What is the End Game?

I have always considered myself to be an individual who is constantly looking for ways to leverage technology to improve student learning. I still do, it’s just I find myself asking a lot more questions these days. Whether it is reading about the massive potential within the EdTech market or the near daily concerns around student data and privacy . I find myself asking more questions and being more critical of the choices we (I include myself here) make when introducing and using technology with our students. Gary Stager talks about how technology grants agency to either the student, the teacher or the system. This post has had a profound impact on my practice. I find myself constantly questioning the tool I am introducing and why I am introducing it. It is through this lens that I have become increasingly uncomfortable with what is being offered.

From here on out, please consider this post just thinking out loud, I simply have the time to reflect and this is the space that I have chosen in the hopes of generating a conversation. As always I welcome any push back.

I continually question the value programs such as reading or math programs and a host of others provided within a school. I do not question that these tools can be a resource, I just wonder whether schools should be investing in these tools as an instructional tool. What message as teachers are we communicating when we have students sit in front of a computer and work through a set of problems, all in the name of personalized learning? If we use instructional time to sit kids in front of computers instead of a teacher, what is the end game here? Likely questioning the value a teacher provides and whether spending money on computers instead of teachers is more economical. I would encourage you to read Phil McRae’s piece on the history of teaching machines.

I struggle, I really do. I struggle because I see technologies that simply replicate practices of learning where “I tell you something and you learn it”. I struggle because personalization has become a buzzword associated with EdTech instead of focusing on the key components of authentic experience and student agency. I wonder aloud whether we are reinforcing practices that fail to improve learning, and lessen the value of a teacher. What technologies do we use with students that provide agency to the learner and not simply provide teachers with an easier way to assess or document learning? Does the system restrict/dictate tools that constrain us from serving the best interests of our students? How much are we willing to give up (money, privacy, control, etc…) in the name of learning?

I worry that as companies set their sights on education through free offerings, collection of data and expensive solutions that we are both not serving the interests of our students or appreciating the value teacher’s bring.

To close, I have to say that I believe that technology in learning is absolutely critical. I believe that students should be making/creating with technology through things like coding and design. It should be leveraged to connect learners with others in authentic learning experiences. I also think that technology can facilitate greater student agency. A blog or even better a domain of one’s own where they dictate what is there and what is shared is one such example. Ultimately, I think we are at a fork in the road, we either accept that technology can more effectively and efficiently teach students or we can leverage technologies to have students create knowledge, engage in real problems and challenge our own understandings of what is possible.


Remembering Joe

I have sat and read the various tributes to Joe Bower over the past couple days and have wondered whether I had anything to say that has not already been said. I am not too sure if I have any new insight, but I do know that I want to share how Joe influenced me and what I learned from him over the years.

My first introduction to Joe was through Twitter, he seemed to have every second post on the #abed (Alberta Education) thread, where he spoke passionately and persuasively around his ideas on assessment along with commenting on the politics of education in this province. He seemed fearless, he took on ministers, journalists, other educators and engaged in the most difficult of conversations while maintaining professionalism, principle and humour. It was this exposure in my early days on Twitter that helped me find my voice in the medium and slowly shift from lurker to someone who shares to someone who engaged in the occasional debate.

I first met Joe at EdCamp YYC in 2013, I remember him being one of the first registrants after @paulgenge reached out to him. He helped get the message out to others and was a big part in the success of the event. In the years that followed, Joe would be a regular at EdCamp YYC, with him facilitating the most popular session discussing assessment practices and moving away from grades. I remember mentioning to him at the pub after last year’s event, that it was great his school was able to free him up to come down. He replied that he was not provided time, but used a personal day. That really epitomizes the kind of guy Joe was to me. He was willing to give up a precious personal day to drive 90 minutes and share his experience with others. There was nothing in it for him, no stipend, no travel costs covered, but he saw the importance of collaboration and sharing with others.

It is clear that Joe has had a profound impact not only in Alberta, but globally and the thoughts I have shared here have been shared by many. He was incredibly down to earth and despite his strong opinions there was never a sense of ego.  His contributions are large and he will be missed, I will especially miss the chance to catch up with him at EdCamp YYC this year, but I believe his leadership and willingness to share over the years will live on as we all consider what is best for students.