There are a couple tools out now that I see bantered around in educational circles that I just hate! And there are some pretty awesome tools out there that are being used in rather old and traditional ways, and I don’t hate the tool, but I hate the use of them.

With any tool, I’m sure there are always exceptions that are made. I said, iPads are for iConsumers, and in many respects I still stand by that with the lack of a camera, and it’s focus on the user being a consumer, as well as having no keypad (although I admit that the importance of typing as we know it may just be me stuck in an old paradigm). But… I’ve read stories, both online and via friends on email, which have told me about the amazing transformation of a non-verbal child being able to meaningfully communicate for the first time, thanks to an iPad… Wow! *[Update: I’m getting a lot of push-back from educators I truly respect about the power of the iPad as a transformative learning tool – a single tool that can be used in many different ways by learners with and without special needs. I need to shift my view here, (and buy one).]

"Presentations tools... and a hammer"

Exceptions don’t contradict what I’m trying to explain here, but rather prove the point that: A tool is just a tool! I can use a hammer to build a house and I can use the same hammer on a human skull. It’s not the tool, but how you use it that matters.

A complimentary point: If I have a hammer and try to use it as a screwdriver, I won’t get much value from its’ use.

Hammer as a house builder: Students use Voicethread to tell a story and other students at the same and/or a different schools, teachers and even parents can comment on the Voicethread giving feedback. Engagement of an entire community & an extension of the classroom beyond the confines of class blocks and beyond the classroom walls. As Tom Barrett says, “The learning activity has to be transformed into something that provides a greater depth of learning and interaction. There has to be a pedagogical shift.”

Hammer on human skull: Teacher asks a critical question (a very good one by the way) on Voicethread then 60 students respond to the question. This is not a conversation, this is not transformative, this is not giving students a voice (I listened to the first 4 kids, how does the 60th kid feel?), this is not meaningful learning.

Hammer as a screwdriver: You can consider the ‘Hammer on human skull’ example above as an example of this as even a traditional classroom discussion would have been more effective, but I’ll share another example: Extranormal, the text-to-movie tool… The home page says, “If you can type, you can make movies…” I’ve watched a few of these movies, produced by kids, and not one of them has ‘wowed’ me. Each time I saw them I thought things like, “This would be so much better if the students got to act it out” or “The meaning was lost without the intonation of voice”, or “The actions were minimalist and took away from what was being said.” Basically a kid writes a script then the real creative potential for movie-making is lost. Hammer as screwdriver.

Interactive White Boards (IWB) are another example of a tool that is often abused rather than used. I was able to get my staff, 16 teachers, netbooks and 9 LCD projectors (to compliment the ones we already had), and get my entire school set up on wireless for the price of about 2 and a half IWB’s. But the cost is not the only reason I am not a fan of them. I’ve seen teachers show me what the IWB can do, but few show me what students can do on them. When students actually get to do things on them there is still only one kid in the ‘front’ of the room, just like one kid at the blackboard. Are some teachers using them well? Absolutely! In fact, I invite those that are using them well to share their experiences with me… Please!

So what makes a tool great? Or, a better question than that: What should we do with tools to make them great? Here are some thoughts and feadback is appreciated, this is not an exclusive list!

1.Give students choice.

We don’t assess the tool, we assess the criteria, and we want students to meet specific learning outcomes.We can provide students with a choice of tools or even a choice of projects, and not every student in the class needs to meet the same outcomes in the same way.

2. Give students a voice.

Classroom discussions are great, but how else can we provide students with an opportunity to share? What venues can we provide for them to be heard?

3. Give students an audience.

So often we give students an audience of one… the teacher who marks their work. As a teacher, I told students ‘write to your audience’ but I never truly understood those words until I started blogging. If you want students to write to their audience, then give them a legitimate audience.

4. Give students a place to collaborate.

This comes with a caution: A place to collaborate does not in and of itself create good collaboration. You might be using a great collaboration tool, but do your students know how to collaborate effectively? Do they have specific roles to play? Do they have the skills to learn cooperatively?

