What are YOU Using Technology For?

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? 



Related Radical Reads:

Developing Technology Vision Statements

Making Good Technology Choices

Wasting Money on Whiteboards


5 thoughts on “What are YOU Using Technology For?

  1. Pjhiggins

    Thanks for a thoughtful post. When I read this, or things like it that call for the increased techne in teachers, I keep coming back to how Red describes himself to Andy in the Shawshank Redemption: as a man who “knows how to get things.”
    That’s essentially it, right? As a teacher/administrator/school leader, isn’t that the trait that will set you apart? Knowing how to catapult yourself, your students, or your school into places where your learning needs are met is a valuable skill, and I think Kelly’s description really fits that.
    Have a great Holiday, and thanks for making me think!

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Scott wrote:
    I think its very difficult for tech-unknowledgeable teachers and administrators to match potential learning technologies to pedagogical goals because they simply arent familiar enough with the technologies affordances in the first place.
    Thanks for stopping by, Scott. Good to see you in this space.
    And while I agree with you that awareness of whats possible is definitely a barrier for many educators, I just dont think thats an excuse for wasting time and energy on crappy tools. I think my argument would be that before making choices, EVERY educator — no matter how tech savvy-less they are — needs to get familiar with the technologies that they are exploring.
    That ought to be our non-negotiable line in the sand. Figure out what exactly you want to do first. Figure out why you want to do it. Figure out why it matters.
    Then, start looking for tech tools that can help you do to those jobs easier.
    Its kind of like the impatience that many #edtech writers feel about coddling teachers when it comes to tech integration. At some point, isnt it reasonable to expect more from the people who are making choices about what happens in our classrooms?
    Enjoying the pushback,

  3. Scott McLeod

    I appreciate the plea for purposeful uses of school technology, and for the need to start with the learning goal in mind. I think it’s very difficult for tech-unknowledgeable teachers and administrators to match potential learning technologies to pedagogical goals because they simply aren’t familiar enough with the technologies’ affordances in the first place.

  4. Hatcherelli

    Awesome post, Bill. You have been on fire lately. I love the way you use tech tools to enhance learning. To me that is what it’s all about. Many teachers mistake 21st century teaching to mean teaching using technology. Teaching is still about teaching/learning the curriculum…the tech tools just help us to do that in a more meaningful way.
    Keep rockin’ the posts and tweets!

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