More on Technology is a Tool, NOT a Learning Outcome

It’s been a ton of fun to watch the reaction that people have had to my “Technology is a Tool, NOT a Learning Outcome” image.  Most people found it to be incredibly valuable, summarizing their core beliefs in a concise way.  The beauty of writing in public spaces, though, is the fact that readers can confirm AND challenge your original positions — and many readers have pushed back against my image.

Here are three comments that have had me thinking all week long:

“There are no wrong answers when it comes to the use of technology in education.”

The biggest beef that people have had with my image is the use of the word “wrong” in my graphic.  While some felt that I was being “dogmatic,” others genuinely argued that ANY technology choices made by schools and teachers are automatically GOOD choices.

To be honest, that’s the very thinking I was hoping to challenge.  The simple truth is that technology DOESN’T automatically make a lesson more engaging and/or valuable to student learners — and suggesting otherwise often results in districts investing TONS of cold hard cash into digital products or services that do little to change learning spaces for the better.

(See: Interactive Whiteboards)

If we are going to move beyond a world where technology remains a motivational herring — and where skeptics like Mark Bauerlein can accurately call us “ever optimistic techno-cheerleaders” — we REALLY DO have to start thinking carefully about learning first and technology second.

“WHY why why keep burdening children with the expectation that they have to make a difference and drive change?  Can’t they just, you know, live their lives, make a living, and go home at Thanksgiving, like we all did?”

Another reader pushed against the suggestion that kids should be encouraged to drive change in the world around them.  For me, this thought really hit home because I’m passionate about showing kids that technology can make it possible for ANYONE to take action on critical issues.

(See:  Student Microlending)

And if you were to ask the students in my classroom who have been involved in our change efforts, I bet that NONE of them would report feeling “burdened” by the work that they are doing.  Instead, they would tell you how proud they are to raise awareness around causes that they care about.

Need proof?  Here’s a quote from a March 2013 interview that they did with the folks at Middleweb about our #sugarkills blog:

“We are learning that 12-year olds can help people all around the world be more careful with the things that they put in their body. We just like the feeling of being able to be as powerful and influential as adults.  It feels amazing to be able to educate people on the dangers of sugar. In our opinion, this is a great way to spend time in school!”

I think the most important lesson that I’ve learned about today’s students is that they DO want to make a difference in — and they AREN’T satisfied with learning spaces that are completely divorced from — the world around them.  The best assignments are those that empower kids to do something more than learn essential concepts in isolation.

“Technology is the glue that allows for deeper and more varied levels of belonging.”

My friend and mentor Dean Shareski pointed out that learning is dependent on situations where we work together and feel a sense of belonging with others.  He goes on to argue that technology is important because it makes new forms of belonging possible.

That’s powerful, isn’t it?  More importantly, it’s true:  When a learner feels like they belong to something bigger than themselves, they become more motivated.  Similarly, when a learner belongs to something bigger than themselves, they are surrounded by people who share similar interests and can challenge thinking.

(See: Lathered Brilliance, Superman Underoos and Social Media Spaces)

That’s EXACTLY what’s happening in this blog post, right?  Technology has made it possible for me to belong to a group of co-learners who are thinking together about what learning spaces should look like in today’s world.  Our relationship is symbiotic:  I’m providing intellectual challenge for the people that I’m learning with just like they are providing intellectual challenge for me.  The glue holding us together is the technology that we are using to share and learn and question.

Shouldn’t we be teaching kids that technology can make this kind of intellectual togetherness possible for anyone?

________________________

Related Radical Reads:

Innovation Flourishes in the Spaces Between Devices [SLIDE]

Middleweb Interview: The #sugarkills Gang

My Kids, A Cause and Our Classroom Blog

 

2 comments

  1. Shawn White (@swpax)

    Bill,
    I appreciated your image as it was from the start. I agree and have argued the same, that tech for the sake of tech leaves us digitizing 20th Century practices and not harnessing the potential that the media of the technology provides. I sometimes grow tired of the use-this-tool, use-that-tool, isn’t-this-great approach to such a wide variety of apps and digital media options. And as the options evolve, multiply, and deprecate what would serve is all best is articulating the core purposes, principles, skills, and attitudes that carries us across platforms and the tech’s evolution.

    In my recent CAGS course, Transforming the Educational Agenda, we learned about and then applied the Concerns-Based Adoption Model to an initiative. As my school enters its first full phase of 1:1 netbooks, and as I was recently selected to lead the team of Teacher Trainers in supporting use of this technology, I focused my studies and work on this. Part of the final product was to construct Innovation Configuration (IC) maps. With ISTE’s NETS being the best standards around to highlight the principles your image speaks to, I tried to articulate what high to low fidelity of the NETS for students, teachers, and administration looked like by adding in such identifiers as student-chosen, independently, etc. Here was my attempt: http://swpax.org/579. While it earned an “A” (the value of which is debatable), I feel it needs work and it is on my long list of summer projects to refine and finalize to help guide our efforts.

    This drawn out comment leads to this point: what I most appreciate about your image is it essentially summarizes the heart of 27 pages of IC maps, and I intend to share it at our team’s summer work session in a couple weeks and through an in-house edtech blog I intend to start to inform and model for faculty what we would hope for them to do with their students.

    Thanks for this post and for the image.
    Shawn

  2. Ramin Mehrassa

    I like your idea that kids should feel like they can drive change because it fits nicely with the idea that school is training for life and not just a practice. It’s also much more engaging for our students when we encourage them to affect change.