5. Give students a place to lead.

Whether it be by choosing a tool, or teaching you a tool, or simply choosing their own topic to study, let your students be the lead learner and even the teacher as often as possible.

6. Give students a digital space to learn.

I’ve talked about blogs as learning spaces. Stephen Downes says, ‘To teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect.’ Give students a space to practice and reflect that is not limited to the confines of a classroom or notebook, and one that helps them build a community, or rather a network, of teachers and learners.

A tool is just a tool! It’s not the tool, but how you use it that matters.

49 comments on “Transformative or just flashy educational tools?

  1. Hi Dave,

    I agree with your premise but want to extend the metaphor a bit. While we select the right tool for the project, some of us who are not that handy, look for tools that can do multiple things – we look for the Swis Army Knife type of tools – those that can do many things. I am overwhelmed in a hardware store – too many choices – there are hundreds of hammers. We should encourage tools, especially for our younger learners that can do many things – I think that is one of the great appeals of the ipad. Part of the challenge around the tool discussion is that there are thousands of web 2.0 tools that students can use – and we need to help them pick ones that are the right tool for where they are at.

  2. Nice extension Chris,
    Your Swiss Army Knife comment reminded me of this really silly telephone ad spoof where the “Sumsing Turbo 3000” did just about everything, (and more than you wanted it to do).

    I like your idea of providing young students with tools that can do many things! I worry about both students and teachers feeling overwhelmed by the choices and teachers limiting what kids do.

    The 6 items above were sort of my attempt to create a guide to choosing the right tool… Not in a “All tools you use must have these 6 things” sort of a way, but more of a “If the tools is not accomplishing one of these tasks in a meaningful or engaging way, then perhaps you should look for another tool” sort of way.

    I don’t think any one tool has to do everything, maybe that’s the job of the LMS of the future, but I doubt it. There will always be new tools ‘out there’ that do something unique and worthy of exploring.

    You also address the issue of this all being overwhelming, which brings me back to my ‘Thinking about change‘ post (that you inspired). Are we providing enough support to our teachers to make the right decisions about the tools that they use?

  3. Dave,

    I would respectfully suggest another item, “Give the learners a sandbox.”.

    Perhaps by giving learners (and teachers) a place to play with the tool, to tinker, and break, and fix things, they/we will become better choosers.

    Now I have to fly home to fix my WordPress site… 😉

    David Warlick

  4. Great point David!
    The idea of play comes to mind, there is a lot of pedagogy in play (at all ages). Not only is the idea of a sandbox great, but I really like that you used the term ‘learners’ rather than ‘students’.

    Good luck with your WordPress site & thank you for your comment!

  5. Hi Dave

    Good post – I agree with you wholeheartedly on the tool metaphor. One that I would add, which is kind of esoteric is “Give students a purpose”. Maybe we help them with identifying some tools, but I would love to see more activities that nudge students into figuring out what motivates them. Less emphasis on how to produce something and more emphasis around why to do it. Then, let ’em choose their own tools and make mistakes (love that one from David Warlick), get messy, discover something they didn’t know they were looking for, etc.

  6. Deep thinking in this post Dave. As I type this response on my iPad… I am reflecting on some classroom visits. My last post Technology enabled choices for Students and Teachers shares two such visits with video clips of students and teachers talking about real learning activities and how and why they chose a particular technology. I asked some secondary school teachers if I could visit their class and some (none are techies) were worried there wouldn’t be enough technology emphasis. I said that’s ok, I want to observe and video natural not contrived or staged uses for real learning. I am looking forward to sharing what I learn in those classes

  7. Sorry accidentally pressed submit, darn iPad :-). Any way I think we are still, believe it or not, in the stages of natural edtech selection and this will sort itself out sooner than later. I think teachers that can show students some good potential uses of edtech than give them latitude to choose will foster natural choices that support and transform learning.

  8. Hi David:

    I really appreciated this post, because what you are talking about are the transferable and timeless skills and forums that students will need now and in the future. The only word that I believe may not be necessary on this list is “digital”–as much as we have the iPad and the litany of technologies that inundate our everyday lives, we all know that these will line landfills sooner than later, and the term digital will also give away to something that has not been thought of yet. But providing choice, voice, audience, and a space to collaborate and lead in the list that you provided will transcend the ages! Thanks for this!

  9. I remember someone tweeted a post about how bad teaching with technology is just expensive bad teaching. I wonder if we become sometimes obsessed with putting technology in classes without any thought, expectations, pro-d nor follow-up. I agree with you on the ipad, I think for the average class they are not an effective tool. In the hands of a few select students it can be transformative. I love the IWB in the resource room, watching some of my students with fine motor skills challenges demonstrating their reading and writing skills without the paper an pencil.
    Everything is how it is used, or else you have heavy paperweights and dust collectors.

  10. Hi Holly,
    Thank you for your comment! In thinking about your point, “Give students a purpose”, I’m a little torn. This point is brilliant, and in fact one that I think needs to be heard:

    “Less emphasis on how to produce something and more emphasis around why to do it.”

    What I’m unsure about is how we ‘give students a purpose’? I think we can foster it, we can have metacognitive discussions about purpose, but I don’t know how we give it? Is this semantics or a different cognitive level?

    That said, I sort of feel like your sentence I quoted above deserves an entire blog post!

    I’m looking forward to the video! I know you’ve been interested in exploring that area and I think you’ll offer a very neat perspective on technology use in the classroom.

    I wonder what you mean when you say that we are, “in the stages of natural edtech selection”? I’m not sure there is anything ‘natural’ about how tools are currently chosen now, and I’d love to hear more about this!

    Maybe ‘digital is the new paper’ and soon we will be saying ‘???? is the new digital’, I’d be really excited to see what’s next (I know our futurist friend, Brian, above would have a few ideas). 😉

    In that respect you are correct that ‘digital’ may not transcend the ages… but for now, I want my students to have a digital space. I want students to build their digital footprint thoughtfully and purposefully. I want students to have a digital portfolio that doesn’t reside in a stack of other portfolios in the corner of a classroom somewhere. The tools will end up in a landfill but visiting the internet archive suggests that maybe digital will transcend the ages?

    I like your paperweight analogy. I can remember a single desktop computer sitting unplugged in the back of my class, with the little track-ball missing from the mouse… a dusty, bulky paperweight circa 1990! I linked to my ‘Thinking about Change‘ post already in these comments, but there it is again as I think it addresses the Pro-D concerns you raised as well. As much as tool choice can be poorly done, I think another aspect of adding technology to a classroom is that it often makes what is happening more transparent and that makes teachers more reflective… which is a really good thing!

  11. Hi David, I think you were reading my mind when you wrote this post. I have been thinking a lot about this issue recently and I’ve got to a kind of practical conclusion that I apply whenever I am about to include some technological tool in my classes: Does the use of this technology make the task easier or does it improve the results or outcomes of the activity? If the answer is no, I just continue with the activity without the addition of technology. We sometimes use technology without a purpose, and we should never forget that we as teachers should always reflect about the decisions we make in our classes.
    A great post as usual David!

  12. Great point from your post (give students time to practice) which goes nicely with David’s sandbox idea. Any time I introduce a new tool, which is always intended for a specific purpose, I give my kids a period just to play. I’ve learned from experience that if you don’t, students won’t take as many chances, and their creativity gets lost in the stress of learning the “tool”. So while there may not be a direct link to our curriculum when “playing in the sandbox”, there is an indirect link – “problem solving”.

  13. Copy pasted from our Facebook discussion…. because I feel it is relevant to this conversaton:

    Yes, amazing stuff, thanks Dave! So, you’ve given up on blogging & are living in FB now? 😉
    I get the point about ‘not seeing it as a tool’, but I think that applies more to the devices than to the web2.0 applications. Kids see a cell phone as an extension of who they are, is it the same for VoiceThread? I’m not sure?

