Tech & Tradition : Education 2.0




September 30, 2023

Growing up as a first-generation Canadian in an Italian household I was immersed in age-old traditions. I proudly fulfilled my role in the production of tomato sauce, salami, and wine. I watched on as my family members intuitively mixed ingredients from recipes passed down orally for generations; using methods and tools long-established as standard fare.

My best memories are of watching my grandmother make bread, or craft beautiful meals – sauce that would simmer for hours filling the house with the most delicious aroma. So many afternoons were spent sitting at her kitchen table witnessing the work of her hands, the labour of love that was spending the entire day preparing food for the family.

I look forward to passing these cultural treasures on to my children, but these days … hours-long sauce simmering?? “Ain’t nobody got time for that!

I am a product of the age of the Air Fryer and Instant Pot! I still share the flavours of my family’s traditions – but now I can serve them up in a fraction of the time! I record the recipes digitally, update the files with personal touches as they evolve and AirDrop them when someone asks if I would share! My nonna might raise her eyebrows at my updates, but I fully embrace the convenience of all of this technology without feeling like I’m sacrificing the charm of these customs!

Technology, or at the very least how it is used, has changed a lot in the past few years. Take, for example, the world of education. The changes following the pandemic and the increased use of technology might leave families with mixed thoughts and feelings about it. 

Given how much technology is used in the classroom today, you might wonder if it might be in the best interest of students to return to more traditional classrooms. The allure of notebooks you can physically write on, the timeless charm of chalkboards, and the familiarity of textbooks seem to have lost their place amidst the digital wave.

Michael Timpano is the Secondary ICT Consultant and e-Learning Contact at the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB). In his role, Michael supports staff and students in integrating technology into their classroom with the whole goal of improving student learning.

In the latest Beyond the Bell Podcast, Michael and Chantelle Quesnelle, SMCDSB’s Mental Health Lead, discuss the challenges and opportunities technology brings to the classroom:

Michael: 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. But for some learners that screen is providing them with solutions that they could not get with a paper and pencil. Things like screen readers or audio recorders or voice recordings that can read something out or write something out for students – things they might not be able to do themselves.

Chantelle: Parents are hearing about all these different new programs and platforms. In a nutshell, can you tell us a bit more about them? How are they used right now in student learning?

Michael: Believe it or not, they are using them as blended learning tools in the classroom. A lot of digital tools can replace or support what you do in a face-to-face classroom. You can post the activities of the day, videos… Students who may have missed or want to go back and recap or review, have access to resources 24–7.

Strategically integrating a platform like Brightspace in a face-to-face classroom isn’t taking away the traditional aspects of teaching and learning. You're creating a virtual learning environment that can support you. Maybe you want to work with a small group of students. The other students can get online on a device, and start working on an independent module. That same tool can track a student’s progress; what they have and haven't completed. It can auto-grade quizzes and tests… Teachers can get a report generated immediately… allowing them to redirect focus on the needs of the students and where they need more support. 

Chantelle: Having that real-time data, an educator could really adjust and meet those learning needs of their unique classroom… Can we touch on the topic of AI and how it is impacting learning?

Michael: It may be looked at as a threat. You get into the discussion of the authenticity of what the student is submitting and claiming as their own… But it’s also such a powerful tool. You can look at a different perspective or maybe get a different explanation of how something works. Is there a different way to solve this problem? What's a good adjective that might go with this? We’re already using some of these basic AI tools that autofill the next word for you or suggest a formula you could use. We just kind of separate things like chatGPT as this big tool that will solve all your problems. But I don't think that's the case. I do think we're in an exciting time in history. This is going to be something historic that will change the way we work, the way we socialize, the way we learn.

Chantelle: That's a great point to take us full circle. 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. 

Michael: I think more professional dialogue needs to happen between educators and students and families around how we can use this for good. It's not going away, so how we integrate it in a way that would help our practice and improve student learning is basically the end goal.

When it comes to education and technology, finding the right balance is important. It’s a bit like preserving cherished family traditions while embracing the convenience of modern gadgets. In education, we can hold onto the essence of traditional classrooms while harnessing the power of educational websites, digital tools, and AI. The evolving landscape of education offers us the opportunity to blend the best of both worlds, ensuring that students continue to benefit from time-honoured methods while embracing the advantages that technology brings to the table. 

To explore this topic further, check out the full conversation on the Beyond the Bell Podcast.

Listen to the full audio version on Beyond the Bell Podcast below: