Evaluating technology for education … Trend is wrong!

New teachers … Seasoned Veterans … Educators talk a lot about the importance of knowing what you want to do with the technology before implementing it.  I have said it!  … Decide what you want students to do and then find the technology to do the job well.  Technology is a tool and we need to use the right tool for the right job … Right?  Does this philosophy hold us back at all though?

As a result of the work that I have been doing through the IEAR.org community and as a District Technology Faciliator, I continue to think that this philosophy holds education back in many ways.  While I remain convinced that we need to define what we want our students to do, we also need to continue to appreciate that we understand how to use technology better when we just use it as well!

Over the years, I have had numerous interactions with educators in which the person has an excuse/reason for not doing something with technology because they already do something without it or with a different form of technology.   Too often we have predetermined ideas on what will work well and we prevent ourselves from “change” or “improvement”.  I once had a librarian tell me that she would never purchase any “e-book” capable devices or books in her library because she loved holding a book in her hand.  She couldn’t imagine people not having that feeling.  Isn’t it interesting to note that Amazon is now selling more digital books than it is wood, paper and pulp books!  Sometimes we just need to try something different and explore what is being offered!

TechCrunch reports, “Director Caruso says the initial purchase (iPad) was more for fun, but as he used the iPad more and more, he found he was doing a lot of his filmmaking work on it as well. “I got it, I don’t want to say as a toy,” he says, “but then I realized about a week into prep that my storyboards were coming on it, my previs was on it, my script was on it, I don’t carry my script anymore.””

I think we need to approach technology in education in a similar manner and we have to have the most creative open minded do the evaluation of our technology.  iDevices provide experiences that are just unmatched in many ways.

Check out “Tour Wrist and “Word Lens“.  Ask yourself, are these educational?  Can these apps be replicated on other traditional education technology?  What categories were these apps in?  If they are educational in some fashion, would we have found them by talking solely about what we want kids to do?  Would have really gotten to them through that focus?

We need to appreciate the creative approach towards evaluating technology and we need to appreciate just diving into it.  Technology makes the biggest impact when you begin to understand how it can transform you in ways that were unexpected.

What do you think?

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  1. I agree that we need to encourage creativity. Many times using a new technology creates a completely new and different way of doing a project, something that would never have been thought of otherwise. Preparing our students for an ever-changing future should drive integration. That being said, we also should not use a new tool just for the sake of using the tool; the integration needs to be meaningful. Throwing yourself and your class into a new tech area can be the best way to learn. We may travel the furthest when we are not exactly sure where we are going.

    • It is a tight rope sometimes. Thanks for the comment. Too often I have sat in conference sessions or committee meetings and I can see that people are too focused on what they perceive as a need. Often, there are new ways to do things that are often times better.

      I should have expanded on how teachers are looking for apps to make a difference in their classroom for example. Too often they are searching for content matter and missing out on real difference making apps.

      Once again, thanks for the feedback and I hope to read your thoughts regularly.

  2. IN my little corner of the world (music education) technology is still a guessing game. I believe academia in general is slow to adapt, and the music discipline may be one of the slowest of all. The skills needed to play an instrument at a high level take time and repetition but the information can be gathered much more efficiently using technology. Today’s learners (and consequently our future educators) not only expect but rely on technology in their every day lives and I believe they will simply learn to incorporate it across all disciplines in time. I recently wrote about the future of music education and why I believe it is bright – technology will play an important role. The age old adage ‘publish or perish’ may be changing to ‘upgrade or perish’. http://bit.ly/eAKHFY

  3. Deon Scanlon

    Hi Scott

    Good point here. When trying to convince people of the benefits of using new technologies (with which they may not be comfortable or confident using), I always try to point out that the purpose for using a new technology should be to either IMPROVE the learning outcomes, or to ADD others. It is hard to justify change to people, if it requires more effort for the same outcome. For many teachers, this is the barrier to using new technology: not being able to justify the benefits, given the extra effort required (learning how to do it).

    There’s also the fear factor: fear of the kids knowing more, or working it out faster.

