The Deeper Meaning Behind the Digital Divide

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Debating contemporary issues in Educational Technology is not an easy task, but it’s necessary. If we want to progress and evolve as educators in this digital world, we need to have the hard conversations, debate the controversial topics, and raise awareness on issues that matter. As Alec said on Tuesday, “debates exist so that we can continue to improve,” grow, and gain new perspectives.

We had our second round of debates in our #eci830 class this week, which was based on this topic: “Technology is a force for equity in society.” I have to say, the group of debaters, Kalyn and Nataly vs. Victoria and Jasmine, were strong and well-spoken with their arguments, despite the power outages and frequent interruptions from the sudden Saskatchewan storm that blew in. They taught me a lot about our need for technology in education and the areas of concern surrounding the topic. They highlighted so many great points that outlined the reasons that technology is a force for equity, and how there is a digital divide happening in society. Here’s the breakdown:

Reasons that Technology is a Force for Equity

  • It provides greater access to information, especially during distance learning.
  • It allows for personalized learning within the classroom and it gives students the voice and ability to reach out.
  • It increases access to education and maintains student-teacher connection.

Reasons that Technology is NOT a Force for Equity

  • There is a lack of accessibility with the cost of the devices and monthly fee for internet connection.
  • The vulnerable population could suffer, especially during distance learning when technology is the primary source for education.
  • Specific communities in Saskatchewan, especially rural and Indigenous communities, lack reliable broadband connection.

The subject that we debated was one that I struggle with personally. I am a firm believer in using technology in meaningful, purposeful ways in the classroom. I have seen its educational benefits due to its ability to allow for differentiation, adaptation, engagement, and choice. I have witnessed students develop critical thinking and collaborative skills. I have seen ideas come to life through the creativity of technology. Students can develop digital citizenship and literacy skills that help them in their everyday life. However, before all of these skills can be achieved, they need to have the technology in their hands.

Pre Vote Answer
Post Vote Answer

When the debate started and it was time to make our pre-vote judgments, I voted against the idea that technology is a force for equity in society. With the recent events of school closures, I have seen the disparity and inequality with internet and technology access among students and families first hand. As the debate progressed and I was reminded of the opportunities that technology brings to our classrooms, I was at one point convinced that my vote would change by the end of the class. However, even though I was introduced to additional ways that technology enhances learning and creates equitable classroom experiences, the rest of our class discussion only solidified my original “disagree” vote. It was clear that others were also impacted by our class discussion on the digital divide and societal inequities because the vote was swayed by the end of the debate.

It’s evident that when technology is implemented purposefully in learning, “it removes barriers to learning materials, supports students where they are across varied learning contexts and needs, and gives educators more insight into the learning environments they’re creating”… but as Victoria and Jasmine stated, “do the advantages of EdTech come equitably?” Even when you think of the benefits of technology, there are still concerns that arise. If you look at Assistive Technology for example, Christina brought up the idea that there are long wait lists and a lack of funding when it comes to this kind of technology. When you think of technology use in the classroom, there is often a lack of funding for new technology, which means outdated devices and minimal devices to be distributed. However, the real gap begins when you think of technology use outside of the classroom.

I have spent time writing about the digital divide before. I have read articles, recorded podcasts, and sent tweets about it. I am well aware of the inequalities that arise from the lack of access to technology and internet connection for individual students and their families. However, I have recently been reminded of the deeper issues that underlie these inequalities, and Jacquie reminded me of them on Tuesday. She said that the digital divide is “shedding light on a bigger societal issue of privilege and marginalization.” This statement caused me to pause and reflect.

Yes, I believe that technology has power and opportunity. Yes, technology brings greater access to information, personalized learning, and adaptation. However, technology can only have this type of power and opportunity if it’s accessible and equitably distributed. Curtis brought up a crucial point by saying “the issues of the digital divide goes beyond technology itself.” As we dive more into the issue of the digital divide, it’s important to remember that “providing access to technology is important but not a complete solution when it comes to getting rid of systemic disparities caused by issues like income inequality, geographic isolation, or discrimination” as Kelsie Anderson says.

Lately, I’m feeling compelled to say more and do more about inequalities in this world. Do I have all the answers? Absolutely not… but if Educational Technology is something I am passionate about, then maybe that’s where I can start. Maybe I need to be more proactive and have a louder voice when it comes to the inequalities in not only Educational Technology, but in education itself. As our world continues to see issues with injustice and inequality, my job as an educator is never truly done.

“As long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” – Nelson Mandela

The Big Debate: Does Technology Enhance Learning?

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Research, preparation, practice… these are all things that took place before our Great EdTech Debate.

Our task was to debate the argument that technology in the classroom enhances learning. My partner, Nancy, and I knew that we had our work cut out for us. We were up against Matt and Trevor, both great at using humour, wit, and research to defend their argument. Since we knew that they would make a strong argument against technology in the classroom, we knew that we needed to captivate our audience in an engaging, long lasting way with our opening argument video.

We both previously watched the video about movie making by Mike Wesch called: “How the Best EduTubers Make Super-Engaging Content”… a video that’s well worth the watch. What we took away and wanted to apply to our own debate video was that people are more engaged when a story is told. Better yet, a human story about challenge, change, and triumph. What better way to tell a “hero’s journey” than what I am personally going through right now… a ruptured achilles injury amidst a global pandemic. Luckily, I have been video-documenting my journey all the way from the start, so I could use all of the authentic, personal footage and monologue clips that I’ve been creating along the way.

Our goal was to show the human side to the debate argument. Yes, technology enhances learning in so many meaningful ways when you are in the classroom, but what happens when the classroom is taken away? In my personal recovery journey, I was dependent on technology for connection. Our need for connection through technology is something that we are collectively going through as a society during a time of physical distance, so we wanted to make our argument relatable and personal. We also wanted to connect our argument to the 4 C’s in 21st Century Learning: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. Technology allows all of these skills to not only happen, but thrive. Another gift that technology gives us is connection, which we would argue is the 5th C in learning. Connection is critical for life-long learning, and technology is what makes connection accessible, especially in times of distance. I also appreciated how Jacquie said that she would add curiosity as the 5th C... another valuable skill in learning.

Along with putting a lot of time and preparation into our opening argument video, we did a lot of research on the topic of technology in the classroom. One of the best resources we found was from George Couros: The Myths of Technology Series. He talks about some of the common misconceptions about using technology and how it’s important to “see technology with a different lens.” Some of the important points that he made were:

1. “Engagement shouldn’t be our only goal. We need to use technology to empower students so that they feel like they can make a difference.”

Technology gives students the opportunity for leadership. We need educators to use technology in meaningful ways rather than passively using it to fill up time.

2. “We have to start thinking about different approaches to keep our kids safe in such a networked world.”

The ability to talk to others around the world through social media and technology creates a sense of belonging. We need to think of new ways to model safe behaviour with technology, rather than simply taking it away.

3. “What some teachers have done is use technology to actually give students a voice and options that they didn’t have before.”

We have the opportunity to use technology as a way to enhance face-to-face interactions and make them more meaningful. We can learn more about people, connect more frequently, and share our voices online.

4. “When we now carry the information (way more information than could ever be stored in books in a library) in our pocket, we have to teach our students to discern what is credible information, while also giving them opportunities to do something with that information.  A library in a school would never be seen as a detriment to knowledge; neither should the vast library on our phone.”

It’s important that we shift from teaching students what to think to how to think, and technology helps us do that. When we come alongside students as they navigate the digital world, we can help them develop critical thinking skills so that they can use technology in positive ways.

The more that I prepared for this project and learned about the topic, the more I was convinced that technology enhances learning. However, the debate format helped me consider both sides of the argument and helped me wrestle with some of the issues that arise with technology. Having the opportunity to rebuttal the opening arguments and have an open debate with the rest of my class allowed me to think on my toes and it gave me a unique opportunity for learning. In the end, the experience was enlightening, engaging, and so entertaining. As you continue to explore where you stand on the topic of technology in learning, hopefully our video can help you with the process. Enjoy!

-Amanda

What’s Your App Count?

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Have you ever kept track of the technology you use in a day? I did a little experiment to keep a record of all the apps and websites I use in an average day. The results were fascinating. I had no idea how many apps and online tools I use as an educator, a Master’s student, and a millennial. It made me realize just how much I value technology and use it on a day-to-day basis. Not only do I use it for educational purposes, but I also use technology to connect with my friends and family. One of the first things I do in the day is check my text messages. Why? Because I want to check in and connect with those around me… especially now when I can’t see them in a physical setting. I am grateful for the ability to connect with my loved ones through technology.

I was curious how many apps other people use in the day, so I took my question to Twitter. Little did I know that my “app” count might be a little higher than most. Do I feel bad for the amount of technology I use during my day? Absolutely not. However, on Twitter, Trevor replied and brought up an interesting point. He said, “have you tracked your screen time at all?” Even though I use apps and websites to better my teaching and learning, I think it’s still important for me to be aware of my screen time and take breaks when needed.

To further my “app count” experiment, I documented my day and compiled the apps and online tools that I use in a short video. My final app count was 33… and I probably even missed a few! Check out the video and then let me know if you can relate. I would love to know your “app count” in an average day. Enjoy!

-Amanda