    Nor am I sure. Having said this, do we consider the classroom structure a tool when looking at classroom conversations? Do we consider the gym as a tool when a team is playing volleyball. I see voicethread as a medium rather than a tool. The entire websphere is a medium in which new levels of “conversations” are happening. The differentiation of the types of articulation methods is growing. We have to understand that our paradigm of communication and interaction is antiquated. Our kids are more connected than ever (see David Warlick). The medium of this connectiveness is simply changing. It will obviously continue to change and the more we try to lay our communication paradigm over the new mediums, the more we will lose touch with those who are in it.

    Oh and by the way… I was with you on the iPad until I started seeing the brilliance of apps. that third party developers have been creating. The iPad’s genius comes from the power of portability and ability to accommodate the collective creativity of the app. developers’ community.

    There… back into the blog world and out of the FB world….

  14. thanks for your response – I am wondering about a lot recently about the realtionship between inspiration and motivation.

    I watched a TED talk about an African boy who taught himself to read and built two windmills for irrigation and electricity. I was struck by the driving force behind his learning. Entirely self-motivated (drought, famine, future…). I am lucky that my kids won’t likely face that same situation, but hope that they can tap into that type of drive and resilience.

    I do find myself drawn to the art of a good question as a practical way to foster critical thinking and encourage curiousity. I wonder if it is like a muscle, once you start using it, it gets stronger?

    Maybe I should have said “help students find a purpose”, you are right, we can’t give them a purpose.

    I recently finished the Power of Pull, and the authors talk about our world is currently a “push” model but the future is more “pull”, what it means: find/access people and resources; ability to attract people/resources that are relevant and valuable; ability to pull from ourselves the insight and performance required to more effectively achieve our potential. Access is where technology can play a critical role.

    Thanks again.

  15. Something to think about is a quote from the Ted Talks that I mentioned above…

    “If a teacher can be replaced by a machine… then they should!”

    With regards to this conversation… what does our role as educators become?

  16. Hey Dave – sure, make me clarify my on the fly thinking… my ref to natural selection was to use evolution theory to indicate where we’re at with edtech. Through trial and error, improvements, better understanding, easier to use tech, more experience, … (how humans learn), good/useful edtech will survive while others will not. Education and technology will become inseparable as well – one will not be possible without the other. Edtech assists, it transforms, it makes possible what used to be impossible. Sounds like education doesn’t it.

    It puzzles me why we like to diminish technology sometimes. It’s not something to be feared or revered, it just is. Saying “digital” isn’t any worse or better than saying “pencil”. Tools, mediums, whatever – they are a part of what we do, how we do it, why we do it, and over overall experience in it. Likewise it puzzles me when we emphasize technology or use it in contrived ways or justify it. I say, let it be natural, embedded, integrated as much or little as there is benefit to doing so.

  17. I just wrote on a kind of similar topic this morning. As much as I love iPads, indeed, it’s just the next Bright-Shiny. I wish we could always put the right tool in the right hands all the time–it so often comes back to what have, and where the are at. As I read your post, I wanted to disagree (for example, wrt XtraNormal, but, I have to concede your point, and call it an “if only”)

    I will assert that there are times the right “bright-shiny” in the right hands is magic that cannot be duplicated in any other way, but I fancy we’d all agree on that.

  18. David,

    I agree with the basic thrust of your post but really only go so far as that… it is a contentious divide that I have with a lot of educators that say the same thing, “a tool is just a tool”. Of course, you can’t use a hammer to kill a fly but…..

    I really think that we can’t look at media or technology in such a simplistic fashion. Or to put it in terms of your post – a hammer is not just a hammer. It is a medium of both cultural knowledge and social being… A McCluhan would view it as “the medium (hammer) is the massage / message”.

    The technology we are talking about is not just a tool but a way of being in the culture. A part of social and media literacy. So the educational objective can’t just be cognitive but also the thing and manner of addressing that though/learning. Learning is both how we get there and where we arrive (I’m showing my constructivist ideology here).

