Virtual Reality: Step into the Future

The intention of this week’s blog was to discuss a piece of educational software or media  and do an in-depth analysis of its potential and drawbacks in a classroom setting.  Since we presented this week, I had already done quite a bit of research into Kahn Academy and its ability to aid teachers in flipping their classrooms.  Since most of my limited readership has already been forced to listen to me for a full hour, I will look into a piece of tech/software that I think is very cool.  The idea of virtual reality is not something new but it is becoming more accessible.  In fact the New York Times just released a new film that can be viewed using a smartphone and Googles cardboard VR headsets.  Using a pre folded piece of cardboard, a smartphone, and Google VR Apps/Software, virtual reality can be brought into the classroom for little to no cost.  This is especially true for schools with higher socio-economic status due to the fact that most students will have their own devices to use with the viewers.  The possibilities are really endless when it comes to these virtual field trips.  However, are students simply consumers or can they interact in these virtual worlds?

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Many of the Google expeditions are based on the core sciences/social sciences and provide a different perspective to traditional textbook and lecture teaching.  Not only that, students can also capture and create their own VR experiences to share with their classmates and with the rest of the world.  Take Unity 3D as an example.  In this platform students can not only use an avatar to explore Egyptian or Mayan ruins, they can also build and create their own virtual representations to be explored by others.  In WiloStar 3D, students can take virtual secondary and post secondary courses in virtual environment using an avatar to interact with other students and professors.   Using the IOS or Android Apps from Google, sound and images are recorded in sync for others to enjoy in 3D.  Here are some other virtual worlds with an educational theme or focus:

It seems as if the rise in VR technology has pushed it into the mainstream.  Even in the 600th episode of The Simpsons, VR will make an appearance in the couch gag to open the show.  During the gag, a URL will appear on the screen which will direct viewers to the Google app in which they will be able to use their VR Cardboard viewers to enter the world of the Simpsons.

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The headsets can be ordered from Google or you can try your hand at making your own following the directions in the video below.  Here is the link to the template needed to make your very own headset.  With such an affordable tool, the possible benefits for students are many.  With the teacher as a guide, students can now visit world heritage sites, ancient ruins, archeological digs and much more.  Students can explore, analyze, discuss and get a true experience of what it’s like to be in these amazing places.  This software seems like it fits very well in the constructivist/connectivist school of thought in that it offers choice and freedom for students, allows them to build on preconceived knowledge, allows discussion and social interaction, and engages students in a meaningful way.  In addition, students will be able to interact with vivid objects in a sequential pattern that will mimic real world experience.  This will invariably lead to deep and meaningful learning experiences for students because they will see the effects of their chains of decisions within the VR app.

There are numerous advantages of using VR in the classroom and this technology may hold the key to the reason why our current system still sees many students falling through the cracks.  As William Win stated, “Since a great many students fail in school because they do not master the symbol systems of the disciplines they study, although they are perfectly capable of mastering the concepts that lie at the heart of the disciplines, it can be concluded that VR provides a route to success for children who might otherwise fail in our education system as it is currently construed.”  A second advantage of VR in the classroom addresses the all too familiar problem that arises when some students have mastered concepts being taught while others need remedial support.  VR allows students to literally become participants in their own learning which inevitably boosts motivation.  According to Dr. Veronica Pantelidis, “virtual reality allows students to progress at their own pace without being held back at a class schedule while also motivating them to learn.”

As an example, here is a tour of the amazing and historical Buckingham Palace.  On the screen you can click to move your view around the room as the tour is happening.  Using a VR headset, you can tilt your head to look around the room and advance to explore things you see or hear in the tour. Active rather than passive experience is a key benefit to VR in the classroom which is just one of many possible benefits including;

  • Immersive experience means no distractions
  • Immediate engagement: useful in today’s world of limited attention spans
  • Exploration and hands on approach aids with learning and retention
  • Helps with understanding complex subjects/theories/concepts
  • Suited to all types of learning styles, e.g. visual

So, why aren’t we all rushing out to spend money on this new technological trend?  Simply put, the recent rethinking of Ipads in the classroom has school divisions reevaluating what educational technology should look like.  Cost is a huge deterrent as well, even considering Google cardboard.  Finally, it is also clear that the technology may not lend itself as easily to teaching in some subject areas and depends on BYOD policies that can be problematic for some schools and impossible to implement in others.  Despite all of this, I do think that we will begin to see more VR in classrooms as costs come down and VR software specific to curricula is built.