    I agree with your idea that sometimes just trying to do things a new way, with a new tool, is justification in itself – this is where I remind teachers that they are ADDING learning outcomes to their teaching. In this regard, I feel that, sometimes, using the WRONG tool for the job creates learning outcomes that are more valuable than always choosing the right tool.

    Ultimately, though, I think our goal is to shape students who know how to choose, and who know how to choose WELL. If they consistently pick the wrong tool, we are doing something wrong. To do the right thing by our students, we should involve them in the evaluation of the tools they are choosing. Who better to decide which tools are the right ones than the users, themselves?

  4. Now there’s food for thought. I shall feel less guilty playing around with all those lovely digital tools out there! Seriously though, you are right because it is through exploring and experimenting with the technology that I have sometimes come up with ideas for lessons that I would not have done otherwise.

  5. Scott,

    I think that this can be said for students as well. Let them decide what media they want to use. Technology is a tool and allowing students to decide what medium or tool they want to use can not only be enlightening for the students but for the teacher as well. I have been amazed at how my students have used technology in ways that I never even thought of. Change is not a monster and we must teach and show people the benefits of change. Great post.

  6. Lucie deLaBruere

    I so agree with this. Until you have experienced the power (or transformation) yourself, how can you creatively imagine it’s power to transform. That means being ready to accept that some of the uses of technology you try will not move learning forward and will fade into the woodwork. So is the case with some of my lesson plans that don’t use technology-some of my lesson ideas I was sure would work have found early retirement – because I guessed wrong on what would inspire, engage, enlighten kids. Whether they work or don’t work, those learning activities are limited to what I can imagine can be used in my instructional design. I can’t imagine what it is like to use materials and tools I don’t have access to. I can’t design instruction with technology to support learning when my imagination is limited to tools I know and am familiar with. For example, if I am only familiar with “favorites” on my computer, how can I imagine the power of collaborative bookmarking tools like Diigo or delicious to transform the way we learn together. This is idea is not limited to transformative technology. I watched a group of kids recently brainstorm the “ingredients” I should buy for an upcoming projects where they would be building an edible car for an annual engineering day competition. When one of the girls asked for “eggs” to make “meringue”, I realized that her experience with the properties of different food was going to make her a unique player on her “team” of middle school students building edible cars. This is similar to the “teams” I’m seeing in my middle school where at least ONE teacher in the team has experience with different types of technology tools. It brings the whole team forward (if they are working as a team) to try new ways of learning. The middle school team I’m thinking of had a first year teacher whose comfort learning technology had him experimenting with new ways of using Google Apps and netbooks in his classroom. Another teacher on the team adds value with strong insight into pedagogy from her years of experience and reflective nature. Watching the learning that is happening on that team as they learn from each other is so powerful. The digital native teacher is learning about pedagogical approaches he has no experience with (yet), while the seasoned teacher is learning about technologies she might never have imagined using in her teaching. Had you asked this seasoned teacher a year ago – what she wants the children to do and know and how technology could support that would have yielded a very different answer than it did last week when we were doing 1:1 readiness interviews with technology– where she eloquently articulated that if her students had laptops that they could have access to at home, she could do a quick “check in” with them using Google chat that would inform her instructional design in terms of both “content understanding” and “climate” and she could regain the “relationship building” that existed in her classroom before the days of high stakes testing. I realized she would have never conceived of that a year or two ago. Sometimes the technology permits us to imagine things we would not have asked for.

  7. Mjmontagne

    Scott, I hear what you are saying, but I think you at least need some goals…a vision would be nice, but I’ll settle for some basic goals. Otherwise you end up with slick tools that are utilized to do things like:

    -take attendance digitally
    -manage grading digitally
    -engage in test preparation
    -distribute report cards to families online
    -give tests online
    -CAI that supports rote learning

    Some folks in schools might feel as though this type of use represents really effective educational technology integration. This is the reason why I think it is important to go through the process of creating a powerful vision for learning with educational technology prior to wholesale adoption of hardware and software solutions.

    • Absolutely Matt … I agree with you … The key point I am making is, “creative approach towards evaluating technology”. I say, “we have to have the most creative open minded do the evaluation of our technology.” There is a balance for sure as you don’t want to just push tech for tech sake!