    What I’m saying in a nutshell is that YES, in the best of worlds we would blend our learning and also keep it simple – focus on the “how”. However (no pun intended), students talk/speak/communicate/learn/acknowledge/become/desire…. through media for good and bad. A tool is not just a tool, imho. It is a cultural artifice and a way of being. We should use technology either well or badly – because that is our method of being/teaching/learning.

    It’s late, maybe I’m not making much sense. But even Ss or teachers using a tool badly, are learning something – we learn by our mistakes and to not use technology would be even worse, given the future our children must embrace.


  19. Hi Dave,
    I read your post with great interest. I firmly believe that it is our job as the teacher to provide our students with as many possible ways to present their learning as possible. I have spent a lot of time showing my students different presentation tools I’ve (prezi, glogster, animate, etc.). However, the presentation is just the end of the process. We also spend time talking about the plo’s we’re covering and I always have the students create the criteria as a class. I think that if I’ve done my job properly, this is no longer my job and 99% of the time, the students will do a much better job than me! To me, technology is just another tool for presenting learning. It’s my job to provide my students with these tools but always making sure that my students are always able to identify what the learning is that they’re presenting.

  20. Hi Dave

    Thank you for another thoughtful post. 🙂

    As devil’s advocate, I want to remind ourselves that teachers are learners, too. Sometimes when exploring new tools we need to go through the steps of using the tool ineffectively, before we can use it effectively.

    There are so many educators out there that are afraid to use these kind of tools at all. If they are trying to use them, and don’t quite succeed (in using a hammer as a house builder), then hopefully they are a reflective enough of an educator to push themselves to try again, or try something different. Or even better, that they have a community (like their staff, or an online community like Twitter) to get critical feedback and motivation from. A great teacher grows.

    Realistically, if I am a core teacher and I try a tool and it flops for whatever reason, I may not have the time or inclination to try it again for quite some time – maybe even until next year. By then, the tools will be different all over again. 🙂

    I agree with you that using these tools ineffectively is pointless, and perhaps even a waste of time. But the pressure for teachers to learn a tool and then the added pressure of learning to use it “right” is daunting enough for some to stop them from trying. I think sometimes we forget that much of the teaching world has not “gone digital” (and you know I am sympathetic to those types, because of LTT). Teachers need encouragement, and examples.

    I do love your list of “what should we do with tools to make them great.” If I was teaching a core class, I would love to throw some tools into a bag and have every student pull out 1 or 2 and tell them that they need to use it in their next project. I think the kids would be excited to explore something new. I think a big part would be letting go of the need to know all about the tool before they began. Why not let them be the explorers? It’s a little nerve-wracking but I think it would have huge potential. 🙂 Maybe it’s just a pipe-dream… but just think about those student presentations. The kids would be opened up to so many different tools, and options, and choices!

    That, is the end result I’d want to see. 🙂


  21. David,
    An important conversation. Have you considered Universal Design for Learning principles ( or Ira Socol’s Toolbelt Theory? UDL proposes offering multiple methods of engagement, presentation and expression. Used effectively, the new digital tools offer opportunities and choices that empower students in ways never before possible. This is UDL, embedded and proactive in the curriculum.
    I propose we just make tools AVAILABLE, offer a repository where students can explore and evaluate the value of the tools for their learning. I believe a “natural selection” process will evolve.
    I also wish we held the currently accepted tools (paper/pencil, poster board, essay, etc) to the same high standard we have set for the new digital tools. Let’s evaluate the effectiveness of all the tools we use in the classroom.

  22. What great contributions, thanks for all the thoughtful comments!

    I’m going to switch gears & share some related links rather than looking at the individual comments shared.

    “Play” seams to be a consistent theme, time for students and teachers to play with the tools. If you read Elaan’s guest post on my blog, Pfffffft! The Pitfalls of Presenting at Pro-D it exemplifies that traditional professional development days and sessions are not enough to engage teachers or provide the time teachers need to play with the tools, much less critically assess their value. The Jeff Utecht styled “FedEx Prep: Time for Innovation” teacher professional learning support that Chris Wejr speaks of is one example of how administrators can support meaningful professional development.