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What do you think?  Is virtual reality the next trend in educational technology?  Let me know in the comments section below.

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Who Killed Educational Television?

When I was born in 1985 this song was already 6 years old.  When I first heard it in the mid 90’s I found the lyrics intriguing.  It’s a classic example of the rate at which technology changes.  In the end as we all know, radio has never succumbed to the power of video and it could be argued that radio and video have both been given an incredible boost by their younger brother; the internet.  It may not be in the same format but online/streaming radio content and podcasts are are available at the click of a button on any device.  Video has seen a similar boost as more and more people cut their cable and move to online streaming video content providers.  Netflix, Hulu, Crave, the list goes on and on.  Even traditional TV service providers are migrating their content online.  So what about educational content on television/radio?  Is it still an effective means of delivering supplemental educational content?  Who are the major players and what is their end game?

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It’s clear that from it’s inception, the idea of delivering educational content via radio and television waves was novel and exciting.  This was true for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the ability to reach a wide audience.  Educational content could be seamlessly beamed into homes and schools across the world through radios and TV’s.  Programs created by different companies and broadcasters looked at ways to engage kids and deliver some additional educational content.  It can’t be argued that educational television and radio was ever meant to replace traditional public schooling.  However, it became very apparent with the emergence of television in the 40’s and 50’s that the potential to reach a wide audience of children would mean a uniform message could be transmitted to the general public.  If you think about it, even PSA’s followed this same pattern.  When it was decided by research firms or government agencies that a message needed to be delivered, a PSA was recorded and broadcast.  The same went for televised educational content such as Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, or SchoolHouse Rock.  The wide array of possibilities that lay before broadcasters was unprecedented.     reading-rainbow

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Secondly, the access to popular music and culture lent itself to the incorporation of these pop culture elements into the content being broadcast.  This was the story behind SchoolHouse Rock.  It’s creator David McCall noticed his son having trouble with multiplication tables but he seemed to be able to remember popular rock songs.  He began writing and producing animated shorts covering topics like science, math, social studies, etc.  Personally I still remember some of these classic songs such as “Conjunction Junction” and “Electricity”.  They were short, catchy, and I would often find myself humming them as I went about my day.

ABC also had a huge success in Reading Rainbow, a program that encouraged reading among young viewers through themed episodes.  The award winning and long running program has now been released as an IOS and Android app.  Sesame Street is another perfect example of the use of popular culture, songs and educational content to teach life lessons as well as core content.  From puppets to famous actors and pop stars appearing alongside beloved characters, Sesame Street captured the hearts of generations of kids and taught countless lessons.  In this example, Robin Williams discusses and demonstrates conflict with the puppets.

Mr. Dressup, and Mr Rogers Neighbourhood were also amazing examples of children’s educational programming that sought to engage, dazzle and release the creative potential of children.  So what is the state of educational Audio/Visual in the 21st century?  Are these types of shows still being created? And, what is the true educational value of such programming?

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It seems as though there is less and less quality educational programming being produced these days.  Especially of the nature that was seen in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  Through examination of educational programming that is currently on the air, it is difficult to gauge the educational value of some of the programs now being offered to children.  I have a 2 year old and a 4 year old and there are several things we have noticed recently when it comes to educational television offerings.  The first thing we noticed when we started exploring TV shows to watch with our kids was that there are very few that offer children live action or real world characters to engage with.  The vast majority of the shows for ages 5 and under are flashy, high paced, fast cut, loud and repetitive cartoons or computer animations.  It could be argued that this is vastly more engaging to kids than listening to a live human being.  That may be true to some extent, but I still think that sometimes it’s important for kids to see interactions between real people.  I would argue that students need more and more stimuli in this day and age in order for them to stay engaged.  Why do you think kids have such a hard time listening in class?  I love pulling up old Sesame Street clips on Youtube and my kids love them too.  Secondly, the majority of children’s television shows today have very little content directly related to what I would call values teaching.  Sure some of the shows talk about colours, numbers and shapes but what about teaching things like, empathy, kindness, sharing, and hard work.  Themes that used to be staples of shows like Mr. Dressup are being replaced with limited educational content and flashy adventures that are just meant to sell action figures and video games.  Of course TV shows from my generation also marketed their characters as toys, lunch boxes etc.  However, I see a fundamental difference in the deliberate choices being made by producers of some of these new children’s shows.

