Can we Look to the Past to Help our Future? I sure hope so.

As the educational world undergoes another “Tech Revolution” with portable devices and ubiquitous access, it is important that we consider a few important things:

  1. Just because a device is easy to learn doesn’t mean it will make learning easy.  Ever marveled at someones skill set with a machine or device you had no experience with (think wrecking ball, military tank, VCR, or that damn child safety lock that used to be on the stairway gate)?  Well, their skill with that machine or device doesn’t necessarily mean that the person will be able to adapt their skill to a new problem.  In other words, knowing how to operate a wrecking ball can’t effectively help you record a TV show just as skills with a VCR will probably not help you take down a building.  Finding a way to use a device effectively requires making sure you should be using the device for the task at hand to begin with.
  2. If the teacher/facilitator/guide doesn’t know the tool being used how can we expect innovation in teaching and learning?  A TI-88 graphing calculator in the hands of a competent user is a beautiful thing to behold but using the device ONLY for its basic level of operation renders it a very expensive dollar store calculator.  What kind of work gets done comparatively?  Inch-deep-and-mile-wide work.  The device doesn’t hold the key to progress and advanced understanding.  It is the intentional, functional, learner appropriate and targeted use of the device, in conjunction with deep learning that makes this a reality.
  3. We have seen this before.  Let’s learn from the past.  I was a student when the first computers entered the learning world.  We quickly learned to type final drafts and have them print on the dot matrix printer.  I made cool BASIC programs that said my name, asked me questions or had no function at all (anyone recall 10 PRINT “Hello There” 20 goto 10?).  When I began teaching, we welcomed Windows 95 into the education world and typed papers, learned a formula or two in Excel and then began using the computer for looking up information.  Years later we still perform almost the same tasks on the new computers and the amount of innovation in teaching and learning has been minimal.  Why?  We are sitting on one of the greatest POTENTIAL tools to positively change pedagogy, teacher roles and responsibilities, student empowerment and implement learning that gets closer to an individualized education model for every student.  These types of shifts don’t usually have an outside influence that we can point to as the motivator.  It usually comes through reluctant pushes and pulls instead of the rush of professional curiosity, exposure, empowerment and new found abilities that technology can offer.

Let’s be smarter than the last edtech revolution this time.  Let’s involve the end-users (teachers and students) in the process of developing new learning, purchasing tools, supporting educational rethinks, lesson/project design and teaching pedagogy and practice.  It’s worth the forethought… and it always will be.

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