    In my post I mentioned the need to create learning spaces and Dave MacLean (and later David) make some interesting points that the tools are the spaces or the medium or the cultural artifice… and thus as Michael Wesch says: “we need to learn how to educate in this media-scape”, (my Black & White Education post refers to this).

    Good teaching transcends the tools and so be it pencil & paper or wiki or Voicethread or blog or poster board or Glogster, good design is important (on two levels, design of the final product as well as what I’m talking about here – design of the lesson or activity). Also see Ira Socal’s Toolbelt Theory for Everyone “Tools matter though. They are the most basic thing about being human.”

    Karen mentions UDL, and something related that I’ve been focussing on with my staff has been clearly identified learning verbs in a stated (to the student) learning intention. I’ve spent more time on this than on any tool or promotion of technology… if we first know our intentions, the tool choice becomes easier!

    And finally, I’ll share an entire post response by Eduardo Peirano. Normally I wouldn’t quote an entire post, but like my Square Peg post, Eduardo’s post is comprised of other people’s thoughts… what Eduardo does is compile them such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts… and as he said to me in a Twitter direct message conversation, “Downes and others taught me that everything that is important must be on your own blog”. So here is his post:

    What should we do with tools to make them great?

    David Truss (via @sabridv) suggests what we can do with tools to make them great

    1. Give students choice
    2. Give students a voice.
    3. Give students an audience.
    4. Give students a place to collaborate.
    5. Give students a place to lead.
    6. Give students a digital space to learn.

    Compare this list to:

    Stephen Downes Connectivism Principles:

    1- Autonomy
    2- Diversity
    3- Openness
    4- Interactivity and Connectedness

    and to

    Chickering and Gamson Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

    1. encourages contact between students and faculty,
    2. develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
    3. encourages active learning,
    4. gives prompt feedback,
    5. emphasizes time on task,
    6. communicates high expectations, and
    7. respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

    As George Siemens posted, It’s not about tools. It’s about change.

    It’s the change underlying these tools that I’m trying to emphasize. Forget blogs…think open dialogue. Forget wikis…think collaboration. Forget podcasts…think democracy of voice. Forget RSS/aggregation…think personal networks. Forget any of the tools…and think instead of the fundamental restructuring of how knowledge is created, disseminated, shared, and validated.


    Please keep the conversation going… This has been such a valuable discussion for me, and I hope for you too!

  23. Some very interesting and carefully phrased points, with a healthy dose of explanation in the various comments.

    I am pragmatic about the use of technology in education. As much as I want it to be viewed as only a tool, and one where the learner has freedom of choice to choose the tool, I have to point out that there is a certain impact in teacher time having to work round this flexibility.

    In the UK there is a move towards seeing how far we can take iPads and the like, as pieces of ubiquitous technology to remove the burden of setup and support to the school. Thus is, of course, alongside the work to ensure they are use effectively to transform learning.

    However, the choice if tool and how easy it is to get in and use it, can have a massive impact on what goes on in the classroom. That is why there is a strong market for muddleware in schools, to make the setup consistent and easy to manage.

    It is a matter of compromise. It is not perfect and if the move to devices like iPads can help change this then it is not just the culture change about technology as a tool that is needed but trying to make it as simple as possible.

  24. Thank you for this excellent article! I will definitely being using this with my staff and district. I set up a wallwisher for sharing ideas about how tech is being used in a transformative manner. I referenced your blog as the stimulus for this conversations.

    Let me know if you are comfortable with this. If not, I’ll remove it.


    Note from Dave:

    Stephanie, I am honoured that you did this. Thank you!

  25. I always find it interesting to read the blogs of educators who have such strong opinions about the value of technology tools in the support of learning. The responses from other educators who offer support for or suggestions for modification of the author’s points of view are also interesting to read. Thanks, Dave for this post and the ideas it generates.