Now clearly it is the parents job to be teaching their kids and no TV show could ever replace the real-world lessons that come from good parenting practices.  However, I do wish that more children’s shows incorporated positive values teaching into their programming.  One example of a show that does focus on a mixture of values education and basic skills knowledge is Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, a spinoff of Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood.  In the show, which features decoupage, and animation mixed with live interviews with kids and parents, the kids learn valuable problem solving and life skills.  Our kids still sing the songs to remember things like sharing, showing kindness, helping others and even when to go potty.  “If you have to go potty, stop and and go right away.  Flush and wash and be on your way!”

So is Educational Television dead?  I don’t think so but it certainly seems to be moving in a more commercialized direction.  If the goal of the producer and broadcaster is marketing and making money off of the program, it may mean that the content is suffering or lacking altogether.  If you’re not sure about the content of a show, check out Common Sense.  The site allows parents to see evaluations of popular kids shows and media broken down by age level.  It’s a good start for parents or educators who are unsure if the benefits of a certain show outweigh the costs.  In addition, we perhaps need to remember some key questions to ask when evaluating educational audio/visual.

  1. Who is producing the content and what are their underlying motivations?
  2. What messages are being transmitted?
  3. Is this lesson teachable through some other means? ie) Real World examples or hands on problem solving?
  4. Parents should set limits on the amount of TV per day.
  5. Teachers should use audio/visual as an aid, not a replacement for quality designed learning activities.

What do you think?  Is the quality of educational television lacking today?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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A Journey Into the Mind

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For some reason I’ve always loved philosophy and the practice of reasoning.  I took Philosophy 100 as an elective in my first year of university.  The idea of thinking about the way we think is somehow very appealing to me.  From Plato to Descartes, being able to talk about metacognition is a fascinating insight into the power of the human brain.  Although the questions may seem somewhat existential, there is a very real link between philosophy and education.  Questions like “how do we learn?” and “when do we know something?” must be considered foundational pedagogical questions for any practitioner.  The answers to these questions are, in reality, the driving force behind how and why we teach the way we do.  It is why some teachers tend to lean toward lecture vs. hands-on teaching or inductive vs deductive reasoning assignments.  Even the way we assess students or have them interact with information is affected by the way we view learning/knowledge.  Of the major views on knowledge and learning I would say that I tend toward the Constructivist paradigm, although I have been more and more intrigued by the ideas of Connectivism and and Rizhomatic Learning.  I believe strongly that learning is a social construct and that we form ideas through interactions with others.  Building communities of learning with others helps challenge our preconceived ideas and build strong cognitive processes.  In an increasingly digital world, social/digital interactions are becoming a key piece of every young person’s life.  We need only to look at some of the connections that exist already between Canadian classrooms and students all over the world to know that this way of interacting and learning will be crucial in the 21st century.

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Although there are so many variables involved in looking at the way kids learn, I believe there are certain things we can observe about how students process information.  I don’t think we can discount what Maslow has posited that there needs to be a certain set of conditions present.  During my time working in a community school, this became very evident.  If students lack basics like food, proper clothing or the feeling of significance, they are not in a mental space to concentrate/learn.  Once these basics are met, the question becomes, how does this student learn?  In other words, do all students learn in the same way?  According to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory, we can not apply a one-size-fits-all teaching method to our students.  There are some students who may display better retention of material through audio/visual methods, others may profit from hands-on tactile learning methods.  Even though differences in learning styles may be very evident, teachers need to be able to think about not only how information is taken up, but also how students analyze and process information.  For example, are experiences remembered in the same way as pictures or video?  Are students really constructing knowledge sets built of experiences?  Does the mind really work like a processor of information?  Can the mind be explored to understand true thought?  Or, are we simply reacting to what goes on in the world around us?  Perhaps it’s beneficial to take a cross-cultural view of knowledge and how we learn.

For example, in Africa, age is an  important determining factor and prerequisite for certain social tasks.  Everything is taught through doing.  Boys accompany their fathers or grandfathers to learn to hunt, collect honey, herd cattle, plant/harvest, or pick mangoes.  Girls follow their mothers or grandmothers as they thresh grain, cook, gather firewood, make fires, milk goats or make peanut butter.  The cycle goes as follows; observation of the skill performed by the older practitioner, skill practiced with help or close supervision, and then skill practiced independently until mastered.  These skills are needed for the well being of the family unit and so are given a high priority.  These are in many ways similar to the ways of knowing that are traditional among First Nations in Canada as well.          

