To Use Technology or Not to Use Technology: It’s Not Even a Question

Computer Hard Drive Half-Full

Today I will be reflecting on Wendy Donawa’s and Leah C. Fowler’s “The YA Reader in the Digital Age” from their book Reading Canada. This chapter focuses on using technology in ELA classrooms. Donawa and Fowler (2013) state that “technology ought to be a seamless, integral part of what [teachers use] in the classrooms, especially in literature classes. Students and teachers want and need a connected classroom” (p. 188). This quote fits perfectly with my reason for becoming a teacher: my purpose is to help students realize their potential, uncover their unknown and known interests, and gain the confidence needed to share their knowledge and perspectives with others (both face-to-face and online). In my opinion, the purpose of learning is connection; we learn to share, we share to learn. Technology is a tool that teachers can and should utilize to get students engaged with collaborative learning. Furthermore, the use of technology improves “students’ interest, engagement, learning and success with Canadian [and other] literature” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 190). This is how I view technology in my classroom. I believe all methods of instruction need to be utilized and would suggest that the only wrong strategy is an over-used strategy. Technology – although I will have to step back and explicitly teach certain programs – is not the lesson but the tool. Donawa and Fowler (2013) suggest that “mastering digital tools and technology is not the goal of instruction, but if they are well integrated for reading, research, and analysis of literature, they motivate, engage, and support learners” (p. 179). Appropriate use of technology is vital, as our directive is to implement the Saskatchewan Curriculum. Therefore, technology is a tool in accomplishing that goal. Donawa and Fowler (2013) note that “technology needs to be relevant to the objectives, topics, and assignments; it should be high quality, fast, accessible, glitch-free, focused, and specific. Classroom sites or web-based instruction platforms can be marvelous resources for teachers’ tailor-made assignments and activities that enhance learning key principles. Teachers and students support success when they co-create relevant resources and links that connect for learning” (p. 188). Some of the platforms – albeit, not always glitch-free or accessible to all – that can be used are:

Teacher Resources Student Resources Both
Teachers Pay Teachers

Twitter (ex. #edtech; #edchat)

Youtube Youtube
Teaching Channel Prezi EBooks
Edutopia Blackboard
Facebook (ex. Sask. Teachers’ pages) WebCT
Pinterest

Upworthy

TedTalks (Ed)

Class Wiki or Blog (ex. kgorhamblog@wordpress.com; kidblog)
 Google Docs Moodle

I believe that adding technology into our repertoire does not discredit or ignore previous methods or disrupt a sound ELA curriculum. Through the use of technology in the classroom, students can develop “inquiry strategies… receptive and expressive literary skills, and form meaningful online relationships and participate in reading communities” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 179) and still work “on classic literary strategies: phonemic awareness, oral language development, spelling, vocabulary, writing, comprehension, and fluency” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 193) through online exploration. We are not replacing the old with the new but shifting from individual classroom studies to global knowledge sharing communities; “the impact of the digital world and on readers and reading, and on literature production, has been profound” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 179). Donawa and Fowler (2013) note that “we have come to expect an unlimited choice of information and communication as a norm and a right” (p. 180); technology is not going away and it is time to embrace it in our ELA classrooms.

Computer Hard Drive Half Empty

With the positives always comes the negative. Although I do believe technology is something we must incorporate, there are definitely some cons. One of my biggest issues with technology is the overload! I often feel bogged down; I can never keep up to all the information that comes my way and I am sure students feel the same. As an educator with endless amounts of great resources and new information each day, it is hard to pick what to study. We need to help students – who are coming of age and figuring themselves out – navigate through a vast amount of sources and engage with positive choices.  Donawa and Folwer (2013) note that this can be done through instructional scaffolding (p. 191). But this is harder than it sounds, especially when you can find anything to back up your opinion. I often wonder how we can determine if anything is credible? Are we not more incline to believe that an article that supports our preexisting belief is more credible than something that challenges our ideas? Technology is a great example of this: take for instance the many pro. technology articles on edutopia or #edtech on Twitter versus John Lornic’s work or Fusion New’s “This is what it’s like to be one of the 75 million Americans living without Internet access:”

(Note: John Lornic (2007) suggested that “multi-tasking, although inseparable from pervasive electronic distraction, is a phrase initially used to describe the capabilities of a the computer, not the human brain” and that “the sheer glut of data itself has supplanted the kind of focused reflective attention that might make this information useful in the first place (p. 50; 59)).  Even Donawa and Fowler, who are promoting the use of technology in ELA classrooms, suggest that “the generous support of information technology and competency-based learning may well be the prudent fostering of a future workforce, but it is generally accompanied by diminished support for art, music, literature, and liberal education” and furthermore, “ceaseless electronic demands… replace human interaction or inner contemplative and cognitive activity” (2013, p. 180). How do we pick what to focus our attention on and what to believe? And how do we teach this to students when we are figure it out ourselves?