    Swiss army knives. I have had a few in my day. I really liked the versatility of them and how that led to so many different ways to use them. I even got some as gifts and as “trinkets and trash” from suppliers. Eventually, though, I found I had to put them away as traveling with them on planes was disallowed.

    I remember sandboxes being popular at schools where I taught and was an administrator. However, the combination of misuse (sort of) of the sandboxes by animals and the lack of time for the maintenance department to take care of them, made them go away. Mind you, in the Kindergarten classrooms, with the investment by the K teacher to purchase good, clean, certified sand, that is okay.

    Of course there is the internet research tool for students and teachers. When I was responsible for technology in my school district, I held the line on filtering. None. Well, none unless there was a really specific need that could be managed on the individual computer. I’m not there now, and, the district has changed its goals. Filtering is becoming the norm. I was in a school the other day where the librarian could not order books because the Rogers Periodical site was blocked and the yearbook sponsor could not access iStockPhotos because that was blocked, and while a teacher could get to a site that had a slideshow on it, the slideshow could not be viewed because Flickr was blocked.

    I guess in some places the tools… the swiss army knives and the sandboxes of digital learning are just not easily used today.

    Again, I love to read the writings of educators such as yourself, and many others I read on Twitter and in other education forums. I just wish there were more superintendents and senior managers with the forward thinking attitudes and beliefs of fellows such as Chris Kennedy around.

    Cheers… Bob

  26. Again, I appreciate the comments!

    Note that above the comment box on my posts, it does not say ‘Post a comment’ but rather ‘Please join the conversation…’ and this is a great conversation with far more ideas generated than those in the original post (as Bob mentions).

    Interesting that Bob’s ‘Swiss Army Knife’ story mirrors his ‘filters in school’ story. We live in such a bubble wrapped world these days, protecting us from every conceivable risk, which in turn also shelters us from countless opportunities. I’ve said time and again that filters filter learning!

    I think there is a challenging balance in providing both ‘simplicity’ and also Swiss Army Knife-like ‘versatility’.

    There is also a challenging balance between expectations on teachers and the amount of support they are given.

    Students will help lead the way, as long as we empower them with the tools to do so, the freedom to choose and use those tools, and the authentic audience to give them a reason to do so.

    Let’s keep the conversations going in the right direction! 🙂

  27. Great conversations! Wow!

    I am struck by how “it’s not about the technology” and “the devil’s in the details, so it’s ALL about the technology” coexist – one of the many dichotomies of a real life (as opposed to the idealized version in my head…).

    I want the culture of learning to shift in every classroom. I want technology to be like oxygen (to quote Brian Kuhn) – just one of the many tools available, being used as appropriate. I want all of the options that technology provides for individualization to be there for EVERY child.

    And that, to me, means that we have to make sure we have technology solutions that are easy to use, intuitive, remove barriers and are focused on learning/teaching needs.

    Only then will we get the majority of classrooms, teachers and students using technology in meaningful, transformative, and embedded ways.

    And that takes conscious, systemic thinking – to turn our organizational systems into meaningful, supportive virtual learning environments. I don’t think that will happen with wikispaces and edublogger and flickr and twitter and ustream and so on… Using all of those different tools is a barrier to many – so many ID’s and passwords and different things to learn. It’s overwhelming. So that will remain the realm of the few – the leaders. But I want more…

    Yes, I think that first, we need to make it ALL about the technology, so that we can actually get to that place where it’s NOT about the technology! An important paradox that we have to struggle through.

    It’s my current project and it’s not, in any way, easy. Stress and overwhelm are frequent visitors – sometimes you’ll find me whiimpering in a corner. 🙂
    But I know it’s worth it!

  28. I think the educators who are really excited about the iPad are comparing it to older tools (overhead projectors, textbooks, etc) or comparing it to having nothing at all. The people who are more skeptical seem to be people who follow cutting edge technology and are comparing the iPad to what -should- be possible.

    For example, you know that there really should be a camera on the iPad. I think we can safely assume that Apple will release a version with a camera as soon as sales start to dip. It’s such an obvious omission, it’s almost insulting to the consumers who realize it should be there.

