Analysis of: Case 5 – Learning Environment 4 with Teacher S (Elementary Space Science); Case 6 – Learning Environment 5 with Teacher C (Middle School Life Science); Case 8 – Learning Environment 7 with Teacher E (Science, Elementary Preservice Teacher Education).
I was most interested in the elementary and middle school cases, as they most closely related to my current teaching position (grade 4/5 split class). I found watching the videos interesting, especially from the perspectives of educators at various stages of their careers. I found that I could connect to many of the points discussed, both for and against technology, as I believe (increasingly) in the important role digital technology plays in our classrooms, but I also have tended to shy away from using technology much in the past because I felt that students were receiving enough “screen time” (yes, I generalized and assumed screen time was screen time), and for many of the reasons that were given in the videos (i.e., time constraints, feeling ill-equipped, and so on).
I found there were many significant similarities and important educational threads linking the three videos. To begin, and probably most importantly, teachers and students alike all appeared to agree that the integration of digital technology into the classroom enhanced engagement and meaningful learning experiences. In addition to being interested by the ability to use digital technology, students were cognisant of the fact that they were “publishing” their work for others to see, which meant fact accuracy and effort were both increasingly important. Along with this, was the fact that digital technology, in all examples presented, meant that students were developing collaboration skills as they worked in a “team” environment with peers to complete group projects, rather than simply working independently. When we consider the diverse learners in our classrooms, the videos also demonstrated how digital technologies helped to create an inclusive environment for all students. For example, Case 8 discussed the support digital technology provided for visual learners, and in Case 5 and Case 8, the importance of learning and/or presenting knowledge for English language learners was addressed. More specifically, in Case 5, “Teacher S” addressed the fact that with digital technology, students who could understand concepts but were prevented from sharing their knowledge due to language barriers were able to demonstrate their understanding in ways other than written language, providing all learners with an equal playing field. The integration of technology also allowed for teaching diversity in terms of integration of subjects. While in Case 6 and Case 8, students focused on a science-based task, students in Case 5 incorporated language arts, science, math and fine arts into their projects.
I found there was a significant difference in the comfort and enthusiasm of teachers, even new teachers, in relation to integrating digital technology into the classroom. The new teacher in Case 5, who had been enrolled in a teacher-education program without much focus on technology, felt it would have been helpful to have more training during her education program. As a result of this, she shared that while she would like to incorporate more digital technology into her classroom, she found it difficult to do due to time constraints as well as feeling ill-equipped. While all teachers felt that options were available, some, both retiring and new, felt that there was not time to apply skills learned in workshops, and so they were forgotten (Case 5). In addition to this, the retiring teacher admitted that she found digital technology “extremely frustrating” due to the lack of understanding and time. While there were other teachers within the building who could act as mentors, there were concerns of relying too much on another teacher as they all had busy lives and other teachers were busy teaching their own classes as well. While teachers vary widely in their teaching styles, I feel that there is a relatively great divide today between teachers who are comfortable with their ability to incorporate technology and those who are not, as was evident in the interviews presented.
Two of the teachers (Case 5 and Case 6) both alluded to the fact that much of the digital technology they use was learned on their own or from their students. I found this interesting because I think it highlights that for some people, incorporating digital technologies into the classroom comes more naturally as it is already an interest or area they feel confident enough to explore on their own. As more educators begin to feel comfortable exploring new technologies independently, the amount of digital technology used in the classroom will increase. Waiting for workshops is a way to engage with new technologies in a more comfortable learning environment, but as digital technology develops so rapidly today, attending a workshop every six months will no longer keep educators up-to-date with current educational technologies.
I found the points given by the teacher education professor (Case 8) summed up two important points for me regarding the “good” use of digital technology in the math and science classrooms. “Teacher E” discussed the fact that digital technology should not be treated as a stand-alone subject area, but must instead be integrated into our classrooms. In addition to this, digital technologies should be used only when they are enhancing students’ learning. “Teacher E” pointed out that if a student can learn just as well from a book, then perhaps we should simply allow them to read the book. However, if learning can be enhanced by using digital technology, then we must be prepared to use digital technology. This was an important point for me because it emphasized the fact that we do not have to try to integrate digital technology into all aspects of our classroom. Sometimes, more traditional methods continue to work quite well, but it is up to us as educators to be able to identify and understand the difference. Finally, “Teacher C” (Case 6) highlighted the fact that while his students had prior knowledge in emailing, social media, and games, they had limited knowledge of how to use digital technology to help them learn subjects in science. I believe this is one last important “take away” point because it reminds us as educators that while students may appear to understand technology, they often still need adult guidance to teach them how to use technology effectively to support their educations.