedly, moving to fully online contexts of teaching and learning, for reasons that might ultimately help the student be successful, would perhaps just come at the cost of that human connection that comes from being physically together in the same space. In any case, weighing the benefits and drawbacks is key, helping choose the right path to individual student success.

I’m Only Me When I’m With You – Productivity Suites, Presentation Tools and their integral role in education today

Visit any classroom today, and you are likely to see the use of productivity and presentation tools in some form to aid teachers and students in the learning process. I’d bet that the class is also actively using some kind of platform to store and access materials digitally, such as OneDrive, Google Drive, Seesaw or Edsby. I’d increase those chances if the teacher is 10 years or less into their career, who probably grew up in some capacity using these technologies themselves. As an educator, I can hardly see myself teaching without these tools and platforms. Without them, I feel like I’d be starting at square one because they’re so integrated into the way I currently teach. Truthfully, I haven’t really considered the implications of using these suites and tools, which is worth thinking about due to their increased prevalence in classroom life.

man and woman sitting on chairs
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

It was quite fascinating learning about the history of productivity suites as my part of the presentation this week. From VisiCalc to Lotus 1-2-3 to Microsoft Excel to the birth of the first office suites of productivity tools, there is always someone (or something) benefiting from its success and popularity. Reading about the evolution of this tech stream over time was also pretty interesting, especially when it came to early 2020 when COVID turned the world upside down and sent everyone home to work. Businesses that weren’t already utilizing productivity software to collaborate on tasks, or ones that were only “kind of” using it, had to essentially frantically adopt the technology. Cue major opportunity for the giants already dominating the industry. Had Katia not talked about it in class, I wouldn’t have known that both the Google and Microsoft suites we have adopted in schools weren’t originally intended for that purpose and that the shift to remote learning had these companies creating and modifying existing tools on the fly to meet the needs of users. As a Microsoft Teams user post pandemic, I never would have thought of it as not super user-friendly. I did a digital book club with another grade 7 class at a different school and we hosted all of the content on Teams. At the time, I thought it was pretty slick! Now, prompted to explore beyond what programs my division offers and promotes, I’m seeing what Katia means when she says that Microsoft Teams isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for classroom use.

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Photo by Ed Hardie on Unsplash

Looking at the suggestions for questions to consider for this week’s blog post, the two that really peak my interest are:

How have productivity suites been integrated into educational settings at different levels (K-12, higher education, etc.)? Reflect on their accessibility for students, teachers, and institutions. How do these tools address or exacerbate issues related to digital divide and equity?

and

Explore alternative approaches to using productivity suites in education. Are there open-source options or other technologies that could serve similar or better purposes? Speculate on the future of productivity tools in education and how they might evolve to better meet educational needs.

The first question regards accessibility issues and if productivity suite use in education exacerbates the digital divide. Needless to say, six-year-olds and 18-year-olds are not using productivity suites or tools the same way. Students in grade one, for example, may use platforms like Seesaw to take pictures of their work, maybe narrate a bit of a reflection, and even complete basic assignments right in the application. on the other hand, grade 12 students might be using Microsoft Teams, or Google Classroom for the majority of their courses, utilizing cloud storage, collaborative, participation on assignments and projects, presentation software, email, chat and video chat features and more recently artificial intelligence in a variety of ways. Integration of this tech stream naturally increases with age as students become more proficient and experienced with the software, and more is expected of them (with less instruction) as they carry on through the grades. Students who lack adequate infrastructure and opportunity outside of school certainly have fewer chances to keep their skills and proficiencies sharp with these tools, thereby putting them at a disadvantage when they enter higher grades and teachers expect them to know how to use certain tools and not need to be re-instructed. This definitely begs the question – should teachers be so heavily reliant on web based software when there will also be expectations for students to complete work from places they do not have adequate access?

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Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

I do believe, as seems to be the answer to so many of life’s conundrums, that balance is key. Teachers are doing a disservice to students if they do not, at least in some part, give students the opportunity to build digital literacy in using these tools to aid in the learning process. However, relying too heavily on available tech within the walls of the learning institution provides additional challenges to students without those opportunities available to them at home. As we are well aware, each new year brings a new group of students with their own unique set of circumstances. As teachers, as we spend the first couple of weeks getting to know our students, we should be paying special attention to the prevalence of inequity and how to plan modes and methods of learning to best suit that particular group of learners.

The second question asks about alternate options for productivity suites in education. From what I discovered in my research and preparation for our presentation this week, full suite options outside of Microsoft and Google are slim. This Forbes article about the past and future of productivity suites supports the notion that these two market giants will continue to dominate, and that other software companies will have the most success proving independent tools that can be seamlessly integrated into the existing software. That being said, it’s doubtful that we would see a new (or existing) open source office suite rise up to the level of Microsoft and Google, especially with individuals and businesses already so deeply entrenched in one of these platforms. The quality of tools that a smaller suite could offer would also simply not measure up, and in the classroom, this would of course impact the quality of teaching and learning. As for the future of productivity tools, AI has got to be the common thread among them. It’s the thing that can do all the things, after all! In terms of how they might evolve to better meet student needs, I struggle to see how any productivity software, no matter how incredible, can meet the need of a student who is on the wrong side of the digital divide.

It will be interesting to watch AI integration into productivity suites and presentation tools play out over the next decade or so. I think what we can say for certain is that it will drastically change the way we think about education and how we facilitate learning.

Undermines? You Need to Calm Down.

Postman wrote: “…We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.” In a blog post, unpack the implications of this quote, particularly the idea that Sesame Street undermines traditional schooling. What does Postman mean here, and how might we extend this idea to the broader effects of AV technologies in schools, from the earliest AV technologies all the way up to the current culture of smartphones and the push towards BYOD and the integration of smartphones in classrooms? What are the grander implications of the array of AV technologies, from film projectors to apps and interactive educational shows to personalized devices and tools like YouTube (Khan Academy, Crash Course, etc), when we think about the format of schooling? How do AV technologies change the way we might think about school?

Yesterday, while I tried to squeeze in a workout while my baby napped, I put on an episode of Sesame Street for my 4 year old. She happily obliged and enjoyed every minute of the episode, which was titled “Cinderella’s New Shoes”. It features Lucy Liu as Cinderella and focuses on kindness throughout the scenes and songs with the beloved characters. It’s safe to say that screen time is a point of contention for most parents, but shows like Sesame Street makes plopping your kids in front of the TV for a while feel more… purposeful. This particular episode taught about the letter “s” for “shoes”. In contrast to some of the other content out there, Sesame Street feels like a great educational option for those times that you (or your kid) needs some down time.

Free Elmo and Cookie Monster Mascots Stock Photo
Elmo and Cookie Monster Mascots photo by Matthis Volquardsen on Pexels

As I began to reflect on Postman’s quote about Sesame Street (see above), I wondered what the traditional idea of schooling really means. This Wikipedia page describes that the primary purpose of traditional education is “…to continue passing on those skills, facts, and standards of moral and social conduct that adults consider to be necessary for the next generation’s material advancement.” I suppose also that the traditional environment of school is a room filled with students of similar age in desks with a teacher at the front, perhaps using a chalkboard or textbooks to aid in a lecture about a given topic. Postman says that “Sesame Street undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents”. With the incorporation of catchy songs, fun characters, bright colours, and engaging storylines all wrapped up in an audio-visual format, I’d have to agree with Postman. If educational content is being delivered this way versus it’s traditional counterpart, it most definitely challenges these original and foundational methods. I can guarantee that if I had tried to stand in front of my 4 year old and lecture her about the letter “s”, it would not have been nearly as well received as it was from the show.

Bored Monsters Inc GIF by Giphy

I think that what Postman means here is that the power that a show like Sesame Street has, which represents any well-crafted media delivered through AV technology, to engage viewers is untouchable by previous methods of teaching or communicating. 21st Century AV references numerous times in this article that AV tech engages the senses in multiple ways, thereby more deeply immersing the learner in the process. So yes, Sesame Street certainly does undermine traditional modes of educating, which simply don’t have the capability to engage the senses in simultaneous ways the way that AV technology can.

The term “undermine” here also implies that schooling or education has a format that is not supposed to be messed with. More historically, education was a luxury only available to those in higher, wealthier social classes, and the opportunity to obtain education was a privilege. Education would have almost had a prestigious element to it since only certain people could access it (if we dig deeper into that idea, there are still ways that this poses a problem, largely now related to digital equity). To undermine, in a sense, would be to take away some of that prestige and exclusivity. As schooling of this nature gave way to public and open education, more people could learn and learning became more common. What once was a privilege of a select few became an expectation of pretty much everyone. And with that shift, plus that of the digital revolution, morphed the traditional “version” of school in a drastic way.

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Teacher Tablet Math Illustration by HtcHnm on Pixabay

This article by REGENERATIONMUSICPROJECT outlines the evolution of AV technology in entertainment, education, and communication. It discusses the transformative power of AV tech to ultimately help more students learn and to help them learn better. Isn’t this what we all want?

“Undermine” carries a rather negative connotation. To undermine something means to “gradually weaken or destroy”. But if programs like Sesame Street have undermined education and traditional schooling, I struggle to see this as negative. Interactive learning, immersive experiences, and increased engagement are just some of the benefits AV technology has brought to the educational table, not to mention things like maintained connectivity when the whole world shuts down. As technology continues to improve, and things like AI and VR develop and dip their toes into the classroom environment, I can also see how the scales can be tipped too much in an undesired direction when wanting to maintain the goal of teaching and learning. These extremely innovative and engaging technologies, while they can provide educational opportunities far beyond what ever could have been imagined before, could arguably distract from the end goal of passing along information, if that is indeed what the goal is.

There is no denying that the development of AV technologies from their earliest introductions in the classroom have elevated learning and continue to do so. Reflecting on my own teaching, incorporating AV tech has been incredibly helpful, and in some cases, crucial, to help students learn. How could I have supported my student who only spoke Ukrainian without the help of technology with translation capabilities? How could I justifiably describe so many curricular concepts without the help of videos and animations? I mean, I could, but… it would’ve been a lot more difficult and a lot less effective.

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Translate Translation by Mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

Aptly put by 21st Century AV, “the role of AV technology in classrooms extends far beyond mere tools and gadgets; it represents a transformative shift in education”. The once teacher-driven approach to education becomes student centered in the realm of AV technology classroom integration. The argument could be made for technology and the digital world distracting from or undermining traditional education in some ways, but at this point in history, it’s evident that AV technology has a strong an lasting hold in the classroom. Call it undermining if you wish, but I’d say it’s a bit irrelevant at this point. I’d argue that a better term to use would be transforming what traditional schooling represents, which is probably due for a transformation, anyway.

Shoutout to Michael and Graeme for the great presentation last week!

Theories of Learning and Ed. Tech. – Not Forever or Always

Blog post prompt #2 – Considering the readings and our discussion in class, write a post addressing the following: Which theories of knowledge and/or learning underpin your own teaching philosophy and classroom practice? How have your beliefs shifted or changed over the course of your teaching career thus far?

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoy being a student. I genuinely love sitting back and listening to a lecture on a topic, and I think this is because as teachers, we are the ones facilitating the learning, and it’s a nice change of pace to be on the receiving end. I’m not even currently a practicing teacher and I still feel this way. It’s almost…relaxing. If I went back in time and told my undergrad self this I would think I was a little nuts. But here we are, feeling like my 2 classes this semester are my peaceful reprieve from real life as a parent of two small humans.

Schitts Creek Crying GIF By CBC

This week, Katia introduced and explained some of the prominent theories of learning and their origins. While I’ve heard of these before, I’ll be honest – I’ve never thought too much about them in regards to my teaching philosophy or practice, but I can see now how valuable this can be as an educator. As I reflect on my personal beliefs about teaching and learning, these are some of my values in simplest terms:

  • Each student comes to class with a unique set of values, beliefs and experiences
  • One size (of teaching) does not fit all
  • My role is to facilitate the learning and environment so students can do the learning, as opposed to “pouring” knowledge into them as if they are empty vessels
  • There’s a lot more to teaching and learning than what’s in the curriculum

How do these fit in to different theories of knowledge and learning? During Katia’s lecture, she mentioned that likely the best approach is to employ some combination of many learning theories in order to reach the most students. And considering what we believe knowledge to be is helpful because it ultimately shapes how we teach.

Below, I’ll outline each of the 3 main learning theories and consider the classroom practices I’ve used that “fit” into each.

Behaviourism

This theory argues that humans learn through reinforcement and punishment. Desired behaviours are acquired through conditioning. A relation to ed. tech. is B.F. Skinner’s teaching machine, which was the first of its kind to provide immediate feedback to learners. This was a form of adaptive teaching. In this Medium article briefly outlining Skinner’s invention, Abhishek Solanki writes that “[a]daptive learning or also known as adaptive teaching uses algorithms to give constant feedback, make observations and deliver customised resources which address the needs of individual learners. In behaviourism, knowledge is absolute and doesn’t leave much room for doubt, making it quite a “comfortable” type of learning. It employs a “one size fits all” model in which learning in largely passive.

In my own teaching, things like tests with multiple choice questions or clear-cut behaviour management systems such as Class Dojo are so tempting; they take the guesswork out of teaching and learning and provide tangible assessment data. But how meaningful or “accurate” is this data? In a profession which our role as educators is in part to report on if students reach outcomes or objectives, it is hard not to fall into a trap of largely behaviourist idealogy. Either students get it, or they don’t. This is very “black and white” thinking, however, in a world that is, at least somewhat, inarguably grey.

I do believe things like multiple choice questions or programs that provide immediate feedback (such as Knowledgehook, Mathletics, IXL, Kahoot, etc.) can help students learn, but of course, not everything can be learned through these mediums. If the goal is to have students arrive at the correct answer to say, “8×3”, sure – these modern types of “teaching machines” could help. But do they take into account a deeper understanding of the correct answer or why it is 24? Are there better ways to build that kind of foundational knowledge?

Since Skinner’s invention, with the rise of technological advancements and creation of the internet, educational technology has shifted from individual growth to group growth, thereby shifting the learning theories that technology “fits” into. Fortunately, tech is now being used in the classroom with different goals in mind than Skinner’s learning machine was created for – connection and collaboration.

Cognitivism

In contrast to behaviourism, where little attention is paid to the mind, cognitivism focuses largely on how the mind participates in learning and how learned information is stored. Rather than being a passive vessel, the learner is an active participant. The mind is like a computer, where knowledge is stored in a very systematic way. Jean Piaget proposed the 4 stages of cognitive development and argued that learning means constantly altering and adding to one’s schema. In this theory, knowledge is also absolute and mechanical and does not account for individuality. We see this in the classroom with things like graphic organizers and Venn diagrams. It also includes things like problem solving where the learner is prompted to activate prior knowledge and apply it to the task at hand.

Each year in our division, our students complete a writing assessment. The style of essay depends on the grade level. Students are allowed to choose their topic, though some teachers will provide some guidance or boundaries for this. In administering this assessment, we are encouraged to use graphic organizers to help students organize their thoughts. For other essay-style writing throughout the year, I also have students map their writing on an organizer beforehand. What’s interesting is that some of the best essays I have read tend to push the boundaries of these rigid templates because they show creativity beyond what the organizer would allow.

Reflecting on past experiences and recalling prior knowledge from students’ memory is a valuable skill, especially since grade school is largely set up this way. We see this in subjects like math, where knowledge is purposefully scaffolded and concepts become more complex, building and developing as students move up to the next grade.

Constructivism

This theory involves learning as constructed or created by the learner. It involves schemas that are changed and altered through social interactions and experiences. Constructivism encourages teachers to provide stimulus and ask questions, such as through inquiry-based learning. Lev Vygotsky and Albert Bandura were two supporters of this type of this theory, crediting learning to social interaction, play, and observing others.

