in Manitoba, Canada Schools
a new free book by
Mike Nantais and Reynold Redekopp
Guest IAE Blog
University of Manitoba
Many Manitoba teachers are using technology in a cutting-edge fashion, and we don’t always need to look far to find them! This is the conclusion reached by my colleague, Mike Nantais, and I in our new free book, Education and Technology: Manitoba Action and Reflection (Nantais & Redekopp, 2016).
This book highlights some of those extraordinary applications of digital technology for learning in the hope it will inspire others to see that powerful learning, enhanced by what digital technology offers, can take place and that opportunities can arise by the thoughtful use of technology. Or, perhaps it will inspire still others to share what they are doing in their classrooms and schools.
So, what do we conclude from all this book’s amazing stories of Manitoba teachers using exemplary educational technology? It might be that there is no single way to use technology effectively. So much depends on attitude, experience, support, and the actual technology available. We moved from games to GAfE (Google Applications for Education, now called G Suite for Education), blogs to songs, robots to humans, K to 12 and beyond, cities to rural, and from Manitoba to around the world. Each contributor found ways to use technology effectively in their unique situation. We saw students creating, communicating, collaborating (and other C’s) and generally moving toward becoming responsible, caring, and sharing digital citizens, and we were challenged to think about expanding our definition of literacy and what digital citizenship should look like.
An overriding theme is how the notion of control seems to shift when students are empowered to use technology to accomplish goals they think are worthy. Students gain a sense of independence and the thrill of being part of something bigger than they are. Teachers experience the thrill of students doing the unexpected, reaching out, contributing where they had been reluctant, going above and beyond, and sharing their inspirations in remarkable ways. We need to accept that in some areas of technology, students will know more than the teacher, and teachers should take advantage of this dynamic, not hide from it. Rather than avoiding it, it’s important to find the pedagogy in this new dynamic relationship.
Most of what you will read in the ebook challenges commonly held ideas of assessment. Devin King suggests that student reflection is a critical piece and that while there may not be specific curricular outcomes for some of what students are doing, there is value in the process—and this may be hard to measure or report. Jessica Lister writes about how students find different ways to express their learning and find success. Phil Taylor talks about how the technology makes some assessment easier and definitely helps with organization. Leah and Devon’s students did a project that involved specific curricular outcomes, but the learning that was done has more of a ‘gestalt’ feel to it, and doesn’t measure well on formal assessments. And, we see example after example like these in their writings. But again, it is not the technology creating this; it is teachers taking advantage of the technology to create exciting learning opportunities.
At a 2015 board meeting of the ManACE (Manitoba Association for Computing Educators), we had a discussion about the most effective uses of technology in education. We were a pretty diverse group of tech educators around the table but the consensus seemed to be that it was all about communication, communication, communication. The chapters in this book support this notion, each in its own way.
- Communicating with other classrooms around the world, with virtual guest speakers, or with social media to have conversations with experts, authors, and politicians. (see chapters 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 15)
- Communicating with the local community. Classrooms reaching out and a better-informed community. (see chapters 1, 4, 6, 10, 11)
- Communicating with a real audience. Students can now choose to have their work viewed by more than just the teacher. They can create for a larger audience and feel the excitement of products that can go beyond the view of teacher and school. (see chapters 3, 5, 7, 9, 10)
- Communicating within the classroom. Classroom ‘discussions’ can now include everyone—even those who are reluctant to speak out loud. We have many, many thoughtful students who don’t like to speak publicly. Technology can help them express themselves. (see chapters 1, 3, 5, 12)
These are good ideas and a good start. While we are excited about the direction technology learning is taking, we are also cognizant that there is an inevitable cost associated with the use of technology—not the dollars and cents—but the inevitable gains and losses inherent in adopting certain technologies and their embedded ways of thinking.
Technology does not refer simply to the devices we use, but to the way of thinking that is buried deep in the product itself. While we may use some of the devices in creative ways, the underlying process of technology represents a way of thinking. The closest we come to understanding this might be to consider how much we have invested our thinking in the scientific method. It is so embedded that it is almost unfathomable that we would question this process, even when we can see that the process often leads to short-term success and long term disaster. Technology is predicated on efficiency, short-term solutions, linear/procedural thinking, and breaking problems into smaller parts that can be ‘solved’ and tested, and somehow the ‘whole’ is never put back together. Technology does not deal with the long-term. But we just accept and believe in it and adamantly defend it.
The other big question to ponder is who benefits the most? The stories we have in this volume describe the amazing, creative ways that amazing teachers have used technology to benefit their students, classrooms, and communities. There are clear advantages revealed in these chapters. In the larger scheme of things however, we probably are forced to admit that governments, militaries, organized crime, and large corporations derive the most benefit from technological growth; yet there are still some terrific trickle-down effects to consumers. But current news reports seem to indicate that trickle-down economics have only made the rich richer and increased the gap between the very rich and the vast majority of people. Is this the way we want our technologies to go?
These questions shouldn’t inhibit our use of technology but they should be on our minds, and on the minds of our students. They can perhaps become part of our classroom research and political discussion. While we need to consider many of these bigger issues of using our devices in education, we must still find optimal ways to use the technology with our students, and the authors in this book have shown us many ways of doing so.
These are big issues that we all need to ponder, but they shouldn’t immobilize us from action, from finding good ways to use our technology in education. Now, especially for those who are relatively new to technology use in the classroom, it is critical to recognize that all of these writers began somewhere. They did not become fully ‘infused’ technology-using teachers overnight. They started small and tried an idea and then built on their successes and failures. They learned from the process and from their students. If you are new to using technology in your classroom, take heart from their examples and perhaps find one way in which technology can create better learning or better expression of learning. We can all learn from the writers you find here. If you are already a technology-using educator, then grab an idea from this book and run with it. Keep on learning and keep on improving your teaching craft.
Reference and Resources
Google (2017). Google applications for education. Retrieved 10/20/2017 from https://edu.google.com/k-12-soluti and Resourcesons/g-suite/?modal_active=none.
Nantais, M., & Redekopp, R., eds. (2016). Education and technology: Manitoba action and reflection. Download PDF file from www.manace.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Education-and-Technology-Manitoba-Action-and-Reflection.pdf.