The past, present and future of AV technology in schools

While I understand the implications that Postman makes in this statement, I have to argue some of its implications. If we look at the media of that era, there were many concerns surrounding “Sesame Street” and its impact on children’s programming. At the time, Mr. Dressup (a TV program focused on simplicity, creativity and imagination) was worried that “Sesame Street” would kill their viewership and label them obsolete. Yet, after the first season of “Sesame Street”, they did not kill other children’s programming. In fact, “Mr. Dressup” remained equally as strong, if not surpassing the ratings of “Sesame Street”. Just because a new program creates a different, and more seemingly engaging experience, does not mean that it can (or will) replace that which came before them. 

 

The same can be said for education. While the “Sesame Street” concept undermined traditional schooling, the traditional schooling – or the “Mr Dressup” concept – is still essential (at least in this day and age) to the foundations of education. Unfortunately, you cannot substitute the fundamentals of education. Does this mean that we can only use the “Mr. Dressup” or “Sesame Street” concept towards education? Absolutely not. I feel the greatest growth comes from a place where the “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Dressup” concepts meet and work in tandem with each other. The “Sesame Street” concept is dynamic and a multisensory experience, but we also need to work on basics, including the simplicity, imagination, and curiosity of the “Mr. Dressup” concept.  

 

Nevertheless, there is a place for a “Sesame Street” concept in schools, when used with intention and forethought. AV technology allows for a broader world to enter the classroom and provides a more immersive and multisensory experience. AV technology has always allowed educators and students to explore the world, connect with others, and deepen learning by exploring authentic material which would not be available to them otherwise. As we saw in the short film used in class last week, the importance of library material in the classroom allowed for the students to visually experience a topic, instead of merely reading about it. Today, for example, we are not held to learning about the Egyptian pyramids from a textbook. We can explore the passageways and the tombs of the dead pharaohs by taking a virtual tour provided by museums and universities. We can talk to astronauts in space, watch animals be born, hear the voices of those long passed tell their story, and explore historic documents as if they were right in front of us.

 

Also, if used with intention, AV technology can be a tool which provides further advancement of students’ understanding of the material. These tools can help those who struggle and provide a challenge to those who are bored. It provides instant feedback for basic skills. However, there are limitations to AV technology. It is essential to not assume that every student has equal access to technology at home. This can hinder homework assignments and the options for students to receive this individualized help at home. On the other hand, for some students (from my experience with middle years) it sometimes has nothing to do with the medium used to transmit the material, but everything to do with the material itself. Some refuse to participate in the lesson regardless of how engaging the tech is.

 

Education and learning are not bound by the four walls of a school. While the potential learning can be acquired from technology, it is important to remember not to become completely reliant on this technology. This is particularly relevant in schools where access to technology can vary drastically between schools. Remaining up-to-date with technology is hard for school divisions’ budgets. Facing deficits, the first things that are cut are those items that are non-essential. One could argue that AV technology is essential to the evolution of the classroom. However, the reality is that there is shared technology in the school that, while it may be beaten and battered, functions to a level that is acceptable for student learning. Even then, some useful programs (particularly those that are free) are blocked from school devices due to the potential risk of downloading malware/ransomware. It becomes even more dire when dealing with failing budgets which limits photocopying, yet internet outages are frequent. While AV technology holds boundless potential, our main restriction will always be cost.

 

ransomware computer virus cyber attack screen cool illustration

 

So, does this “Sesame Street” concept successfully undermine traditional schools? Yes and no. It exemplifies that AV technology and student engagement allow more exploration and engagement with the course material. However, we do see a need for fundamentals which enable this “Sesame Street” concept of education to exist. While all that is flashy is not always the best, it can provide a more enriched understanding of the topics due to its engaging nature. However, it does not completely undermine the traditional idea of schooling. The foundations of our learning and society are still focused on the “Mr. Dressup” approach. Today’s technology (mainly referencing AI) is in its infancy, and wildly under-regulated. Our laws and justice system are unable to keep up with the rapid evolution of technology. It only took one incident involving a major pop icon for governments to begin to talk about regulation. How many other people were destroyed by a similar incident (AI face or voice spoofing), and yet nothing was done? The power that AV technology wields is monumental. Our conversations in the classroom regarding AV technology must acknowledge this and include a significant discussion surrounding ethical usage and legal ramifications.

Smartphone screen showing phone call from bank with Vishing alert message. Phone call scam or phishing attack asking for bank details concept. A classy and gorgeous mestiza woman in a student uniform with bow tie. Serious pensive look in her eyes. Outdoor scene.

 

 

Sidenote: Postman was American, so his exposure to the Canadian children’s show was most likely non-existant. While one could compare Mr. Rogers to Mr. Dressup, as they shared similar philosophies, they did not provide the same impact.

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Whose learning style is it anyways?

