Jan 19 2017

End Your Fixation on Tech Tools

Education technology should complement a learning strategy, not dictate it.

One of the most exciting trends in education today is the integration of technology to enhance instruction and learning. Schools have only scratched the surface when it comes to learning technology, and this knowledge-action-resource gap further exacerbates the overwhelming “kid in a candy store” mentality.

There are so many education technology products, resources, platforms and programs, it’s easy to wonder how schools choose the right one. But is this even the right question to ask? The answer to this question points to a magnified focus on a thing, tool, term or trinket. What happens a couple of years down the road when there is new technology to have? What happens when that tech tool is normalized?

To further extend this thinking, let’s look at social media as a human connection medium. It’s the way we now communicate, it’s ubiquitous, and it’s a widely accepted norm for standard day-to-day communication. Therefore, within social media, the content of the message is what’s important, not the tool that was used. Think about the impact of the words from a public figure or Hollywood actor or actress. Sure, the tool provided a medium for the message, but all of the attention is on the meaning of the message and not the social media tool itself. The tool has become normalized and not questioned.

In education, we are often saturated with jargon, allowing the terms themselves to capture more of our attention than the real work that transcends the term. What are some of your favorite catchphrases in education technology? Blended learning, one-to-one, flipped classrooms, digital spaces, the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition model, 21st century learning? Those are my favorites. It’s OK to use those terms, and we should be using them as a part of creating our education transformation story.

However, they represent just a pixel of the learning microcosm. And as you might guess, those terms will go away once they become normalized in our education world. Blended learning simply becomes learning. Don’t believe me? Think about the electronic grade book. No one says, “Oh snap, you use an electronic grade book? That’s high tech!” By the way, the term ‘grade book’ is already on the endangered species list.

So what does this all mean? It means we have to be very careful about how we continue to perceive, talk about and implement education technology into our learning context. When the Facebook app, Chrome browser, or the newest iOS app pushes out an update, do we throw our hands up in the air and say, “I can’t use this; no one has showed me how!” No. We dive in, explore, ask a friend and Google it, as a part of our daily learning. We understand it’s an ever-evolving tool that helps us work, learn and communicate better. The experience is birthed from how and why we interface with the tool.

As education technology continues to evolve, and as we continue to wrestle with its integration strategies into the classroom, we must not lose sight of true north, which is our message of learning equality and supporting students to create our future. Students will always need educators, parents and community leaders to supportively challenge them, affirm their beings, and structure learning in such a way that there are no bounds on the depths of their thinking, problem solving, innovation and growth.

If a tool can help us do that, fantastic. But the central question is not about the right tool, but about what our students need now and for the future, and how we can best help them grow and thrive on their learning journey.

This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology