I had experienced the shift from in-person to virtual teaching when Covid-19 hit Ontario in 2020. As a middle school teacher (grades 7&8), I was relatively comfortable with the shift, but I knew I had a lot yet to learn, and felt I had just scratched the surface of ed tech in my programming.
Weller contends that “one of the recurring themes in ed tech [is] that the implementation of technology makes people evaluate what is core in education itself, which had hitherto been implicit” (Weller, 2020, p.24). In my K-12 experience, this statement presupposes educators are reflective.
I was on leave for the first instructional term of 2020, and when I returned to teaching in 2021, it was to a virtual classroom. I had assumptions of what was taking place throughout the school year: students engaging in various platforms and apps, amongst other inquiry and problem-based activities. To my shock, I found that the instructor prior to me had been employing an instructivist, lecture-based model. I wondered, how could this be the case in 2021?
In Chapter 4: Constructivism, Weller looks at professor of social anthropology Michael Wesch’s 2008 work on student perception of a lecture hall, or the learning environment. It revealed student experiences such as “to learn is to acquire information,” to “trust authority for good information” and to “follow along” (Weller, 2020, p.32). As I was introducing lessons and activities to my class, I was met with this type of thinking. My students were prepared to follow along with anything I had to say and to copy documents, rather than engage, develop ideas and collaborate. They simply did not have the digital literacy, nor the digital skills, in the virtual setting to do so. As this was the first year of virtual school for students in elementary school, the onus was placed on the instructor. In Wesch’s A Portal to Media Literacy, he reflects on his role as instructor, or facilitator, in a collaborative and shared learning environment. What had happened with the students in my virtual class was akin to a university lecture hall in the pre-ed tech era, due to a lecture-style learning environment. Even though the classroom was 21 students in size it might as well have been a lecture hall with 200+ students, awaiting instruction from an authority figure, a knowledge-keeper. While the internet was literally at their fingertips. I suppose this is a danger of the virtual classroom (K-12), where an instructor can negate the possibility of learner agency.
Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.