A Quest for Utopian Status

I didn’t like Sesame Street as a child and seldom watched it. There, I’ve admitted it.  Aside from the Count, Cookie Monster (one of my favourite stuffed animals as a child), and those weird aliens that said “yup yup yup uh huh uh huh” there’s not a whole heck of a lot that I can recall from Sesame Street.  My fond memories of educational TV are largely comprised of Fred Penner’s guitar (my first concert!) and Mr. Dressup’s tickle trunk.

Given my lack of knowledge relating to Sesame Street, this week’s blog post could be a bit of an adventure.  When I first glanced at Postman’s quote (“We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.”) I immediately thought to myself – “Postman seems like a killjoy”.  I mean, come on, we’re talking about Sesame Street! While I wasn’t the biggest fan (4-year old me was clearly a television elitist), millions of other children adored the show so they must have been doing something right! I’m also aware that as a Social Studies teacher, I am constantly hammering home the importance of critical thinking but have we really gotten to the point where not even Sesame Street is being spared? A harmless kids show featuring a vampire with a knack for counting?

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Count von Count.  Children’s entertainer/number enthusiast.

After a couple of days of pondering what Postman was trying to get at – he may have actually been on to something (to an extent).  From what I can tell, Sesame Street can, in fact, give the impression that schools are (or at least should be) an educational utopia.  Vampires teaching kids to count, an inquisitive giant yellow bird, a pessimistic grouch living in a garbage can, and an overly cheery red high-pitched monster (plus whatever the heck Snuffleupagus was)? What’s not to like? Well, one can jump to the slightly oversimplified conclusion that if a child watches Sesame Street religiously then they (as well as their parents) will expect all learning to be as engaging as Sesame Street. This can then pose problems for teachers whose students become frustrated when the traditional classroom isn’t filled with the types of engaging characters that Sesame Street is.  At the end of the day, what’s more fun – drill/practice math lessons or the Count?

Fast forward to today and teachers are still under pressure to ditch the “traditional methods” in favour of a more engaging approach, this time with technology coming to the forefront.  When one considers the wide range of technology/media that many kids today have access to at home (smartphones and smart televisions, streaming media, gaming consoles equipped with virtual reality, etc.), surely it’s a reasonable expectation that our teachers should follow suit and incorporate tech into the classroom especially when you consider the potential that educational technology has?

One of our required readings this week – “The Importance of Audio Visual Technology in Education” argued that

The importance of audio visual (AV) technology in education should not be underestimated. There are two reasons for this; one, learning via AV creates a stimulating and interactive environment which is more conducive to learning; two, we live in an audio-visual age which means that having the skills to use AV equipment is integral to future employment prospects

The second point there is key – given everything that technology can do, employers are increasingly looking for AV skills when considering applicants.  If part of the education system’s role is to prepare students for the workforce then one can easily make the argument that teachers need to incorporate technology into their lessons not only from an engagement standpoint but from a future employment standpoint as well.  

In a similar vein, Kevin Pitts (2015) argued that

A literate individual is no longer one who can simply read and write, but one who can place language within a broader context – a multimodal world. As information can be expressed through multiple modes, the ability to interpret and connect the multiple modes through a variety of literacies (e.g., print, digital) becomes essential.

In addition, as was pointed out in Michael/Joe/Sam/Kyla’s presentation from Monday, “digital literacy allows for a whole different side of understanding”.

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Ong (as cited in Klein & Gale, 1996) described the technologizing of the textualized word (i.e. the re-mediation of traditional literacy in electronic media) as secondary literacy (as cited by Pitts, 2015) – Image and quote are taken from Michael/Joe/Sam/Kyla’s presentation.

If we want to both engage students AND prepare them for a life outside of the school then incorporating technology is a must.  Now, that’s not to say that technology is a magical saviour that’s going to turn the classroom into an educational utopia. Challenges exist.  For starters, not every student has access to the same technology at home. By the time they hit high school, most students have smartphones. The key word, however, is most.  In addition, schools aren’t on a level playing field when it comes to access to technology.  

  • Some schools have data projectors in every room.  Many don’t.
  • Some schools have Smart Boards in every room.  Many don’t
  • Some schools have a wide variety of computers (powerful desktops, Chromebooks, etc.).  Many don’t.
  • Some schools have iPads.  Many don’t.
  • Some schools have a high quantity of technology.  Many don’t.

Furthermore, even if a school has all this tech, it needs teachers that actually know how to use it! All the tech in the world is meaningless if you don’t have teachers that are either able to use it properly or at least willing to take the time to learn.  

Tech is great.  Data projectors, Smartboards, iPads, Chromebooks, YouTube, Google Read/Write – the list could go on and on.  We’ve come a long way from when I was in grade school when the overhead projector was king. The modern-day classroom has so much potential to engage students in ways that we couldn’t have dreamed of even 20 years ago.  Its importance is also critical when you consider that “retention rates improve 55% when images are used alongside text” (Paddick, 2016).  That said, we also need to be cognizant of the fact that, while technology has limitless potential – not every school is on a level playing field.  Much like Sesame Street, we can’t assume that schools have reached utopian status. Challenges exist but it is imperative that teachers/schools do what they can with what they have in order to incorporate tech into their classes.  At the end of the day, that’s all a reasonable person should expect.

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Author: scottgardiner12

Husband/dad, teacher, sports-geek, traveller, and cantankerous grad student. Oh, and an avid fan of both puns and sarcasm.

4 thoughts on “A Quest for Utopian Status”

  1. I can agree with you on the Sesame Street front.. I honestly don’t remember watching it more than a handful of times. But there were other shows that definitely engaged me in learning such as Reading a Rainbow, Big Comfy Couch, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Popular Mechanics for Kids. I feel like there are less shows like this now though — or maybe I’m just old and not watching kids shows— but as technology has changed so has the way kids are getting information and learning. I agree that as teachers and in schools we definitely need to keep up with this and set up our students for the most engaging learning experiences possible, utilize what tech we do have, and advocate for more of it by actually using it.

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  2. All the tech in the world is meaningless if you don’t have teachers that are either able to use it properly or at least willing to take the time to learn.

    I really like this quote from your blog. I am lucky enough to be in a brand new school with a lot of technolgy (Smart projectors, Chromebooks, iPads, etc.) However, much of this technology is not be used to its full potential. Even myself, someone who is open to integrating new technologies into my classroom, is not making the best of use of what is available to me, not because I don’t want to, but that I lack the knowledge and experience. One of my goals this year is to master my Smart projector. I have made some progress by successfully connecting my computer wirelessly to it! Providing teachers with PD opportunites to actually learn how to use the tools available to them is key to the success technology integration in schools.

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  3. I also share your sentiment related to the playing field when it comes to technology in classrooms. I would also argue that in many cases, access to technology and proper training is part of the problem, as you eloquently mention. In addition, time related to developing resources related to those technologies is in great demand. Given the example of Augmented Reality, developing software and visuals for an AR system requires very specialized expertise, many resources and time, all of which many teachers just don’t have. Thanks for the great post!

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