This learning theory emphasizes the learner as a unique individual, which behaviourism and cognitivism generally fail to do. Of course, this is helpful, since each student that enters the classroom has a unique set of beliefs, values, learning styles, and life experiences.

In my own teaching, I’ve facilitated a number of inquiry-based projects, as I’m sure most teachers also have and continue to do. As touched on before, however, true inquiry, or constructivist teaching, is difficult when the obligation of a teacher is to help students master a scripted set of outcomes (the curriculum). In this case, knowledge is absolute, or rather, the knowledge that is focused on in a classroom setting is absolute. I’ve seen students get so excited about inquiry as their discoveries take them on tangents that they (or I) didn’t expect. And while it is incredible and inspiring to witness students have passion for learning, it can also cause educators to feel disorganized and frazzled because the demands of “covering the curriculum” and “meeting outcomes” don’t really allow for tangents on a schedule.

That being said, I would argue that the most meaningful and memorable learning probably occurs under a constructivist umbrella, where students are the ones actually constructing their own learning. But I’m not sure how this can be married with curriculum in an educational setting.

Free vector stem education model. learning program, basic fields of study, school subjects

Learning Theories and Educational Technology

In chapter 2 of his book, Tony Bates states that “…there is no one best way to teach that will fit all circumstances, which is why arguments over ‘modern’ or ‘traditional’ approaches to teaching reading or math, for example, are often so sterile.” He also explains that “the choice of or preference for one particular theoretical approach will have major implications for the way that technology is used to support teaching.” In this ACRLog blog, guest bloggers Candice Benjes-Small and Alyssa Archer note that “providing an optimal learning experience does not boil down to the instruction method. There are many different variables that impact learning”.

This all being said, just as teachers probably shouldn’t subscribe to just one learning theory, they also shouldn’t be limited to one type or way of using technology in the classroom. This is much easier said than done, of course, as it’s so easy to get comfortable with a certain way of teaching. Providing meaningful education using technology, though, doesn’t really allow for one to get too comfortable, as it is always evolving and changing.

Looking back over my eleven year career so far, I feel as though constructivism has guided my teaching practice the most, but I have certainly employed various strategies and methods that would be considered behaviourist or cognitivist as well. Reflecting on this, and looking to the future, I hope to be more mindful of the theories that underpin how I choose to teach and to think critically about if they lead to the desired outcome or result. Based on this week’s lesson as well as the readings, a combination of learning theories, in practice, is the best approach to teaching and learning. The same can be said for the use of technology in the classroom; it should be used in a variety of ways to best support learning.

Everything has Changed – a history of ed. tech. and a lofty understanding of it

Everything has Changed – what a dramatic way to kick off my ECI833 blog! Fortunately it’s just a nod to T. Swift and my attempt to title each of my weekly posts with one of her songs. Why Taylor? I don’t know. She has a lot of songs. Could I get AI to do this for me? Yes. Let’s see what it can come up with:

“Blank Space in Education: Embracing the Tech Revolution”
“Learning to the Rhythm of Change: A Tech-infused Odyssey”
“Shake It Off: Dancing Through the Digital Evolution of Education”

Hmm… of the 3, I like the first one the most. But honestly, and no offense Chat GPT, you’re not really picking up what I’m throwing down this time. Your suggestions are a bit… much. Guess I’m glad there’s still value in using my own brain sometimes.

Be Quiet Taylor Swift GIF By Capital One

Aaaanyway, here we go. Blog #1. The prompt:

…write a blog post exploring your personal understanding of educational technology. What might a contemporary definition of educational technology look like? How has your own understanding and practice of using educational technology been shaped (consciously or not) by the rich historical and philosophical contexts?

Katia kicked off this class with a definition of technology. It included phrases like “how we make a certain thing” and the “application of knowledge”. It was referred to as a tool, like making fire, or a hand axe, or the 3 sisters agricultural growing method, or Incan 12 sided stones architecture and earthquake proof walls. I was immediately intrigued. My personal definition of technology up to this point would have most definitely included the word “digital” or something of the like, but by the definitions given, it certainly doesn’t have to.