    Unfortunately, our choice isn’t iPad or another high quality tablet that actually has a camera. Our choice is iPad or nothing. Or maybe iPad versus waiting for something better. And, if all we do is wait, then we’ll always be behind, and we aren’t encouraging new experiences or learning, we’re just repeating everything we did last year.

  29. […] in experiencing the personal and professional benefits of sharing a global digital platform though my PLN on Twitter, I’m reminded of David Truss who recently blogged that “a tool is just a tool! It’s not the tool, but how you use it that matters.” In other words, it’s not only about how technology can increase learning capacities; it’s about how the new technology can support and extend one’s learning capacities. […]

  30. Hi Dave,

    Such a great post, and I would just like to add one more thing. It is not the end of the world if we start with just point number one, and then work from there. I am currently working a ‘low-achieving’ grade 10 class that I have found extremely challenging I think in a lot of ways because they have never before been given the opportunity to do these things, and after ten years this thought process is deeply embedded. So my goal for this group has been to expose them to new tools, but it has been slow. When students have never been shown how the web can actually be used for producing good work (besides copying and pasting) it can be a very labourious process. Having said that after almost a month and half I finally have students asking if they can use this tool or that tool to answer a question, something which I have encouraged but which up to now they have preferred that I just tell them. I think it may take a couple of years to untangle the ‘old’ approach and work them through some of these six steps!

  31. there is a vast amount students can learn from all these teacher comments.
    why not have them read these. 😉
    Have educators write to each other like this more and more
    and eventually things will improve.
    Love the comments more than the article (probably).
    Keep it coming.

  32. Alexander,
    That truly is the power of blogging, and being ‘openly’ reflective. The quality of my writing has improved exponentially since I started blogging ,and the quality of the feedback I get here exceeds any I have ever gotten in a class or professional development session.
    I <3 thoughtful & challenging comments!
    Thank you for your contribution... Excellent point made,

  33. Hi David. Better late than never I hope to respond to this topic. Below is my response on the George Couros blog some time ago. They are fighting words, but to paraphrase the founder of The Salvation Army “while children read novels on ebooks as they do now, I’ll fight; while children write letters to put them on blogs, as they do now, I’ll fight; while a boy’s imagination remains imprisoned by “drill and kill” flash games, to be played again and again as they do now, I’ll fight: while teacher write on smartboards, while there is a girl forced to respond to questions already answered on wikipedia, while there remains one misguided soul calling all this a 21st Century Education, I’ll fight, I’ll fight to the very end!”

    “Technology IS just a tool, like a stick. Many new technological developments made sticks more effective as a weapon (barbs, bows, attachments, etc, but as long as the stick was still being used to harm other people, I would argue that there was nothing truly transformational about the technology. But when sticks became a way to create fire, THAT was innovative and progressive. I would argue the same could be said of modern technology. Replacing the product of the printing press with an ebook is arguably more effective, but not transformational. I fear that a LOT of effort and satisfaction is being gained by taking words, reformatting them into a digital space, and thinking the job has been done. Please, at best one is taking a club and making it into a mace. There is nothing transformational about this, so please stop using this word until it is applicable. The use of words is of course valuable as a means of transmitting knowledge that cannot be gained otherwise. Methodology-wise, it is the poor cousin though to what might otherwise be learned through experiencing. Granted, there are numerous situations where this might be the only reasonable avenue, but folks, with today’s technology, much of what we want students to learn can be experienced by them virtually. To turn away from this, to dismiss it, to let one’s fear of this become a paralysis that prevents pursuing the possibilities is to abrogate our responsibility to exploit the best possible means of supporting student learning. Behind this door are miracle waiting to happen, open the doors of education while the students are still willing to knock on it. Until you do, technology will remain a tool, but not a progressive or transformational one.”

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to repeat this rant. It challenges me whenever I read it to review my own teaching practice for the remnants of pedagogies that no longer creates a bright fire within the hearts and minds of my students.


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