Follow-Up to July 5th Class (EdTech and Theories)

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I now understand educational technology as more than just tools, websites, apps, etc. (which I hadn’t prior to this course). There are more mediums than only digital/online/computer (e.g., oral, written, broadcasting). Whatever form it takes, the objective of educational technology is to increase student learning, which many scholars link to a change in behaviour or thinking. All educational technologies have benefits and challenges that can differ from person to person, which connects to Postman’s (1998) first idea of every technological change having a trade-off, as well his second idea of benefits being unevenly distributed among the human population.   

In my own experiences as an elementary and high school student, my teachers utilized mostly behaviourist and cognitive approaches to learning. Many of my primary teachers used an incentive/prize program to encourage us to read more books and follow classroom rules (Skinner’s operant conditioning – positive reinforcement). Rote memorization and providing the desired response (not higher-order thinking) was consistently rewarded on written exams. The nine events listed by Robert Gagne was a very common lesson plan structure that was also suggested by quite a few university professors of mine. I don’t remember a lot of meaningful group work tasks in middle years, and even less in high school. However, I believe many of my university professors (particularly in education courses) have emphasized collaboration and a community of practice (constructivism).

I certainly use a behaviourist approach to condition my grade 2-3 students into following classroom routines (e.g., Katia’s clapping example). Based on Ertmer and Newby’s (2013a) discussion of the three main theories of learning, many of my go-to teaching strategies are grounded in cognitivism (e.g., reasoning, problem solving, acquisition of knoweldge, use of examples and non-examples, making connections, using graphic organizers, concept mapping, self-monitoring and revision). I think this could be tied to my own learning style preference. Thirdly, my belief in the power of the curriculum-as-lived (daily conversations, sharing of personal experiences, discussion) aligns with constructivism. I have been inspired in my Inclusive Education certificate program and M.Ed. program to genuinely engage my students in more constructivist learning approaches. Although, I struggled to incorporate as many group activities during the pandemic as I had in past years. For example, I stuck mostly to table partner activities this year, for the sake of contract tracing had it come up. This unfortunately limited the interactions my students had with multiple classmates on a daily basis. I did continue other practices as normal, such as Math Talks, a problem-based learning activity that involves listening to peers’ thinking strategies. I would like to include more relevant, real-world problems next schoolyear, as encouraged by Barrows (1986, as cited by Ertmer & Newby, 2013b). Going back to my first year of teaching, in a prekindergarten classroom, empiricism (knowledge comes from experience) was a huge focus through my experiential learning centers. I believe one thing holding me back from fully embracing a constructivist classroom is the perception of colleagues who do not like noisy classrooms (which will happen when all students are engaging in dialogue with one another).

Aristotle’s empiricism reminded me of the story The Blind Men and the Elephant. Aristotle’s knowledge theory argues that one can understand something and know what is real through their senses (i.e., sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste). In The Blind Men and the Elephant parable, each of the men feel a different body part of the elephant and declare it to be different objects, claiming that their knoweldge is real based on their sense of touch. For example, one thought it was a snake (trunk), another thought it was a fan (ear), the third thought it was a tree trunk (leg), the fourth said it was a wall (side), and the last man said it was a spear (tusk). Are these men all right, all wrong, or a bit of both? I previously understood the main message here as the importance of having a variety of perspectives and worldviews in our classroom and society, in order to see a fuller picture. I had never connected it to theory before this class. Siemens summarizes this famous parable by stating: “Learning and knoweldge rests in diversity of opinions” (Siemens, 2005, p. 5).

Lastly, George Siemens’ idea of connectivism, specifically that connections to facilitate learning can be made not only with other humans but also with things such as computers, reminded me of post-humanism theory. In EC&I 814, I learned that many posthuman theorists believe that their epistemology is needed in order to ensure human survival on our planet. Posthumanism is the idea that humans are not at the center of the universe; there are also non-humans (e.g., animals) and more-than-humans (e.g., technology) that play vital roles in our world. Fostering a positive, mutually beneficial relationship between humans, non-humans, and more-than-humans is crucial for sustainability.

References

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013a). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly26(2), 43-71.

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013b). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Connecting “yesterday’s” theories to today’s contexts. Performance Improvement Quarterly26(2), 65-71.

Postman, N. (1998). Five things we need to know about technological change. https://web.cs.ucdavis.edu/~rogaway/classes/188/materials/postman.pdf

Siemens, G. Connectivity: A learning theory for the digital age. https://jotamac.typepad.com/jotamacs_weblog/files/Connectivism.pdf

NOTE: Here is a short reading of a version of the blind men and elephant parable, in case you are unfamiliar with it:

3 thoughts on “Follow-Up to July 5th Class (EdTech and Theories)

  1. Kelly

    Josie, I really appreciate how you shared your personal educational learning experience, as well as how you utilize the different learning theories in your own teaching practice. I do think that a behaviorist approach in school used to be the learning theory that guided practice the most. However, even though I don’t think I would want to teach using this theory all the time and every day, I do think that it is still very much a part of the classroom for certain things. I like how you pointed out that you used this approach in your classroom to learn routines and to commit them to memory. There definitely are some situations (like the ones you mentioned) that would require a behaviorist approach.

    Although there were some great things about teaching online, there were also a lot of things that weren’t as great, such as social interactions. Yes, I would admit that there were still times when the students were able to be social, but to me, it wasn’t quite the same, so thanks for pointing that out in your blog post. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mike

    Great post. I can relate to your experience of mostly being taught through a behaviourist/cognitive lens. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, and many in their first blog post pointed out that there is a time and place for all of these ways of teaching. As as student I would have felt uncomfortable and unprepared to function in a classroom that was 100% constructivist in nature. I like a degree of structure and certainty, and there is a time and a place for memorization, as well.

    Your post-humanism point is an interesting one and I think a worldview that educators could benefit from exploring.

  3. missjosiephillips

    Kelly and Mike, you both made such a valid point about there being a time and place for each learning theory. I must admit I have a very Westernized, hierarchical way of thinking, as if one learning theory has to be “better” than the others. Thank you for sharing your insights.

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