Friday, 9 September 2011

First Post: ... aka Spamming the Blogsphere

While reading through my course outline for 8Y59 I noticed:  "First Post: Why did you take this optional course? What is your view of technology in education?"   So without further ado ... welcome to my first post.

 Well, I'd like to say that I took this course solely for my future students' benefit since I recognize that effective use of the available technological tools will be of significant assistance in their learning.  I can keep them more engaged with a few "wow, how did he do that" moments.  I'll be able to maximize the use of class time by offering them the means to experience auditory, visual and tactile learning along with additional resources for more enthusiastic students.  Unfortunately, the valid shouts of my altruistic self are being overwhelmed by ...

My selfish side.  What can I say ... I like to play with toys.  The first time I saw a smart board and actually got a chance to work with it, I recall my inner geek screaming "this is ... like ... the coolest thing ever."  I'd like to say that I'll bring overwhelming enthusiasm to every course that I'm asked to teach.  Oh yeah ... I just can't wait to be trying to find a less rote-memory way to teach biological chemical processes ... and um, lets delve deeply into what the symbolism behind that black flower in (what was that book we were reading anyways).  Yes, I recognize that I won't be won't always be screaming Latin phrases at the top of my lungs within an ancient history class.  Nor will I always find the opportunity to show people the beauty of the bell-curve, or the fun of probability.  But with the use of technology within the class, every so often my inner child will overwhelm my feelings on the material and remind me that it's play time, and play time can be nothing but fun.

My selfish side also reminds me that there are a whole lot of us out there looking for jobs.  A whole bunch of well-qualified, well-trained, enthusiastic people looking for a limited number of positions.  Yes, as a mature student, I'm going to be noticed among the group by virtue of my greying hair.  I just want to make sure that I have a more tangible and skill-related difference than others to offer when it comes to the hiring time.  Being noticed is nice, but following that up with a rare skill to highlight on my resume will be critical.  I want a full-time job sooner than later, and courses such as this will help push my CV to the top of the pile.

With regards to technology in the classroom, it's a double edged sword.  As long as it remains a tool, it is an invaluable resource.  Provide a class with PowerPoint slides ahead of time, and they have the ability to consider the material ahead of time and develop questions that will afford them a deeper and individualized understanding ... or at least ensure that they have a readily available resource to ensure that missed classes can be caught up.  Assignments can be sourced far more quickly so more time can be devoted to writing the paper than finding the material.  Finally, students can actually focus on the new material as opposed to the rote processes required to develop answers since there are tools available to do the manual work.

Unfortunately, technology quickly becomes a crutch if you don't ensure that the skills behind the tool are learned.  In addition, it's critical to ensure that along with the use of technology, the students and teachers develop a high level of adaptability.  We've all seen the "what will I do now" dance when an instructor's power point presentation didn't save properly or the smart board won't turn on.  Some teachers skate through gracefully, some fall through the ice, and some just leave the skate guards on and walk out.  Similarly, the loss of wifi due to the college strike resulted in Mohawk Students exclaiming that they couldn't get their schedules, couldn't do research for papers, and couldn't connect with their friends back home.

Overall, I'll go back to the calculator for my closing.  
1)  In the 70s, there were no calculators allowed in public school - calculations were done manually or not at all.  Today, this would seem more like trying to hide from reality than effective schooling.  
2)  In the late 80s, I wrote my first few actuarial exams with a calculator with highly advanced functionality ... there was a % key and also a 1/x.  1.07 * = * = M+ * = * = * = * MR * 1.07 ... woo hoo, my first of 3 calculations is done for my 37 year annuity and I ask myself, are we testing my knowledge of annuities or my ability to perform rote mathematics?  
3)  Finally, you walk into a high school class today and ask them to multiply 2 x 3 ... and then offer them graphing calculators.  For me, there's nothing sadder than seeing students reach for calculators when they could count fingers to get an answer faster.
Somewhere between these 3 options is the right balance.  It's unrealistic to keep the tool out of the students' hands as they will be using it outside of school and we need to mirror reality.  It's helpful to know how to complete more difficult calculations manually, but too much focus on the calculations detracts from learning.  And finally, there are times when we have to find a way to say no to technology.


  1. OK, I was only planning to comment on one post because I need to take a break, but then I went and read this one....
    I resonated so much with what you say about Balance. Sometimes I think that we get so caught up in the technology that we loose sight about what tool is really right for the job. Sometimes it is the fingers, or the paper, or the ipad, or the skype, or the facebook, or the graphing calulator...we need to get familiar with as many of these tools because diversity in learning will breed opportunities to more people. With your math background, have you had an opportunity to use a livescribe pen?

  2. Nice post Roy.

    I think that a blog like this is a great way to document your learning. Keep up the great work.

    I think you're bang on when you say that technology is a double edged sword. Certainly in math, technology can making problem solving much more accessible to students, especially those who struggle with basic number facts. Having said that it's frustrating to see students reach for a calculator to do 17 times 1 only to realize after the fact that they could have done the calculation with a bit of thought. As you say it's about balance.

    Your comments about the calculator are so true. I often use the calculator argument when I talk with teachers who are afraid to bring technology into their classes. Just as the calculator became an acceptable technology over time (does anyone calculate a square root by hand anymore?) so will the mobile devices.

  3. I just have to say it...
    I was so so annoyed that I had to buy my son (grade six) a calculator when we just bought him an iPod. But ipod isn't allowed.