In this short video by Dr. Martin Brokenleg, the Circle of Courage is explained as a philosophy of learning that is central to the ethos of First Nations life and culture.  The circle can be used to enhance learning in a different way.  The student consists of a mind, body, heart and spirit.  In order to have a complete and healthy person, he/she must have a complete circle made up of Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.  I believe looking at learning from a more wholistic perspective definitely has some benefits.  We cannot simplify learning into a purely cognitive brain function.  To do so would be to say that emotion, interest or engagement plays no role in learning.  This is simply not true and we can often see that when students are engaged or are given some autonomy in the learning process, they flourish.  Building a sense of belonging, independence, mastery or generosity during the learning process will not only help students become lifelong learners, it will also help them become confident and capable members of our global community.  Isn’t that why we are educators?

After looking into the various learning theories, I have to say that I lean more significantly toward Social Constructivism.  I believe that human beings are social creatures and that we learn through constructing meaning from interactions and experiences.  I love the mentorship model that many native cultures around the world espouse.  I find it sad that we here in North America have forgotten what it means for a ‘village to raise a child’.  It takes a community of invested and trusting adults to raise up a child who has a complete circle of courage.  In the digital age, Connectivism is simply a continuation of this same theory.  Growing and learning together whether face to face or online.   It was Orange Shirt day yesterday and I was discussing with my Grade 9 class what reconciliation meant to them in the wake of residential schools.  I asked students to write down words that came to mind when they thought of reconciliation.  This is the list according to frequency that we came up with.  I think this is a good example of the ways in which knowledge and learning are enhanced by connection, support and community.  It is the only way to move forward in the face of difficulty.    wordcloud-1

 

Edtech: Making Learning Easier

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What does Educational Technology actually mean?  A clearcut definition is illusive in many ways because, from a historical perspective, technological tools used to aid or enhance learning can be traced back to the first petroglyphs and the invention of papyrus.  In addition to trying to decide what constitutes an edtech tool, there is the question of theory and practice.  As I was reflecting this week on my experiences with edtech, I had to keep reminding myself that I entered the world of edtech fairly late in comparison with the rest of the western world.  I grew up in Mali, West Afica and understandably, every innovation that emerged in North America or Europe took a bit longer to reach us in the developing world.  Due to poor infrastructure, things like internet connectivity, and email were late to arrive at our house.  When we would travel back to Canada, it often was a big adjustment as we had to catch up on 6 months to a year of technological innovations that had not yet appeared on the shores of Africa.  Therefore, I’ve always looked at edtech through an access lens which tends to give me slightly different take at times.

Educational technology is defined by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.”  This seems like a decent start for a definition and it certainly brings up some interesting questions.  For example, it can be rather difficult to define what is ethical in a digital world that is very fluid and constantly changing.  In other words, ethical practice can be interpreted differently by teachers taking into account the variance in their teaching circumstances.  For example, some teachers would say that using social media in the classroom is a dangerous exercise in regards to student privacy issues.  Others would argue that social media can be a very valuable tool in engaging students and promoting deeper level thinking and analytics as seen in the example here.

The second part of the definition states that we “create, use, and manage appropriate  technological processes and resources.”  It is again somewhat difficult to put into words what is an “appropriate” process or resource is exactly.  I would say that there must be a student centred approach to any discussion on the use of edtech tools, processes, or theory development.  This is why I love the teaching profession.  The ability to exercise professional judgment in most cases means that educational technology processes and resources will and must be chosen according to the needs of the students.  This is where, in recent years, I have seen some troubling trends in the edtech startup market.  As more and more companies try to make a name for themselves in the edtech space, we as educators need to be a) making our voices heard in voicing the real needs for students when it comes to edtech, and b) making sure that any technology (from books or pencils to smart boards and ipads) used in the classroom is used for the purpose of enhancing learning for students.  If edtech tools and/or processes can not prove to enhance student learning, they are not worth using.  As seen in the recent case of ipads preloaded with a digital Pearson curriculum being rolled out in Los Angeles, being caught up in the edtech frenzy is a dangerous lesson in forgetting to put student needs first.

