Does Technology Really Enhance Learning?

It’s a question that’s commonly debated on social media platforms, and has opened a great level of interesting discussion in my ECI830 Contemporary Issues in Educational Technology class earlier this week. 64% of Grad Students in ECI830 felt that technology enhances learning, while 36% felt it does not. I have to admit, I was rather surprised that the number of educators in favor of technology wasn’t higher, which proves this question continues to be a controversial topic.

I strongly believe that technology does enhance learning, although I grapple with this phrase “enhance learning” as there are a great deal of factors that contribute to learning. How can I really be sure my students quality of learning improves solely on the use of technology alone with so many other factors at play? Studies are continually being produced to prove technology supports learning, or hinders learning – it can be a bit of a research roller coaster with valid concerns on each side of the debate. However, I could more easily relate to Kyle, Erin and Jeremy‘s argument during Tuesday night’s Great Debate, that technology does in fact enhance learning – if used appropriately and purposefully. One thing I can be sure of is that technology has completely changed the way my students and I learn, in the best way possible!

As Erin suggests in her latest post, “this is our generation of learners, a generation of “digital natives”. When deciding where you stand on the topic, I urge you to consider consider the voice of our students – the active learners – and how the world in which they learn and communicate has changed since we were in their shoes as students.

Technology Enhances Learning…But What About Teaching?
What I do know from personal experience in my role as a Grade 3/4 teacher is that technology certainly enhances my teaching – there’s no question about it! Technology creates inquiry based opportunities that I would never have imagined possible during my time as a student. We can take virtual field trips, explore topics deeper at the click of a button, and communicate with experts from around the world. This opens the door for what can be possible in the classroom and in turn creates a much higher level of student engagement and quality discussion. Not to mention the limitless ways to network with other educators and opportunities to engage in professional development from home. Technology has opened the door for quality resources for teachers to improve their practice, which in turn enhances the student learning experience. 

Technology Levels the Playing Field
I’m highly in favor of technology in the classroom because I see the equal opportunities it creates for students with learning disabilities in my classroom every single day. Assistive Technology has helped create a greater level of independence for students, and in turn boosts their self-esteem and confidence in completing learning tasks. As the article “Using Assistive Technology in Teaching Children with Learning Disabilities in the 21st Century” suggests, assistive technology can “Enhance specific skills” and allows students to “participate in an equal basis with their peers.” FM listening systems, graphic organizers, speech to text technology and Google Read and Write have helped to level the playing field in my classroom and enhance student learning.

Be Proactive & Take Learning into Your Own Hands
Yes, teachers need more training on how to effectively utilize technology and with continuous cuts to our education system, appropriate funding anytime soon appears bleak. There is nothing more frustrating to me then seeing dusty computers being under-utilized by teachers, however many teachers do no feel comfortable using technology in the classroom. I challenge these teachers to A) Dust your classroom then B) Start exploring one step at a time! What’s the worst that can happen? Limited training has not hindered my ability to research, connect and learn what tools may assist my students – thanks to technology! Technology itself can allow teachers to find the answers to many questions and problems that we encounter in our daily practice. As teachers we need to be willing to grow and change with the fast paced technological world we live in.

“Students are More Interested in Snap-Chat than Learning..”
But Does It Have To Be This Way?

The distractions of Snap-chat, Instagram, Facebook, and you name it, are not disappearing anytime soon. Even as an adult, dare I say I too get distracted by these tools from time to time during my “homework”?  Even without technology, there will always be students who are distracted by a simple paper clip and an eraser – trust me! This is a reality for teachers and students alike, which poses a problem in many classrooms.

Although I’m all for using tech in the classroom, I also recognize the problems many teachers face with accessibility (including limited funding and training), battling those darn internet connections, overcoming the struggle of limited servers and limiting student distractions all at the same time. Personally, I think all teachers need to assess their use of tech and question whether or not the way they use technology in the classroom is a productive tool for learning. I believe teachers need to become comfortable to take risks and step outside of their comfort zone (an on-going theme for me this year) when it comes to using technology in order to work towards the redefinition stages of the SAMR model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition) and use tech in more meaningful ways. Where are you on the SAMR model?  Consider the possibilities if what students were doing in the classroom was MORE interesting than snap-chat or Facebook? How can we make that happen?

But what does the SAMR model really look like in the classroom?   I recommend checking out these 8 Examples of Transforming Lessons Through the SAMR Cycle to better understand how lessons and assessment can be transformed through the stages from substitution to the goal of redefinition.

Deal With Distractions
One of the largest arguments against the use of tech in classrooms is the increased distraction during learning. Technology is not going anywhere so let’s teach our students how their devices can be a powerful learning tool. Technology can be a powerful tool if used in the right way and we need to inspire our students by showing them what can be possible when they choose to steer themselves in the direction towards success. Instead of being Negative Ned’s and ban technology from the classroom, try exploring ways to deal with digital distractions in class. As the article 7 Ways to Deal with Digital Distractions by Leah Levy suggests, “Teach students accountability and peer pressure around good use”. When students are disengaged, I question whether I have done a good enough job modelling the right things and are why is it that my students are not truly engaged in the task?  How can I redesign the task to create more student interest and ownership over their own learning?

My favorite of Levy’s suggestions is to “Use their unique distraction styles to spark learning“.  Levy poses the question “Is there a way to embrace that unique and attractive distraction to create a learning opportunity? An avid texter, for example, might be invited to write an entire story via text, while gamers could create a script for their very own game. Both of these kinds of projects are creative and will necessitate logical organization and development in their own right; however, perhaps more importantly, for reluctant writers, they can be used as a “bridge” exercise. That is, an exercise that engages them intuitively while allowing you as the teacher to impart fundamental lessons about argument and thesis construction, character development, descriptive writing, dialogue, and so forth. This can then be translated in a follow-up exercise into more traditional essay and fictional writing that a student will be required to master for the Common Core and other standards.” The potential for distractions are always present but there are many helpful suggestions out there to help tackle these challenges head on and luckily the technology to find the answers!

 

But what do the students themselves think about all of this anyway?
 Check out the student perspective here!

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One thought on “Does Technology Really Enhance Learning?

  1. Erin Benjamin

    I love the final statement in your first video…”it’s your job to keep up with me”. I think that’s our challenge in terms of tech integration. We must keep up with our students ever changing needs. If we aren’t keeping up with this generation of “digital natives” how do we imagine to meet the needs of the following generation? Great post Tayler!

    Like

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