5 Canadian Educators Discuss: The Challenges Facing Education Technology Adoption & Accessibility
In recent years, there has been a significant push towards incorporating education technology and digital tools into Canadian primary and secondary schools. This shift has been driven by a range of factors, including the growing recognition of the benefits of digital learning tools, the need to keep pace with technological advancements and the push for digital literacy, as well as the desire to enhance student engagement and outcomes.
As we gear up for our EduTech West event, we’ve had the pleasure of hearing from some of our speaker faculty, who are all key leaders, educators and technology experts within the K through 12 education sectors. Here are the views and insights they’ve shared regarding the impact and challenges they’re currently facing with the adoption of digital learning solutions.
What are the biggest challenges impacting the rollout/use of new education technologies and digital learning tools?
An interesting challenge that often gets overlooked is the shift from version-based technology releases to a continuous rollout and subscription model. This has resulted in a fluidity and pace of change that our staff and students are not accustomed to seeing in K12.
From a budgetary standpoint, continuous development means that we are no longer buying technology outright but rather renting it, which translates into ongoing costs. While we appreciate the security updates that come with this model, it can be challenging for organizations and users to keep up with the continual changes to the user interface and usability, and even worse, product removals.
Professional development now consists of a combination of what a tool looks like today and a “just roll with it” karma regarding how it might look in the future. Overall, users have been mostly accommodating to this new reality, but sudden replacement of a tool with a new one or the sunset of a tool by a vendor can create significant challenges for staff and students alike.
Consider Microsoft and Google, who both offer rich and diverse ecosystems of integrated and complementary tools to meet staff and student needs. As ecosystems do, they are continuously evolving, with new tools being released that often overlap with existing ones, while other tools are discontinued because of market downturns or shifting corporate objectives. As customers, we are invested in these ecosystems and are unlikely to divest because of frustration or requirements to change our practice.
The cycle of life for software has changed dramatically, with tools appearing, evolving, and going extinct faster than ever before. We have so much interoperability amongst so many different tools. Yet an answer to that simple Help Desk ticket asking, 'What's the best way to do XYZ?' can seem more complicated than ever before.
Jason Dunk, Chief Technology Officer, Saskatoon Public Schools
The rapid pace of technological advancement presents a significant challenge to educators who must stay current with the latest digital tools and technologies. This is particularly difficult when tools are frequently bought and sold, resulting in the need for constant review and revision of policies and procedures. Furthermore, the cost of implementing new technologies can be prohibitive, and educators must balance the benefits of new tools with the cost of implementation.
Another significant challenge is the availability and reliability of broadband, particularly in low-income areas, which can impact the use of technology in the classroom and limit student engagement. Additionally, devices can become slower and less responsive over time, requiring frequent replacements that may be cost-prohibitive. This is particularly problematic for students who require accessibility features and may be further discouraged when slow or outdated technology.
As educators continue to integrate new technologies and digital tools into their classrooms, it is essential to consider issues related to privacy, digital etiquette/citizenship, and digital health. Finding a balance between traditional and new teaching methods is also important to ensure that all students receive a comprehensive education that prepares them for the future.
While the benefits of new technologies and digital tools in education are undeniable, it is crucial to acknowledge the challenges and limitations of these tools. Addressing these challenges requires a coordinated effort between educators, policymakers, and technology developers to ensure that all students have access to the best possible educational experience.
Michel Gagnon, LST Helping Teacher and Assistive Technology Coordinator, Surrey School District
What are the primary factors affecting the accessibility of technology within BC schools?
This is my second year at Edutech, and I am excited to work with a passionate group of educators and industry professionals again. I was surprised by how quickly our discussions moved toward the intersectional debate of technology, the students using it, and the pressures they faced last year. We need ongoing talks about using technology to leverage discussions about Mental Health, Anti-Racism, Indigenous Education, LGBTQ rights and Improved Literacy and Numeracy.
Many schools are struggling with digital citizenship and how we can work with our students to learn about the impacts of social media bullying and when we can use technology for positive socio-emotional initiatives such as climate change, anti-bullying and anti-oppressive initiatives. Similarly, educational institutions should look at the impact of technology mediums on body image issues and harmful media sources. As educators, parents and professionals, we must continually address how we can use technology to deconstruct some of these negative impacts.