On the other hand, many of the tools used in classrooms over the years were both heralded and scoffed at in their time.  When the printing press was invented, it was a great achievement for all learners but it had it’s naysayers.  When television and radio began being used in schools, people thought we wouldn’t be able to keep kids away.  More recently, educators have voiced concerns about students losing the ability to write and use language properly due to the constant use of texting.  Educational technology has existed in one form or another for centuries.  It encompasses many different facets, questions and nuances.  As Greg Toppo states in this TedTalk, we need to ask ourselves, “what kind of place should school be and what should students do there?”  We need to wonder about the intended uses of the tools or processes we’re using in the classroom. We need to evaluate and re-evaluate our practice to ensure that the technology we use is helping to make learning easier for kids.  Ultimately, that is what I believe edtech is.  From  a pencil to a textbook to an iphone to Pearson’s Gradebook, these tools and processes are incorporated into classrooms for the purpose of enhancing learning or making learning easier!  I believe that a simple and overarching definition like this allows for a myriad of historical and groundbreaking technological tools and processes paired with theory and practice.  As long as we are keeping students at the centre of our practice, anything that makes learning easier could be considered edtech.  What are are your thoughts on edtech?  Is this definition too simplistic?  Let me know your thoughts.   

 

Disconnect to Reconect

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It is surprising to think that the little devices we carry with us have such a hold on us.  We constantly check in on our Facebook accounts, take photos, post them and check for likes and shares.  Very few of us go without cell phones for more than a few minutes let alone a few days.  The concept of unplugging has become a bit of a buzz word these days and the concept has been explored by tech wizards and numerous blogs.  Unplugging or detoxing has been lauded for it’s merits as an activity to cleanse the mind and the soul.  But is it all it’s cracked up to be?  Is it necessary to unplug when everything we do is linked to tech and social media?  Life is about finding balance and it just seems as though in the fight between screen time and living in the moment, screens are winning by a long shot.

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The reality is that it’s actually healthy to take breaks from social media and technology from time to time.  Many studies have shown that cognitive function and memory are affected by constant social media checking and idle web surfing.  The brain is like a muscle.  Although it doesn’t move, it does require time to develop and grow after new information is added.  We could consider this processing time.  In fact, studies have shown that taking a break from screens and tech periodically can recharge the brain and improve memory.  Here are some other interesting stats…

  • 84% of cell phone users claim they could not go a single day without their device. (source)
  • 67% of cell phone owners check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.(source)
  • Studies indicate some mobile device owners check their devices every 6.5 minutes. (source)
  • 88% of U.S. consumers use mobile devices as a second screen even while watching television. (source)
  • Almost half of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls. (source)
  • Traditional TV viewing eats up over six days (144 hours, 54 minutes) worth of time per month. (source)
  • Some researchers have begun labeling “cell phone checking” as the new yawn because of its contagious nature. (source)

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I think we’ve all experienced situations such as the ones mentioned during the debate by Dean, Janelle, and Kyle.  I still find it incredibly rude when someone is in the middle of a conversation and the other person pulls out his/her phone.  As stated above, you may have even compulsively pulled out your phone when you saw someone else doing it (much like yawns being contagious).  Now I am not saying that I am without reproach in this regard.  I too carry my phone with me almost all of the time.  I do try to keep it in my pocket when in social situations and having kids has really opened my eyes to the dangers of not living in the moment.  I have been at countless swimming lessons, soccer games and play dates during which not a single parent was actually engaging with their kids or watching them at all.  What could distract these parents from watching their 3 year olds having a blast in the pool or scoring a goal?  As I look around the field or pool deck I consistently see moms and dads hunched over cell phones and tablets, unaware of what’s happening around them.  I am not in a place to judge at all.  Maybe these parents are responding to urgent emails.  Maybe they are preparing something for work the next day.  But, I can imagine that at least some of these parents are engaged in social media activities.  Here is another viewpoint on unplugging shared by a teenager named Lane Sutton, a tech and social media wonderkind.

So, I practice being in the moment.  I make a concerted effort to be in every story, joke or activity with my kids because they are such little sponges.  They notice what we may not always perceive.  My little girl said to me the other day, “Daddy put your phone away and come outside with me.”  She’s 2 and she is already realizing that with my phone in front of me she does not have my full attention.  I realize that we will never be able to denounce technology.  It is now too ingrained in our lives.  Social media has a stranglehold on the way in which we interact with the world.  Even my 87 year-old Grandmother checks her Facebook profile on her Ipad daily to see pictures of her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  The key has to be moderation.  Take some time this week to take a break from social media and screens and take part in an activity you love without posting the results or waiting for likes.  Enjoy the smiles on the faces of your family members without snapping a photo.  Get some exercise without posting your workout to social media or fitness apps.  You’ll find rejuvenation of mind, body and soul.

