ORION’s K-12 Workshop: Education Technology in Ontario’s Classrooms

You never know what kind of technology you’ll encounter in a given classroom in Ontario.

Some use Android platforms, while others rely on Apple devices, and yet more depend on Google apps or Adobe apps or lesser known apps altogether. Some don’t even use digital technology at all.

On top of that, some schools boards in Ontario benefit from the ultra-fast connectivity of the ORION network. Others remain unconnected, leaving those students – and their education – to suffer from this digital divide.

Overcoming these issues will require community collaboration and provincial leadership to forge the way forward. And while ORION’sannual K-12 workshop is intended to help the education community integrate technology in the classroom, it’s also an opportunity for us to learn about educators’ needs.

As we continue to work towards modernizing education in Ontario, here are some of the key points that we learned from Ontario’s educators at the 2014 K-12 education workshop.

IT Culture Change: Be predictive, not reactive.

Online student portal for the Peel District School Board intranet.
Online student portal for the Peel District School Board intranet.

Mark Keating, the Chief Information Officer for the Peel District School Board, has been leading educational innovation in Ontario with individualized portals for students and educators.

He made a strong case for transforming the role of IT by embracing a “culture of yes.” He also stressed that IT services cannot merely be reactive when educators ask for new technology. We must be proactive and anticipate those needs if we’re going to meet them in a timely manner, he explained.

While Mark encourages great strides in innovation, he also tempers that risk-taking with the self-compassion to make mistakes and learn from them.

Teachology: Where technology and teaching meet.

Giving ourselves the room to learn from our mistakes is important. After all, it isn’t just the students who are learning.

Kids today are sometimes more comfortable with technology than their educators. Occasionally, students even end up explaining new technology to their teachers.

It’s important to remember that teachers – and IT departments – are learning and adapting too. They need support to successfully integrate technology in schools.

Challenging the Status Quo: Insights from educators and students.

When we support both students and teachers, and give them a chance to drive the technological change in their schools, we gain important insights we wouldn’t have guessed on our own. For example, many at the workshop said it would be better to lessen the restrictions we place on students as they jump online.

Most people might disagree, arguing that kids will abuse their online privileges if they aren’t carefully watched. However, some educators have found the opposite may actually be true: students tend to use their time online to research educational topics instead of goofing around.

Carly Jacobs, a 14-year-old student in Windsor, Ontario, reminded us that educational technology is supposed to help students learn in a way that best suits them. By relaxing rigid rules and governance, students can gain a stronger sense of digital citizenship by being empowered to self-regulate and explore new learning opportunities.

Digital Literacy in the Global Village: Breaking down the walls of the classroom.

Nonetheless, Grade 8 teacher Laurie Clement points out that while today’s students are digital natives, we still need to equip them with the skills needed to navigate that digital world successfully.

For example, Laurie is using technology to teach her students to be collaborative thinkers in the broader world. She worked with a colleague in Brazil to organize debates between students in Canada, Brazil, Venezuela and the U.S. to discuss how different countries care for their resources.

Carly is one of the students in Laurie’s class. She addressed the workshop with the poise and knowledge of someone far beyond her 14 years, stressing that her laptop is now as integral to her learning as a pen or pencil.

The Way Forward: Ontario leadership in education.

There is so much potential for technology to augment learning in new and exciting ways – if implemented with some forethought.

Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals included a pledge of $150 million for educational technology in their soon-to-be re-introduced budget. This is a strong step forward, but there’s still more that we all need to learn as we forge the path forward.

That’s why ORION is launching a contest for Ontario’s K-12 teachers on July 1st. Tell us your views on technology in the classroom and how we can best support you, and the winner will receive free tablets for their classroom.

Please help us spread the word about the contest by visiting our website after July 1st for more information.