This means that technology is really a lot broader and more inclusive than one might think. If technology is simply a tool, then that means that in a classroom, paper and chalkboards were technology-and perhaps some of the earliest examples of educational technology.

Fast forward a few hundred years and technology has obviously progressed in ways people probably never even dreamed of. How could someone who was absolutely floored by a chalkboard imagine life with computers…that we carry around in our pocket…allowing us to connect with anyone and anything at anytime… Yeah, I doubt much of that was happening then.

Prior to this first class, my contemporary definition of technology, and more specifically educational technology, might have been something like: “digital tools to assist learning”. After Katia’s lecture and pondering a bit more on this topic, I can see that my original definition was too narrow. Because the tools don’t have to be digital, according to the original definition of technology, and it does more than just assist learning (it can also facilitate, assess, etc.). I’ll finish working through this post and swing back around to this one as I’m not set on a better definition quite yet. Might have to bug my friend AI again but we’ll see…

Since I started teaching in 2012, ed. tech. has always been a major focal point in terms of best practice and professional development. Over the past 11 years, I’ve seen new tech become old tech, like Smartboards and Mimeos, pushed aside and into storage rooms to make room for newer tech (projectors and laptops with ScreenBeam technologies, online conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams) and even newer tech (namely AI) that is beginning to dramatically shift the way we teach and the way students learn. Our school division’s digital media hub now includes a link to an AI generator for things like planning and report card comment writing (I believe it’s called Magic School but I’m also on mat leave and a bit out of the loop).

Tech, namely ed. tech., has come an incredibly far way in an extremely short while. If I could go back in time eleven years and tell my first year teacher self that one day the computer would write my report card comments for me, I’d definitely be calling my own bluff. I would also be pretty adamant that something like that would not be allowed, like it was somehow cheating or plagiarism, or at the very least, “cutting corners”. But here we are, utilizing cutting edge technology and artificial intelligence for all sorts of things while the packs of looselief continue to accumulate and collect dust in classroom cupboards. Weird, man.

(Slight tangent, but this video sparks some interesting ideas surrounding AI and the future that touches indirectly on teaching and learning, too)

It’s hard for me to clearly express what my personal understanding of educational technology is because, as noted in my title, everything has changed, and everything continues to change. We can try to hold on to this idea of technology, but as soon as we feel like we’ve got a good grasp on it, it’s slipping through our fingers and transforming, growing, changing, into something else. If we base our ideas on the early definitions of technology, which I believe to be a good idea considering the lack of foundation otherwise, then I think we need to broaden our scope to include any, and all, tools that are connected to learning. Maybe that is my contemporary definition of ed. tech.: tools that are connected to learning. It seems too simple, but by making it more specific it becomes too narrow. Let’s see what Chat GPT has to say:

“Educational technology is using digital tools to enhance teaching and learning.”

This was the definition it came up with after a few prompts and adjustments by me. Interesting that it included the word digital…

Now claiming that paper and chalkboards are technology is not the hill I’m about to die on. I think it’s fair to say that in 2024, technology generally refers to something digital, due mostly to the enormous leaps and strides in the digital technological field. Whenever chalkboards were invented, sure, they were, by definition, technology. Over time the word, along with basically everything else in life, has changed, and taken on a different, more specialized meaning.

Grow Sheldon Cooper GIF By CBS

When I return to the classroom this fall, I am excited to incorporate new educational technology into my teaching. I’m also motivated to approach this task in a more balanced, inclusive way. I’ve never been one to abandon the old faithful pencil and paper as I still think they hold value, and it’s interesting considering that at one place and time, these things were considered technology too. And as technology changes, so does its definition, my personal understanding of it, and how I utilize it to enhance teaching and learning. I think that’s the best anyone can do to make the most of educational technology and ultimately help students learn, which is what this is all about, anyway.