The videos and audio recordings presented in the Unit 4 - Division Level section were a nice change from the traditional readings, as I really seem to engage with visual and auditory presentation of information. The information presented really offered me a much better view of where embracing technology in a school or division could ultimately lead, as I have been frustrated for years with technology’s increased use as a distraction and change for the sake of change without developing better learning outcomes in schools and in the classroom. I have found that much of what has been offered as technological advancement in the classroom or school has been at the substitution or augmentation level as discussed in the SAMR levels video of using technology. We have substituted hand-written worksheets and essays with power-points and google docs, replaced calendars and agendas with text messages and google classroom, but ultimately very little has actually changed in using the technology for deeper learning in the realm of the digital and real world. Our lives are a little bit easier and more organized in and out of the classroom but that has come at the cost having an infinite number of distractions with screens and no real deeper learning in many courses. This causes me to really reflect on my use of technology in my practice and how I can help students to modify or re-create learning opportunities. I have been as guilty as most teachers of just randomly inserting technology into assignments whether that was really necessary or not; using technology as a learning outcome instead of a tool. It does build technological literacy but that is generally a skill many students already have and so we are just “preaching to the converted.”
I also felt that it was a very strong statement by Bart Cote that he just assists teachers to develop this meaningful use of technology in the schools and then assist these innovative teachers to share their success and challenges with other teachers in the division. This is a very good example of distributive leadership, which I think is a very effective method of promoting positive change. There is no one right answer or technology and no individual with all the answers, but in empowering all educators to try new ideas around digital learning and then having them help others with what they have had success with, then a natural evolution of excellent integration of technology through a school and division seems quite possible.
In looking at the online classes and programs Sun-West has developed, it seems like a long overdue offering that they seem to be doing very outstanding job of. I have been disappointed that there seems to be little access to online classes for many students in unique or challenging situations, may mental-health or at-risk youth could really benefit from being able to work on online credits without the current hurdles of becoming a home based learner. I am still not quite sure how Sun-West fills this gap for the learners in our building as each class costs $500 and does not utilize the professional staff surrounding them. It would seem that each school or division would need their own version of these online classes to make them ultimately useful to students in Regina, or Saskatchewan. It would make the most sense to me if the Ministry of Education, as they were developing each curriculum, would invest in developing an online version of the course to be offered to any provincial student assisted by school staff or designated web teachers. If that was not feasible, then each division could task leaders or compensate teachers to develop and implement these courses to any student in the division. It is a wonderful idea, but not very accessible to many of the learners who would benefit or ultimately be able to graduate by earning credits through online classes. My greatest of compliments to the Sun-West School Division for leading the charge, I hope it truly encourages more divisions or the province to follow suit.
I am choosing to use Image 2 from Couros, G. (2015). The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity as starting point in looking at EdTech leadership issues at the Division level. I chose this image as I feel the 8 levels of “Things to look for in Today’s Classroom” are very relevant to the appropriate use of technology and development of meaningful courses within a division for students, but the same 8 concepts could be used without technology, as well. I believe using the eight concepts as a guide for developing better learning outcomes will really help direct use of technology to a more transformative level of the SAMR model in the classroom. If one was to just answer questions from a provided PDF reading on Google docs there may be some small amounts of connected learning but this would be very different than have students develop a media presentation from an alternate perspective that could be shared with their classmates and then reflected upon and discussed online (ie. create two fictional news presentations about electric cars, each from a perspective that they are good, or that they are bad. Reflect on each perspective and have a friendly debate with your classmates on a forum about leaving behind fossil fuels.) If, as a division, we focus on the depth of the learning available instead of just using technology as a means to an end, then we can really develop learner-focused classrooms and schools, with or without technology. It seems like Bart Cote, of the Regina Catholic System, really is doing a very good job of making positive integration of technology in schools a high priority, educating staff and providing initiative for distributed leadership to create a division focus on “pedagogy first and technology second.”
One last point, I think it is very important to make students “critical-thinkers” and use their “self-assessment” in regards to using technology and the information it provides. This is the main goal of my major project in developing responsible use of hand-held devices in the classroom. Students need to learn self-control and be aware of the downsides of technology despite the same infinite potential technology provides for learning opportunities. These opportunities can even be customized to each individual, their interest and aspirations. As Adam Alter shows in his TedTalk about “Why our screens make us less happy.” we can use technology for education, relaxation, health or exercise and become more happy or we can use phones for social networking, gaming, entertainment or web-browsing and ultimately become less happy. I believe it is important for a school division to really educate all staff and students about the potential for technological integration in the classroom but also the potential for technology to have very little benefit and become no more than a distraction for many.