Tech in the Classroom

 Show Transcript

Welcome to Beyond the Bell Podcast where you will get an inside look into school life. We cover school related topics that support your child's education and well-being. As you listen along, we hope you'll gain insights for navigating school with your child and leave with a deeper sense of connection between school and home. Here's your host, Chantelle Quesnelle. 

Chantelle: Hello, Simcoe Muskoka families. We are welcoming our guest today, Michael Timpano, who is a member of our board office team. He has been with Simcoe Muskoka Catholic for over 26 years in a variety of roles, but in his current position as Secondary ICT consultant and district e-learning contract, he supports staff and students in integrating technology into their practice or classroom with the whole goal of improving student learning. So today Michael and I are gonna dive into the landscape of technology in schools. So welcome, Michael. 

Michael: Well, thank you. Thank you, Chantelle. 

Chantelle: It's great to have you. So I'm gonna start off with a pretty broad question, but maybe you can paint the picture for our um parents and caregivers who are listening in. When we talk about the landscape of technology in schools what are we really talking about?

Michael: That's a loaded, loaded question. I think the first thing that comes to mind is probably computers, some sort of electronic device that helps uh a student uh learn basically – whether it be in a face to face classroom uh in a blended learning environment or even in a totally virtual learning environment on an online course. 

Chantelle: Sure. And I'm thinking about the growth that's happened or the changes that have happened following the pandemic and the increase in the requirement to use technology because of that, which might leave, you know, us with mixed thoughts and feelings of technology right now in our children's lives. And so I'm curious from your perspective, Michael, would you say technology in the classroom is a positive thing?

Michael: To go back to the first part of your question, I I would say the pandemic helped uh the education industry move technology further ahead than where we were at, for sure - kind of forced uh teachers and students to engage with, with technology in an online uh environment. Um however, I think uh you know, too much of anything is is of a good thing is is not, not, not healthy as well.  I think, yeah, it's a mixed mixed bag. I think uh from the feedback I received from uh teachers, uh they realized, you know, prior to pandemic, who may not have been using technology, the power it had to, to help their practice to track uh student progress that to provide feedback uh to organize uh curriculum expectations and things like that, uh definitely is now a thing as a normal part of their practice. Uh When you look at students, I think students may already be engaged with technology in a different way and we, when you think about the internet or social media, they might be using applications around uh not just for socializing uh but also entertainment and gaming. So they're already kind of exposed with a lot of online time, which may look a little negatively that then they have to spend all that time in class in front of the device as well. So uh to me technology is about, you know, can it, can it do something more efficient or effective uh that you can't do manually? 

Chantelle: It's about how we use that tool and maybe how intentional we are in using that as educators, I suppose.

Michael: Yes, that's a good point. Like why are you introducing the tool? What's the benefit of it? What's, what's the end game for it? Who is it helping? Um And, and is it, is it actually providing the results that you're hoping to see? Because if it isn't then, yeah, my belief is then use pencil and paper. 

Chantelle: Sure.

Michael: I think there's a lot of, I think we're losing a lot of that kind of hands on tactile kind of experience when we're sitting in front of a screen. Uh But for for some learners that screen is, is uh providing them with solutions that they could not get with a paper and pencil, like screen readers or audio recorders or voice recordings that things like that, that can read something out or write something out for them that they might not be able to do themselves.

Chantelle: So, over the pandemic, my parents supported my, my kids in, in, in some of the learning. And so they had to become quite familiar uh with Google Classroom, with Google Meets, um and actually using a computer versus using an iPad. So my parents were of the generation where they have iPads, they touch the screen, they use it for those basic functions. But then now there's a computer that you can't necessarily touch the screen on and you have to navigate in a different way. And so it was neat seeing my kids support their, you know, learning journey from the technology. Um and how they kind of helped each other figure out those pieces. And now a couple of years kind of past that my mom has just recently gone from only using an iPad to purchasing a computer because she wanted to use some of the functions of that that I think she really got exposed to over the pandemic because of my kids. So it's kind of neat to see this back and forth growth across generations. 

