My Summary of Learning

As we approach the end of EC&I 830, I’d like to thank my fellow classmates for their excellent collaboration throughout.  You have all given me inspiration to become a better teacher.  Your blogs have induced in me new ways of thinking.  You have stimulated in me increased critical thinking and made me into a much more reflective teachers.  I highly value your work and look forward to perhaps crossing paths with some of you in the future.  Thank you again.

P.S. Please forgive my francophone pronunciation in my summary of learning.  I don’t often use many of these word in English and I seem to be having trouble putting the right emphasis on the right syllables.

Teachers with technology can mold education into a force for equity in society

Once again, the Great EdTech debate didn’t disappoint.  The statement: Technology is a force for equity in society led me to numerous paths of thought before even considering my own personal position.  Coming into the debate, I had not settled on my own point of view and I was ready to be enlightened by either Jen, Dawn and Sapna or Amy S. and Rakan.  Both teams provided excellent arguments which resulted in making the analysis of this debate even more difficult and complicated.  As I have learned since the beginning of this class over the last few months, no issue related to technology or its application in society is black or white. There are always nuances related to how technology influences people and society.

In the particular context of education, I firmly believe that I, as teacher, am a force for equity in society.  As education has become more and more prevalent over the past centuries, society has evolved into what we know today.  In parallel with education, technology has been in lockstep with education in shaping our world.

Having attended a small rural school, I can attest that technology has afforded me opportunities that would have otherwise not been available to me.  As a high school student, not having access to qualified mathematics and science teachers, the internet and distance education allowed me to receive the same level of teaching as my urban counterparts.  Although there were many difficulties at the time such as poor bandwidth (remember 56k modems and 128kbps ISDN lines?) unreliable computers (remember Windows XP and CRT monitors?) and poor communications technologies (remember analog phones and fax machines?), we as students were able to navigate these sources of friction and achieve excellent results.  As Layla Bonnot explains in her analysis on open educational resources, technology is enabling quality education access to even the remotes places on earth.  In my situation, technology was a force for equity.

Speaking to a colleague that immigrated from a remote African village some 10 years ago, he mentioned that over the past few years, access to the Internet and computers has changed the lives of his family that is still living in that part of the world.  Given that the economic situation in many areas of the developing world is improving, many people are now able to dedicate time to expanding their knowledge of the world as opposed to spending 100% of their time on tasks related to survival.  A few years ago, I was able to meet physicist Neil Turok.  He talked about how technology is at the center of his efforts in supporting and developing science and mathematics education on the African continent though the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences which he founded in 2003.  Where it not for the internet, he would have never been able to progress in developing this institute.

To me, this once again demonstrates how technology can be used as a vehicle to expand the possibilities of education and making it accessible to a wider portion of the population.

Just like in every other debate we have had; no situation is perfect and purely beneficial to all parties involved. Annie Murphy Paul highlights the digital divide that is seemingly happening between affluent kids using technology and low-income kids using similar technology.  It is no surprise that socio-economic standing greatly influences learning opportunities as this has been researched extensively at many levels.  That being said, money remains a factor that determines in many cases the level of access to technologies at home and in schools. Some affluent people thus think by simply dumping the highest tech in the poorest places in society, inequality will be solved.  This train of thought can lead to dangerous traps, that are underlined again by Annie Murphy Paul.  In addition Facebook’s free internet initiative is another example of applying technology to a problem that needs other solutions.

At times, I feel like many teachers view technology as an interesting means to teach and often get caught up in the technology itself while forgetting the educational outcome they are trying to achieve. On many occasions, I have witnessed teachers praising a students’ AMAZING project involving a high level of complex technology use while not realizing this particular student didn’t achieve the desired learning outcome.  The initial shock and awe of the project often creates bias in certain teacher’s assessments.

