I started reading What Technology Wants — an interesting book written by Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly that explores the relationship between humans and their gizmos — the other day and stumbled across the origin of the word technology.
As Kelly writes:
The word technelogos is nominally Greek. When the ancient Greeks used the word techne, it meant something like art, skill, craft or even craftiness.
Ingenuity may be the closest translation. Techne was used to indicate the ability to outwit circumstances, and as such it was a trait greatly treasured by poets like Homer.
(Kindle location 141-146)
I really like that root, don't you? After all, technology helps teachers to "outwit circumstances" all the time.
Trapped behind four walls with students all day long in a district with absolutely no budget for professional development? Then turn to social spaces like Twitter and Facebook to build a vibrant network with digital learning partners.
Have a craving to read everything that you can possibly find on your professional passion — whether that's differentiating instruction, teaching with technology, or working with special needs populations? Then setting up an RSS feed reader to automatically monitor your favorite sites will save you time.
Want to collect formative assessment data, but struggling with the burden of collecting, organizing and recording the daily responses of the 130 students on your caseload? Then pair student cell phones with a free polling service to automate the collecting and recording process.
I'm pretty sure that this list of outwitted circumstances could go on and on, y'all.
Want to create a warehouse of instructional tutorials for students? Use Livescribe pens. Need to organize your collaborative work with peers? Use Google Docs and a wiki. Trying to teach students more about collaborative dialogue? Take VoiceThread for a whirl.
The point to remember is that the best technology choices start with an awareness of the circumstances that you are trying to outwit. Purchasing the latest gizmo or gadget "just because it looks kind of neat" is a giant waste of cold hard cash.
More importantly, every time that you make a "just because" decision, you are essentially giving away the last bits of your already fragmented time and attention.
Kelly says it this way:
Our lives today are strung with a profound and constant tension between the virtues of more technology and the personal necessity of less: Should I get my kid this gadget? Do I have the time to master this labor-saving device?
And more deeply: what is this technology taking over my life, anyway?
(Kindle Location 122)
So what does this all mean for schools and teachers?
We've GOT to make careful choices about the tools and the spaces that we're racing to embrace — systematically weeding our digital gardens of ANY technology that isn't helping us to conquer specific tasks.
We've GOT to be able to name the circumstances that we're trying to outwit before we spend any time and energy on a digital product, process, or practice — and if we stumble at all when tying a knotty circumstance to a new tool, we just shouldn't waste our time.
That's a simple criteria to abide by, isn't it?
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