Michael: So I think learning something new or building a new skill, um It's its satisfying like it builds confidence. Right? And then you feel part of a bigger community. And I think going back with my mom with no, no computer experience, never logging in a computer, we got her a Chromebook, and then we ended up getting her a Chromebook with a touch-screen to make it a little bit more easier to navigate rather than you try to use the uh the trackpad. Um And for her, she's connected to family overseas, trying to follow their lives that she was disconnected to prior to having that device. So yeah, it could provide so many, many benefits for, for users. 

Chantelle: Absolutely. So I mentioned briefly kind of Google Classroom. But um I'm imagining our parent listeners have heard about BrightSpace and they've heard about Google Classroom. Maybe I've heard the concept D2L - I don't know. And so if parents have heard about all these different comments uh or different platforms, Michael in a nutshell, uh can you tell us a little bit more? Are these things the same? Are they different? How are they used right now in um students learning?

Michael: Uh to start with our, our board supports uh Google Workspace which is uh a group of uh it's basically a Google product, but within that workspace are a bunch of uh productivity tools. I guess you can, you can call them creative tools or word processing spreadsheets, presentations, things like that. And uh D2L is a Canadian company, the product is called BrightSpace. So it's BrightSpace by D2L and it's a Ministry of Education uh licensed uh learning management system. So that's the uh provincial, I guess uh platform that is being used across the province to deliver online courses. But in fact, the biggest users of the platform are actually face to face classrooms, believe it or not using it as a blended learning tool in the classroom.

Chantelle: What would this look like, a concrete example of how a classroom that's maybe in person might use something like BrightSpace to help facilitate some of the learning or organization.


Michael: BrightSpace has a lot of uh digital tools that kind of replace or can support what you kind of manually do in a face to face classroom. Uh There could be automation done for you in in that sense. So like like Google Classroom in BrightSpace, you can post the activities of the day, you can post the resources, you can post and embed videos so that students who may have missed or want to go back and recap or review, they always have access to the resources 24–7. But when you strategically use a platform like BrightSpace in a in a blended-learning environment in a face-to-face classroom where you're you're still not taking away the traditional, you know, face-to-face aspect of teaching and learning, you're just integrating a virtual learning environment that can be um sup- supporting you when maybe you wanna work with a small group of students, uh and the other half can now get on online on a device, a Chromebook, on their cellphone, iPads, like you mentioned, and they can start working some self-independent module and work that they don't necessarily need you there to do for them. Uh and so that tool can then track where students are, what they've completed, what they haven't completed. It can auto-grade some of the uh quizzes and, and tests that can send communication uh to students, reminders uh that due dates are coming up, there's a test day coming up, there's just, just a ton of ton of tools that teachers can, can use to help their practice and help students learn. 

Chantelle: That sounds pretty exciting that there's some aspects of it that can take um, some of that load maybe off of the, the teacher in because it can organize and communicate and help students also track what they've handed in or what they haven't. Just some of those organizational, time- management skills that might also support students in tracking their progress. But now they can kind of do it together in this shared way. 

Michael: Yeah. And even even like if you do an online test and even if you manually graded it or the software, auto grades, auto grades it for you, it, it provides the results for the class as well. As individual students and you can get right, you can get a, a report generated immediately telling you that, you know, maybe 90% of the students got question 2, 4 and 5 wrong, but everyone got question 1, 3 and 6, correct, so you can kind of redirect your focus on the needs of the students where they need more support rather than reviewing things that they already know and not wasting their time with, with things that uh they, they can, they can learn new things with, 

Chantelle: Right? So having that like real time data that an educator could use to really adjust and meet those learning needs of their unique classroom. 