Technology can amplify and increase our children’s creativity, elicit deeper learning and create positive social messaging when used correctly. As educators and industry professionals, we need to emulate the model like the one created at Walnut Grove Secondary, where the environment provides a safe and positive medium for students to feel connected, engage in the creative process and continually take risks.
Our challenge is to find technologies, systems and structures that make this work. The key focus should be on securing exemplary educators to support this mindset. In other words, find passionate educators, and the technology will come!
Balan Moorthy, Superintendent, Fraser-Cascade School District
The biggest factor that is impacting access to technology is funding. It's no surprise that schools need more money. As educators, we do the best we can with limited resources and unfortunately technology is one of the last things to get upgraded.
The WGSS Computer Department is the largest and has the most diverse collection of courses offered by a public high school in the province. We are an expensive department to run. Computers, software, cameras, and 3D printers are all technology that students should have access to, but there is no "official" budget to buy and upgrade equipment.
This has largely been solved by us becoming entrepreneurs and opening the Print Shop in our school. Students can work directly with clients, as well as take on elements of design, communication, and production, becoming a part of everything the Print Shop creates. In addition to largely funding ourselves, students get the benefits of being able to have their work printed. We have several classes that have been created now because of the Print Shop, and it’s a great way for students to gain industry experience.
Rob Griesbeck, Computer and Digital Media Educator, Walnut Grove Secondary School
How will the increased use of technology in schools impact digital literacy within BC?
The increased use of technology will impact digital literacy as taught in schools in a very significant way. As technology continues to evolve and develop at a rapid pace, the digital literacy skills of students and educators will also need to keep up. As a result, the skills students previously learn later in their academic careers will need to be taught earlier in school. The technology landscape is always evolving and the way it impacts student learning changes as well. Educators will need to stay informed about emerging technologies to stay ahead of the curve, identify their potential impact in schools and develop a curriculum that is engaging to students of different ages and skill levels.
The emergence of technology such as AI and its widespread adoption will be more common, and its usage will be an important part of digital literacy. AI assistance in student work creates new challenges and opportunities in schools. It will be up to the schools and educators to decide what level of AI integration is acceptable and what is not. At the same time, educators will need to recognize that the use of AI as a tool will be ubiquitous in the knowledge-based jobs of the future. Educators will need to prepare students by helping them understand the capabilities and limitations of technology and not necessarily prevent its usage.
As technology evolves, educators will still need to apply the principles of ethical digital citizenship in student work, online communication and collaboration. To effectively prepare the students for the future, educators will show how digital literacy is an important asset at every age level. Ensuring that students use technology responsibly, and supporting student learning and well-being as part of digital literacy will be vital. Providing accessible tools and resources for educators to do that will play an integral part.
Gerald Lee, Director of Information Technology, Collingwood School
The increased use of digital tools in K-12 makes teaching digital literacy more critical AND more accessible than ever. We know many students have unfettered access to all sorts of applications. Tech in K-12 does more than support core subjects; it reinforces that technology can be used for good, for creating and communicating and collaborating in productive ways.
Essential questions like “What is truth?” and “How do we know?” and “What sources can we trust?” must be examined in the context of an ever-evolving digital landscape. Tools like ChatGPT and AI in general are once again thrusting us into uncharted waters, and education, and educators, have an important role to play not just in terms of how we use these tools but how we make sense of it all.
Sean Nosek, Deputy Superintendent, West Vancouver School District
As education technology continues to play an increasingly central role in the classroom, it is essential that educators and administrators remain vigilant to the challenges and opportunities that this new digital landscape presents. While there are certainly obstacles to be navigated, from concerns around privacy and security to questions about the efficacy of certain technologies, there is also ample evidence to suggest that technology can be a powerful tool for enhancing student engagement and outcomes, supporting more personalized learning, and equipping students with the digital skills they need to thrive in the 21st century.
We will see many of these key themes being discussed throughout the day at EduTech West. It’s events like these that enable educators, administrators, and policymakers to come together and champion the successful integration of education technology into schools. We must work together to ensure that technology is used in ways that support positive educational outcomes and foster a love of learning that extends far beyond the walls of the classroom.
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