This is a legacy provincial website of the ATA. Visit our new website here.

Viewpoints: Technology in class raises questions

September 9, 2014 Mark Ramsankar, ATA President

I recently had the opportunity to watch an old horror movie about werewolves. I was struck by the horror of it all as a seemingly innocent person was transformed into a hideous creature that could be stopped only by a silver bullet. Somehow this got me to thinking about the onslaught of technology in its various forms and how, in some circles, it is viewed as the silver bullet for moving education forward.

I remember a time, not that long ago, when all the teachers at my school took a one-day inservice on an amazing new communication tool that was being implemented throughout the division. We all huddled around a single computer learning the ins and outs of this amazing new technology. Email was this cutting-edge communication technology!

Email is now passé as more people communicate via wireless devices through various modes of social media and texting. How many other forms of technology have come and gone, have moved from cutting-edge to relic? This is just one example of the ever-evolving world of technology, and each of us has our own story and context when we engage in discourse regarding technology.

For many schools and parents, technology in the classroom has been a hot-button issue as the new school year gets going, specifically around the pressure parents are under to provide their children with electronic devices for use in the classroom. Bring your own device (BYOD)! Have you heard of it?

Several districts throughout the province, for example, include technology devices on school supply lists. While these devices aren’t mandatory, and districts do provide devices to students who don’t have their own, it isn’t difficult to imagine that this type of situation makes some parents feel pressured to buy technology items that they otherwise wouldn’t, to avoid having their child singled out as a have-not.

While some parents advocate a return to paper and pencil, since these worked fine for them when they were in school, I think we all know that’s not going to happen. Technology is here to stay. The fact is, at one time paper and pencils were considered cutting-edge technology. In their time, they too changed the world! To make no attempt to accept and embrace the latest technology in our education system would be a disservice to Alberta children, who need technological skills to compete on the world stage.

Teachers and students are using technology in powerful ways to enhance and augment the learning that goes on in Alberta classrooms. When used appropriately and thoughtfully, today’s technology can engage students, empower creativity and extend learning beyond the four walls of our classrooms.

The increasing role of technology in today’s classrooms, however, also comes with many challenges and questions that we should not ignore or simply dismiss.

The question of equity comes to my mind when technology appears on school supply lists. Schools and school boards need to be mindful of the cost burden that is being placed on parents and the issue of equity that arises from higher expectations being levied on parents.

Public education and equal learning opportunities must remain accessible to all students, so the system must not place barriers on learning for students whose parents can’t afford the latest and greatest device or the newest apps.

Presently, this issue has school districts doing a high-wire act, fearful of falling down on one side or the other. On one hand, they’re trying to make learning meaningful and engaging for students through means that students enjoy and understand—a commendable objective. On the other hand, they’re trying to accomplish this without supplying all the tools necessary for it! The result: a financial burden being downloaded onto parents and, in some cases, students feeling marginalized.

Think about it in this context: have we ever encouraged students to bring their own sewing machines (BYOSM) to home economics class or bring their own band saws (BYOBS) to shop class? So why now are we expecting them to bring their own electronic devices?

Whose responsibility is it to provide the tools for learning? This question is at the root of this issue, and the answer, ultimately, lies at the feet of the province. ❚

Mark Ramsankar is the president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Also In This Issue