By: Rozy Abo Mazid
Due to COVID-19, schooling has shifted from the traditional form of teaching and learning to the online form which embraces the technological side of academia. The transition between these two forms of learning has created a divide between students. Some learners are finding the increase in the usage of technology in the classroom beneficial and effective for them, while others are struggling to adapt. I sat down with Professor Catherine Giroux, a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, who is currently teaching a course titled “The Integration of Technology in Education” to discuss her opinion on the increased use of technology in the classroom. During this interview, I asked Professor Catherine a series of five questions, starting with how important she thinks it is to include technology in the classroom?
“This is a really good question and it's a tough one to answer! I think the answer has a lot to do with your personal philosophy in teaching and learning or your approach to teaching and learning. Personally, I view teaching and learning as a relational and collaborative process. In my courses, I like to focus on building relationships with my students and to encourage opportunities for students to apply their learning in collaborative ways. So, if you think about including technology in the classroom, I believe that it needs to be progressively done so that it aligns with what you intend to be teaching. Sometimes technology is the most effective way to engage your learners in a concept, but sometimes it might not be, and you are better off going outside and exploring or sticking to scientific methods and experiments. It really depends on what your learning objectives are.”
After Professor Catherine broke down why she believes that including technology relies on the philosophy of the educator, I asked her whether or not she believes that a lack of technology in the classroom can hinder a student from reaching their full potential?
“I think that schools provide access to technology and resources that students might not otherwise be able to explore. For example, it is not likely that students have “Ozobots” to learn coding at home, but that is something that they can play around with in school to see that “oh, I’m good at coding and I’d like to continue coding”. If we consider urban areas, students' access to technology and reliable internet might be very different than in rural areas. Therefore, being able to try things out in school settings kind of gives everybody a baseline of exposure to what's out there and ideas for what they can explore moving forward.”
After discussing the relationship between the presence of technology and a student's potential by providing an example of urban schooling versus rural schooling, I asked the professor if she thought that using too much technology in the classroom could potentially create a disconnect between the students and the teacher?
“I think that depends on how the technology is used, and what expectations are in place in the classroom. So, technology can certainly be a distraction for learners and on the flip side, it can also provide learners the opportunity to extend their learning in a self-directed way. As a teacher, I like to model appropriate technological behaviors to set expectations and boundaries for my students, especially in younger grade-level classes. After I have demonstrated how to use these technological features, then from there we can start implementing more extensions of self-directed learning activities. I also want to emphasize the importance of that relational teaching, kind of using technology as a springboard to learn more about your students like “oh what are your interests? What are you researching?” and ask questions and be curious more about your students.”
Due to her extensive experience in teaching both online and in-person courses, I asked Professor Catherine if she found having to teach an online course more demanding than an in-person course?
“That's a really tough question to answer just because they're so different. Within person courses, you are teaching synchronously, and everyone is in the same room at the same time. You automatically have a community feel because you can have a group discussion, but there is the expectation that everyone is partaking in the discussion at the same time. Online, on the other hand, tends to be more asynchronous. I know that we can log in and have a video conference but depending on the class and the learners in the class, it might make more sense to have the class set up so that people can log in and complete the activities whenever they are able to do so. This makes it hard to create a community in that kind of environment. Being mindful of your course design, as an instructor, you must really intentionally design your course to draw out that community feeling and also being aware of the impact of a teacher's presence in an online course. Responding to comments on the discussion board, having videos of where to find things and what to expect from a week, or that I am available to help make the learners more aware that I am there and that I am present even though it is online.”
After having a thorough discussion about this form of education, I decided to conclude the interview by asking the professor what she believes the future of education will look like? Does she believe that technology will continue to reshape the way we teach and learn?
“That's a really good question that I don't have a good answer for! Everything is so rapidly changing and evolving and right now we don't even know what school will look like in September, whether kids from Kindergarten to Grade 12 will be physically attending school full time. We know that university students will continue to attend online courses for the fall semester, but beyond that, we are still figuring it out as we go. I certainly feel like it is a good time for research and I think it is a good time to really reflect on our skills and abilities as educators and see that maybe we need to learn more about teaching online or maybe we need to learn more from people who are already teaching online just to see how we can improve our practices.”
It is always important to understand the different perspectives that people have on a topic. As students, we are divided between loving the online transition and wanting to go back to the traditional form of education. However, education is not student-oriented. In order to learn, one must be taught, and it is important to hear what the teachers think of this change and perhaps their perspective might resemble our own making us feel less alone in this situation.