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

  • Anonymous

     

     

    I’ve been thinking a lot about your graphic because it was very timely in my summer journey to learn more about technology to use in my classroom this coming year. The word “wrong” struck me very strongly when I read it, but maybe if you had used a different word, we wouldn’t be thinking about and discussing this so passionately! I’ve said before that I don’t want to use tech just to use it, that making a poster in PicCollage isn’t necessarily an improvement over a paper one-in fact it just means more screen time instead of exploring textures and and the connection between your brain and your hand. That said, you’ve hit the nail on the head! One of the true benefits of edtech is that kids can now be empowered to have voices as big as adults’ in the world around them. Another thought – SEL is underpinned with the tenet that we all need connection and a community that appreciates our unique talents and perspective. Social media can either create or strengthen this when used correctly.

    So, I’m wondering how you evaluate the use of a particular technology. These are the questions I plan to ask myself before proceeding with an idea:

    Edtech, does it…

    1. Connect with objectives: the outcomes showcase the learning in a unique or creative way or enhance the process.

    2. Encourage reflection: it captures student reflection on learning outcomes or personal progress.

    3. Encourage collaboration: it incites passionate response, group problem-solving and/or kids affecting change in their environment or the world.

    I’m hoping I’m on the right track. I’m sure there are other factors to consider, but this is where I’ve chosen to start.

  • Brett Gruetzmacher

    Great Post

    Bill-

    Thanks for the great graphic and post.  The graphic spoke volumes.  This paragraph sums it up well and it needs to be considered by every teacher and administrator.  

    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. 

    I do believe that we need to need to move to a 1:1 environment but it must be done with much thoought and discussion about what do you want the outcome to be in terms of student learning.  In the past (earlier this summer) I would ask the question of teacher candidates -“How do you use technology in your lesson?”  The answer was I was looking for was ” Prezi, powerpoint, etc.”  My new question will be ” What student learning outcomes do you hope to achieve by the use of technology in your classroom.  

    Thanks for shifting my paradigm.

    Thanks and take care.

    Brett

    @BGruetzmacher

     

     

    • billferriter

      Brett’s Interview Question

      Brett wrote:

       

       In the past (earlier this summer) I would ask the question of teacher candidates -“How do you use technology in your lesson?”  The answer was I was looking for was ” Prezi, powerpoint, etc.”  My new question will be ” What student learning outcomes do you hope to achieve by the use of technology in your classroom. 

       

      —————————

      Thanks for the kind words, Brett — glad that you dug the image and the conversation, that’s for sure.  

      Another way to ask your interview question would be to start with, “Describe a lesson that you’ve taught using technology.”  Then, follow it up with, “What were your goals for using technology in this lesson?” or “How did technology enhance the learning experience for your students?” 

      If they’re stuck on “it motivated my kids,” you know their understanding of just what technology can do is limited.  

      Does this make any sense?

      Bill

  • cabraham

    Carol Abraham

    My favorite line is “…The simple truth is that technology DOESN’T automatically make a lesson more engaging and/or valuable to student learners.”  I teach online and I’ve encountered faculty that either do not use technology to enhance their course or use too much of it which becomes distracting for the student.  I think we need to remember that it should be used to enhance the lesson it rather than have the lesson revolve around the use of the latest technology trends.  My approach – a little goes a long way!

     

    • billferriter

      A Little DOES Go a Long Way

      You’re right, Carol — a  little technology DOES go a long way.  More importantly, if technology isn’t being used to enhance a lesson or to give kids the opportunity to experiment with learning outcomes in a more effective or efficient way, teachers are wasting their time. 

      Sadly, I think there are LOTS of teachers wasting their time!

      Bill

      • anna

        Not the silver bullet train

        Yes a little goes a long way if you know what you are doing but if you don’t you need to cover that up with a lot I guess.

        Thank heavens someone is smart enough and strong enough to stand up and say what you are saying. While it is useful to teach children technological skills (wrong answers) in order to achieve meaningful outcomes (right answers) I don’t understand why people find your point so hard to understand… oh wait a minute I do, it’s because then they don’t have to think about what’s really going on. They’ve been seduced into believing that the means is the ends.  And yes teachers and students waste so much time just trying to manage the process rather than the learning. It’s like waiting for a program to load and by the time it does the lesson is over, whoops no time to learn anything!  Or they end up making videos or writing blogs but saying nothing. So sad.

  • Brett Gruetzmacher

    Thanks for the thoughts!

    Bill-

    Your ideas make total sense.  I will use them later this week when we are interviewing LA candidates.

     

    Take care.

     

    Brett

  • John Wink

    Wrong Answers
    I like the graphic and I like the term wrong answer. I looked at your list of wrong answers, and I would like to make a recommendation. Change the term, wrong answer, to pathway to the right answer. Every one of the wrong answers is a right action to the right answer.

    Does that make sense?

    I think your post is spot on that teachers can be short sighted in their vision for tech integration. Great thought & thanks for sharing.