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Learning at its Best

Actually, It Is About the Technology

I have a technophile streak that runs through me. I become giddy when I open up an iPod Touch for the first time. I marvel at how lightweight and instant a Chromebook is. When I was a child, I would dream about a computer that could do games, videos, video-recording, music, audio-recording and connect to other computers. I didn’t realize I would have all that and more at the palm of my hand. I am often amazed at how technology can transform a lesson.

I also have a Luddite streak in me. I don’t own a cell phone. I don’t let the alarm clock define when I wake up. I like French Press coffee. I refer to online identity as the “vapor existence” and I grow skeptical at the overstated claims of the lastest iGadget. When I am at a technology conference, I find myself feeling like a skeptic in a Cathedral of Innovation. You know Tumblr for centuries back when it was called a commonplace book.

Call it Rage Against the Machine.

Oftentimes, to check my technophile tendencies, I say things like, “It’s about the learning and not about the technology.” When I’m around a large group of people gushing about the latest, coolest apps, I often say, “It’s really not about apps. It’s about thinking better about how kids learn.”

And yet . . .

On some level, it really is about the technology. Blogging is powerful, because students have a magnified audience where they can engage in both a synchronous and asynchronous dialogue. Students can engage in the folksonomy of tagging, embed multimedia and constantly revise a post until they have reached a place of mastery. It’s a tool that is available anywhere they have internet on devices ranging from desktops to netbooks to tablets to laptops to iPods and cell phones.

I love blogs. True, I love what people can do with blogs. However, it isn’t all that different from saying “I love having coffee with a friend” rather than “I love the conversations I have a friend while I happen to be hanging out at the coffee shop.”

The platform matters and there is nothing wrong with saying, “This platform really can do some amazing things.”

Too often, I fail to recognize the power of the technology. I don’t push students to use blogging to its fullest potential. I don’t use Google Docs for much more than a simple word processor. I don’t ask students to develop a deeper conceptual understanding of numbers when they use a spreadsheet.

On the flip side, I also fail to think critically about the medium itself. If I’m not careful, “it’s not about the technology” becomes an excuse to avoid asking hard questions about the medium itself. We have the whole world in our hands. Is that a good thing? Space and time are evaporating. What is the cost involved?

To a large extent, it is about the technology. Our tools are transforming geography, identity, social systems and communication. Is it such a bad thing that we take the time to ponder what that actually means for our students?


About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


4 thoughts on “Actually, It Is About the Technology

  1. You have me re-thinking my “it’s not about the tech” assertions. I continue to think it is more valuable for teachers to focus on core subject objectives than focus on the tools used to communication, collaboration, and create. However, you’re very right when you say that we often don’t take full adventure of the platforms.

    So now I’m wondering if, perhaps, the best way to help students (and me) make the best use of tech is to give them intentional time to “show off.” Open source works because programmers take pride in their work – and enjoy showing off their skills. I want people to show me more cool stuff. I suspect my students want to see more cool stuff too.

    Platforms really can do amazing things :).

    Posted by Janet Abercrombie | May 7, 2012, 9:31 am
  2. Great post! To me, maybe the best reminder is to constantly consider who you are and what you’d like to be at that period. When technology options arise
    (OR ANY OPPORTUNITY) then, you are in a position to adapt the opportunity to your plans OR revise those plans to enable YOUR CHOICE of adapting the opportunity. You are in control, with your concept of what changes make sense as the guide. AND YET, you have a healthy attitude (to me for sure) with regard to the importance of considering change. How sad it seems that change is too frequently a “four-letter word” for people.

    My principles are to stay informed about opportunities, to make honest decisions as to value, and to adapt those of my choice to best serve my needs. Not surprisingly I expect, these are shared with my students when asked or when appropriate.

    The tragic situations are those who don’t CONSIDER OPPORTUNITIES – either ALWAYS engaging or NEVER engaging!

    Posted by John Bennett | May 7, 2012, 12:35 pm
  3. Perhaps we can follow the kids and ask them questions about their use to help them foster critical habits in consumership and technology-enabled production?

    We’re playing with Tinker CAD at present, which points to all the great recursive questions: why not use blocks? Who doesn’t have access to blocks? Who has computing, but not blocks? Which is more common in the classroom, blocks, or computing? And on and on into finding what works for whom 🙂

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 8, 2012, 10:16 am


  1. Pingback: Monday Mentions | Expat Educator - May 7, 2012

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