Michael: Yeah. And, and not only that even have differentiated uh pathways for students based on their interests, learning styles and learning goals. So you could actually customize the path that a student will take based on the choices they make in your learning environment. So if I, if I have a question that says, you know, what do you want to research on? And it, it, it says, you know, I don't know the environment uh technology or so whatever and they choose, that it would open up an entire module based on what you choose- what you chose and then have all resources and activities based on that. Uh And so yeah, you can kind of cater uh to the students uh students needs in that way as well. 

Chantelle: Michael, I'm wondering, you know, you've described BrightSpace um and generally how educators might use it. But I'm really curious on, since we have parent listeners, giving them that inside scoop into something happening at school, but also knowledge on how to support their students in their um learning journey. And so what do parents need to know about Brightspace. 

Michael: Well, first and foremost, it's uh it's a safe and secure site where students uh are uh learning. A ministry license uh platform. So it's, it's, it's Canadian based and uh very user user-friendly in the sense that uh students log in with their school board account and uh direct access to their digital classrooms, virtual classrooms and, and from there, there's a variety of activities. Uh Typically teachers will post uh announcements or activity feeds right on the main page and students can access uh those resources. From a parent perspective, what, what's coming um is the Brightspace Parent and Guardian tool. We still be able to log in at any given time and see how their students doing in terms of grades, uh if there's uh upcoming assignments, is there overdue assignments, what, what did they do for the day? Uh is there homework and things like that? So they can be engaged in, in their child's uh learning journey, I guess. You can see that they're involved, and they can and see what they're doing and helping out. Basically, I, I think it's providing a a a support uh for your child if they're stuck, um maybe accessing something or not understanding concepts. How can you direct them to solve those types of problems? 

Chantelle: Got it. So I guess, you know, if I was a student listening to, to kind of that summary about the parent portal on Brightspace, um I might get a little nervous around parents seeing all this information or what those conversations are gonna look like. And so as a parent explores this or logs on, um and maybe as a, a parent yourself too, Michael, do you have any tips on what they see and what that conversation might look like if um they want to explore what they're seeing with their, with their student. 

Michael: Teachers typically will send out a communication uh letter to uh to the families or to the families of their students uh and inform them that this is, this is available and, and again, so parents will typically just come in contact with, with the teacher like to traditionally do if, if there's a question about what they're seeing or, or the results that they're seeing uh would be I think through the traditional communication channels.

Chantelle: I'm also thinking back to my experience over the pandemic with my kids and my parent's experience with, with them too. And how sometimes that might be uh an interesting thing to go through together, like having your child show you how to use Brightspace or have them show you what their Brightspace looks like since they would be able to access that um through a login and that could be fun to explore together and maybe have your child feel confident in being able to walk their parents through some of that technology. There are also other things that support their um their learning as well as their mental health – different icons or links to resources that they can um connect with. And that's kind of like a hub for them to access those things. 

Michael: Yes. Yeah, that's a great point. So all, all staff and students land on, on the the main Brightspace homepage and on there, there's there's announcements that are are available for specific to students maybe around signing up for uh homework help, uh the Mathify free tutoring and things like that. There's also a slew of board licensed software that's listed under digital tools for students to explore uh for different subject areas. There's uh research tools as well uh for students and educators on this landing page as well and, and things up upcoming things is gonna be a a common learning commons button which will have the different types of resources our schools have in their learning commons and resources to support that as well, connected to their local libraries so that they can sign out uh digital resources and uh stay in the loop with some of their local library uh events that are taking place because they also have great resources that our, our libraries don't have and events that take place and tutoring that's available as well at the local level. 

Chantelle: Nice. And so um also just because you know, I I have the platform so I feel like it's helpful for me to plug it um on that Brightspace home page, students also can go to the student mental health and well-being website. There's an icon right there that, that looks like a little heart with a leaf and, and that can take them to the website designed by students for students around supporting mental health and well-being. 

Michael: Yes, that's a, that's a great, great resource as well. And even the the Ministry of Education uh has released uh for educators uh believe grade seven and eight modules that they can self register around mental health and how you can support uh your students in the classroom as well.