Another issue I have with technology is the lack of access. Donawa and Fowler note that “Canadian students have a media-textual world at their fingertips through home, school, or public library computers” (2013, p. 189) and although this is true for most, over 75 million Americans are without technology access (see above video). This creates a socio-economic divide and also disproves the misconception (see page 191 in Reading Canada) that students are “digitally competent and able.” Many students need explicit instruction and just as learners are ready to learn at different paces, their ability to access technology is diverse. I want to flip my classroom one day but what if I had students who did not have access to technology? Could I do it? What could I do to assist those students and even the playing field?

Searching for Files

In the end, I will utilize technology in my classroom because the pros outweigh the cons and it is not an option. It is here to stay and it is a mode of teaching that works. Not only that, but it is ingrained in our lives; it seemed like I was helpless on my trip to Minot when I had to shut off my data and couldn’t consult Google Maps or Goolge whenever I wished. Technology is part of us and the theoretical framework of an ELA classroom can be met through the use of technology. For instance, technology fosters inquiry-based learning (answering self-directed, real questions), and constructivism (“learning is a socially mediated process, where learners are actively and relationally involved in a process of meaning-making and knowledge production” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 191). By utilizing technology students get “choice, pace, and control over their work” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 193). Technology fosters motivation, responsibility, independence, interaction, engagement, critical thinking, exploration, and reflection. Our learners may be all over the map with technology but as teachers it is our job to start with the zone of proximal development and expand their horizons, albeit at their own pace. Furthermore and most importantly, technology = digital citizenship = citizenship.

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Lord of the Flies Unit Plan B30

Types of Curriculum

Type of Curriculum Definition
1. Overt, explicit, or written curriculum Is simply that which is written as part of formal instruction of schooling experiences. It may refer to a curriculum document, texts, films, and supportive teaching materials that are overtly chosen to support the intentional instructional agenda of a school. Thus, the overt curriculum is usually confined to those written understandings and directions formally designated and reviewed by administrators, curriculum directors and teachers, often collectively.

 

2. Societal curriculum As defined by Cortes (1981). Cortes defines this curriculum as:

…[the] massive, ongoing, informal curriculum of family, peer groups, neighborhoods, churches organizations, occupations, mass, media and other socializing forces that “educate” all of us throughout our lives. 24

3. The hidden or covert curriculum That which is implied by the very structure and nature of schools, much of what revolves around daily or established routines.

 

Longstreet and Shane (1993) offer a commonly accepted definition for this term.

. . . the “hidden curriculum,” which refers to the kinds of learnings children derive from the very nature and organizational design of the public school, as well as from the behaviors and attitudes of teachers and administrators…. ” 46

Examples of the hidden curriculum might include the messages and lessons derived from the mere organization of schools — the emphasis on: sequential room arrangements; the cellular, timed segments of formal instruction; an annual schedule that is still arranged to accommodate an agrarian age; disciplined messages where concentration equates to student behaviors were they  are sitting up straight and are continually quiet; students getting in and standing in line silently; students quietly raising their hands to be called on; the endless competition for grades, and so on. The hidden curriculum may include both positive or negative messages, depending on the models provided and the  perspectives of the learner or the observer.

 

In what I term floating quotes, popularized quotes that have no direct, cited sources, David P. Gardner is reported to have said: We learn simply by the exposure of living. Much that passes for education is not education at all but ritual. The fact is that we are being educated when we know it least.

4. The null curriculum That which we do not teach, thus giving students the message that these elements are not important in their educational experiences or in our society. Eisner offers some major points as he concludes his discussion of the null curriculum.

The major point I have been trying to make thus far is that schools have consequences not only by virtue of what they do not teach, but also by virtue of what they neglect to teach. What students cannot consider, what they don’t processes they are unable to use, have consequences for the kinds of lives they lead. 103

 

Eisner (1985, 1994) first described and defined aspects of this curriculum. He states:

There is something of a paradox involved in writing about a curriculum that does not exist. Yet, if we are concerned with the consequences of school programs and the role of curriculum in shaping those consequences, then it seems to me that we are well advised to consider not only the explicit and implicit curricula of schools but also what schools do not teach. It is my thesis that what schools do not teach may be as important as what they do teach. I argue this position because ignorance is not simply a neutral void; it has important effects on the kinds of options one is able to consider, the alternatives that one can examine, and the perspectives from which one can view a situation or problems. …97

 

From Eisner’s perspective the null curriculum is simply that which is not taught in schools. Somehow, somewhere, some people are empowered to make conscious decisions as to what is to be included and what is to be excluded from the overt (written) curriculum. Since it is physically impossible to teach everything in schools, many topics and subject areas must be intentionally excluded from the written curriculum. But Eisner’s position on the “null curriculum” is that when certain subjects or topics are left out of the overt curriculum, school personnel are sending messages to students that certain content and processes are not important enough to study.