When I started out into the realm of teaching, I was not prepared for what I was about to encounter. We are taught theory and best practice. However, these are all confined within a realm of a non complex classroom. The idea of differentiation and classroom management are essentially impossible to teach in a university classroom setting. They must be learned on the job. When we did touch on differentiation, the reality of what we would find in the classroom was conveniently left out. They mentioned one or two in a class. My first year teaching I had 7 individual learning plans. The following year I had 10. Needless to say, the theories that I first identified with as a first year teacher has changed drastically during my career.

 

While coming out of university, I was tiptoeing in critical theory; my main focus was formed by cognitive theory. I honestly believed that we all had a specific “way of learning” and that I should vary lessons and assignments to encompass these learning styles. While it was evident that this was not entirely going to work after my first year, I needed to further research and reflect on the other theories which may better explain and, therefore, inform my pedagogy. I began to see that my teaching was leaning to more of a critical theory approach. While important to understand learning styles, doesn’t account for the underpinnings of social justice issues and the conflict that we see in society and its institutions. As I searched, I began to find the idea of constructivism (not by name, but by description).

 

This transition to a more constructivist mindset was gradual, as I was interrupted by a global pandemic. It was due to this pandemic that my transition became more solidified. I noticed that no matter the approach I took with the lessons, if there wasn’t a relationship between the students, material, and myself. The importance of the material became moot. I can’t say that this transition has been a complete success, seeing as my students still complain that learning equations with fractions and algebra are useless and they will never use it. However, there are small victories. I have now changed my approach to my classroom material to include topics they would like to learn about and guide them through the acquisition of skills they desperately need (ie. debating with facts). I found that the engagement increased within my classroom (and sometimes engaged even the most apathetic student) once I included social influences, choice, and projects. I am not a huge fan of exams, but, instead, projects where students can explore topics that interest them, and then discuss these topics with their peers.

 

Does this mean that I have solidified my pedagogy for the rest of my career? Of course not. The wonderful thing about teaching is that you are never done learning and growing as a professional. I will continue to research about theories, reflect on my pedagogy, and continue to fine tune my approach in the classroom.

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The disconnect between technology and Ed tech

Technology, and more specifically educational technology (also known as ed tech), can be a double edge sword. It can be a useful tool which provides enriched and meaningful learning (with a hint of fun). It provides an environment of engagement with material and learning new skills. Ed tech can also be a distraction from the lesson, and provide no meaningful addition to the information being learned. It is flashy, does very interesting processes, but ultimately has the same nutritional value as sugar: none.  It can also be wildly problematic in the hands of those who are unaware of the drawbacks and dangers technology can pose. The onus is really on the teacher, and their pedagogy, as to the success educational technology has within their classroom. As we saw in The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade, there have been many well meaning attempts at creating useful technology for the classroom. However, in Postman‘s article “Five things we need to know about technological change”, there is always a tradeoff between advantages and determents with technology. It is essential that not only the developers, but also the teachers, remain cognizant of this lesson.

What I find rather interesting is there are several things on The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade list that are still readily used in classrooms today. I have seen (and been sent) many TedTalks used in classrooms, Class Dojo used in a majority of classrooms, emails regarding the Hour of Code, and the use of the “flipped classroom” to name a few.  While well meaning, understanding the underlying purpose is always important. With the insane level of data that advertising complies due to your online habits, it is prudent to think about our data footprint that we create with our students. Not only this, it is important to remind everyone that privacy is difficult to maintain unless you are prudent. Furthermore, being cognizant of the ideology of those who own and run these platforms is important. This can help identify problematic information, absence of specific voices and areas where critical analysis is essential. While Twitter was an environment of connection and collaboration at one point; it has become a swampy marsh land of trolls and questionable morals. TikTok, while connecting the world, has horrible privacy regulations. The use of ed tech (and social media) in the class is only as safe and useful as the user is up-to-date and critical.

At the same time, teachers should be excited about the advancements in technology and their place in the classroom.  AI is a prime example of this. ChatGPT has taken the world by storm, and our students are no exception. What I find important is that we meet the students where they are and not dismiss the idea of new technology completely. At one time, computers were the demonized technology. It was foretold that computers would be the downfall of education. As we can see, this was not the case. However, (and this is a big caveat) while AI is new, it is important to remember that it is untested. The lessons we learn, the ROI on learning, and the implications have not been studied in any meaningful matter. It is important to remain critical regarding its use. As Postman would say, AI is already becoming mythic. We must be aware and objectively critical regarding its potential benefits vs its potential determents. It should not become a main source of ed tech until there is further research on the matter.

As the world evolves, our pedagogy and engagement with technology should evolve with it. It is important to remember that while technology is beneficial, there are many factors to consider before its inclusion in the classroom. It is an exciting time in the ed tech realm, and I am anxious to see its advancements within the next few years.

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