It’s Not About the Tools–It’s About How You Use Them

There are times when I feel as though the ever-growing, ever-changing list of Web 2.0 tools becomes overwhelming. At a recent conference, 90% of my conversations with technology specialists started with the sentence, “Have you used this tool yet?”.

Instead of starting with the tool, let’s start with the learning. We all know that tools will come and go faster than ever before, but the skills that we teach our students remain consistent, even if the emphasis on certain skills ebbs and flows. We want our students to engage in critical thinking, research, analysis, synthesis, collaboration, and problem solving. We want students to care about their world and open their eyes to diverse perspectives. So why don’t we start our conversations with the sentence, “Have you engaged your students in critical thinking today?” and then see what tools (technological and otherwise) can be used in the process?

We as users define how and why we use particular technologies to accomplish tasks. The magic that users bring to a piece of technology includes how we use it, our prior knowledge, and the way in which we work it into our existing mental models and contextual frameworks. Let’s acknowledge that what we bring to a tool is relevant and important to the task–it’s not really about the tool at all if you can use it to accomplish 200 different tasks, or tasks that it wasn’t necessarily designed for.

By elevating our interaction with technology over the novelty of a tool in its own right, we can think about and use technology in pedagogically sound ways. Below are elements that make up sound pedagogy in the application of educational technology tools. Let’s apply them every time we hear, “Have you used this tool yet?”:

  • Authentic, interesting, and academically rigorous content and tasks. Tasks should exist in the real world, involve a genuine audience, real challenges, and real work.
  • Ownership. Students must feel as though they can make decisions and regulate their own participation and roles in their learning.
  • Active collaboration. Students need to interact with others, socialize, and work together to solve challenges, learn, and be productive.
  • Create, share, analyze, organize, synthesize, and draw conclusions and present them in a variety of different ways in different mediums.
  • Open reflection, analysis, feedback, sharing, and reuse, repurposing. Students can gather the works of others and feedback to build on their learning and metacognitive understandings.

The article that got me thinking about the concepts above is titled, Assessing technologies for teaching and learning: understanding the importance of technological pedagogical content knowledge, by Richard E. Furdig.

Ferdig, Richard E. “Assessing technologies for teaching and learning: understanding the importance of technological pedagogical content knowledge.” British Journal of Educational Technology 37.5 (2006): 749–760. NA. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.
(Image: Hammer…for what?, by Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi. 2007. Available under a Creative Commons License.)

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