 

Unfortunately, without some level of awareness that there is also a well-defined implicit agenda in schools, school personnel send this same type of message via the hidden curriculum.

5. Phantom curriculum The messages prevalent in and through exposure to any type of media. These components and messages play a major part in the enculturation of students into the predominant meta-culture, or in acculturating students into narrower or generational subcultures.
6. Concomitant curriculum What is taught, or emphasized at home, or those experiences that are part of a family’s experiences, or related experiences sanctioned by the family. (This type of curriculum may be received at church, in the context of religious expression, lessons on values, ethics or morals, molded behaviors, or social experiences based on the family’s preferences.)
7. Rhetorical curriculum Elements from the rhetorical curriculum are comprised from ideas offered by policymakers, school officials, administrators, or politicians. This curriculum may also come from those professionals involved in concept formation and content changes; or from those educational initiatives resulting from decisions based on national and state reports, public speeches, or from texts critiquing outdated educational practices. The rhetorical curriculum may also come from the publicized works offering updates in pedagogical knowledge.
8. Curriculum-in-use The formal curriculum (written or overt) comprises those things in textbooks, and content and concepts in the district curriculum guides. However, those “formal” elements are frequently not taught. The curriculum-in-use is the actual curriculum that is delivered and presented by each teacher.
9. Received curriculum Those things that students actually take out of classroom; those concepts and content that are truly learned and remembered.
10. The internal curriculum Processes, content, knowledge combined with the experiences and realities of the learner to create new knowledge. While educators should be aware of this curriculum, they have little control over the internal curriculum since it is unique to each student.
11. The electronic curriculum Those lessons learned through searching the Internet for information, or through using e-forms of communication. (Wilson, 2004)

 

This type of curriculum may be either formal or informal, and inherent lessons may be overt or covert, good or bad, correct or incorrect depending on ones’ views. Students who use the Internet on a regular basis, both for recreational purposes (as in blogs, wikis, chatrooms, listserves, through instant messenger, on-line conversations, or through personal e-mails and sites like Facebook, My Space, Youtube) and from personal online research and information are bombarded with all types of media and messages. Much of this information may be factually correct, informative, or even entertaining or inspirational, but other information may be very incorrect, dated, passé, biased, perverse, or even manipulative.

 

The implications of the electronic curriculum for educational practices are that part of the overt curriculum needs to include lessons on how to be wise consumers of information, how to critically appraise the accuracy and correctness of e-information, as well as the reliability of electronic sources. Also, students need to learn how to be artfully discerning about the usefulness and appropriateness of certain types of information. And, like other forms of social interaction, students need to know that there are inherent lessons to be learned about appropriate and acceptable “netiquette”  and online behavior, to include the differences between “fair usage” and plagiarism.

Table from: http://www4.uwsp.edu/education/lwilson/curric/curtyp.htm

Types of Curriculum

It is easy to see how commonsense influences our curriculum.

The written /mandated curriculum is obviously influenced by commonsense.  Those in power decide  what knowledge is important and what should be taught. Keeping in mind that not everyone would share the same ideas, the written curriculum can offer one singular view of what commonsense is.  For example, only one worldview is often expressed due to limited resources. The written curriculum is oppressive or exclusive to some people.  The written curriculum shows us what we should teach.

The hidden curriculum (what students learn but isn’t part of the formal curriculum) contains commonsense elements.  The first thing that comes to my mind as a future inclusive educator is segregation! What are we teaching students if we segregate those with different learning needs? Students will learn that those students are different or do not belong and soon enough it becomes a common/shared idea.  Once exclusive ideas are formed they are almost impossible to change.  Actions are more powerful than words.

Curriculum as a place can involve the commonsense of a specific community, culture, religion, etc. This shows that there is not one commonsense idea and that it changes from place to place.

Furthermore, the null curriculum (what we leave out or do not focus on) shapes what kids believe should happen or is important.  For example, I am telling my students that race doesn’t matter if I never teach them about it, whether I believe that to be true or not.

Since we are surrounded by commonsense ideas everyday, it does not surprise me that or class definition about curriculum largely reflects a commonsense view. As future teachers, we have the power to reshape ideas of commonsense through our words, but more importantly, through our actions. We need to consider who our resources favor, how our actions may exclude a group or person and the message we are sending our students when we don’t teach something.  If we think about those things and critically look at our teaching we will be able to offer an education for our students that goes past the basic status quo.