I often discuss with my colleagues the trap of attacking challenges with technology when simple proven solutions can be just as effective.  A pencil and a paper can be a powerful and simple technology that can accomplish great things and must not be ignored.  I find simple low-tech solutions can produce some of the best learning situations for teachers and learners.  Last summer, while participating at the Einstein Plus teachers’ conference at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, myself and the other conference attendees participated in an activity where teams were given 10$ to spend at a dollar store.  Our objective was to maximize the money by creating an activity that can be used to teach a concept related to science.  The results of the exercise were nothing short of amazing.  I have used many of these ideas developed during this activity quite frequently in my own pedagogy.  Once again, low tech, but very effective.  Here is an example of our exploits, you might even recognise yours truly.

Technology in this case, although inexpensive and simple is providing new opportunities for education thus once again, providing equity despite cost.

With technology creeping into every nook and cranny of our society, companies are seeing opportunities that seem fantastic on the surface but can be quite disconcerting when properly analyzed. It’s hard to argue cost when things are free.  Many resources we use online are sold as free tools that will change the world. Services provided by Google or Youtube and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook all commercialise our personal information for profit.  We as users effectively become the product of these tools.  The information harvested through our use of these services can then be sold to entities such as advertisers and insurance companies.  This information can then be used to target segments of populations for very specific commercial gain.  Who has ever searched for something on Google only to see, within a few minutes, Amazon ads for this product everywhere on the internet?  Although this example is perhaps benign as it is simply a form of advertising, much more serious consequences can result in the manipulation of data.  A more worrisome example of this might data manipulation is how Russia used social media through firms such as Cambridge Analytica to manipulate and influence the 2016 Presidential Election.

As our world adapts to these technologies, we will suffer many setbacks and see many bad consequences.  That being said, I stay optimistic for the future in that humans are at the center of society and its evolution.  Technology will play a key part in allowing humanity to become healthier though providing access to better opportunities to those less fortunate.  As teachers, we must be the vehicle by which we drive this technology to improve education. I believe that education can become a force for equity in society by properly harnessing the appropriate technologies.  Dan Meyer proposes four interesting questions he always asks about new Technology in Education:

  • What does it do?
  • Is that a good thing to do?
  • What does it cost?
  • What do people think about this?

I don’t have all the answers, but these represent an excellent place to start.

Doubling down: Social Media is NOT ruining childhood!

Social Media is ruining childhood.  As a member of the disagree team for this latest debate, I have to admit it has been quite difficult to explore the agree side of this statement.  That being said, I have to express reticence in arguing this statement as I feel that the use of the world “ruining” is much too strong to incite a well-balanced debate.  My initial observations and thoughts following the debate lead me believe that social media is changing childhood in many ways.  In some ways, social media is providing tools and opportunities that youth has not had available in the past.  In other ways, social media seems to be exacerbating certain aspects of the childhood experience.

The arguments that affirm social media is ruining childhood can seem compelling on the surface.  However, upon investigating these arguments, it quickly becomes clear that in most cases, the negative effects attributed to social media use is the result of deeper societal problems that are distilled and magnified through social media.  Social media is giving us a new lens into these problems that have been present in childhood since the beginning of time.  Let us look at a few examples:

In her article: Whatever Happened to Childhood?Rebecca Sweat explores the pressures of which kids are subject in modern industrialised societies. Kids are under constant pressure from mass media, high achieving parents, cultural competitiveness and societal expectations to “grow up” as fast as possible to gain a competitive advantage.  All these pressures seem to be present in the hope to give kids an edge in achieving success in a materialistic and status driven society.  Social media is not at the root of this problem but is definitely contributing to normalisation of these behaviours and these views.  Many of these issues existed way before social media but has definitely accelerated since its arrival.