Here are some other great reasons to unplug:

1) Leave behind jealousy, envy, and loneliness

2) Combat FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

3) Find solitude (there is value in having alone time)

4) Life is happening right in front of you (don’t miss out for FOMO)

5) Promote Creation over Consumption (take time to create something)

6) Once the device is gone the level of addiction can truly be understood (as we all know when we have forgotten our phones)

7) Life is about flesh, blood and eye contact

Everything in moderation, as someone once said.

-Almost everything will work again if you unplug for a few minutes….Including you!-  Anne Lamott

 

 

 

 

 

Can We Fight the Future?

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In many ways I’m disappointed that this class has come to an end.  Discussing edtech issues with fellow educators from all over the country has been a privilege.  I have definitely had to evaluate my point of view and it has undergone changes again and again.  I have been challenged to think critically about how I use technology in my classroom and I have even been presented with issues that I had not previously considered.  It was intriguing to speak with fellow educators who have very different viewpoints on educational technology.  It was very encouraging to discover that whether teachers are for or against edtech, a genuine love for students and a concentration on their needs was foremost.  Throughout the course I came to several key realizations which I will attempt to summarize here.

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The first debate covered the merits of technology in the classroom and I came to the conclusion that technology for the sake of itself is a perilous venture.  Each integration of technology in the classroom must be weighed and measured for it’s ability to enhance the learning for students.  Teachers should not be scared to abandon certain aspects of their edtech strategy if it proves inefficient or contrary to learning.  Secondly, we discussed whether we should be teaching content that can be found on Google.  I came to a strong realization that there are certain pieces of information that must be scaffolded and therefore must be memorized.  However, I also am a strong believer in challenging students with critical questions and real world problems that cannot be simply searched.  Practical application and skill development are key skills for the 21st century.  When it comes to the role of technology in our health and wellness, I came away with the notion that in many ways screen time, online bullying, and the stresses placed upon children due to technology are indeed affecting our youth.  Although there are many instances in which technology can provide health benefits, if we are truly considering all health aspects including mental health, it seems as though a balanced approach to tech use with youth is warranted.  Ian makes a great point about the resiliency of kids which i think is necessary to keep in mind.   In the fourth debate we tackled the question of openness and sharing in educational settings.  I am still of the opinion that we need to do right by our students and be cautious with how and why we share on social media.  However, some of the greatest lightbulb moments in my classroom have come from making connections with classrooms and individuals from around the world.  It has truly opened my students eyes to a different worldview.

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Tech for equity was another tough topic to tackle but due to my experiences overseas, I still had to come to the conclusion that although technology has made great strides for equity and that the bar continues to be raised, there is still much work to be done.  There are definitely many more marginalized voices being heard because of technology but at the same time, without equal access for all, it can hardly be equitable.  Social media is a huge reason why so many more people are interconnected.  However, it is also clearly playing a major role in the development of children in our society.  As previously mentioned, the sheer number of hours spent in front of screens on social media is staggering compared to even 5 years ago.  In my opinion, this is also an area teachers must approach with good modelling and a balanced strategy.  The appropriate use of social media for positivity must be a part of every classroom.  As Andy states in his summary, “with the right dosage and application, technology has the ability to enrich our lives, not harm them, but it must be used appropriately, responsibly, and we must be explicitly taught directions for use.”  If not, we will continue to see students who are depressed, overweight, stressed out, lacking sleep and unable to communicate face to face.

Lastly we discussed the corporatization of education and the role that companies now play in the future of our children.  Once again I was reminded that these types of decisions must always be made with students’ best interests in mind.  Education is a market that is ready to be tapped by many companies that would love a piece of the pie.  We need to ask ourselves, what’s the cost to our kids? and is it worth it?  I’m looking forward to discussing the overuse of technology and the necessity of unplugging from time to time as well.

In general I have come away with several key learnings from the course this term.  I’m calling these Luke’s Keys to Edtech Use.  Although they may seem simple, when applied to the issues discussed above, they have proven to be extremely good reminders when implemented in practice.  In essence, we will not be able to fight the future.  This is the way the world is headed.  What we can do is insure that students are first and foremost, that we are giving kids a balanced education, and that we are modelling what it means to live in a digital world.  Can we fight the future?  I certainly think we would be foolish to try.

Luke’s Keys to Edtech Issues

  1. Keep Kids First
  2. Take a Balanced Approach
  3. Model Model Model

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In the spirit of the debate format of the class, Steve and I decided to record a podcast in which we tackled and summarized some of the issues presented in this course. We expound upon these in the following podcast.  We also researched some helpful links in our show notes to further explore these topics.  Please enjoy the debut episode of “Steve’s Wrong vs. No I’m Not”

It’s Just Business: Corporations in Schools

There is no shortage of examples of ways in which corporations have partnered with education over the years to offer financial support.  Coca-cola, Crayola, Apple, Microsoft, Nike, Addidas…the list goes on and on.  Financial support is something that, in this day and age, schools cannot afford to turn away.  Government funding for public education has been dismally low ever since the recession and as is evidenced in the recent decision by the Sask Party government to renege on their earlier funding promise.  School districts are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to funding, especially in the United States.  In many districts, funding is granted due to performance of the school or district in question on various academic and standardized tests.  This makes great business sense for companies because they are able to build community relationships, while also garnering support from partnerships.  In Calgary Public schools for example, the Board of Education is entertaining the possibility of more corporate involvement in their system.  The truth is that corporations want to be involved in public education but they also want some recognition.  The important consideration becomes whether the corporate involvement in schools is actually providing enhanced learning for students.  In many instances this decision may come down to a trade off of funding or support for corporations in exchange for some advertising exposure for students.  So what is it that corporations want in partnerships with public education?

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This depends on the individual situation.  There are legitimate companies who truly want to bring educational improvements to the classroom but it is a rare occurrence to find situations in which funding or support is given without any expectancy of return.  The returns wanted from these companies vary but they can prove to be detrimental to the learning happening at the classroom level.  One of the biggest negatives in these situations is the possibility of creating ‘haves and have nots.’  For example, if Coca-Cola is going to provide funding for a new school gymnasium, they will want their name to be associated with a successful school.  Therefore, schools who already have success in academics or athletics will probably unfairly attract corporate sponsors.  This leads to a disparity in school districts and the further alienation of at risk students.  Another problem arises from the advertisements and marketing geared toward students.  In one instance, M and M’s produces a primary level math text book that teaches students to count using their candy.  McDonald’s sponsors the Go-Active Fitness Challenge which, to me seems quite ironic.  Unless the goal of the challenge is to work off the calories from your latest Big Mac.  These kinds of programs encourage consumerism among students.  The strategy is called Trojan-Horse Marketing and it gives companies access to one of the biggest untapped markets of future buyers.

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Many parents are worried about the public schools having these types of business relationships because of the potential impacts on kids.  In this documentary called Corporations in the Classroom, teachers and administrators both share differing views on the role of businesses in the community.  Some in the education community feel as though having corporate sponsors is a necessary evil in order to be able to fund the programs and learning experiences that truly inspire students.  On the other hand, some feel that although companies should feel a responsibility to schools and communities, support should come without strings attached.

The other issue in corporate involvement becomes apparent when corporate educational partners have a vested interest in testing.  Pearson has become a hot button issue with many educators due to their involvement in virtually all aspects of our education system in Canada.  The standardized tests are often written and provided by companies like Pearson, who also provide textbooks and learning resources for schools.  In these instances, especially in the US, standardized test scores are linked to government funding.  Therefore, once again, the schools from higher socio-economic areas will tend to score higher on these tests thereby resulting in more funding.  The No Child Left Behind policy resulted in increased testing for students with funding linked to success on these tests.  Dean Shareski would certainly argue that the Pearson example in Canada is an extreme one and that the majority of corporations involved with schools are invested in improving education and enhancing learning.  As he stated during the debate on Tuesday, “it is naive for educators and school divisions to think that we can do this on our own.”  I think it is a telling sign of where public education ranks on the list of societies’ priorities in this day and age.  If a little bit of extra advertising is what we are concerned about, the question should be asked, how much advertising are our students exposed to on a daily basis?

Is it really so bad that we have corporations vying for a spot at the table of learning?  It seems as though the balance must always be struck but the key question has to be are we putting students first?  That’s the bottom line.  Every monetary decision must be framed in this way.  Are we doing a disservice to students or are we enhancing the learning that is happening in the classroom?  Once we lose sight of students best interests, it may be too late and the soul of education will already be gone.  Have we gone too far?

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