Tag Archives: Digital devices in the classroom

Do we blame the process or the machine?

A Toronto school is banning the use of cellphones in the classroom & hallways amid strong protest from parents who believe that students are distracted & abusing their privilege.


As I read this article, I was torn. On the one hand, I recognize that technology has the potential to enhance student learning (I do wonder how we are measuring this ‘enhancement’). I love the opportunities that access to technology and Web 2.0 tools can create in the classroom to engage students in different ways. On the other hand, I have witnessed students misuse their devices as an occasional teacher. The uninterrupted access to Wi-Fi in many school boards means that students are always connected and participating in digitally-mediated social interaction via instant messaging services (Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat etc.) while at school and in the classroom.

At the intermediate level, I get interrupted frequently while teaching because someone is taking a selfie. It is incredibly distracting. At the secondary level, students are less devious but naturally cannot resist the occasional distraction since information is literally at their fingertips. I always have to explain, “There’s a time and place for checking your social media. I do not tweet while teaching nor do I send my folks pictures of my outfit.”

Despite commitments to integrating technology in the classroom/curriculum at a school board-wide level, how it looks in action varies across schools, classes, & teachers. Some teachers treat digital technology (DT) as the carrot at the end of the stick (“Work well and you can use your devices for 5 minutes”) while others do a phenomenal job incorporating it into their day-to-day teaching. Moving forward, we need to monitor how pre-service teachers are being trained to use DT and how in-service teachers (who perhaps completed their teacher training when DT did not play a big role in learning) are reflecting on their attitudes toward DT and adjusting their practice. In my opinion, blaming devices & the internet for interrupting learning is a scapegoat for a bigger issue…the process. The process involves challenging beliefs, addressing misconceptions, designing policies, providing the how-to, educational transformation, and so much more! It is complex, controversial, bumpy, and requires constant refinement, but it is progress.

A quote from the Inherit the Wind movie (one of my favorite plays): Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, “Alright, you can have a telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.”

Bloom’s Taxonomy Meets the Digital World

One of the students in my (Clare’s) graduate course shared a version of Bloom’s Taxonomy which is linked to Web 2.0 tools. Although I have long had concerns about Bloom’s Taxonomy (using it like a checklist) I found this model interesting.


Bloom's Taxonomy

If you go to this site you can click on each tool:


I found this interesting and it got me thinking about how Web 2.0 tools range from glorified paper and pencil tasks to far more intellectually challenging work. Take a minute to click on the link above and then click on the programs. The pyramid was created by Samantha Penney: samantha.penney@gmail.com.

Striving for Equal Digital Opportunity

kids at computersAn article by Kristin Rushowy in the Toronto Star on April 1 reported that almost 60% of Toronto schools allow students to BYOD (bring your own device). http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2014/04/01/byod_bring_your_own_device_now_in_most_ontario_schools_survey_finds.html

This indicates a trend. Not long ago the debate was whether it was “safe” for students to bring their smartphones or tablets: what if they did inappropriate things with them? Also, would students be distracted by their devices? At AERA two years ago I (Clive) attended a roundtable on just these issues.
What teachers have found (and many in our longitudinal study report this) is that, if rules are laid down and habits established, the potential problems can largely be overcome. Moreover, this process provides opportunities to teach students about digital responsibility, etiquette, etc.
The Star article focused rather on the question of equity: does BYOD increase the disparity between rich and poor students, or potentially reduce it? People for Education research director Kelly Gallagher-Mackay argues for the latter position, “as long as (boards) realize it’s not a level playing field, and consciously address that.”
While most school districts can’t afford to buy devices for everyone, they can make up the difference for students who don’t have them; and tech firms are often willing to help out. Rushowy reported: “Last year, the Peel board arranged for $55 tablets for families, and last month began a pilot project giving low-income families discounted refurbished computers.”
There will always be a stigma attached to needing help of this kind. But it seems better to tackle it head-on in the classroom rather than ignoring an inequality everyone knows about anyway. It’s also better to have devices in the classroom, provided we can find ways to make it work. The investigation continues.