Liat Clark, in her article: Blaming tech for the loss of childhood innocence is lazy, discusses how the contemporary thought that the internet and, by proxy, social media is to blame for the loss of innocence in childhood. She stresses how access to information is allowing kids get information much early in the development than in the past. As a result, this is forcing parents to have difficult conversations with their kids at an earlier age.  This situation creates a dynamic that positions parents in awkward positions earlier in their lives.  Some parents rise to this challenge and other seem to put off these challenging conversations for later times.  By the time some parents gather the courage to discuss serious topics such a sexuality and human reproduction, it is often too late to have a profound effect on how these kids will perceive these topics in the future.  In this article, one can see how social media and the internet is changing parenting.  Parents who can adapt to these changing times can preserve childhood, parents who cannot, could be putting their kids on the difficult path of life.  Once again, not necessarily a social media problem, but a human problem.

I particularity liked this opinion from

The final piece of the ‘childhood has been lost’ puzzle is the intense pressure on children to grow up to fast. This pressure comes from magazines, TV shows, films and peers and whilst there is certainly more pressure on children in today’s world, the responsibility for the child falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents. Parents must educate their children well regarding outside influences, teach them not to be taking in by fads and crazes, give them a little freedom to be their own person and reign them in if they are trying to be too much too soon. It sounds easy but it is far from it and there are some influences that you simply can’t control, you just need to make sure that you have an open dialogue with your child at all times and help steer them towards a happy childhood.

Once again, I could not agree more with the author, social media and technology is not the central reason for changing childhoods, it is the changing of relationships between kids and parents that are not keeping up with the rate of change of technology and social media.

The prevalence of cyberbullyingis without a doubt one of the strongest arguments that affirm social media is ruining childhood. Intimidation and bullying has been a reality of childhood for decades and maybe even centuries.  One cannot contest the statistics that demonstrate how the raising prevalence of cyberbullying is, without a doubt, an issue that must be tackled.  As a victim of bullying during my childhood, I have difficulty blaming social media for this issue.  It must be said that social media provides an effective vehicle for potential bullies to exercise their urges.  The anonymity of the internet and the distance from the victim though the use of social medial creates a perfect storm of conditions that are conducive to enabling bully behaviour.  In this situation, prevention, supervision and proper interventions with the proper supports have to be part of the solution as opposed to blaming social media. I argue this is once again, a deeper societal issue that seems to be amplified through the optics of social media.

When talking to my students about the subject of cyberbullying, I often use the analogy of drinking and driving. Most people agree that drink and driving is a horrible thing that can have grave consequences for both the victims as well as the perpetrators of this act.  The cars are not the basis of this problem, it is how we as a society (specially here in Saskatchewan) don’t do enough to prevent and support people who, under the influence of alcohol have the urge drive.

As a society, we seem to be in a time where we are still trying to find the place of social media in our lives and everyone is in constant adjustment not knowing how to go about the challenge.  When evaluating the place of social media in childhood, I find the TED talk by Baroness Beeban Kidronto be quite compelling as a basis of understanding on how to proceed as a society.

In her talk she argues for the digital rights of children.  She summarizes these rights as follows:

  • Right to remove
  • Right to know
  • Right to safety and support
  • Right to informed and conscious use
  • Right to digital literacy

As a teacher who is living in a world of social media, I choose to highlight the good and the positive that social media can bring to childhood.  For this I recommend you take a few moments to re-watch the disagree video presented by myself, Erin and Brooke.

In retrospect, I’m might hypothesize that social media is not ruining childhood, but rather, social media is changing society at such a furious pace that our ability to form new social conventions and social contracts to attend to these changes is proving to be too slow. I’m confident that through renewed digital literacy and tough intense public awareness actions, we can successfully adjust to these changes and come out as a more compassionate, caring and open society.

Risk adverse teachers must take the plunge

As I write these words, a few days following the debate covering the following affirmation: “Openness and sharing in schools is unfair to our kids”, I still can’t decide on what position to take.  During the debate, I kept flip flopping between agreeing and disagreeing with the statement.  Although both teams provided compelling arguments for both perspectives, taking a position is proving to be more difficult than I initially thought.  In my own practice as a teacher, I occasionally tweet statements or pictures of special accomplishments my students have achieved.  Although my use of social media in my professional life is very infrequent, I always hesitate before hitting the “post” button.  A flurry of questions consumes my mind in those few seconds or even minutes between my composing my tweet and publishing it.

