This weekend the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) kicked off their annual, larger than life, conference. Thousands of people are in attendance. It is held in Philadelphia, PA and will be in session until July 1st. If you are an ed-tech nerd, as many are who read educational blogs, you are probably aware of this event. If you are like me and unable to attend, you can follow along with the hashtag #notatiste15 and #iste2015 or go to this flip board page. You will undoubtedly pick up some sort of new tech tool to use or be inspired to introduce more technology than you already may in your classroom. I find it to be a worthwhile experience.
It is because of this event that I am reflecting on the one to one classroom and the commonly used phrase “technology as a tool.” The phrase has been uttered so many times that it has almost become a cliche and lost power: “…use 21st century tools…students need 21st century tools to be successful in today’s world…one to one is necessary for students to learn the tools used in the 21st century.” However, as my school recently finished it’s first year of one to one iPad implementation, I wonder if many educators actually comprehend one to one technology as a tool. When discussing success and failures with the technology, there seems to be a lack of understanding of the fact that the technology is indeed a tool and not a pedagogy. Therefore, I believe it would be useful to incorporate metaphors of technology as a tool when considering complaints, questions, and discussions about one to one technology. Take a look at the following statements and how they are framed when applying the technology as a tool more metaphorically.
Why should every student have a device?
Imagine asking a foreman at a construction site, why does every one of your workers have a hammer? Silly, isn’t it? Or a foreman having a container of thirty hammers that are to be shared with all the other construction employees that come to work on the site (The lab or cart approach)–also silly. In construction, the tools most likely to be used to complete the job are readily available for every worker to use when deemed necessary. When a large portion of our education is about gathering, comprehending, and creating information (Summarize the Common Core Standards and tell me I am wrong)–we must provide every student with the proper tools to do this on a daily basis. Today, most of those activities are done with the internet and digital tools.
What is the purpose of this tool?
Consider asking a logger, why do you use a chainsaw instead of a hand saw? He may laugh at you. Tools are used to increase efficiency and allow the user of the tool to be more effective with the task they are trying to accomplish. A one to one program should have a clear vision when implemented. However, whatever that vision may be, it most certainly will encompass a philosophy that is rooted in the curriculum being transformed in a way that is more efficient and effective (The Ed Tech Challenge is a great resource to visit pertaining to this topic. Here is the video explanation and this is the website complete with resources.)
What is the best tool?
Ask any professional what their best tool is and you will likely receive a variety of answers. For a plumber, it might be the plumber’s wrench, a carpenter, the hammer or saw, an artist might say the pencil or canvas. It goes without saying that the best tool depends on the job being done. However, my Dad always taught me the best tool is the one you have on hand. He considers himself a “Jack of all trades and master of none” and he wanted me to learn that you have to make do with the resources at your helm. We should consider this when thinking about our students. We are not teaching them to specialize in any one specific field. They are being educated to be productive citizens that are “career and college ready” (I believe that is the latest phrase administrators have adopted.) Therefore, they need to “make do” with the tool they most likely will have in their possession at any given time. Recent research has shown that in the digital world we live, students aged 13 to 17 are very likely to use a mobile device when gathering, comprehending, and creating information (It also shows a large amount of time on social media–something I may tackle in a future post). In other words, the tool of the 21st century is a mobile device–most likely a smart phone of some sort. Therfore, it seems important to educate our students in the world of mobile technology. This could be tablets, phones, or phablets; and it could be IOS or Android. The Chromebook is a hybrid (It has some characteristics of a mobile world and some of a desktop world.) and an argument, obviously, can be made for its use in the one to one classroom. I contest that a mobile device is best. More important than the device is a frame of mind. Students, and teachers, should learn how to problem solve around what seems to be limitations of the device and find methods to do more. The recent idea of “App Smashing” is at the core of this thought. Students use a variety of apps, each one with a special ability, to put together an enhanced product that would be impossible with any single app.
This tool is a distraction in my classroom and is harmful to our goals.
A common complaint I heard during our first year of one to one implementation was students were playing games or surfing the web rather than using the device for educational purposes. In return, teachers who complained about these occurrences would make comments such as ” We were better off with ought them” and “They are not helpful at all.” And while I understand this frustration, when putting it into perspective of technology as a tool, it sounds like whining. For instance, how would a farmer handle his workers “playing” with the tractor or skid loader? Most likely he would conclude they need something more productive to do with his tools and supply them that work. Certainly, he would target the individual misusing the tool and allow his other productive workers to continue their work efficiently and effectively with the tool. Finally, he may decide they are not responsible enough with that particular tool and find other work for them to do–perhaps with a less productive tool. Whatever the case, he would conclude it is a managerial problem and not the fault of the tool. We should embrace a similar philosophy when managing one to one technology. First, does the task warrant the use of the technology? If not, and the technology has become a distractor, the teacher, who is the manager of the classroom, may have to take the tool away or manage the behavior as they would with any classroom behavior issue. Second, abuse of the tool should be dealt with on an individual basis. Blanket policies of restriction handicap the work of everyone. Finally, some students may not be as responsible with the tool as others. Effective plans take into account the developmental capabilities and maturity of the students compared to the need for the use of the tool. Perhaps a one to one program is not needed nor appropriate in a K-5 setting but would be in a 6-12 setting.
It just doesn’t work, so I don’t use it.
My Father worked as an Amtrak Ticket Agent for 40 years. During his time, he went from writing tickets by hand, calling agents around the country by phone to locate the train to his last years operating a computer with intra and internet as well as using GPS devices as a tracker. He went through a lot of frustration learning new systems. He knew, however, that the world was changing; that his job required the use of new tools and that he need to continue to learn so he could be efficient and effective. As a fellow educator,I find this statement to be the most ridiculous of them all. Not trying, is not an option. For our students, we must incorporate technology into our daily classroom routines. The world has changed and we have a responsibility to embrace these tools and enhance the education of our students.
Question: Do you agree with me? If so, why? If not, why not? Is there anything you would add to my post? As always, thanks for contributing your ideas and questions in the comment section of the post.