Tag Archives: place of digital technology in education

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.”

To Device Or Not To Device: Place of Laptops in the Classroom

One of my (Clare) colleagues circulated this letter about use of laptops in the classroom. For me it is a real conundrum. I know that some students toodle around Facebook  during class but others responsibly use their laptop. I thought others might find this article interesting.

Pulling the plug on classroom laptop usage

By: Eric Andrew-Gee, The Globe And Mail | August 22, 2015

When university courses resume this September, Canadian students may find themselves learning the meaning of two new letters: HB.

The standard pencil, for many years alien to digitized lecture halls, is coming back into fashion on campus as a growing number of professors across North America ban laptops from their classrooms.

Many of these instructors are responding to a body of research showing that computer screens are distracting for people trying to learn, and that handwritten notes lead to better conceptual understanding than typed ones.

Computer-free lectures seem to mark a departure from the optimism around technology that has prevailed on many campuses in recent years, and academics who have banned laptops say they are part of a growing wave.

“It’s become pretty common now,” said Arash Abizadeh, a professor of political theory at McGill University who banished laptops from his classes in 2010.

It was about five years ago that Paul Thagard, a professor of philosophy at the University of Waterloo, started noticing a “wall” of screens in his lectures. When he installed a graduate student at the back of the classroom to spy on his plugged-in students, he learned that 85 per cent of them were using their computers for something unrelated to class.

“Since I teach cognitive science, I know how limited attention is,” he said. “Pedagogically, I thought this was a disaster.”

A 2003 study by researchers at Cornell University came to the same conclusion as Prof. Thagard’s sleuth: Students who use laptops during class also engage in “high-tech ‘doodling’ ” – sending e-mails, exchanging instant messages, surfing the Web.

The study found that these students scored significantly worse on a pop quiz about a given lesson’s content than students whose laptops were closed – a finding consistent with troves of research showing that “multitasking” is virtually impossible for most people.

Online distractions have become only more seductive in the past decade, with the advent of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

“Both the form and the content of a Facebook update are almost irresistibly distracting, especially compared with the hard slog of coursework,” Clay Shirky, a professor of new media at New York University, wrote in a 2014 essay for the website Medium, explaining why he, of all people, was banning laptops from his lectures.

It may be intuitive that the Internet can impede focus, but researchers have also recently come to a more surprising conclusion about the impact of laptops in classrooms.

In The Pen Is Mightier Than The Keyboard, their cleverly titled 2014 paper on the subject, Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote that even when students use computers only for note-taking, they retain less information than students who take notes by hand.

That is because scratching out words on a piece of paper forces students to synthesize as they write, distilling the gist of a lesson, rather than copying a professor’s words down verbatim. The joint study found that note typers were less able to answer conceptual questions about a given lecture than students who took notes longhand.

“In high school, I took typing – and so I know, as someone who can touch type, that I can type things without having any idea what I’m typing,” Prof. Abizadeh said.

Most professors who ban laptops insist that they are not grouchy Luddites and tout their use of technology in other spheres.

Pierre Martin, a political science professor at the University of Montreal with a device-free classroom, said he was the first in his department to create a website for his courses. “I’m actually a rather compulsive user of technology,” he said. “It’s because I am that I know it’s bad for the students.”

But sheer frustration with the sight of glazed student eyes is another motivating factor for professors who start anti-computer crusades. A widely watched YouTube video from 2010 shows a University of Oklahoma physics professor dunking a laptop in liquid nitrogen before smashing it to pieces. Perhaps turned off by such bellicose tactics, some students have objected to anti-laptop policies, saying that even if the devices are harmful, banning them is a paternalistic abuse of power.

Teachers such as Prof. Martin counter that doodling online distracts not just the person on Facebook, but everyone around them.

Laptops in class are like secondhand smoke, he argues.

Indeed, many now grudgingly – even gratefully – accept the bans.