So there's, there's a ton of, of great resources at your fingertips to access right from Brightspace. 

Chantelle: That's great. Um So thinking about those supports for students, Michael, I'm wondering if parents and caregivers need help figuring out these platforms, where can they go for support? 

Michael: Well, typically gonna be informed about uh the tool via the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District school board site, the their website and in there around the home to school connect there is a section around uh the price based parenting guardian tool, how to register, how to access, what, what to expect what to see. But typically, I think most communication will be coming from the school level, or I think the classroom teacher, especially if um they're using the platform, and they really want uh parents to be informed, and their students engaged in, in the in this learning environment. 

Chantelle: Sure. And so then just to clarify Michael, that not all educators within our board would be using the Brightspace platform. Some will and some won't. And so if a parent maybe hasn't seen that type of information, then that's ok too. 

Michael: Yes, that's, that's true. Yeah. So teachers have uh uh different uh different needs just like students and they're using different platforms for different purposes. Yes.

Chantelle: Awesome. So maybe as we kind of shift gears a little bit, we talked about all the opportunities and resources related to technology, we can shift to some of the challenges around technology and education. So Michael, from, from the things that you've heard and seen within education, what are some of those current challenges uh that we're seeing in the classroom?

Michael: Uh specifically in the classroom I always hear this uh not so much a complaint, but we don't have enough technology in my particular classroom to, to use the platform. Um I still, I still think there's a bit of uh this idea that every child needs to be on a device, at the same time, doing the same task which defeats the whole point of this whole blended-learning environment. So that's not really necessary. I think that's one equitably, equitable access to technology is important, but you could access it with any, any device, whether it be a smartphone iPad, Chromebook, laptop desktop uh would be that piece is the biggest hurdle. But I think our our boards made some great uh uh movement in, in purchasing more technology for schools to be shared amongst students in, in classrooms.

Chantelle:  Right. Um You mentioned probably a, a hot topic for some parents, which I'll, I'll say we likely don't have the, the time or scope to cover it in this podcast. But, but maybe that's a another podcast and another topic around uh smartphones in classrooms. So I'll just uh acknowledge that that might be an area of curiosity uh for parents both with how that's used as a tool and all the- and also how that could present as a challenge, but um maybe beyond the, the scope of our conversation today.

Michael: Yeah, for sure. Of course, there's always a learning curve to learning a new technology. Uh And are you willing to dedicate the time whether a student or a teacher um to, to help learn these new skills and knowledge about using the technology to begin with before you can even implement it in a day to day way? 

Chantelle: Sure, which actually is a neat transition as we maybe just touch on the topic of AI because that is, you know, um in many podcasts right now and, and certainly, um, questions that have, have come up in terms of, uh, how AI is impacting learning. And I know, uh, to share with our listeners, I started dabbling with it a little bit in terms of, um, uh, helping me simplify sentences or, um, a way to reword something that I wasn't getting-I didn't feel like I was writing clearly, for example. Um, and it was really neat to play with, but I can also understand the importance of what you're saying in terms of getting comfortable and practicing using the technology in order to help others use it as a tool in the way that it's intended or the way that you're intending in the learning. So, um they will just pass it over- any comments around how A I is impacting learning, Michael?

Michael: Well, in the education industry, it may be looked at as a threat 

Chantelle: Right

Michael: that uh it could easily do a student's work for them. Uh And now you get into the discussion of authenticity of what the student is submitting as and claiming it as their own. Uh So it is very easy to just ask them to write a paragraph or Ask AI to write an essay. Uh And it spits it out in, in minutes, right? And the student puts their name on it and submits it. Uh So if that's what you're worried about, it's almost like we're gonna take a different shift on the way we assess what uh what students are learning and how they're learning. So, yeah, that's a, like you said, that's a totally different topic in itself, but it's such a powerful tool to get someone else's perspective or maybe a different explanation of how something works. Is it a different way to solve this problem? What's a good adjective that might go with this if I don't have a thesaurus with me, like we are kind of using some of these smaller AI tools already built into word processors or spreadsheets where it might, you know, pop up the next word for you or here's the formula you would use if that's what you're trying to solve. Like those are basic AI tools that are already embedded in some of the, the applications we're using and we just kind of separate things like chatGPT as this, this bigger uh tool that, you know, uh will solve all your, all your problems. But I don't think that's, that's the case, but I think we're in an exciting time in, in, in history that we're part of. That's, it's, this is gonna be something historic that's gonna change the way we work the way uh we socialize uh the way we learn like this, this is gonna change a great deal of, of our lives in the future for sure.

Chantelle: And I think, you know, it really opens up important conversations around um ethics and, and what we're signing our name to or what we're submitting and the thought process around that. Um And uh you know, what it means to um use those tools in a way that is aligned with what the tasks were. And so lots of really great conversations that can happen as a result of the introduction of this new tool, but the importance of having those conversations bringing in those conversations of like ethical use of technology. Um And um yeah, I guess what that means for each of us as, as a learner, as a student. Um Yeah, I think, I think these are really important conversations because I don't think that technology is going away. 

Michael: No, it's not going away. But you bring a good point around uh you know, the ethics or morals around the use of, of the technology and it, it could get really scary and daunting when you think, well, who's controlling that? Where's the information coming from? Am I really getting all the information or only the information they want me to see? And, and that, you know, we hear that today with some of these social media apps and browsers that are restricting certain content and allowing other content and we have countries that ban certain applications altogether and they don't even have access to it. So I, I think a government is gonna have a a a pivotal part in how this technology is going to exist in our lives in the future, for sure. 

Chantelle: Yeah. And just playing off of that, the development of those critical thinking skills to say, you know, what um perspective might I be getting from this tool? What information is there? What information has not been included? How do I look at identifying that exploring it in another way and discerning for myself what's being included or what I want to include, to represent my point. And I, I think that gets more complicated, maybe the further along in um grades and education that we get, but really important conversations that we can be having both on the academic side in our schools and that parents can be supporting um at home as they're talking about the new technology unfolding as well.

Michael: Yeah, for sure. Like can we decipher between fact uh versus fiction and uh that that's gonna be a skill in itself? Uh But you, you're right, I think more professional dialogue needs to happen, you know, between educators and, and students and families around what, you know, how can we use this for good rather, you know, bad, like it's, it's not going away. Uh So how can we integrate it in a way that would help our practice and as well as improve student learning basically is the end goal?

Chantelle: Yeah. And I think, you know, that that's a great point to take us full circle as we began talking about technology as a tool and being able to use it in a way that is intentional and that enhances student learning and communication. Um And whether that be through the different apps and resources or through platforms like Brightspace um or through conversations around AI, that is it is thinking about it as a tool and the importance of building capacity for students and teachers and parents and caregivers alike to use that tool to function in today's learning in today's society and that there are different resources to help us do that.

Well, thank you, Michael so much for your time here today as we went  Beyond the Bell and into a very broad and, and sometimes exciting and, and sometimes challenging topic of technology in the classroom. So thank you for taking us on that journey. We hope that our parent listeners and caregivers um learned something new about technology in the classroom today or thought about something a little bit differently than maybe they had before. So, thank you so much for your time. 

Michael: Oh, you're welcome. Thanks for the invite and uh yeah, uh for parents, if they're listening, uh don't hesitate to reach out uh to, to your child's teacher to, to ask questions and, and see where they're at with, with all of this. 

Chantelle: Amazing. Thanks so much. 

Michael: Thank you. 

Thanks for listening to Beyond the Bell podcast. We hope you found today's episode helpful. Beyond The Bell is brought to you by the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board and our Catholic Parent Involvement Committee. 

It's hosted by Chantelle Quesnelle. Pauline Stevenson is our executive producer. Episodes are produced and edited by Portage Creative. 

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