  • Is this post appropriate for the public at large?
  • Are there any typos or grammatical mistakes?
  • Will this post hurt anyone?
  • Is this post beneficial to my students?
  • Can I live with this post being on the internet permanently?
  • Is this post even necessary?
  • Do I want to pollute my personal twitter stream with work related posts?
  • Do I really want to post this thing, or should I wait to reflect on this?
  • Can there potentially be any unintentional consequences to my posting this thing?

As one can clearly see, caution and prudence are at the center of my mind when using social media of any kind.  From the perspective of a teacher, I want what is best for my students. We cannot deny that over the past few years, it has never been easier to open up the classroom to the rest of the world. With the use of blogs, microblogs, social media, video sharing sites, image sharing sites and education specific tool like Seesaw, teachers, students and parents have resources that in many cases, didn’t exist only a few years ago.  Like any new technology, it is often hard to predict the impact these technologies will have on the world of education.  My analysis of the suggested readings has led me to categorize teachers in two general categories:

  • Risk adverse teachers who fear the repercussions of opening up their controlled and calculated classroom with the fear of introducing negative effects for their students and themselves.
  • Risk tolerant teachers who embrace opening up their classrooms with the objective of finding potential benefits for themselves and their students.

New technologies and new methods seem to favour risk tolerant teachers in that they don’t have to wait for technologies to mature or be the subject of scrutiny before trying new things.  Only once technologies have been proven to be effective and scrutinized, do risk adverse teachers seem to jump onto new approaches.  Although I find myself leaning towards being a risk adverse teacher, I find myself being more and more positive to the idea of opening my classroom and using some of the tools I mentioned earlier to make my offering as a teacher more diverse.

Many papers extol the benefits of using new technologies including social media in the classroom.  Rdouan Faizi et al. notes these benefits in the following categories:

  • Social Media as Communications Channels
  • Social Media as Engagements Tools
  • Social Media as Collaborative Platforms

In each of these categories, Farzi explores the benefits of using social media to open the classroom to the outside world by enabling more efficient communication channels and integrating new engagement tools between parents, teachers and students.  In addition, by utilizing collaborative platforms, a larger part of the community can contribute to the holistic molding of students.  Most teachers wouldn’t argue the findings of a paper like this particular one.  However, the success of opening the classroom using tools as social media rests, as always on the method of delivery and the approach taken by teachers.

With the prevalence of social media and modern online collaboration tools, I have no other option but to embrace these technologies and minimize risk for my students by helping them become responsible digital citizens. This can be accomplished by having discussions with the students regarding safe and proper use of information technology all the while explicitly showing them how to use these technologies by modeling correct online behaviour myself.

In her paper, Diane Forbes details many of the risks and issues that must be taken into consideration when educating people with regards to the ethical use of Social Media.  She provides excellent leads that might be the source of many answers for the Risk adverse teachers that enter the world of more open education.  Although there is still much to learn regarding the use of these tools, I think it’s well worth the risks to dive into the world of openness and sharing using online tools.

One must be vigilant make sure to stay current on the latest and proper practices for using these tools by staying informed on the potential issues that could surface.  Although mostly reactive, school division policies regarding the use of these tools might be a great place to start.  Although I’m relatively scared to take the next steps in using these tools as a Risk adverse teacher, I feel it is my duty to explore them as I’m depriving my student of important skills and knowledge if I don’t.  Here we go!

Twitter: @danieldion1



To Google or not to Google? I guess I’ll have to Google for an answer!

The world of information is in constant evolution and as information technology evolves, so do the ways we consume it, we distribute it, we use it and we create it.  With the advent of the internet and modern search engines using advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence, access to information has never been easier.  Knowledge is no longer reserved for a privileged subset of society, it can be accessed instantly my almost anyone from anywhere in the world.  This shift in information availability and accessibility has pushed the world of education to reflect on its approach in developing its students.

