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).]
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.