A Reflection on Martin Weller’s 25 Years of Ed Tech (Part 1)

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.

References: 

Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.

9 thoughts on “A Reflection on Martin Weller’s 25 Years of Ed Tech (Part 1)”

  1. Thank you for connecting the reading to your experiences, Angela! You ask an important question: “I wondered, how could this be the case in 2021?” What might be some answers to that question? Why might be some reasons that the instructor employed the model you describe? Are all the reasons individual, having to do with the instructor, or are some systemic, technological, or social?

    1. Angela I find this fascinating also. That the pandemic prompted many teachers to move back to older ways of lecture style teaching, lecturing and testing. I am going to admit I judged my colleagues hard for some of their choices particularly in the realm of assessment.
      Since I have had a break and some time to reflect I am not sure the pandemic is the best time to judge anyones’ teaching efforts (I mean I still do it but I have some perspective now). Teachers are typically not ed tech experts, having not learned that way themselves and also in typical face to face teaching it is not a practiced skill to utilize ed tech well. I know at our institution the majority of our faculty moved to online teaching and were not even given a computer to use from home (never mind a camera for synchronous sessions) so there was also a lack of resources in terms of hardware and support in the great pivot. Our institution is catching up only right now by giving us the ability to use a camera with a computer for this semester and meanwhile faculty has moved on to asynchronous design and various utilization of technology tools once again leaving the institution behind.
      I think the lack of ability to plan for pandemic teaching and to prepare to give resources to faculty such as ed tech tools and training is for sure part of why we saw many teachers dial it right back to the familiar sage on the stage style of teaching. Hopefully we see a propulsion of innovation from the pandemic that we might only realize in the future as the different players catch up to support it.

    2. Great questions, George! I believe the instructor lacked experience, but more importantly, the confidence to include resources that were made available for virtual teachers. Although there were supports in place for educators, much of the course design was left to the individual instructor. If you are a new teacher, you are already struggling with a steep learning curve, add the various complexities such as the social (are students engaged? how is their mental state?), to outcomes that depend on technology (how to assess individual students when they may be chatting on social media?), you may find yourself navigating a few intricate situations!

      Angela

  2. Hi Angela,

    I appreciate your perspective, and dismay, at discovering that you were stepping into a classroom that had seemingly stepped back in time to lecture hall-style education. That being said, I would echo Karen’s thoughts and say that the pandemic-initiated emergency shift to online learning resulted in teachers and students stepping out of what they knew – in-person classrooms – to a space that was very new, and for some, very intimidating. I would suggest that the spring of 2020 was a time of survival for most educators, and a time when most were simply surviving but not thriving. However, we certainly learned a lot about K-12 learners in digital learning environments!

    It boggles my mind to think that we are now dealing with Covid for the third school year. The spring of 2020 was a time of stress and survival. The 2020-2021 school year was a time of applying what we learned to make the best of the roller coaster of in-person learning, simultaneous in-person and online learning, and online learning. Now we are days into the 2021-2022 school year and it looks like Covid, and its related impact on education, is not going away any time soon. My colleagues and I have had numerous discussions about how the constant, and seemingly unceasing shifts and challenges thrown in our path as K-12 educators over the past 18 months, have made us all ask some hard questions about our teaching practice and work to become better at reaching kids and doing what is in their best interests when working in digital environments.

    Perhaps I am being naive or annoyingly positive, but I am hopeful that the pandemic is the catalyst for real and necessary change to pedagogy and practice in public education systems that will best support students as 21st century learners.

    Amber

    1. Hi Amber,
      We’ve had similar conversations in our building, with stress underpinning planning! The flexibility that educators were called upon to utilize is much like the resilience our students showed throughout the past 1.5 years, both working outside of their comfort zones for a collective goal. I include my children in this discussion, where for the 2020-2021 school year my youngest was 4yrs (junior kindergarten), her older sister was in senior kindergarten (5years), and their older brother, in grade 2 (7years). Each had a different experience even though they were virtual all year (2020-2021), and each demonstrated various skills and character traits that were not revealed prior to virtual learning. These skills and traits were revealed as a result of the pandemic, skills that were always present but possibly unnecessary for in-person instruction. Here, I am extending Weller’s argument of the implicit in education.

      Angela

  3. Karen, thank you for your candor. It is important to note that everyone has a different path! I think the reason I struggled with this was that this teacher is ten years younger than me, closer to new trends. I fell victim to the myth that a younger educator would have access to newer tech and employ newer methodologies!

    Angela

  4. These are great thoughts Angela! I got thinking about what you said about students not having “the digital literacy, nor the digital skills, in the virtual setting”. Weller discusses the overestimation of the digital native concept in the introduction and it sounds like this is what you’re talking about. What has been the biggest change in your students’ digital literacy that you’ve seen?

    As I read your post, I was suddenly taken back to the era before the internet to my early days in school, and even to my first lecture gig as a consultant (in 2006!). We used overhead projectors. Sometimes, new tech just can’t replace “almost unbroken eye contact with the students” (Power, 2017) that overheads provide. The cost of new tech can be prohibitive for schools as well, which definitely slows change. No one in everyday life saw the pandemic coming, so “if it ain’t broke, why change it” inertia prevailed, I think.

    I’m with Karen when she says that it’s not time yet to judge how we’ve done during the pandemic and I’m looking forward to seeing how the reflection goes.

  5. Hi Corie,
    I too used overhead projectors when I first started my career in teaching – we had little to no tech – I appreciate the share!

    The entire construct of digital natives is problematic on so many levels, I am happy to see Weller shed light on this subject.

    Thanks again,
    Angela

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