After evaluating the suggested readings related to the debate on the topic of teaching things that can be “Googled”, I am led to believe that as educators, our role as conveyors of knowledge and skills is rapidly being redefined.  Although it certainly takes a high level of knowledge to be a competent teacher, our students are depending less on us to be their primary source of information and more on us to help them navigate the panoply of information on the internet.

The phenomena of fake news, misinformation, propaganda and pseudoscience have ravaged the internet in the past few years. Here are but a few examples:

From my experience as a parent and a teacher, kids can easily be influenced by this type of content.  Seeing this type of content on the internet leads me to ask the following questions:

  • How do I, as an educator, guide my students in navigating these numerous varied sources of information?
  • How do I teach students to decipher the good, the mediocre, the bad and the ugly parts of the internet?
  • How to I assure my students build strong critical and analytical skills in the hope they don’t get negatively influenced my sources of information that have less than pure intentions?

These questions all point towards key information processing skills.  In Challenges to learning and schooling in the digital networked world of the 21st century, it is stated that:

“Across these frameworks it is generally agreed that collaboration, communication, digital literacy, citizenship, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and productivity are essential for living in and contributing to our present societies.”

Most teachers I know would agree with this affirmation, and I certainly do also, however one must note that, of these attributes, none of them refer to content or knowledge.  They all refer to skill building.

As a high school science teacher, building these skills are my priority.  Asking questions, seeking answers and asking more questions are at the basis of the scientific method.


source: https:///science-fair-projects/science-fair/steps-of-the-scientific-method

Teachers such as Dan Mayer have developed and promoted educational approaches that can be used by teachers to help them develop these analytical skills in students.

Another question remains:

  • Is teaching information that can be found on the internet still something that teachers should do? 

As I reflected on this question following the debate, my thoughts let me to thinking of the world of assessment.  In the current format of the education system in which I teach here in Saskatchewan, assessment is the ultimate goal as it is how we determine the worthiness of a student to proceed to the next step in their education.  Unfortunately, assessing students can be quite difficult and rudimentary.  In most cases, assessments have a tendency of measuring a students’ knowledge in a particular subject and not necessarily their skills.  There seems to be a disconnect when we promote teaching skills to student while evaluating their retention of knowledge.  These skills we value so much as educators cannot adequately measure given the structure of our current education system of standardized tests.

When I participated in the writing of the new provincial Physics 30 curriculum a few years ago, our team of writers almost endlessly debated the importance of skills and knowledge that needed to be addressed as part of the curriculum.  Ultimately, the outcomes we built into the curriculum were skill based, however, the indicators we created to help demonstrate the achievement of these outcomes were often knowledge based.  We were consistently influenced in our curriculum writing by the fact that a departmental exam needed to be issued for the course and we needed to establish indicators that could be measured and assessed with multiple answer questions and numerical calculations.  As a non-accredited physics teacher, this situation frustrates me to no end and ultimately restricts what and how I can teach.  Let’s not even take into consideration the disadvantage that I teach physics in French and have to deal with subpar teaching resources and tools as compared to my colleagues who teach the same course in English.  A disparity that is even the internet cannot eliminate.

In the end, I feel like I am left with no choice.  I MUST teach information that can be found on the internet and in textbooks as I MUST assess them in such a way for them gain the skills pass standardized departmental examinations provided by the Ministry of Education of Saskatchewan.  These examinations HAVE to count for 40% of their final mark and will determine their suitability for perusing in a subject related to that subject area.  As much as it pains me, this practice will continue until there are drastic policy and philosophical changes in the structure of education in Saskatchewan.

Each day, I try to teach the skills that my students will need to be successful productive members of society and HOPE these skills I teach them will translate well in standardized assessments.

Technology might hold the key in solving this dilemma, I guess I have some Googling to do!