Thursday, 9 June 2016

Leveling the Playing Field?

Equity, Equality, Fair, Right?

To say technology leveling the playing field for everyone,  is a very bold statement.   does technology increase the equity for everyone.   During the debate, many people got caught up in what the  definition of Equity vs Equality.  Alec then shared one of his most recent tweets.

Photo Credit: Craig Froehle
   I feel like we got lost in a misunderstanding state for a few minutes with this, but at the same time there is a huge part of the debate that this connects to. Just because we can be equal does not mean that we are being equitable.

Does Socioeconomic Status Mean Ineptitude or Wasteful?

Ian said that the socioeconomic status of people will be a determining factor for how well the individual can utilize the technology. I understand where the comment is coming from, similar to how one of our colleagues mentioned that a student had taken a laptop out to the parking lot and demolished it, or how Steve talked about his time in London and a number of families pawned the tools they were given. I want to add a little positive experience to the dark area of the lower socioeconomic situations. I worked in a community school that was very transient, poorly attended and a high EAL population.

In 2013 because of Alec's EC&I 831 I decided to create and utilize an Edmodo classroom. Through developing the lessons, and creating the projects for the students to work through I was able to create a blended style of a classroom. Now many of my students did not have the tools at home, but instead I utilized small group teaching method and had the students do most of the learning through the laptop via videos of my previous teaching, reading the required reading (many using Kurzweil). Soon I found my attendance began to improve slightly and the kids seemed to enjoy being at school more often. They were able to work at their own pace and I could enrich those that needed and modify for those that required.
Photo Credit: Flickr - Stewardship - Transforming Generosity

Worldwide Access... Really?

With that little soapbox shout-out off my chest lets look at the rest of the issue. Katherine and Bob touched on increasing access worldwide and how utilizing open classrooms through social media, or even self learning sites such as Khan Academy are positives for everyone. While I am in this class because I believe using technology is the way of the future of education, I also know that you can not replace good teaching. Yes these tools are amazing and they can help your student develop a deeper understanding of what concept you are attempting to cover, but if you are not using them appropriately they are as useful as a dried up ball point pen on a Scantron sheet.

The tools must be used appropriately and with the proper amount of education behind them. As Erin Benjamin points out this week "assistive technology improves achievement of students with learning disabilities".  There are so many tools out there to help, but there is not a one-tool-does-it-all. Think about your EAL students who barely understand our English alphabet, the child with ADHD that needs to move and learn kinesthetically, or your visually impaired learner who gets very little out of a visually appealing video. Those are three very real, probably in most classroom situations, type of learners we all have to deal with everyday.  

Time is Money

Think of the cost, not only financial but the time it also takes to invest in the teachers to learn how to properly use these tools. Here is an example for you. In the fall Regina Public Schools had a one day in-service for their Learning Resource Teacher's, Librarian's, and a few other teachers to learn about Google Read & Write (RW). Say you have one LRT and one Librarian for every school in RPS, that's about 45 elementary schools with 12 high schools, so approximately 57 teachers. 57 teachers using a 5 hour in-service is 285 hours. That is a lot of time spent on a tool that is not being used very much in my school. I have not had the opportunity to learn of the RW full capabilities but I have dabbled in having some students use the playback tool for them to check their writing.

Photo Credit: Pixabay 

What about that financial cost?  I am fortunate enough to teach in a affluent community that BYOD days are easy and the students/families are more than willing to send their tools from home.  Also when I show my students a new piece of software they are more than willing to convince their parents to go out and purchase it for them.  I have also had the chance to work in a building that was not so financially available.  This comes down to the school board and government funding.  Speaking from a teacher within the city, I believe that if you set up your classroom and time manage appropriately you do have the resources available to you.  It can be difficult, but it does eventually work.  When looking at the remote communities. I look at the Huffington Post article by Sunny Freeman on Canada's Digital Divide.  Freeman explains that while urban areas have 100% broadband coverage, when we look at remote communities within our far north communities, such as the "36,000 residents spread across a landmass nearly three times the size of Texas, have the worst levels of connection. Only 27 per cent of communities in that territory have internet access." This is where there are some serious lack of funding and in turn will create a huge digital divide for the majority of those who live within similar remote communities.  

Final Thoughts

With all this in mind, I have to say that as an educator within a urban center, I feel that technology is a force for equity within society.  There are as in with all of our debates so far parameters with this statement.  The teachers need to be educated on the tools we are given, so we can utilize them to their fullest potential.  If/when we are not given the appropriate guidance then how are we supposed to be the leaders/teachers of the new software?  The parents have a role within this as well.  They will need to be involved in their child's learning, they need to take a proactive approach, especially when the tech tool is a specific one designed for assistance with a diagnosis, or specialized learning plan put in place for the individual.  The parents then need to also be educated on how the tool works, and what its capacities/limitations are.  Finally the students need to be held accountable and be responsible for the use of the technology and how they are using it.  When the tools are misused, they break, or the can harm the user, (don't use a corded powertool while standing in a puddle of water) such as appropriate digital citizenship should be put to use.    

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