“As many complaints as I get, I get compliments,” Prof. Thagard said.

Meaghan Eyolfson, a University of Ottawa law student, said her 20-person criminal law seminar is mostly laptop-free. Two students per class are allowed to type up notes and send them around to others.

She recognizes the policy’s advantages, even if it means more work. “Obviously, I pay 10 times more attention in the class,” she said. “It’s just a pain in the ass.”


This article was written by Eric Andrew-Gee from The Globe And Mail and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


Neil Selwyn Raises Thoughtful Questions About Digital Technology in Education

I (Clare) have found Neil Selwyn’s writing about digital technology very helpful. In my Neil Selwyngraduate course we watched a talk by Selwyn (at Monash university). My students and I discussed his perspective on the place of digital technology and the consensus was – his perspective is valuable and educators need to consider the questions he raises. His stance is so sensible and balanced because he asks us to consider issues around digital technology that are often not part of the conversation. The video is about 1 hour and it is so worth the time. Here is the link:


Below are some of the notes I made from the video. As you can see he is asking us to think carefully and deeply about technology (and he is a real techie!) I know you will never think of technology in the same way after watching his talk.

  •  We should not get carried away by digital technology because there are wider societal issues
  • Digital technology in higher education is very messy
  • Way we talk about digital technology is overly simplistic – the talk has been hijacked by other groups. Those in higher education need to be part of the conversation
  • place of digital technology is not inevitable – we have choices, need to activate our choices
  •  need to be critical and not just welcome digital technology as inevitable
  • what are the dominant arguments – need to understand the assumptions –


  1. Living in an information age
  2. Death of the institution is inevitable
  3. Crisis in Higher Education – HE fundamentally broken
  4. Period of Inevitable change for institutions

– RHETORIC IS CRISIS TONE – easy to get carried away by rhetoric

  • Need to be less extreme – neither hyper optimistic or hyper critical
  • Lots of change has been superficial – don’t believe the hype
  • digital technology talked about in radical ways
  • Selwyn wants us to think more carefully – why do we talk about digital technology in such extreme terms?
  • Term – disruption – heard again and again
  • What is actually being disrupted?
  • Blame is put on educators – deserve to be disrupted
  • Way digital technology is talked about – whole bunch of values attached to the talk and these things
  • Way we actually use digital technology is mundane and prosaic
  • So what has actually changed?
  • Complaints about universities – “googleized” environment –
  • Bleed of your professional life into your personal life – realities of technology –  intensification of work – not the smart office
  • Survey of professors – tend to use ppt and Moodles mainly
  • How does digital technology enhance teaching and learning?
  • So why do we buy into the myth that digital technology will change everything?
  • Commercialization of education – Silicon Valley mentality – think entrepreneurial – education is broken need Silicon Valley to fix it
  • Profound distrust of educators – need outsiders to fix education
  • Cannot see technologies as neutral — What values are missing?
  • Education is communal – Education is about human contact – something about being in the presence of the teacher and with fellow students
  • What is going on when doing virtual learning? What values are there or not there? Do online courses force artificial discussion?
  • Does ppt dumb down teaching?
  • Working conditions – over 1,000 unread mailboxes – cc: everyone – bringing work home e.g., check emails on Sunday – work seeps into our life
  • Digital bill of rights – set up on-line learning differently – issues of privacy, use of data …
  • Issue of trust – not talked about in elearning
  • Online learning should be about innovation, creativity …. Passion, curiosity – not heard about in elearning
  • Could we teach without ppt?– Ppt designed for business – bullet points – students want bullet points – how does that change learning?
  • Instead of dumping content into virtual learning get students to create own reading lists
  • Have digital technology match our own pedagogy
  • Would it be possible to switch off email for the weekend?
  • Think about digital technology as questions not answers – what are we gaining? What are we losing? What are the second order effects? What is the real problem we are trying to address through use of DT? What are the values underlying DT? Whose values are being promoted?